Playing with Auto-Tune has become a ticket to fame for artists like T-Pain and a major boon to those imitating them, but taking the audio-pitch-manipulation technology and applying it to non-musical footage is something fairly original to Michael Gregory (schmoyoho on YouTube).
A Brooklyn-based musician currently playing with his brothers and sister-in-law as The Gregory Brothers, Gregory has built upon his role as the band’s drummer and audio technician by playing with the tools at his disposal for viral video hijinks. One of his first efforts was the Auto-Tuning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which came out just in time for MLK Day this year and has racked up more than 200,000 hits since its release. It’s a respectful remix of the speech with a pretty boss soundtrack, but it doesn’t have much in the way of a point of view.
That changes, though, with Gregory’s more recent Auto-Tune the News videos, a strange brew of Daily Show-esque news commentary and sketch comedy, tightly edited and manipulated. Each piece transforms cable news talking heads into singing and rapping fearmongers, mashed together with Gregory and his bandmates inserting themselves into the news segments as background singers and commentators. (Oh, and sometimes there’s an angry gorilla.) The combination of catchy music and current events helped spread the three videos like mad — Auto-Tune the News 2, which riffs on the Somali pirate conflict and global warming, has achieved nearly 1,200,000 views in three weeks.
Right now, Auto-Tune the News‘ biggest drawback is the pace at which new installments are being released — if it could keep up with the latest news and trends a little faster, it’d become an online institution very quickly, something that would be easy to adapt as a regular installment on a late-night TV show. Except that right now, Gregory is in theory occupied by another gig.
While the Gregory Brothers as a band seem extremely supportive of their youngest member’s efforts, with his videos and the band’s official site and Facebook page heavily interlinked, it’s interesting to observe that there’s not any real overlap between these videos and the Gregory Brothers’ actual music. And while the samples on the band’s Facebook page represent the band’s folk, country and soul roots, more reminiscent of Wilco than Lil Wayne, the comments on their page are all from enthusiastic fans of the Auto-Tune series. While any attention is good attention, it’ll be interesting to see how much of their viral fame they’ll be able to leverage for the band’s first album, due out at the end of May.
Auto-Tune’s arrival on the music scene was initially kept very quiet, and its use has been the source of much controversy within the music industry. So one interesting consequence of Auto-Tune the News‘ success is that the Gregory Brothers are flat-out admitting that they have the technology and know how to use it. But is it not so bad, because at least they’re using it in this instance in a creative and engaging way? I’d like to think so. After all, it’s not that pop music today is more fake and artificial than it was earlier in the decade, it’s just that we’re a little more honest about it.