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backing track

We all know there are artists who fake singing live. There are a few that everyone suspects of doing it, but then there are also bands and artists that we don’t want to believe participate. The scary thing is that there are a lot of artists who take part in faking live performances. Click the picture below to see an interactive timeline of notable lip-syncing incidents.

Timeline of notable lip-syncing incidents

A big question surrounding lip-syncing is not only does it hurt the artist when made public, but does it also make a show less credible if they allow artists to mime their performances? Matt Fiino, Audio mixer for NBC’s the Today Show, believes that it does. “We have a rule that it really has to be ‘live’ because our show is a news show first and foremost…There will never, ever be lip-synching on The Today Show. The program could lose its credibility as a news program if they say such-and-such is playing live and it’s actually me holding a [vocal] track fader” 1. I surveyed 26 people (mostly college students) to get their feelings on lip-syncing. The results can be found below.

Should artists have to disclose to their audience if they lip-sync?

Should artists have to disclose if they lip-sync?

Some professionals, as well as myself, thought that lip-syncing was becoming so obvious that it had to die out. Unfortunately, this as not happened. There have been plenty of incidents just in the past decade that prove that it is still happening.

Artists believed to lip-sync

Artists believed to lip-sync based on a survey I conducted

One argument for lip-syncing is that it is necessary for when artists are being really physical onstage and they would not be able to sing properly if they were doing it live. These people believe it is more about putting on a amazing show for the eyes, and are not so worried with authenticity. Is lip-syncing ever acceptable?Alexandre Magno, who has choreographed for Madonna, says the performance trumps actual singing. “In the long run, it’s about performance,” he says. “If you’re up there and you know what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter if you’re lip-syncing or you’re singing live”2.

Other artists and producers say that performing to a backing track is a smart thing to do in certain circumstances. The Super Bowl is one such event that all artists are either forced to lip-sync or are highly encourage to. The stance in that there are so many variable to take into account which leads to a lot of things that can go wrong. Playing or singing to a backing track lowers these risks greatly (although not completely).

Are backing tracks ever acceptable?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are well known for their energetic live shows. After Springsteen and the band performed at the halftime show of the 2009 Super Bowl, it was revealed the next day that they hadn’t been playing live. Grammy-award-winning television producer Hank Neuberger says that the Super Bowl has had the same procedure for years. They record a track and give the artist the option of singing live, but encourage them to use the track 3.

Some very-respected musicians, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, have defended playing to a backing track if the situation calls for it. Ma performed at Barack Obama’s inaugurations ceremony on January 23, 2009. He played to a track that was recorded two days prior, citing that having a string break due to the cold weather was not an option 4.

So then if you agree that lip-syncing is necessary under some circumstances, should the audiences be warned ahead of time? After all, they are paying money to see an artist and probably want to see an authentic show.

Click the photo below to see a photo slideshow of a live music performance that doesn’t involve lip-syncing!

Live Music Slideshow

What do you guys think about lip-syncing and/or playing to a backing track?  Share your thoughts in the comments area!

2. Knopper, Steve. 2004. “Lip-Sync Nation.” Rolling Stone no. 962: 20. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 10, 2012).

What do you think of when you think of lip-syncing?  That video above is usually one of the first things that come to my mind.  I’m working on a feature story about lip-syncing and playing to backing tracks that will be posted sometime tomorrow.  Check back for it!