Technology has permanently changed the way we listen to music. One of the artists credited (or blamed) for that shift is T-Pain, the perpetually auto-tuned R&B and rap hit-maker.
Some years ago, auto-tune was inescapable. Every rapper seemed to have an auto-tuned hook or run. The tacky technology was originally used by producers to help correct notes that an artist couldn't hit or hold. The hope was that listeners wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
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- The I AM T-Pain mic, made by JAKKS Pacific, is available at Walmart, Toys R Us, Target, Kmart, Amazon and other smaller channels. Currently, Amazon sells the I Am T-Pain mic for $47.39 for the white mic (with free shipping), $39.97 for the red mic (with free shipping), and $59.99 for the Gold mic. Don’t ask me why the price varies with price.
- The user sings into his or her devices built in microphone and the app will auto-tune the singer's voice. The effect can be best heard when the recording feature is used. Recordings can be saved and played back as the user wishes. The app can be either set to the default setting or set to the key the user is going to be singing in.
In the mid-2000s, auto-tune broke onto the hip hop and R&B scene with producers and rappers exaggerating the effect to extremes. T-Pain was one of the first of those artists to feel the success and also the inevitable backlash of auto-tune. Critics said the technology was disingenuous and destroyed any need for vocal talent. Auto-tune wasn't just decried by music purists and angry bloggers — celebrated artists such as Jay-Z came out against it, and even released a song on his 2009 album The Blueprint 3, titled 'D.O.A. (Death of Auto-tune).'
But Auto-Tune® may be best known for its iconic return effect first heard on Cher’s 1998 hit single “Believe” and mad widely famous by hip-hop artist T-Pain. Limitless Creativity The Studio puts the power of music production into an awesome small package with official Auto-Tune® software, allowing singers to experience the natural pitch.
Well T-Pain survived the barbs and is currently riding another wave of auto-tune success with the release of an iPhone app, novelty microphone and a brand new album, rEVOLVEr, released in 2011. The app, I AM T-Pain, lets users auto-tune their voice by singing into an iPhone, whereas the microphone, called the 'I AM T-Pain Mic,' is a stand-alone toy dedicated to auto-tuning.
Mashable had a chance to speak with T-Pain about auto-tune, his app and microphone and the future of music in the age of technology.
The Road to the App Store
T-Pain has always had a mind on technology and saw a perfect opportunity to get into the app game when other celebrities, such as Britney Spears, Pink and Lil' Wayne, started releasing their own apps.
'I said, 'Well, I guess I'm so famous for the auto-tune, I guess I should make an app.' And it's just been flying off the shelves,' T-Pain, born Faheem Najm, says. The app was a smart move. It has been downloaded more than 2 million times since its launch in 2009, according to T-Pain's team. That was just the start: 'You know I had pretty good projections with the mic and a lot of adults buy it, like, pretending they're buying it for their kids .. Adults would call me saying they're tired of their kids slobbering all over their phones,' T-Pain says of his decision to create a mic version of his auto-tune app.
T-Pain insists that the mic is all about making music fun. 'I don't do the whole, 'Put my name on it, make me famous' thing,' Pain told us, although there is a video on T-Pain's site in which he says of the mic: 'I mean, we're just, we're milking this thing baby. We're milking it.' Regardless of the intent, T-Pain's mic is selling well.
'Hard & B'
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It's hard to stay mad at T-Pain, who swears by a type of music he calls 'Hard & B.' It's more about process than genre. 'Basically it’s the hard way of doing music,' T-Pain says. 'I write my music. I produce my music. I sing it. I damn near record all of it myself and you gotta go out and perform it. It’s a hard way of making music. On the other hand, [some artists] get someone to write and produce it and you just sing it in the middle like a puppet.'
In that sense, auto-tune is less a way for T-Pain to hide his voice but to create music in a different way. 'My dad always told me that anyone's voice is just another instrument added to the music. There was a time when people had seven-minute songs and five minutes of them were just straight instrumental,' T-Pain says. 'I got a lot of influence from [the '60s era] and I thought I might as well just turn my voice into a saxophone.' He credits the core of his music and lyric style to R. Kelly and Cee Lo Green, two R&B artists known for their expressive — and unfiltered — voices.
After years of success, however, T-Pain still enjoys talking about the tech he applies to his voice as a way of educating people on how it works. T-Pain says he studied the technology behind auto-tune to better understand his craft.
Auto-tune, it turns out, is actually sort of hard to pull off: 'You know, because it was made to correct bad notes and stuff, of course people say you just slap it on your voice and anyone who's tone-deaf can make a half-decent song.' It also turns out that T-Pain is a decent singer even without the tech. 'The crazy thing is .. there's always a song [on my albums] with no auto-tune and those are always the songs that go overlooked,' T-Pain says.
Social media has helped alleviate some of that frustration thanks to massive support from T-Pain's followers. Although he has more than 700,000 followers on Twitter, he tries to stay humble: 'I don't know man, because you look at someone like Soulja Boy and all these other people and they have millions of followers and I'm proud to even have two follows; my mom and my dad .. The way that people show me love on Twitter? I don't know man. It's amazing.'
T-Pain has a busy year ahead. After our phone call, T-Pain had a day of interviews with press before heading to Jimmy Kimmel Live! to perform 'Drowning Again' on piano and without auto-tune. Through the madness, his iPhone app and auto-tuning microphone continue to sell to legions of would-be crooners and lotharios practicing their Hard & B.
T-Pain has been getting the short end of the stick for most of his career. The man singlehandedly pioneered the use of Auto-Tune, a program that quickly became the punchline for the joke that was mid-2000s pop music. Many assumed T-Pain used the 'tune as much as he did because he couldn't sing or write. But that couldn't be further from the truth. The man just sang without autotune as part of NPR's 'Tiny Desk' series, and proved that he has some serious musical talent.
Leaving the auto-tune at home, T-Pain's club bangers became sweet, melodic masterpieces. It turns out he's been writing beautiful odes to Patron all this time. His vocal runs are divine, and his songwriting is impeccable. Numerous musicians that have worked with him have already commented on how impressive his musical abilities are — FKA twigs and Michael Jackson being two of the most noteworthy.
Earlier this year, he talked withHipHopDXabout why auto-tune has such a bad rap, and why he's been able to make a name for himself despite the stigma. It's a pretty entertaining rant, edging close to a Yeezy-level boast in all the best ways.
'Once people find out that Auto-Tune was a pitch correction software they felt like, 'Oh, so you just can't sing? So I can do that too then?' It's correcting your pitch, and it's not that you're actually good at anything. It's just that there's this thing making you perfect. So yeah you suck. You don't even deserve that, because you can't sing. And you know, it's totally not true, because all these other people are doing it. They're not getting the Beatles records and shit. There's a lot of other people using it, and they're not getting any awards or any attention at all. It's not that easy. You can use Auto-Tune as much as you want to, but you still have to write a dope song. You still have to perform it well, you still have to deliver it, and you still have to have a dope beat—which I made pretty much all of them.'
Auto-tune Microphone Cost
But now the truth is clear. T-Pain has managed to build a career because he's a talented musician, not because he exploits a gimmick, as many people have assumed. It's time we started taking T-Pain seriously.