Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is It Live or Is It Memorex?

I always got a kick out of the commercials for Memorex audio tapes when I was growing up. Here's one of the ads that I clearly remember. It seemed so amazing that a recording could have the same acoustic effects as a live performance. While I still thrill at the technology, I find myself asking if it is live or is it lip-syncing?

As most of you know by now, Beyonce Knowles was accused of lip-syncing during President Obama's Inauguration earlier this week. I'm not here to debate whether or not Beyonce actually did use a prepared recording. Instead, I want to think about the question of integrity as it relates to the life of an artist.

My music appreciation students composed their first journal of the semester yesterday. Many of them were struggling to find a topic, so I provided some possible topics in class. One idea was the issue of lip-syncing. A large number of them chose to write on the subject; frankly, I was surprised at their views on the issue.

The overwhelming feeling by these students was that it was completely understandable that a professional artist would record their voice. Their acceptable reasons given for relying on a recording were cold temperatures, the possibility of not being able to hear clearly, and stage fright in front of millions of people. It was stated repeatedly that "everyone does it" and served as a moral imperative making it an acceptable action.

I don't want to make this into a bigger issue than it really is. Let's accept the fact that lip-syncing is not a matter of life or death. I must take exception with the issue though. Of the three reasons provided by my students (many of which I have also heard proclaimed by the media), I can accept the issue of the weather -- at least, to a degree. Any artist given the opportunity to sing at such a historic occasion is willing to risk a cold. I know that cold temperatures can reek havoc on the vocal cords; that risk is part of the excitement of watching a "live" event.

Many have compared singing in the open air of Washington with the acoustic issues one faces in a football stadium. Are you kidding me? I simply don't see the connection. Monday's setting was wide open with few objects around that would have caused the bounce-back that is the main reason cited. Stage fright? No way! These artists are touring all over the world, facing enormous audiences on a regular basis. It's part of the job and something performers learn to deal with.

As an educator, I am troubled that these accusations are not viewed as more seriously by some in society. Any student who falsely submits work that is not their own is charged with plagiarism. When an examination is administered, it is an opportunity to show the level of preparation and how well they perform under pressure. Yet we find it acceptable for a singer to pre-record and pass it off as live? Do you really think the recording wasn't doctored in the studio? Do we have any assurance that the first take was the only one?

It simply comes down to this for me: if I am going to hear you in person, I expect to hear you performing LIVE! Otherwise, I'll just stay home and let you send me the CD or I'll download the video on YouTube.