One of YouTube's sincerest forms of flattery these days is taking something classic and reimagining it in modern terms. We see it all the time in music with covers, mashups, lessons and multitrack breakdowns.
In a recent upload, one of YouTube's leading music theorists, Adam Neely, dissects several famous vocal performances that predate Autotune and "fixes" them with modern pitch correction software Melodyne (a.k.a Autotune).
Neely analyzes famous songs by Led Zeppelin, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Pink Floyd and Bill Withers and breaks down their most famous vocal melodies en route to showing why pitch correction isn't always the answer.
In recent years, Neely has explored the considerable limitations of Western music theory when it comes to explaining virtually any style of music that doesn't have roots in 18th century Europe. Being that Autotune was designed to match recorded pitches to corresponding notes on a keyboard, the software comes up with some strange-sounding solutions when faced with melodies from the worlds of blues, jazz and soul.
First up, Neely puts Robert Plant's flawless performance from Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" under the microscope.
Breaking down the blues-based tune, Neely points out that one note that recurs throughout the verse melody is "between G and G#, which is something that we might call a neutral third." It's a note that cannot be found on a keyboard and therefore "doesn't really exist in the continuum of Melodyne," yet it's commonly used in blues, jazz and Eastern classical music.
Of course, Melodyne is merely a tool, so any savvy modern audio engineer could easily choose whether or not to "fix" these in-between or imperfect notes. In the interest of science, Neely pitch corrects everything and A/B compares both the original and the Autotune melodies.
"In the Melodyne version, Robert Plant is definitely hitting those notes more precisely, but since it's a blues melody, which sometimes uses notes that aren't on the keyboard, there's something that's fundamentally changed about how the melody works when you pitch correct it," Neely surmises.
He even takes it a step further, implementing the famous "T-Pain effect," which produces "truly cursed" results and laughs from Neely.
As difficult as the "Whole Lotta Love" Autotune might be to hear for any Zep fan, Neely takes the same tact with a performance of Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon." The results are far stranger.
"Frank Sinatra has a very conversational [vocal] style and Melodyne and pitch correction don't always work that well with that old school style," Neely prefaces.
Diving into Sinatra's vocal line, he find that Ol' Blue Eyes is nearly pitch perfect on the 1964 recording. But that fact makes Melodyne's corrections all the more fascinating, given the software's ubiquity in modern music.
Neely gives the command and compares the original and Melodyne versions of "Fly Me to the Moon" — they sound almost exactly the same, but the Melodyne melody seems to plaster over something subtle but essential to Sinatra's performance.
"It's wild," Neely said. "Both sound good, but the pitch correction robs it of a certain thing. Such a subtle difference but to me without the Melodyne sounds a lot more lifelike."
Neely also tackles Franklin's "Respect," Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," and discusses some of the strange effects digitally-enhanced voices have had on singers born in the past few decades.
Check it out via the player above!