[Dixielandjazz] Lip Synching-Cutting & Pasting Redux

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Feb 1 10:59:04 PST 2004

Oh my. Not OKOM, but now they are Lip Synching "Live" Performances and
the audience loves it. Pat Ladd, tis indeed a world turned upside down.
This is probably the beginning of Hologram music. Time for musicians to
start retraining for other forms of work. Check out the third paragraph
for electronic altering of off key notes at live performances. And also
the last paragraph. How much fakery is too much?

Ah show business. Soon it will all be computerized so why should we
musicians worry about listening to dead guys? Let the computer geeks
listen to the dead guys. ;-)


February 1, 2004 - New York Times

Lip-Synching Gets Real


       Of all the lost causes in the pop music world, the most poignant
may belong to the 3,500 fans who recently signed an online petition
begging Britney Spears not to lip-synch on her coming tour. Ms. Spears,
in keeping with the dominant star etiquette, has firmly denied the
practice ("I don't lip-synch," she told a group of reporters by
telephone last November). But no less an authority than her manager,
Larry Rudolph, begs to differ. He said in a phone interview that Ms.
Spears's tour will feature a mix of live and lip-synched vocals, and
confirmed that past tours have included the same. "On those numbers that
are difficult, if not impossible, for her to sing completely live while
she's performing," he said, "what we do is we'll put a backing track
which will support her."

The practice of lip-synching is practically as old as recorded music.
But now, after decades of derision and outrage, audiences are warming up
to the fakery. In chat rooms and fan sites, Ms. Spears's petitioners
have been shouted down by peers from around the world who not only don't
mind a little gimmickry — they prefer it. They may have no choice: live
pop performances rely on an ever-more-intricate mix of live music,
prerecorded sound and high-tech tricks, including new programs that
produce the same flawless sound as a lip-synched performance, even if
the person singing is jumping around, hanging upside-down or just plain
out of tune.

Consider the Super Bowl halftime show. Last year, outraged viewers
accused Shania Twain of lip-synching her performance (she sang; the
instrumentals were canned). But these purists missed a far more
intriguing development. According to Paul Liszewski, the project manager
for the broadcast's audio operations, one performer's vocals — Mr.
Liszewski wouldn't say whose — were electronically altered, in real
time, to correct off-key notes just as they were coming out of the
singer's mouth. This year's halftime show, which includes performances
by Janet Jackson, Kid Rock, P. Diddy and Nelly, will also include a mix
of live and prerecorded singing and music. Most, but not all, of the
vocalists performing will be live, Mr. Liszewski said.

Of course, like those who once felt amplification was too artificial,
some people still hold dear the notion that concerts should feature only
live singing. Fans of traditional rock bands like Coldplay or the
Strokes, for example, would be unlikely to tolerate a great many
technical shortcuts. But for an increasing portion of the pop music
audience, perfection is more desirable than authenticity — especially
when they're paying almost $100 a ticket for an elaborately
choreographed concert.

"Tell me, who can sing hanging on a harness upside-down?" said Nicholas
Martinez, a high school senior from Espanola, N.M., talking on his
cellphone during a year-book meeting. (Indeed, a source close to the MTV
Video Music Awards confirms that Beyoncé — who began her performance at
last year's show by descending head first from the ceiling — lip-synched
part of the song). Mr. Martinez paid $91 for a ticket to Ms. Spears's
Onyx Hotel Tour and will drive six hours to Denver to see the concert.
"I'd rather her not ruin my favorite song and just put on a good show,"
he said.

These concerts are about spectacle and sheer star proximity, not the
miracle of live music production — and the proof may be in the
microphones that are placed in the audience during concert recordings to
capture cheering and clapping. Timothy Powell is the owner of Metro
Mobile Recording of Chicago, which has taped shows by Paul McCartney and
Radiohead as well as a recent female lip-syncher Mr. Powell declined to
name. During songs, his microphones pick up a constant stream of fan
chatter, including cellphone conversations. "I don't know if they're
even listening to the show that much," he said.

Oddly, lip-synching got its big break because of union regulations,
according to Marc Weingarten, author of "Station to Station: The History
of Rock 'n' Roll on Television." No one could quite figure out what sort
of royalties singers deserved for a live TV performance, so in the early
days they just faked it. Later, the practice continued out of sheer
expediency. On "American Bandstand" and most variety shows of the
1960's, vocals and instrumentals were all faked; Keith Moon, the drummer
for the Who, famously registered his contempt for the custom by flubbing
his part on the Smothers Brothers' show.

Still, those performances were the exception; most Americans still got
their music on the radio. But the enormous popularity of MTV, with its
almost exclusively lip-synched videos, ushered in an era in which
average music fans might happily spend hours a day, every day, watching
singers just mouth the words. (Milli Vanilli famously got in trouble,
but that was for lip-synching to other singers' vocals.) "The production
values of the videos themselves are so slick," Mr. Weingarten said, "the
artifice almost vanishes for kids. And then when they see a band live,
they want that replicated."

They also want to see an extravaganza. Around this time, artists like
Madonna and Janet Jackson set new standards for showmanship, with
concerts that included not only elaborate costumes and precision-timed
pyrotechnics but also highly athletic dancing. These effects came at the
expense of live singing. One former record executive, who insisted that
he not be named, recalled being in the front row for a Janet Jackson
performance and seeing her count dance steps with her lips while her
singing voice played over the public address system. (Her label, Virgin
Records, did not respond to interview requests.)

Meanwhile, the rise of hip-hop — which generally uses live vocals but
recorded instrumentals — brought credibility to the use of prerecorded
music on the concert stage. "There were plenty of times at House of
Blues when artists would walk in, hand a tape to the front-of-house
engineer and say, `That's my show,' " said Dave Wells, the former
manager of sound production for House of Blues clubs across the country
and now a production consultant and audio engineer with Sunbelt Scenic
Studios, in Tempe, Ariz.

On television today, some effort is still made to have performances seem
live, but it's often not very convincing. When Casey Spooner of
Fischerspooner appeared on the British show "Top of the Pops" with Kylie
Minogue, for example, he said he was asked to wear a bogus headset
microphone. "There is no microphone," he said. "She's wearing, like, a
coat hanger with a piece of electrical tape on it." Even when televised
performances aren't lip-synched, there's a good chance that the vocals
have been worked over. In post-production, sound levels can be adjusted
and vocal or instrumental mistakes can be corrected.

Awards shows sometimes seem like nonstop parades of lip-synched
gimmickry, but according to Ken Ehrlich, the producer of next week's
Grammy Awards, that show will feature only live vocals. That means that
the rock duo the White Stripes will play every note of their performance
but that a funk music tribute featuring the hip-hop duo OutKast is
expected to include sampled music. Paul Shefrin, the spokesman for the
American Music Awards, said artists on that show are free to lip-synch
if they like, although he added that "very few" do. And the
country-rock-rapper Kid Rock began his performance at the 2002 American
Music Awards with a mannequin and a tape recorder in an apparent protest
of canned vocals.

At the Super Bowl, however, a concern for "authenticity" pales in
comparison to the overwhelming logistics of staging a show that big,
that fast. The halftime show, which features four acts, has to be set up
and ready for broadcast in just three to five minutes. That doesn't
allow time for doublechecking live microphones and instruments. "When
you're broadcasting to 800 million people," said Mr. Liszewski, the
Super Bowl project manager, "you don't like to take chances."

And what kind of performance would rank as "authentic" when the original
is a collage of more than 100 layers of professionally engineered sound?
In the case of many hit songs today, there's just no way to avoid a
serious technological coefficient. "This has become a business of
sampled stuff and little boxes that sit in back of the stage that are
full of symphony orchestras," Mr. Ehrlich said.

Consider Bruce Springsteen, whom many consider the ultimate live artist
— and who's so averse to lip-synching that he insists on singing new
live tracks for all his videos. Still, his last tour featured digitized
samples of the Pakistani singer Asif Ali Khan during the song "Worlds
Apart." Similarly, managers for R.E.M., the Offspring and No Doubt said
those bands have each used sampled sounds or voices during their stage

Many bands beef up their live shows with, for instance, the sound of
extra backing vocals or a horn section that is generated from a stack of
ultra-high-fidelity machines backstage called ADAT's (or Alesis digital
audio tape recorders), or from computer hard disks. An engineer can use
the same machines to play a singer's prerecorded lead vocals, allowing
the singer to lip-synch them in part or total.

With all the complexly layered, prerecorded vocals that echo around a
stadium — electronically adjusted, in real time, to sound studio-perfect
— is it possible to detect the difference between lip-synching and what
earlier cultures referred to as singing? The answer, the experts say, is
yes and no.

Albert Leccese, the vice president of engineering at Audio Analysts, a
company that has provided concert sound equipment and engineers for such
artists as Norah Jones, the Offspring, No Doubt, Ms. Twain and Mr.
Springsteen, says that there are tricks to look out for, like sampled
background voices from a keyboard: "If you see, for instance, that
there's 3 vocal mics and it sounds like 15 because it sounds like
there's a choir back there, that's usually coming from a keyboard

But a lot of what might seem to be lip-synching, or faked
instrumentation, might not really be. Paul Sandweiss, the owner of Sound
Design Corporation, which has mixed sound for TV specials by Ms.
Jackson, Cher and others, points out that light travels much faster than
sound. If fans sitting in the back of a stadium see a drummer hit a kit
before they actually hear the sound, he said, the delay can be mistaken
for poor synchronization.

That kind of confusion may be a concern to some artists. But while those
traditionalists labor to create an illusion of perfection, others are
pulling back the curtain. During a concert at Madison Square Garden in
August, the R & B singer R. Kelly did not even bring a backing band with
him, working strictly with prerecorded tracks. At one point, he put down
his microphone in the middle of a song and let his recorded vocals keep
singing. By all accounts, the audience loved it.  

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