Thursday, May 21, 2009

Auto-Tune the News

Here's one of the few bummers about the internet: everyone feels like they have to be a reporter. Remember in high school finding some fucked-up track on an album and having that moment of pleasure in knowing that you knew about this and you would be able to watch an expression of bewilderment and then wonder dawn on a friend's face as you played it for him? That's gone. It's been replaced with the sense that you've got to run that story as soon as possible.

Between Twitter and Facebook, not to mention internet-enabled phones, everyone's broadcasting anything slightly interesting they find at each other, whether because they lack any sense of filtering or because they're need to get to something first and ride some peripheral coolness wave for finding it. Granted, there's always a sense of contact-cool inherent in finding and sharing something interesting — as if it suggests that your role is Bringer of Cool Shit to the village — but the shotgun approach of "z0mg CLICK TIHS LINK!!!!!1" removes the personal aspect entirely.

Take, for example, Auto-Tune the News. A friend sent me a link to it a couple of weeks ago, and I knew instantly that it would make the day for a couple friends interested (or working) in audio/video editing and politics. I didn't rush to share it with them; I figured I'd mention it the next time we barbecued. Either that or I could leisurely post it here. Then it showed up on Maddow, and suddenly I read about thirty "tweets" about it, got linked to it in IM multiple times, saw it linked on three different forums, etc. I'm sure my friends enjoyed it anyway, but it would have been a kick to share it with them.

Anyway, for the two people who haven't seen it yet, I hope you have a blast.

Auto-Tune the News is the creation of The Gregory Brothers, a New York-based band that performs country, soul, folk and rock tunes. They're also all related, although the woman singer, Sarah, is related by her marriage to Evan Gregory. Sarah and Andrew Gregory each have side projects that they front, but the Gregory Brothers band seems to have been their main going concern. Until they decided to run a presidential debate through an auto-tuner* and, based on positive reaction to that, got the idea to interact with and talk to the news via song.

* — This inevitably raises the question, "What the fuck is Auto-Tune?" If you've listened to a lot of top-40 hip hop, pretty much any song by (or featuring) T-Pain has it. If you're really white, just watch that damn "I'm On a Boat" song to understand. Or, if you're really really white, just listen to the chorus of Cher's "Believe" again, if you've somehow managed to forget it. Whatever you do, just keep T-Pain in mind, because that auto-tuned "Shawty" interjection he uses all the freakin' time is coming up in a minute.

The resulting product was Auto-Tune the News, a seemingly quick-and-dirty back-and-forth with news clips. In actuality, the low-budget and -effort look takes considerable work from engineer/drummer brother Michael. The look and feel of being off the cuff owes much more to having a budget of allegedly zero dollars for this work than to any deliberate aesthetic. Each piece has to be cobbled together from various news clips, paused and spliced to allow responsive singing, while the singing is rhymed to fit the clips. At the same time, all the clips have to be run through an auto-tuner to create a melody with which the Gregorys' singing replies can harmonize. If you stop to think about it, it seems like an awful lot of work.

Thankfully that work pays off in a really clever presentation that's instantly memorable and fun. All of which probably explains why this might be the thirtieth time you've heard about it in the last five days. Although the first edition was a bit shaky, News Reports #2 and #3 have each increased in talent and sophistication. Enjoy!

Auto-Tune the News:

Auto-Tune History: