Does Adele hit a wobbly high note in the new James Bond theme song 'Skyfall'?

Does Adele hit a wobbly high note in the new James Bond theme song 'Skyfall'?

If as a producer you decide not to use Auto-Tune, then it's a judgment call whether your singer is in-tune, or in-tune enough. Like James Bond himself, Adele's producer lives life on the edge.

by David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Clearly, Adele is not a singer who requires Auto-Tune and it would be a sin and a shame to subject her vocals to that kind of mangling. She is also a singer who plays with pitch. Some vocalists are spot on each and every note. Adele bends and sways. It's part of her artistic character and a strong reason to like her work.

But when you play with pitch, you're also playing with fire. What sounds like musicality, texture or even emotion to one person can easily sound like out-of-tune to another.

So here I think we have an example that is right on the edge. The notes are bent right to the limit of what could be considered artfulness. But have they gone too far for some listeners?

Here is the video. The line in question is repeated several times during the song, at 1.31, 1.44, 2.35, 2.48, 3.51 and 4.04 with the lyrics, "We will stand tall".

Now to my ears, there is something not quite right with this line, at least not on every delivery. The fourth repetition in particular seems rather jarring. I might also say that the 'll' of 'tall' seems rather to have been lost, but that's a different issue.

I'm not going to say that there is a right and a wrong here. I will say though that when I first heard the song, on TV, this line made me prick my ears up. For me, it's hovering on the borderline between OK and, "Can we punch in on that?".

But that's why we have producers - to make these kinds of decisions. That's part of the art and the satisfaction of recording production. And much more satisfying than reaching for the Auto-Tune!

P.S. Adele probably did more for music in the last five minutes than I've done in my entire life, so absolutely no disrespect is intended. But can we, er, go for another take?

P.P.S. Here's the waveform of Skyfall. Mastered or what??

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass
Sunday October 07, 2012

Readers' comments on this article...

Maria, Blackpool, UK
Friday December 07, 2012

Greg

If you were in the UK you could see last weeks 'Strictly Come Dancing' where a backing vocalist sang Skyfall.

Whilst the programmme is a dance show with the music taking little more than a distraction, the singer - Andrea ? - with her rendition, was absolutely spot on both with melody and grammar in delivering the lyrics, giving this song the clarity that the movie of the same name deserved.


Adele has, without question, recognition as a decent songwriter, but to be classed as one of the best solo artists of the generation for her vocal talent is simply nonsense.
Greg, USA
Wednesday November 28, 2012

I wonder how many people that have commented on this post actually sing professionally or in the shower to themselves. I listened to this song twice-once when I saw the movie and then on the this website. I guess I don't know better and must have awful ears. I didn't find anything that out of whack, but then again, this is coming from a so-called musician of over 25 years who was accused of using strange guitar chords just to use them. Far from it. It will never be won. It will never cease to amaze or disappoint. I've read that the human voice is the hardest instrument to play. I believe it. Go play a g chord on a guitar or piano. If you don't have arthritis and have all your fingers, you are in good shape. Now, grow old, have surgery, be dehydrated, lose some sleep, be stressed, have some dairy, shout, talk too loud for an unreasonable amount of time, just lose someone or have a bad day and try to smile and fake it. With all that said and the criticisms laid out here, you are so human-realize, admit and like it or not. I hope I am I guilty here as well, so I can remain human, but I am not going to spell check and reread my words, but I believe I read every post because it was entertaining in a twisted way. I read many typos and improper grammar usage that could be a post in its own. But, this is a site dealing with music. I strive for perfection and I have come to accept, or strive to accept that that will never happen. Actually, I just filled in another that in the last sentence. So I checked a little and proved my humanness. So rip away and have fun. Hopefully you are having fun. If not, have another drink. Maybe everything will sound better in the morning. Cheers mate. USA
Brian, Colchester, UK
Saturday November 24, 2012

With any luck the single will soon be on it's way out of the charts.

How long ago was 21 ? She really hasn't improved at all in that time
Gareth Symons, Mancot Wales, United Kingdom
Tuesday November 20, 2012

The singing is below par, just on the parts suggested by the article, it's almost a howl of sorts and not very impressive, edgy or pleasing. It comes across as amateurish. I would also ask for a retake had I been producing. Otherwise, no-one but those cursed with "trained ears" need know or care about equal temperament as the alternatives are to most, significantly worse, unless played within a single octave. Remember, ultimately it's the music that's loved, not the science that makes it.
Funky, London, UK
Monday November 19, 2012

'It is a pity that Alison Moyet hasn't been offered the chance to perform a Bond opener.'

How many other 'perfect pitchers' have been passed up for the pushy new kid on the block ?

Anniie Lennox springs to mind.
Cheri, Not Telling, Scotland
Monday November 19, 2012

I think her manager suggested the autotune device, and is currently convalescing after surgical removal.

A pity as the latest Bond film could have had one saving grace. There's no storyline to speak of and our ten year old would been less annoying as the villain.
Sean, Chiswick, England
Monday November 19, 2012

Under most circumstances the variation of the voice pitch to the instruments accompanying the singer is acceptable. Jazz for example wouldn't be jazz without moving away from the backing musicians.

Adele's rendition on this track however is almost painful to listen to, and gets worse each time it's played on the radio as familiarity has confirmed beforehand exactly when the faltering is about to happen.

Unfortunately I can't turn the radio off as it beamed in the charity shop, what's worse I can't even change station as Skyfall starts, and I end up apologising to customers.
Michael, Glasgow, UK
Sunday November 18, 2012

Francis

If you can ignore the 'other' instruments and concentrate on Adeles voice when listening you should notice that she is fails to remain in tune during the chorus. To me is appears she is trying to be a little too clever in sliding from the top note, the result being a lazy drop into the next line.

Whilst SkyFall's theme tune is of course her creation from start to finish, it is regretably not the polished item that would normally accompany a Bond film. As others mentioned below, listening to Bassey, Aha, Duran Duran or even Sheena Easton in the opening five minutes of earlier Bond films confirms that Adele at her best just isn't in the same league.

It is a pity that Alison Moyet hasn't been offered the chance to perform a Bond opener.
Francis, Berkeley, USA
Friday November 16, 2012

I don't know where you got your waveform, but that one obviously has been mistreated - there is too much gain on the signal causing clipping and distortion. A producer (and certainly the one for this song) would not let something like this go because they would not have business.

If you have seen the movie in theaters then you know that this clipping or distortion does not occur in the soundtrack of the movie.

You said that she's did more in those five minutes for music than you ever have...so, how can we trust your ears? How can you be sure your opinion is even accurate?

As someone earlier mentioned Equal Temperament, I think it is funny when people talk about how "so-and-so sounds out of tune" when in reality EVERYTHING is out of tune all of the time.

To take it even further, because Adele is using her voice instead of an external instrument, she is arguably MORE in tune than the rest of the instruments on the recording (with possibly the exception of the strings) because neither instrument are necessarily bound by Equal Temperament.



To Becky Gilhespie Of Soho Vocal Tuition:


Your teacher is incorrect. She does not sing a b7 -> 7 -> 8. She imitates the "bond riff" by singing a perfect fifth on "Skyfall", then an augmented fifth, (implying movement to the major-sixth) but instead sings an octave instead; from which she falls - an expressive feature reinforcing the theme of "SkyFALL".


This recording and Adele were both solid here.
Rita, Wrexham, UK
Friday November 09, 2012

I hear Jedward are now covering Skyfall.

Will anyone notice ?
Oleg, Washington, USA
Thursday November 08, 2012

Sorry, that doesn't cut it.

She has had the same problems since her 21 album, through the disastrous Alber Hall tapes and onto the movie title tune.

Vocal damage and any resultant surgery is certainly not to blame.
Becky Gilhespie Of Soho Vocal Tuition, London, UK
Wednesday November 07, 2012

Great article.

Whether or not Adele intended this line to sound that way, at Soho Vocal Tuition we personally think a different factor could also be at play here. This is the first big recording Adele has done since the surgery she had to repair a haemorrhage on a vocal cord. In this recording Adele seems to use her voice differently than before. She chooses (or perhaps no longer has a choice?) to sing in falsetto through particular areas in her range in which she would have likely produced in heavier chest voice before.

Here is a great quote from one of our coaches, Edward Staunton: "Yes, she's flat. That C5 used to be one of her favourite notes to half-yell (which was her downfall prior to surgery) but, here, she goes into a softer mix/falsetto and doesn't quite complete the flat 7 > natural 7 > octave bend fully - most probably because of technique rather than her ears or 'that bluesy sound'."

Perhaps the producer just didn't catch that line, or perhaps he couldn't bear to use Auto-tune on Adele's recording, and it really was the best take?
Tyz, Vancouver, Canada
Thursday November 01, 2012

I have grown to like what Adele does at the "ll" of the word "Tall"(it may have been copy and pasted for each one me thinks), What I felt was missing, and quite disappointingly, was one really good top note, at least once during the song, the only time she goes there is a falsetto right at the end. Makes me very unhappy.
Lindsay, Australia
Wednesday October 31, 2012

Do not forget: Old Blue Eyes sang flat a lot of the time which is why you do not hear albums of harmonised duets from the great one :)…
Tyz, Vancouver, Canada
Monday October 29, 2012

I have grown to like what Adele does at the "ll" of the word "Tall"(it may have been copy and pasted for each one me thinks), What I felt was missing, and quite disappointingly, was one really good top note, at least once during the song, the only time she goes there is a falsetto right at the end. Makes me very unhappy.
Vern, Richmond, UK
Monday October 29, 2012

Just heard Dame Shirley on the Beeb tribute.

Knocks the spots off the current Bond entry. Surely Adele now has the funds for training that voice of hers.
Richard Williams, N.y., USA
Friday October 26, 2012

And now with Autotype...

When one considers that the average cost of
producing a Hollywood motion picture soundtrack is in excess of $100K per minute then, rest assured that errors, tone deafness and wanton artistic license have been eliminated.

The waveform as shown would appear to have
been subjected to severe limiting but that has
nothing to do with mastering.
John Semanas, Thoreau, Nm, USA
Friday October 26, 2012

Just a note on Perfect Pitch and G# versus Ab, in our Equal Temperament system, these two notes would be the same, "enharmonically." However, this is only a myth, as piano tuners well know, and there is a quarter tone difference between the two in reality. People with perfect pitch can hear this difference.

My best to all,

Johanan
Stephen , London, Great Britain
Thursday October 25, 2012

'A' wobbly high note ?

You only have to put the stuff that she did in the Albert Hall last year to understand that to be 'tone deaf' and proud is the new money spinner.
Jeremy Penner, Winnipeg, Canada
Wednesday October 24, 2012

I second the comment about Alicia Keys. This is nothing compared to the horror of tuning that happens with her songs.
Arthur D, Miami, USA
Wednesday October 24, 2012

i create music. progressive house and electro house to be exact. i bend notes on the regular and can't hear anything out of tune on this one. that waveform is definitely mastered thought.
Kaitain, Vancouver, Canada
Tuesday October 23, 2012

Re: 'Zat Skyfall'. I think (?) it's supposed to be an intentional, stylized contraction of either 'is at Skyfall' or 'yes, at Skyfall'.
Ilter, Istanbul, Turkey
Tuesday October 23, 2012

Please use "pitch correction" instead of Auto-tune.
Antares' Auto-tune is an archaic plugin/effect.
The most of the top guys use Melodyne instead :)

I hear few out-of-tune moments in this song, and some of them sound a bit strange, but I can't put my finger on them when it comes to what's been used there.
But I don't think they used "Auto-tune".
I don't believe in a production like this, this lead track would be left to that ugly plugin, while there are much better options in the market.
And no, they didn't use Auto-tune for its own effect either.

Her voice is special and she sings well.
And mistakes are OK with me.
Bent Metal, Brisbane, Australia
Monday October 22, 2012

I think the producer has done his job rather well; to make the song rcognisable, get people talking about it and listening to it in order to sell some records. It obiously hasn't been recorded on a four-track, so in a studio by todays standards it would be no effort to adjust the pitch of only those 'wrong' notes or even automate auto-tune for the notes in question only. Obviously a decision made during the production process. Being unique or different from the norm (and we're not strangers to auto-tune being norm these days) is what sets something apart from the rest. Job well done I say!!
Al-andrew, Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa
Monday October 22, 2012

VOCALLY SPEAKING: Given Adele's own disrespect for her instrument in the past, I have to say I don't agree with this article at all ! You cant tell me there was no plugin work done on this voice regarding pitch. Funnily enough the flat note at 1:20 "Stolen" stuck out more than anything ! Great track, perfect for bond, perfect artist choice...for once ! Hope Adele gets more vocal discipline and takes things a bit more seriously when we see her again.
Jonathan Williams, Long Melford, United Kingdom
Sunday October 21, 2012

Great article (and a stunning song). The line in question sounds fine to these ears though repeated listens having read the article might affect one's judgment!

What does grate with me is the "Zat Skyfall" at 1:54. I actually thought the lyric was "That's Skyfall" and there's a typo in the screen lyrics. Maybe there is?

Secondly, there is a huge difference in EQ on her voice in the second verse beginning 2:04. It is so marked it reminded me of good old 4 track days when I'd re-record parts of my band's songs with our singer a week or so after, having forgotten the original channel settings from the previous session of course! It really is incomprehensible how they have missed this unless it is supposed to be intentional?
Tomisheep, Montreal, Canada
Thursday October 18, 2012

I'm surprised you spotted this one... I hear every day in the radio singers, like Alicia Keys for example, who's are singing terribly out of tune... Or Mary J. Blidge my other "fav" of-tune singer... Adele is still acceptable to my classically trained ears. IMHO Training the ears are more important than training the voice. Needs class too. I'm happy that auto tune exists because I don't need to listen to many wrong note in the air... but it doesn't help to learn to do it right for sure...
Ben Jarvis, Austin, USA
Thursday October 18, 2012

You know what, I think there may be a bit of dissonance there. It's also a run with some possible semitone flatness (made more noticeable by the beating of the dissonant notes). But, I think we might be getting so used to perfect pitch corrected vocals that anything minutely off sticks out. I'd blame the choice of the run notes. I think she's singing what was on the paper, but it's maybe not the best choice compositionally. Like it or not, I'm sure that was what they wanted. If it were me (and they're not queueing up to get me to produce Adele!), I would have been more harmonic. But that, as they say, is why they get paid the big bucks.
Diego, Dublin, Ireland
Thursday October 18, 2012

Looking forward to listening to it, after reading the article an the comments. By the way, Mr John Semanas, Ab and G# are the same, never mind perfect pitch.
Jmz, Lyon, France
Tuesday October 16, 2012

That's true, the fact she doesn't follow the major chord on the second part of the choruses is very frustrating.

Is there a live of her performing the track to hear if she does it live too ?
Tuto Taveras, Elizabeth, Nj, USA
Monday October 15, 2012

I believe there are no "right" or "wrong" in music. There is what you "like"or "dislike". Think about Tom Jobim or Zero Tolerance for Silence to name a few examples...... Talking about right or wrong in music is taking it to lower levels of our existence, like the ego and the "righteous" mind where I believe music does not belong. In music if you think then you miss the note. I for one like this song and love Adele, that is enough. Anything else is noise.......
Andrew, Lisbon, Portugal
Sunday October 14, 2012

C'mon now, I think at this level professionally, anything you hear is completely intended. The producer obviously wanted this effect. It would be easy enough to pitch that bend up a bit, but they chose to leave it as is, and in my view rightly so. Let's not forget, he (Paul Epworth) made his mark with those alternating augmented 5th backing vocals in "Rolling" which made me an immediate fan. I love this track!
Ed Fullan, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Sunday October 14, 2012

I also agree with David especially on the last we will stand tall. Adelle is rumored to be pregnant and perhaps this may have contributed to her vocal delivery, or the production company has done A Love Me Do and released the wrong take. However on the first listen it knocked me out and if I may be so bold the best bond song since Diamonds are forever.
Mark, Dearborn Heights, United States
Sunday October 14, 2012

I do see what you mean. But, to me, I think slight imperfections are what make music sound human. I do use V-Vocal (Sonar's version of Autotune) but sparingly. In this case, I think it is part of her style. A slightly off note here or there can reassure me that the performance is real.
Noggle, Dapto, Australia
Sunday October 14, 2012

I certainly see what you mean. However, if it was 'wrong' then, perhaps oversimplifying, it's either the producer's fault or perhaps she is a rebellious artist.

However, I don't think it's 'wrong'. It's just her style to play around with notes. In fact, I do wonder is she's singing it the way it was originally written. Perhaps she played around with it while rehearsing and the producer said, "That sounds really weird. Let's keep it in." I'm happy with it all.
Paul Hartley, Turners Hill, United Kingdom
Sunday October 14, 2012

I'm thinking that she may not have been fully fit for recording this. The 'tall' is at the highest point of the melody and needs some sustain. It is, arguably, the 'money' note but it does falter somewhat, like she doesnt want to strain her voice. However....it's brilliant to hear a proper Bond theme song...because fankly, some recent attempts have been way below par !!
Charlie , Brisbane, Australia
Sunday October 14, 2012

I think weather it's in or out it doesn't matter, we are human and were not damn robots, I think it's good to be able to say was that in or out it was so close and its gone so fast it does not matter as long as it entertains... then we move on to the next project. :)) not saying that we should except close enough is good enough but we should just be human not robots !!
Scotty B, Balgownie, Australia
Sunday October 14, 2012

A couple of the notes really jumped out at me - not just those being discussed in this article.
I think her use (or the producer's directive) with pitch works well here. It really captured my attention and a few 'errors' (intentional or otherwise) made it far more interesting than most of the banal vocal deliveries in pop music at this point in time.
Very much over the over-procssed/over-tuned approach so prevalent in the commercial side of the industry right now.
John Semanas, Thoreau, USA
Saturday October 13, 2012

After all, it's "Bond!" Bond vocals have always been edgy, as Bond himself. The opening is expected to have that dangerous and mysterious sound and I think Adele captures that just fine. I do not hear any problems with the pitch, given what I just said. I would suspect that she has perfect pitch and can distinguish a vocal Ab from a G#, which most of us can't as we are dealing with the illusion of equal temperament, which is only a myth for those with perfect pitch.

My only problem with her rendition of "Skyfall" is the pronunciation of the words, some of which are very strange. However, musically, she is spot on!

Johanan
Bruce, Berkeley, USA
Wednesday October 10, 2012

I think she sounds just fine. Getting under the pitch intentionally on the way to the next note that is on is like bending up to a note on a guitar. Now persistent pitch problems all through a song, that's another story...
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