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Lip Synchronization Is Part Of Show Business

Let’s Not Crucify Beyoncé For Lip-Synching

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

I remember my first paid lip sync experience like it was yesterday. It was about 10 or 12 years ago. I was working a Halloween-themed multi-act concert with a local professional sound company.  In addition to the load-in and load-out, my responsibilities that day included handing out the wireless handheld microphones that each act was utilizing. Moreover, it was my job to make sure the wireless microphones were working correctly without any interference, and that the artists returned the mics as they left the stage.

Since the music expo was sponsored by a local top 40 radio station, it featured a lot of one-hit-wonders who did not have full albums out yet. Many of the hip-hop performers did not carry any instruments. Instead, they would sing over pre-recorded compact discs, oftentimes hiring multiple backup dancers before any touring musicians.   In the live sound business, we refer to these boy bands and girl bands as ‘track acts’.  Now to be clear, a track act and lip synching are two different things; track acts generally sing, at least part of the song, but let me get back to my story.

One of the track acts we were supporting that day was a duo of teenage girls, along with some backup dancers. Their technical rider requested two wireless mics, which they used to introduce themselves.  But when they began performing the songs, it was obvious to me, and anyone looking at the meters on the corresponding wireless receivers (or the meters on the mixing consoles), that these girls were definitely not singing. It was all track.

Wireless microphone receivers have meters that indicate when batteries are low, as well as when the performers are actually singing (Image courtesy of http://www.grcmc.org/)

I bit my tongue and tried not to laugh.  These two teenage girls were performing difficult, choreographed dance moves I could never imagine doing, even after an entire season of being on Dancing With The Sound Guy.  The audience cheered for their entire set of three songs.  So who was I to say they were not performing their songs, even if they were not singing?  If the instruments and backup vocals are pre-recorded, what is wrong with canned lead tracks? There is a good chance they didn’t write the lyrics or melody in the first place. It was probably handed to them on a compact disc, with Post-It Note instructions: “add dance to this”. So who care’s if they sing or not?

Graduate Synch School continued later that night, as I began to setup the stage for a three-man “DJ super group”. I use both terms very loosely, because there were certainly no discs or records being jockeyed, nor was there anything super about this group.  It was basically three electronic music producers who stayed up all weekend and wrote a hit song on a laptop, and a few other songs that were not as popular. 

So back to the stage, this electronica trio included two guys on keyboards, one of which was the cool 80’s “strap on” version that hung off the shoulders using a guitar strap.  But it didn’t matter, because neither keyboard was plugged in!  They were both just props!  The third guy was the only “real” performer in the group, as he sang the lead vocals using a vocoder over three pre-recorded tracks.

I thought to myself, “can these guys really respect themselves as music producers, while pretending to play keyboards that were not even plugged in?”  I guess the fake keyboards gave Thing 1 and Thing 2 something to do on the stage while the lead guy sang the leads. Who was I to say it was not live performance?  The crowd didn’t seem to mind at all.

Which brings me back to Beyoncé. We all know this modern-day diva can sing, LIKE A BOSS. That is why everyone tuned in to hear her sing, and applauded when she finished. It was not until a Marine Band member came forward to say she may have lip-synched, that suddenly, Beyoncé was in the middle of a scandal questioning her patriotism. Shame on you, mainstream media, for jumping on this bandwagon, and not defending her honor. You should know as much as anyone, that just like applying makeup, or throwing your voice, lip-synching is an art, not a crime.

Moreover, the Star Spangled Banner is never an easy song to sing, because it spans so many octaves. On a good day, you might mess up a few words. On a bad day, you might sound like Roseanne.  It’s not like Beyoncé took any performing enhancing drugs to sound better in the Vocal Olympics.  It was a ceremony. It was still her voice, and everyone still applauded. It was not unpatriotic; it was part of a Patriotic performance.

We all know professional wrestling is fake. It doesn’t mean that they are not athletic, and that it’s not dangerous, or difficult to do their job. But in the end, they are performers, not Olympians. Those wrestlers follow a script, just like Beyoncé and everyone else did on Inauguration Day 2013.

Let’s face it: lip synching is a part of show business, just like acting is part of politics!

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