Death Cab for Cutie showed up at the Grammy Awards red carpet donning mysterious blue ribbons (see photo). When asked about the significance of the ribbons, singer for the band and Zooey Deschanel fiancé Ben Gibbard said they were protesting the abuse of autotune in recording vocals.
“Autotuning is a digital manipulation, a correction of a singer’s voice that is affecting literally thousands of singers today and thousands of records that are coming out,” Gibbard said (via The Morning Call). “So we just want to raise awareness while we’re here and try to bring back the blue note. … The note that’s not so perfectly in pitch and just gives the recording some soul and some kind of real character.”
Although it seems Gibbard is half-joking, the use of autotune has been a subject of debate recently. Both Kanye West and T-Pain use the pitch-fixing effect on their vocals as an artistic tool, but many singers try to use the effect secretly, trying to mask their inability to sing. At last year’s Super Bowl, Billy Joel was famously accused by the press* of using the effect while attempting a particularly high note in the U.S. national anthem.
Death Cab for Cutie were nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Music Album, but lost to Bruce Springsteen and Radiohead respectively.
*A reader refuted this article’s original suggestion that Joel willingly used autotune. We will have comments enabled in the future for such debates, but for now, I will post the reader’s email below:
“Sirs – Your website Twenty Four Hour Bit Music News ran an article about Death Cab For Cutie and a pitch-correction device called Auto-Tune. In that article you accused Billy Joel of using this device when he sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl. I was there and I happen to know that Billy Joel has never used an Auto-Tune and has never authorized the use of one. He doesn’t need it. If there was a pitch-corrector used during that broadcast, it was fed into the television sound mix by a network T.V. technician – without our knowledge or authorization. Since they forgot to turn on Joel’s sound monitors, he couldn’t hear himself sing and had to wait a good 30 seconds for his voice to rebound from the stadium walls so he could hear his piano and adjust to the corresponding piano key. Some bright boy in the television sound booth may have decided to use an Auto-Tune device when they heard Joel struggling with pitch. We never got a straight answer from the network producers when we asked them about this. It is unfair to accuse Billy Joel of using cheap tricks and gimmicks to enhance his voice. He is an accomplished musician with an excellent sense of pitch. The only mistake Joel made was to refuse to pre-tape his performance and lip-synch the Star Spangled Banner like most other singers have done. Obviously, his professional pride was his undoing in this situation because television technicians never do what they’re supposed to do when it comes to handling a live performance sound feed. Couple this with a soaking downpour and Joel having to also monitor a stopwatch to time his ending with a jet flyover and you have a musician’s nightmare. Under the circumstances, Billy Joel handled the situation as gracefully as possible. I hope that in the interest of fairness and truth that you will post my side of the story or at least retract that part of the article regarding Billy Joel and Auto-Tune. He has been pilloried for this for over two years now and the myth continues to be printed and posted over and over again. Thank you for your consideration. Terry Moran”