I don't know if I have said so in so many words, but my feeling is that a lot of pop singers are really musical amateurs chosen for their looks and ability to dance. I'm echoing something Giles once said on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I just ran across a story that tends to substantiate this view. Someone has leaked a recording of Britney Spears singing the song "Alien" without Auto-Tune so we can hear what she really sounds like. First let's hear the released version, with Auto-Tune:
And now the version without Auto-Tune--what she really sounds like when she sings:
UPDATE: The first clip I put up got taken down, so here is another one of the same performance. I will try and keep an eye on it. But if you are reading this post and the above clip won't play, just try searching yourself on YouTube for "britney spears alien without autotune". The clip is about 4 minutes long. You will see a bunch of shorter clips that are mostly people's comments. I would avoid those.
This is how weak, untrained voices sound without proper breath support. Amateur singing, in other words. The producer of the track, William Orbit, tries to spin it as follows:
If you sing all the way through, with the correct words, as in this version, that's a "take" because no-one wastes time doing that if they are just warming up. Also, you don't need the whole song to adjust levels and modern digital systems certainly don't need to be "warmed up" like a 57 Chevy. For comparison, here is a recording of Christina Aguilera warming up:
The advantage of Auto-Tune is often presented as saving time in the studio because you can correct those minor little errors of pitch all singers make from time to time. The much greater disadvantage is that if Auto-Tune is always available, then that takes away the incentive to really work hard on your vocal technique. After all, before Auto-Tune came along in 1998, most professional singers were perfectly capable of singing in tune:
Incentives work, by the way. We musicians largely do what we do out of sheer love of music, but financial incentives always have an effect. If there were a few multi-million dollar prizes for musical composition, for example, that might have an interesting effect. Warren? Bill? Anyone?