Since the proliferation of Antares Auto-Tune plug-in (and subsequent pitch correction software like Celemony Melodyne and Waves Tune), music listeners have had their collective ears trained to recognize what perfect intonation should sound like. Now, for better or worse, consumers tend to want a vocal to be in perfect tune, and a surprising number of people don’t seem to mind at all if it sounds unnatural. I hear evidence of my opinion in just about every radio tune these days, regardless of genre. With the ability to pitch-correct comes a new breed of slacker vocalists – those who see no value in proper voice training & practice because their performances can be “fixed”. I feel this is unfortunate.
Until recently, even the most revered singers in pop music were never expected to be perfectly pitch accurate; and they typically weren’t. Listen to old Madonna hits, and you’ll hear all kinds of vocal imperfections. People clearly didn’t mind very much. See, I believe that those very imperfections are what makes a voice sound unique, recognizable, and most of all – believable. I’m not saying that severely off-key singing doesn’t bother me; I’m just saying that I don’t believe in perfectly tuning someone’s voice (unless it is being used as an effect). What I will do is tuck certain notes into place, and try to make things consistent overall. Anything more, and the singer’s personality seems to fade a little to me – and I don’t like that.
What is most important to me is to simply start with an incredible artist: one who takes their craft seriously, invests time in practicing every day, and always seeks to improve (through instruction or otherwise). The difference between working with a good singer and a phenomenal singer is like night and day. One will leave you frustrated and uninspired, and the other tends to spark creativity and a lot of fun, respectively. Ultimately, as a producer it is your job to capture the heart and soul of the music as accurately as possible, and if you are making the singer sounds like anything other than a flesh and blood artist full of emotion, you may be treading on dangerous ground.