Lip-synching in Music - Complex Performance

Complex Performance

Artists often lip-synch during strenuous dance numbers in both live and recorded performances, due to lung capacity being needed for physical activity (both at once would require incredibly trained lungs). Michael Jackson was an example of this; he performed complex dance routines while lip-syncing and live singing. His performance on the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever (1983) changed the scope of live stage show. Ian Inglis, author of Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time (2006) notes the fact that "Jackson lip-synced 'Billie Jean' is, in itself, not extraordinary, but the fact that it did not change the impact of the performance is extraordinary; whether the performance was live or lip-synced made no difference to the audience", thus creating an era in which artists recreate the spectacle of music video imagery on stage.

Chris Nelson of The New York Times reported: "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." Edna Gundersen of USA Today comments that the complexity of modern stage show has forced "singing and musicianship into minor roles", citing as example artists such as New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, George Michael, Cher, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. Gundersen elaborates: "The most obvious example is Madonna's Blond Ambition World Tour, a visually preoccupied and heavily choreographed spectacle. Madonna lip-syncs the duet 'Now I'm Following You', while a Dick Tracy character mouths Warren Beatty's recorded vocals. On other songs, background singers plump up her voice, strained by the exertion of non-stop dancing."

Billboard editor Thom Duffy commented: "The expectations of fans have changed, and that's the driving force here ... They expect a concert as perfect as what they see on MTV." Rashod D. Ollison of The Baltimore Sun observes: "Since the advent of MTV and other video music channels, pop audiences have been fed elaborate videos thick with jaw-dropping effects, awesome choreography, fabulous clothes, marvelous bodies. And the same level of perfection is expected to extend beyond the video set to the concert stage. So if Britney Spears, Janet Jackson or Madonna sounds shrill and flat without a backing track, fans won't pay up to $300 for a concert ticket." Gundersen comments that while lip-syncing may be used to augment live singing, it has also been used to hide the fact that an artist may have no vocal talent whatsoever, such as Milli Vanilli, who lip-synched vocals other than their own.

Some singers habitually lip-synch during live performances, both concert and televised, over pre-recorded music and mimed backing vocals; this is known as singing over playback. Some artists switch between live singing and lip-synching during performance, particularly during songs that require them to hit particularly high or low notes. Lip-synching these notes ensures that the performer will not be out of tune and that the artist will not strain his or her voice too much during an arduous concert. Once the difficult portion of the song has passed, the artist may continue to lip-synch or may resume singing live. Some artists lip-synch choruses during songs but sing the main verses.

The practice of synching also occurs in musical theater, for much the same purpose as for musicians. A production may include a mix of lip-synched and live musical numbers. In long-running shows, this may be done to help protect the performer's voice from strain and damage, as well as to maintain a high caliber of production. A notable example of using lip-synching as a special effect includes performances of The Phantom of the Opera, with swing actors in the same costumes as the lead actors give the illusion of the characters moving around the stage with some mystery. Artists may also lip-synch in situations in which their backup bands and sound systems cannot be accommodated, such as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which features popular singers lip-synching while riding floats.

Some artists may choose to lip-synch during live performance because of stage fright or perceptions of inadequacy. Unlike studio recording, live performance provides only one chance to sing each song correctly. An artist may worry that his or her voice is not strong enough, that it will sound noticeably different from recorded versions or that he or she will hit a wrong note. Sometimes lip-synching is falsely identified by fans sitting in the back of a stadium seeing a drummer hit a kit before they actually hear the sound; the delay can be mistaken for poor synchronization.

Read more about this topic:  Lip-synching In Music

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