Adventures In Audio
Is it OK for an artist to lip-sync?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Thursday November 30, 2006
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The history of popular music is dotted (dotted rather than littered) with artists who have been caught lip syncing. Perhaps the most famous are Milli Vanilli who were exposed as a duo of front men lip syncing to a backing track recorded by session singers.

Less famous, because it cut her career short in its tracks, is Betty Boo, who was found out to be lip syncing a concert when she dropped her microphone and the vocal carried on. Actually, Betty Boo wasn't a bad artist in her day so perhaps the market was being over-enthusiastic in its condemnation.

Then of course there is the Ashlee Simpson Saturday Night Live episode...

The fact is that these few examples of when people have been caught out is just the tip of the iceberg. Lip syncing is the norm rather than the exception, particularly in broadcast performances. And the time when the backing band actually played their instruments live was somewhere around when pterodactyls still flew in the sky.

So why don't we hear more about lip syncing? The answer is that it is not in anyone in the industry's interest to spill the beans. TV shows like the get-'em-on-get-'em-offness of the pre-packaged pretty girl singer with cool looking backing band. And all they have to do is play the track and the singer and band look good and get the words right (and don't drop the mic).

Also, if you were to gain inside knowledge that a studio artist had not performed on their record. Or perhaps their voice was around 20 dB lower than the session singer hired for the main vocal, then the record company would simply sue your butt off. And you would never work again, that's for sure.

Now back to the question - is it OK for the artist to lip-sync? Plainly, if the audience thinks they are singing live, then they are being duped and that is not OK. But the media dupe us all the time with prefabricated stories about famous people who are famous only for being famous, and we lap it up.

In some ways, the duper and dupee can be in a strange kind of relationship that works. And to be honest, lip syncing does seem to work for the mass market.

However, when acts who aspire to 'credibility' start lip syncing, then that's taking things too far in my opinion.

It would be nice if we could be entertained by people who could just sing, like in the old days. But I suspect that's not going to happen anytime soon, and I doubt whether anyone reading this is in a position to do anything to make a difference, other than not buying music by 'exposed' artists.

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