Treating Audio Manipulation Effects like Photoshop: Exploring the Negative Impacts of a Lack of Transparency in Contemporary Vocal Music on Young Learners


Taran Harris (

University of Liverpool Liverpool, United Kingdom

Author’s contact information: :

INSAM Journal of Contemporary Music, Art and Technology, Issue 8, 2022

Main Theme of the Issue: Fighting for the Attention: Music and Art on Social Media

Publisher: INSAM Institute for Contemporary Artistic Music, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina



Abstract: Amidst the great and rapid advance in digital audio processing over recent decades, a range of new ‘manipulation’ software has problematised the popular music scene, both in terms of authenticity and achievability of performance. This paper will set out to define manipulation effects as separate from the more over-arching umbrella term of staging effects, under which they have been vaguely included for a number of years. By separating out the staging of vocals from the manipulation of their core content, by pitch correction for example, we can more specifically observe their impact on audience reception and vocal pedagogy. The reception element of this research would be largely related to that of authenticity and the presentation of liveness in online video, but this paper will focus on the effect of the unachievable on vocal learners. These could range from confidence issues to serious vocal problems.

This paper explores the possibilities of music following the same trajectory as photography, where manipulation is concerned. Photoshop’s usage in media has provoked a great deal of controversy in recent years, with high profile campaigns resulting in legislative changes such as Israel’s Photoshop Law, which imposes certain restrictions for models and a disclaimer requirement for publishers. It’s a possibility that if the music industry were required to provide disclaimers for audio releases and online videos, that there would be more transparency in vocal pedagogy, with the potential for fewer vocal health problems related to copying unachievable performances.

The aim of this paper is to open a conversation about the effect of a lack of transparency surrounding audio manipulation so that more can be done to address it.

Keywords:manipulation, digital effects, Photoshop, Auto-Tune, disclaimer, transparency.


3. INSAM Journal 8, Harris

ISSN 2637 – 1898
On the cover: Tiamat by Kim Diaz Holm
Design and layout: Milan Šuput, Bojana Radovanović