Laura Escudé’s technology journey has been a voyage of discovery. The personification of simultaneity and harmony, she is a renowned master of live show design, a teacher, mentor, classically trained violinist, producer, artist, entrepreneur, thought leader, and creative collaborator with some of the world’s biggest touring artists.
Escudé is the founder and CEO of Electronic Creatives, a global team of producers, programmers, players, and engineers that realizes the visions of musicians wishing to elevate their stage shows through a convergence of sound, lights, and video technologies. Clients have included Jay-Z, Kanye, Drake, Porter Robinson, Ariana Grande, Harry Styles, and Iggy Azalea.
She’s the mastermind behind Transmute, a technology-focused performance accelerator for DJs, producers, and musicians. She recently released her own EP (also called Transmute); she holds creative retreats; and collaborates on events as diverse as book tours and American Idol. Known for a decade as “Alluxe,” Escudé shifted back to her own name a year ago to fully embrace her authentic self and to mesh, rather than compartmentalize, her many facets.
How is she all these people at once? Escudé credits a team of extraordinary people, but she’s also multi-passionate and seems to possess a preternatural creative and work ethic. Unlike most humans, she doesn’t just wake up with a vision; she jumps up and executes it.
But, even pioneers keep learning as they go. For Escudé, that’s meant tearing down barriers to her own self-limiting thinking. Some of that can be seen in the way she harnesses technology, including Auto-Tune. “Over the past couple of years, I’ve been doing a lot more self-exploration and tuning in more to how our thoughts create our beliefs and feelings,” she explains. “I started looking at how I use technology and how different pieces of technology can help us overcome limiting belief.” One of these tools was Auto-Tune: “When I first learned about Auto-Tune I didn’t quite understand it,” she says. “But when I started working with different artists, namely Kanye West—I toured with him for many years—I noticed how he used that and it freed him to be himself on stage and perform and sing. And it allowed him to reach new heights with his vocals, as it does for a lot of other different artists that use it, either live or in the studio.”
Escudé says that experience completely changed her perspective on Auto-Tune. “I just thought, ‘Wow. It’s so incredible that there’s a piece of technology out there that someone can use to literally express themselves in a way that they wouldn’t be able to without it.’ I’ve been a fan ever since.”
Escudé’s new relationship with Auto-Tune allowed her to foray into singing as part of her performance art, even though she’s not a trained singer. She was driven to use her own voice to express her humanity in her work, so she went for it: “We’re not experts in everything,” she explains. “In Auto-Tune, here’s a tool to help my vocal sound more interesting. It’s important for artists not to get caught up on their so-called weaknesses because there’s a way to parlay that into a strength.”
For Escudé, Auto-Tune is freeing—“A little Auto-Tune helps us to just get more in the moment and just to really come through with whatever emotion it is that we’re feeling”—and she recommends it to both people who can sing and people who think they can’t sing. It’s actually Escudé’s philosophy that everyone can sing. “In other cultures, they’re not taught that they can’t sing; everyone sings,” she says. “But in our culture a lot of people were taught from a young age, ‘Oh, you can’t sing. Oh, you’re flat, or you’re sharp,’ or whatever. ‘You don’t sound good.’ Kids are shamed from a young age by other children or adults, and that’s not right. Everyone should be able to sing if they want to, without caring if they’re in tune or out of tune, because it’s way of expressing themselves. Auto-Tune is a brilliant tool for allowing people to do that.”
Escudé uses Auto-Tune on all kinds of projects in the studio—and just about all the time live. A big part of her own show is turning Auto Tune on and off, depending on whether she is singing or talking. “I also interact with Harmony Engine quite heavily because that’s such a magical plug-in for creating dimensions and chords with your voice,” she says. “These tools are another way of augmenting yourself.”
The ease of Auto-Tune has allowed Escudé to delight audiences by letting them in on some of the technology that makes the magic happen. “I show the audience that I can turn on and off Auto-Tune and Harmony Engine with a Wii controller, and it’s a part of my show,” she says. “The audience always goes, ‘Wow, this is incredible that you have something in your hands that’s wireless, and you can run around and control the vocals and vocal effects.’”
Auto-Tune’s capabilities vary with the imaginations of those who use it. And Escudé’s imagination is vast. “There are just so many uses for Auto-Tune, both live and in the studio,” she says. “And if you manipulate it and you just work with it enough, you can create some really surprising improvisational results. You can have the Retune Speed way down and really not be able to detect the Auto-Tune. And then with the Retune Speed all the way up, it’s an effect, and it can be very surprising, and robotic, and futuristic sounding.
“It’s cool to see an artist play with those different settings, depending on what type of music they’re performing, and their comfort level, and what they’re trying to get across,” Escudé concludes. “Once they realize they can have control over it, switching between them for different parts of a song or even after a songs ended, they can still be using it, and change the settings…and create moments with it. And the liberation it brings to their faces is such a joy to see.”
Music and Technology Writer
Sarah Jones is a writer, musician, and content producer who chronicles the creative and technical forces that drive the music industry. She's served as editor-in-chief of Mix, EQ, and Electronic Musician magazines and is currently the live sound editor of Live Design magazine. She’s a longtime board member in the San Francisco chapter of The Recording Academy, where she develops event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.