Music technology lets a single musician do things that are physically impossible for one person without the technology. For instance one musician can create a multitrack recording where they play every instrument and sing every line in a song, and then create the final mix.

As a trumpet player it would be easy to process my performance to make me sound like I'm playing an octave higher than I actually can.

I'm comfortable with the first scenario, but the second feels like cheating somehow. Is this a legitimate use of technology? Where do you draw the line?

  • 5
    I think you have to determine where you draw your line. No one else can decide what is “legitimate” for you. Nov 28, 2017 at 13:46
  • 1
    all's fair in love and war. music is love. therefore, all's fair in music. Nov 28, 2017 at 20:59
  • Wait, that trumpet octave thing sounds kind of cool! It would realistically be used as an effect, and in the right context be absolutely fine. I think Neurosis once did a song where they altered a trumpet recording (octave down?) to make it sound like a foghorn or something...
    – user43681
    Nov 29, 2017 at 5:32
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    It's cheating when you do it in a job interview tape - it's not cheating when you do it on an experimental album. It's iffy whether it's cheating if you do it in a live performance and don't tell people. (Fun anecdote: when Leonidas Kavakos applied to study with Josef Gingold, he sent a tape of himself playing Paganini's A minor caprice. Gingold was so suspicious that he immediately ordered Kavakos to play that piece live for the audience, thinking the speed must have been manipulated. It wasn't.) Nov 29, 2017 at 7:43
  • the photoshop artists community went over that debate 2 decades ago: was it cheating to draw on top of a photo? was it cheating to draw things by hand, then scanning them and redraw on top with the computer? etc. In music, besides other musicians, no one cares how you did it. The real question is: does it sound good?
    – Thomas
    Nov 5, 2019 at 12:24

6 Answers 6


Other than plagiarism, if you're creating your own music, "cheating" really doesn't matter.

Sure.. I think effects, like pitch & rhythm correction, are all bad substitutes for being a great musician. But there aren't any "music cops" making sure you don't use those tools.

One exception is if you're recording for an audition. Then any post-processing effects are a definite no-no.


It really comes down to what genre of music you write and who you're intended audience is. In something like electronic music your audience actually expects you to edit sound beyond the means of acoustic production, while if you were writing a jazz album most listeners would be turned off by an octave shifted trumpet. This is doubly true if you intend to perform live. You could theoretically mic and pitch shift your trumpet as you play it, which is what electric guitar and bass guitar players often do with pedals. If you write good music that utilizes such a special sound it could even be accepted in jazz, but it will probably be harder to get a large audience.

As far as it being "cheating", that only applies if it's your intent to deceive your audience into believing you have more talent in performance than you truly have. Like it or not, people are impressed by a good, technical display of virtuosity on any instrument. It shows dedication and generally sounds better than extremely simple lines. So if you build up your talent on an album as if you can play such a thing but in reality can't, many people will be disappointed.

Alternately, using electronic editing to produce a technique that is possible to play with normal playing comes off as very lazy, as if the player simply couldn't be assed to learn how to actually play. It comes off as an unnecessary crutch.


Define legitimate. Essentially you're utilizing two different skills and combining them to produce an end result.

Assuming that you're doing the work yourself, what you're doing is using your musical talent on an instrument or your voice to play out a melody, then using your talent on audio manipulation software to tweak the sound until it is what you want.

If what you're trying to describe is the situation in which you feel that your skill on your instrument or the range in, or the strength of your voice is insufficient, and as a result you're compensating by means of a device, then yes it's inauthentic and not legitimate in terms of single skill. This won't do if you're attempting to engage in a skill-based endeavor such as an audition to an ensemble.

But if your end goal is to create music, especially the kind that is distributed in a digital format for listening, however you achieve your desired result as a composer is completely fair.


Of course it's OK! Why on earth wouldn't it be? This isn't like not telling your husband (or wife) -to-be that you wear a wig! The end product is all that matters.

Of course, it would be foolish to apply for a session musician job based on a doctored demo tape.


Why should there be a line? Some stuff works bad in live contexts, like multitracking. Queen had its greatest hit with "Bohemian Rhapsody", unfortunately a studio album. Still in great demand for live concerts, so they reverted to a mixture of starting with a recording on an empty stage and the musicians coming in for a somewhat modified finale.

Frank Farian did not even go to the trouble of live performances but rather hired playback goons for his studio produced music, like "Boney M" and "Milli Vanilli". What a minor and major scandal when people found out.

Cover bands don't write their own music. Plugged bands do things unplugged bands can't. Violins sing higher than their players. And so on.

In the end there is a product. Spicing up bad ingredients only works to a minor degree. Fixing stuff after the fact using technology rarely leads to good results. Creating stuff in a process involving technology can be quite interesting.


Having working in the recording industry, I have some strong feelings on this one.

Fist I want to say that there is plenty of creative stuff that can be accomplished with the aid of technology that cannot be accomplished without it. In this way i think of it as a creative tool and to some degrees it can be viewed as another instrument. Example of this being done well can be found in bands like Radiohead, the Beatles, as well as the Queen song "Bohemian Rhapsody" (this song was made using multi track recording techniques that I would consider "technology". Even though this song could have been recorded with a choir instead they performed a choir worth of voices by overdubbing the four voices over and over again).

In the OP's question he uses shifting the trumpet up an octave artificially and this reminds me of a guitar effect that is used all the time.

But i think at the heart of the matter is the "making myself sound more proficient than I am" and to this piece I say that you have to do what you feel comfortable with. Let it be known that every recording I worked on (and I am talking about major top 40 bands and artists) had some degree of assistance from technology to make them sound more proficient than the recording would have been otherwise. If this meant editing drums to the grid, tuning vocals, recording one note at a time (yes this happened), cutting multiple takes together, editing out breathes, and everything in between I saw it all happen. It is actually one of the reasons I left the recording industry (there were others, but this really bothered me) and I think there are still artists that don't do this (or at least claim to not do it) such as Jack White (formally of the white stripes) but if you feel comfortable editing yourself to sound better than it is fine and actually very common.

My biggest problem with this is not the aspect of cheating though, it is the fact that I feel it removes the elements of human performance that draws me to enjoy a piece of music. I feel it is the slight imperfections that make a player sound like a player, whether it is Ringo's slightly behind the beat feel or McCartney's slightly flat pitch, if you remove those elements you are removing the essence of that player. If however you are using it as a crutch to help you sound as good as you want to sound, perhaps you can use it as a tool to help you improve to the point of actually being able to perform that way. record yourself, edit it to sound the way you like, practice along with that recording and then record yourself again to see the improvement. If you have a creative idea that needs to use technology to create, then by all means go for it.

just my opinion. just make good music. ;)

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