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What's with recording engineers who can't hear vocal-tuning when it's clearly there?

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  • What's with recording engineers who can't hear vocal-tuning when it's clearly there?

    I keep reading posts on the web from people who identify themselves as recording engineers, many of whom appear to work in or own professional facilities, who claim to hear no vocal tuning on tracks where it clearly exists...



    Now, without question, vocal tuning has gotten better -- and when applied by a sensitive editor in a fashion that doesn't cause too much pitch-snapping or peculiar, squirelly, formant distortions -- it can be pretty transparent.



    But, so often, it isn't.



    Of course, I'm not talking about tuning-everything-as-effect, the Glee-effect, if you will (after the TV-show that adopted tuning of virtually all the performances on the hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show show -- even 'informal practice' sessions are heavily tuned for that whiny, medium-tuned-sound so popular with label execs).





    I'm talking about vocals that are clearly supposed to sound like the person is actually singing.



    For instance, I tried listening to a Reba McIntire album from a year or two ago. She is, I believe, one of the finest singers working in contemporary country. So, why the hell did her album get out the gate with so many howlers on it -- the kind of obvious, chirpy-formant tuning glitches that have deeply marred so much Nashville product over the last decade and change?



    And, when such a topic comes up, as it did recently regarding a 2010 Taylor Swift album in a recording forum on another BB system, how can so many recording professionals profess to hear no tuning when it's clearly there, sticking out like so many sore thumbs scattered through the recording?



    Are these people really so painfully ignorant as to what the human voice actually sounds like?



    How could that be? These are people who profess to be professionals, who work at or own professional facilities.



    Thoughts?
    .

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  • #2
    How can so many audio professionals hear vocal tuning that is not there?
    "Admittedly, it is difficult to reason people out of positions they didn't use reason to attain." - Craig AndertonProgrammer's Logic: " If I can tell you why it doesn't work it's OK that it doesn't work." - meTech Support Logic: " If I can't tell you why it doesn't work it's not our fault." - me

    Comment


    • #3






      Quote Originally Posted by blue2blue
      View Post

      I tried listening to a Reba McIntire album from a year or two ago. She is, I believe, one of the finest singers working in contemporary country. So, why the hell did her album get out the gate with so many howlwers on it -- the kind of obvious, chirpy-formant tuning glitches that have deeply marred so much Nashville product over the last decade and change?




      She's been around for a long time, and great singers don't last forever. Isn't she mostly a TV actress these days? Have you heard her sing live, preferably without a sound system (where they might run her mic through pitch corrections)? Maybe her voice needs more help that you wish and that was the best they could do. Or maybe it was just done carelessly.



      But then, I'm one of those who listens to the song, not the voice. If the song and performance were good, if the vocal was a little "pitchy," I probably wouldn't notice unless someone asked me to listen for pitch. Same with a processing artifact. Until you know what went into the mic, you really can't criticize the engineering.



      As far as engineers not "hearing" pitch correction, I don't know who you were talking to, but if I really cared (which I don't) I probably wouldn't go out and buy the CD, I'd download an MP3 and listen to it at my desktop computer, not through the studio playback system, unless I was being paid. So, yeah, I'd probably not notice the surface quality of the recording either.



      And, honestly, I've never actually used pitch correction on anything myself, so I truly don't know what abuse or misuse sounds like.






      Are these people really so painfully ignorant as to what the human voice actually sounds like?



      It's really none of their business. You might just as well criticize the reverb sound, or the level of the bass, or the zing in the strings. If you could get hold of the unprocessed master and compare it to what was on the finished product, you might think that it was the best choice they could make. Or maybe it wasn't.



      I hear lots and lots of acoustic guitars on records today that don't sound a bit like guitars that I know and play, and which probably don't sound like the guitars in the studio. I don't wonder "How could they make a record with such bad EQ on the guitar?" I don't think it's fair to criticize the producers or engineers, or other engineers listening to the final product, if they haven't had the opportunity to hear what went into it.



      Don't get me wrong. You have every right to express your dislike for a sound on a commercial recording, and to make what's probably a good guess as to why it sounds like that rather than like a pure vocal. But I doubt that whatever it sounds like isn't eating into sales.
      --
      "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
      Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then

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      • #4
        Once you spend a lot of time tuning vocals, it's a lot easier to hear it on other vocal tracks. Maybe some of them haven't done much vocal tuning.



        Also, in case you hadn't noticed, the audio engineering field is chock full of hacks.
        Silk City Music Factory: A Connecticut Recording Studio

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        • #5
          i have heard weird pitch correction like artifacts come straight out of vocalists mouths - originating through my mics and out my speakers while i am running sound and i know for a fact there is no correction anywhere in the system.
          band status - "its complicated"

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          • #6






            Quote Originally Posted by MikeRivers
            View Post

            Don't get me wrong. You have every right to express your dislike for a sound on a commercial recording, and to make what's probably a good guess as to why it sounds like that rather than like a pure vocal. But I doubt that whatever it sounds like isn't eating into sales.




            I'll bet it's not helping either. If something sounds ****************ty, why am I going to buy it?








            I don't think it's fair to criticize the producers or engineers, or other engineers listening to the final product, if they haven't had the opportunity to hear what went into it.



            Sure it is. We know what a good recording sounds like, so if we hear something that sounds substandard, we absolutely can criticize.








            And, honestly, I've never actually used pitch correction on anything myself, so I truly don't know what abuse or misuse sounds like.



            Now you do:






            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFzXaFbxDcM





            Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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            • #7
              Remember the CBS Copycode thing that put a deep notch in a recording's upper mids so you couldn't make copies with a cassette that had copycode implemented? "Top engineers" in the industry (I won't name names) applauded the system because they claimed they couldn't hear an impact on the music. But when some government organization (maybe the National Bureau of Standards?) tested the system on a random group of average consumers, something like half of them heard a clear difference in blind tests.



              Draw your own conclusions...



              I really think no one could identify where I've used pitch correction on my vocals, primarily because a) I use it very sparingly, and b) my voice already sounds like it's generating artifacts
              Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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              • #8
                I think everybody "hears" tuning but I suspect half of it isn't really there.
                "Admittedly, it is difficult to reason people out of positions they didn't use reason to attain." - Craig AndertonProgrammer's Logic: " If I can tell you why it doesn't work it's OK that it doesn't work." - meTech Support Logic: " If I can't tell you why it doesn't work it's not our fault." - me

                Comment


                • #9
                  Ken, thanks for the Mr. Rogers vid! :-) Blue, if I can hear it, I don't like it.
                  -David

                  (the artist formally known as DC before the move to HC)

                  Comment


                  • #10






                    Quote Originally Posted by UstadKhanAli
                    View Post

                    I'll bet it's not helping either. If something sounds ****************ty, why am I going to buy it?







                    Sure it is. We know what a good recording sounds like, so if we hear something that sounds substandard, we absolutely can criticize.







                    Now you do:






                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFzXaFbxDcM









                    That is so many different kinds of awesome.
                    Silk City Music Factory: A Connecticut Recording Studio

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                    • #11
                      Everything is tuned today, and if not it should be
                      David Abraham
                      My Awesome Movie

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                      • #12






                        Quote Originally Posted by blue2blue
                        View Post

                        What's with recording engineers who can't hear vocal-tuning when it's clearly there?




                        Acclimation



                        IMO loss of reference or more accurately a shift in reference. Perhaps some people who work in the field are getting so overexposed to tuning that they can't hear it as an effect anymore. A more subtle use of it is perceived as an absence of the effect when in fact the effect is clearly there to others. That's one possibility. Once again I'll whip out my analogy of the grotesque steroidal body builder. He/she didn't start out planning to look so not human, but somewhere along the way, as their primary social groups changed, he/she also changed their perception of, "Normal." Same story with a lot of people not hearing artifacts in digital recordings. They're acclimated. The new point of reference is distorted, so anything compared to it can only be as true as the distortion.
                        <><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

                        “Music is well said to be the speech of angels... nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine."

                        ~Thomas Carlyle

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                        • #13






                          Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
                          View Post

                          Remember the CBS Copycode thing that put a deep notch in a recording's upper mids so you couldn't make copies with a cassette that had copycode implemeneted? "Top engineers" in the industry (I won't name names) applauded the system because they claimed they couldn't hear an impact on the music. But when some government organization (maybe the National Bureau of Standards?) tested the system on a random group of average consumers, something like half of them heard a clear difference in blind tests.




                          I participated in that test. My group wasn't exactly average consumers, we were all members of the local AES chapter. This was in 1987, so a few were studio engineers, several were NPR broadcast and production engineers, and there were a few serious music listeners. I think we had about 15 in our group, some listening on headphones, some listening on speakers in a nicely treated room. There was some training prior to the test runs.



                          I have the report here. From the summary: "The system's encoder alters the original electrical signal. For some listeners, for some selections, this results in a discernible difference between prerecorded notched and un-notched material. Results weren't a slam dunk, but definitely indicated a better-than-chance score recognizing the encoded material. My own score was 68% correct identification. I think the top score in our group was about 85% correct.



                          I recall that when listening to an oboe solo with orchestra, the notch took out enough of one particular note that it was almost like that note was missing. I expect this particular piece was chosen for the test because of that one note that was so obvious. Other things weren't so easy to tell, and I did my share of guessing. ("not sure" wasn't an option)



                          Today, nearly all of my music listening is from radio stations streaming over the Internet, that I hear on the Minimum 7 speakers connected to my computer. It probably sounds quite different from what they heard in the control room when making the recording, but it doesn't spoil the listening experience for me. It's the music that's important to me.
                          --
                          "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
                          Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then

                          Comment


                          • #14






                            Quote Originally Posted by vintagevibes
                            View Post

                            I think everybody "hears" tuning but I suspect half of it isn't really there.




                            That's funny, I'm positive I hear LESS than there is actually is, and as, someone suggested above, acclimatization (acclimation to Brit-speakers) is also a factor. If I were to consciously listen to the Raising Sand album carefully, I'm sure I'd start hearing the handful of subtle but still noticeable tuning artifacts marring that otherwise very enjoyable album.



                            I mean, during the production process, I've definitely observed or performed pitch corrections which, in the finished product, were unnoticeable. I sat in on a jazz instrumentalist singer's vocal tuning session and most of the edits were unnoticeable. (I'll admit, I pushed him to fix up a couple that struck me wrong just a little better, even though I was just supposedly doing the fly-on-the-wall thing at someone else's session. When he was done, I think there were only a couple places where I would have noticed the tuning.)
                            .

                            music and social links | recent listening

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                            • #15






                              Quote Originally Posted by MikeRivers
                              View Post

                              She's been around for a long time, and great singers don't last forever. Isn't she mostly a TV actress these days? Have you heard her sing live, preferably without a sound system (where they might run her mic through pitch corrections)? Maybe her voice needs more help that you wish and that was the best they could do. Or maybe it was just done carelessly.




                              I hear what you are saying. I'm not so much talking about whether or not she can get through a song straight through flawlessly. But it was clear from listening to that album (and from live stuff I've seen from the last few years) that she has good control and knows how to use it. If there were flaws in performance, I have little doubt that a little more time and a few more punches could have produced takes that were 'uniformly' solid all the way through.








                              But then, I'm one of those who listens to the song, not the voice. If the song and performance were good, if the vocal was a little "pitchy," I probably wouldn't notice unless someone asked me to listen for pitch. Same with a processing artifact. Until you know what went into the mic, you really can't criticize the engineering.



                              I come at a song from perspective of the whole experience. When I first hear a song, I basically reduce myself to the primal listener I was before I learned about hi fi/audio and later about how to actually play music. I listen emotionally, from the gut. So to speak. Only later, if I'm curious about some aspect of what causes a given song to affect me in a certain way, will I start tearing it apart.



                              That said, when I hear -- as is far too often the case when dipping my ear into the muddy stream of contemporary/popular mainstream pop/rock/'country' -- the obvious formant-twisting of clumsily applied vocal pitch correction, my gut reaction is immediate and disturbing to me in a way that other sonic modifications simply are not. I think vocoder sounds pretty lame in 2012, but it doesn't make me want to rip my ears off the sides of my head. Vocal pitch correction wrenchmarks do.



                              With regard to 'mistaking' real live vocal mannerisms for pitch correction, I've been listening to Celtic folk singing (some styles of which can sound to some like they've been tuned, as vocal resonances are shifted in mid phrase, and such) and jazz (where some singers like Chet Baker or Kurt Elling have specialized in a sort of stylistic 'pitch-lock' that can sound at times a bit like tuning) for a long, long time. I've noticed a few somewhat obvious spot digital corrections before the Auto-Tune era (and done a few, as well), in the late 80s and 90s, but, guess what, when I go back and listen to the recordings of the past, I don't hear any tuning or anything that sounds to me like tuning. Zip. Nada. Bupkis.



                              On the contrary, I believe it's highly likely that I miss a lot of auto-tuning and other correction -- or even get used to it over time. For instance, when I first got hold of the Raising Sand album, I noticed a few places with that obvious Melodyne sound. But I've played the ones and zeros off that album since and, unless I were to make a point of going through listening for them, I haven't noticed the tuned spots in a long, long time.



                              So, while I certainly am 'sensitive' in the sense that my reactions to wrenchmarks (and especially tuning-as-effect, of course) are visceral and highly negative, I'm not sure I'm all that much of a 'golden ear' when it comes to perceiving them. (And, it must be said that, after 6 decades and change of abuse, my top end gives out not much over 10 kHz.)








                              As far as engineers not "hearing" pitch correction, I don't know who you were talking to, but if I really cared (which I don't) I probably wouldn't go out and buy the CD, I'd download an MP3 and listen to it at my desktop computer, not through the studio playback system, unless I was being paid. So, yeah, I'd probably not notice the surface quality of the recording either.



                              I haven't noticed that the fidelity or lack thereof of the PB system cuts into my perception of tuning problems all that much. I mean, I hear this stuff coming out of people's car stereos. (Paticularly some of that Nashville pop stuff from the mid 2000s, outfits like Rascal Flatts, if the tuning didn't cut in and out, and the wrenchmarks didn't stick out like so many swollen sore thumbs -- not to mix workshop metaphors.)







                              And, honestly, I've never actually used pitch correction on anything myself, so I truly don't know what abuse or misuse sounds like.








                              Are these people really so painfully ignorant as to what the human voice actually sounds like?



                              It's really none of their business. You might just as well criticize the reverb sound, or the level of the bass, or the zing in the strings. If you could get hold of the unprocessed master and compare it to what was on the finished product, you might think that it was the best choice they could make. Or maybe it wasn't.



                              I hear lots and lots of acoustic guitars on records today that don't sound a bit like guitars that I know and play, and which probably don't sound like the guitars in the studio. I don't wonder "How could they make a record with such bad EQ on the guitar?" I don't think it's fair to criticize the producers or engineers, or other engineers listening to the final product, if they haven't had the opportunity to hear what went into it.



                              Hmm... call me nuts, I think professional recording engineers who take money to engineer projects should have a more than passing familiarity with what the human voice -- and other instruments common to the field they work within -- sound like.



                              Sure, I've heard of that deaf recording engineer guy, and I take my hat off to him. But, really, as a practical rule, I think recording engineers ought to at least make the most of the hearing they have -- and that means, to my way of thinking, a solid familiarity with what the natural human voice and other common instruments sound like. Call me a dreamer.








                              Don't get me wrong. You have every right to express your dislike for a sound on a commercial recording, and to make what's probably a good guess as to why it sounds like that rather than like a pure vocal. But I doubt that whatever it sounds like isn't eating into sales.



                              I stopped worrying about sales -- other people's or my own -- a long time ago.



                              There are those who see everything through the narrow slit of sales, but since the 1960s, success in the pop music marketplace has always seemed to me like a shallow and rather hollow goal.



                              Call me a hippie.
                              .

                              music and social links | recent listening

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