Ever since ‘Nashville’ hit our screens back in October, and
Connie Britton opened her mouth to sing as country music legend Rayna James, a
question at the back of my mind has repeatedly nagged. Is she autotuned? Having
studied popular music at college, I’ve heard many examples of autotune, and
alarm bells ring for me everytime she ‘performs’. On a technical basis, no-one
with an ounce of knowledge of how recordings are put together could deny that
there are edits made to Connie’s vocals. They are shrouded in reverb and
ethereal atmosphere, not a natural sound for someone who is supposed to
represent the more ‘traditional’ wares of country. But the problem is with a
sound like this is that it sounds worryingly close to autotune.
I also noticed that in interviews, when asked about a
potential country music career, Connie tends to rigorously nod, but she seems
unsure of it herself. Then there’s the fact that many of the actors from ‘Nashville’
have appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, almost as proof of their musical talent
and a way for the show to be accepted by more of the anti-commercial purists
among country fans. Charles Esten, Clare Bowen, Sam Palladio, Jonathan Jackson,
Hayden Panettiere and Lennon & Maisy Stella have all performed on the
legendary stage since they acted and sung their way into the nations’ hearts on
TV. But Connie? Not one appearance.
In addition, after rumors of a Nashville tour, instantly
Connie and Hayden were ruled out, Hayden claiming stagefright for her reason
for declining. So what does all this translate to? Hayden’s character Juliette
is famously made a joke of among her character’s management for being autotuned
when she doesn’t know it. However, she is regularly talked about by the cast of
the show as being a great singer (including Connie, interestingly), and she
sounds far less autotuned, although there could be a hint of it involved. It
may be the production used, but all the other characters’ recordings tend to
sound a lot more ‘live’ and ‘real’ than Connie’s or Hayden’s, which are covered
and embraced by production effects. Having said that, as Hayen has performed
live at the Opry, she can officially be ruled out of this equation. I trust
they haven’t attempted to edit it live (which is perfectly possible and occurs
regularly in pop music).
But even if Connie is autotuned, at least to some degree, on
one level what does it matter? She is there to act and the musical parts are a
bonus. Most shows would get real singers to dub over. But for me, and for a lot
of other people, it ruins the premise of the show. The reason why the show
works so well is that is has an element of believability, it feels like it could
well be real. If the actors are truly singing and playing their performance
recordings, it enhances the effect of the characters and blurs the line between
fantasy and reality, thereby creating a larger false sense of disbelief that
viewers enter into when they watch the show. If it were to become official that
the big star of ‘Nashville’ couldn’t really sing, or at least not well enough
to be recorded without help, I imagine some just wouldn’t be as interested. We
want to feel like the show could almost be real, that it could almost be a
reflection of the real country music industry, and these comparisons fascinate
us. This is why the show is so successful. In addition, by choosing an actress
who can’t sing, they are thereby undermining the music in favor of the drama,
and this may not go down well with those within the industry or fans.
So why, if this is true, did the casting directors choose an
actress that couldn’t sing? Well, she’s fairly well-known, and she puts across
the character perfectly. What’s wrong with a little editing in the studio that nobody
knows about? There’s already fakery involved in the construction of a false
world and false characters who do not exist.
But, I still want Connie to be able to sing, just like
everyone else. I want it so badly. I want to be proved wrong. But until I hear her
sing live, I will continue to be proved right.
And that fundamentally bothers me.