Untouched Vocals

by | May 18, 2017 | Commentary & Observations

Some celebrities, in an effort to combat what many feel are unrealistic ideas of “beauty,” are striking back against ultra-doctored photos of themselves for publication. When an obviously-photoshopped picture is released to the public (usually on the cover of a magazine), stars will in turn release the original, “untouched” versions of the photos. In some instances, one can understand why a photo has been altered, but in other cases, there’s no obvious reason for the editing, other than to make the person’s appearance conform to an “acceptable” standard of beauty. In at least one instance, it’s caused some controversy – when the Canadian-produced Netflix series based on Anne of Green Gables was promoted in the United States, the lead actress, Amybeth McNulty, was given the a Photoshop touch-up, removing some of her freckles and tanning her skin. Many felt that not only did it dilute some of the character’s defining traits, but it was an insult to a young lady who had her appearance altered for no apparent reason.

Some sound engineers are starting to do the same thing with vocalists (usually against the wishes of the vocalists). Several “isolated vocals” have appeared online of major pop stars that seem to indicate that the stars are singing along with a pre-recorded vocal track (which is commonplace in SG music), and often not even singing, or singing terribly off-pitch. Usually, the situation is such that the singer is too busy dancing to keep up vocally in a live performance, but a few instances have just been singers who aren’t able to sing.

This leads me to an interesting thought….what would happen if a gospel group today were to re-release one of their recent albums (or even just one song) WITHOUT the tuning? Would it be listenable? Would it be better or worse than the perfectly-tuned version? Would anyone even be brave enough to willingly allow the public to hear such a thing? There are some artists that I suspect would sound pretty much the same, but there are others who are so heavily tuned and edited that they may not even sound like the same group.

So, here is my challenge, artists: Pick a song from a recent project (or an upcoming project), and allow listeners to hear the UNTOUCHED, UNTUNED vocals.

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Kyle Boreing

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.


  1. Scott

    This is a great blog entry and challenge! It’s becoming harder and harder for me to stomach the overbearing stacked vocals on the performance tracks for most artists on the road today. I’d much rather hear a presentation from groups like the Dixie Echoes and the Second Half Quartet with simple live accompaniment and no vocal stacking…truly talented artists singing with skill. I’ll be interested to see if any artists take part in the challenge.

    • Darrell

      Totally agree about live music. If I want to listen to “canned” vocals I can just buy said group’s album and listen to it at home. A lot of groups live performances and the singing on their albums have very little discernible difference. And I too appreciate what groups like the Dixie Echoes, Primitives, Second Half Quartet, Isaacs, etc do – truly live performances with no stacks. What talent (and hard work). :-)

  2. bravesfan513

    Why would anyone want to make their music sound worse, on purpose? Don’t we, the listener, want it to sound better? It can be overdone, sure, and that would make it not sound good. But we, the listener, want the tuning, because it makes the music sound good. At least I know I do.

    • Kyle Boreing

      Do I want it to sound good? Absolutely. Is it impossible to get a good performance without digital assistance such as tuning? No. I am tired of hearing lazy vocals being overly tuned to the point of sounding robotic. A little work here and there is fine, so long as there is already a good performance captured.

      Listen to anything prior to the mid-90’s. Are they perfect? No, but they are still great. Take Gold City’s “Pillars of Faith,” which was cut without any auto-tune. Is it perfect? No, but it’s still

      My argument is that all of this tuning has made vocalists lazy. They no longer give their absolute best performance because there’s no reason to. I want to hear a group that can bring it entirely on their own ability. It’s not impossible.

  3. bravesfan513

    Some people say they pine for the days of untuned vocals, etc…but, to me, old Statesmen music and the like sounds a lot worse than the music of today. So much so that I dont’ really listen to it, though I appreciate the history. So I would say we’ve made an improvement since the “olden days”.

    • Kyle Boreing

      I’m not saying the olden days are better. Anyone can make the argument that what we have today is TECHNICALLY better, because we have more capabilities. But they are definitely being overly used and abused.

  4. Steve Barbour

    I have always said that to tell the true talent of a group, go hear them live in a small venue. It would be interesting to hear what is actual recorded from the first take. Someone step up to the challenge.

  5. David Bruce Murray

    I think the issue with the Anne With An E poster was as much about the character as it was about the actress. They didn’t just make her look unlike herself. They made her look unlike Anne.

  6. David Bruce Murray

    If a singer is “on” a 440 hz pitch, their voice may actually be fluctuating rapidly between 443 hz and 337 hz. The singer is “on pitch” if they’re averaging 440 hz, but at any given moment, they may be slightly above or below that precise frequency. With pitch correction, a mix engineer can not only put the singer on the correct pitch, they can greatly reduce or even completely eliminate that vibrato!

    That’s the point where pitch correction goes to far in my estimation.

    If a singer sings their first note 15 cents flat, their second note 20 cents flat, and their third one 10 cents sharp, it’s fine to move each syllable 15 cents up, 20 cents up, and 10 cents down respectively. When all four parts in a quartet are adjusted in that fashion, it can really improve the sound of the resulting chord.

    That should be the extent of pitch correction. It’s when a mix engineer goes to tinkering with vibrato that the voices begin to sound unnatural to my ear. When it’s multiplied by four with a quartet, it really becomes a distraction to anyone who tends to notice that sort of thing.

  7. Michael Booth

    If we all sang pitches like Karen Peck, Chris Allman,David Phelps and Bill Shivers, the rest of us wouldn’t need tuners. Until then… fire that baby up!!!

    • Scotty Searan

      I know Bill Shivers is a fine singer. We sang and played in a church band in the early 90’s at Port City Church of God Bainbridge, Ga.
      But isn’t it deceiving to your audience to imply you are reaching a certain pitch and you are not.
      Is this a Christian practice or…?

      • David Bruce Murray

        This is fine-tuning, not pretending to hit a pitch that is out of the singer’s range.

        We’re not talking about making a baritone singer sound like a tenor (except perhaps in the case of Michael Booth). I’m joking, of course, but I am completely serious when I say I will not approve any further comments that question a singer’s Christianity if they use pitch correction. That is just ridiculous.

        • Scotty Searan

          I will not argue, but I will be more careful in how I phrase things. But I was questioning this on an Christian business ethics level, Not necessarily an individual. The Booths put on a fine concert and they are definitely one of the groups I would drive a little farther to see.
          In closing, Michael Booth, If I offended you I apologize and I ask forgiveness. You are a fine Christian singer in what I have seen in your performances.
          God Bless you.
          David if you do not want to post this, if you can see that Michael get’s it

    • Michael Booth

      Hey Scotty and David. I’m grateful for your sensitivity and kindness. No offense taken at all! It’s a great discussion that I have enjoyed following.

      The recordings from the 50’s-80’s that sound pitch perfect came from groups that put an enormous amount of time into rehearsing. When they got to the studio, they simply nailed their parts to near perfection. Example, The Statesmen singing If God Didnt Care. Truth is, most groups don’t know the material before going in now. So, to cut down on the time and or to make up for the lack of precision, we use tuners to fix the notes that are just a bit off. Having said that, we’re not talking about missed notes but simply “shaded” pitches. If it where live, it would be just fine. Under the microscope of a recording it will show up much more clearly.

      Also, since every album is tuned, or at least most, one just about has to because it will show up in comparison.

      We should get a room at NQC sometime and have a Q&A with some artists, media and those who have curious questions. If it happens, I’m in!

      Bless you guys and as always, I enjoy the discussion.

      Michael Booth

      PS, Hey David, edit my grammar if it’s off.. like a tuner!! Ha!!

      • Scotty Searan

        Thank you Michael and David. I do sometimes come off abrupt.

        Michael, I saw the Booth Brothers in one of their final concerts with Jim Brady as a member at the Lighthouse Children’s Home in Tallahassee, Fl.

        That was the first time I saw the group. I have seen them since.

        I was very well impressed with the Holy Spirit that was evident at that sing.

        Yes the Booth Brothers are fine entertainers. But what I saw that night was that you knew how to minister to people

        I was a backslider at the time, but you said somethings that spoke to my heart.

        But the highlight of the evening was at the end of the concert the way you ministered to that group of young ladies, that some had given up on. You shared the good news but you were honest with the young ladies. But I had never seen another group share like that with the young ladies as you gentlemen do.

        I have rededicated my life to Jesus Christ.

        I am not perfect. I make mistakes and slip and sin. But what I would like to see in all Christians that when we are approached with someone criticizing us: that we not take the stand as so many do, including myself, that the person is being judgmental. They might be. But why not look at it this way. Use it as a chance to examine ourselves. We don’t want to become a reprobate (castaway)

        2 Corinthians 13:5-6 (KJV)
        5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? 6 But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.

        God bless both Michael Booth and David Bruce Murray.

  8. Scotty Searan

    I for one have been against canned music on stage from the beginning, and I sure don’t stacked music.
    I do enjoy the music much more out of the 50’s and 60’s than I do now.
    Quartets should sound like 4 voices not a chorus or choir..
    Yes I appreciate the way the Dixie Echoes and the second half are doing their music. I still enjoy the Inspirations.
    I went to see Hoppers concert recently. It was like listening to a DVD with using the screen and so forth.
    I was more impress with them in 1971, when I saw the Hoppers Brothers & Connie with them hobbling through mistakes and all. I bought 3 albums the first time I saw them, But I didn’t by nov cds the time I saw them recently. The music was too stacked.
    This is a good challenge.
    Incidentally stacked music ain’t perfect.
    This is a good challenge.


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