NBC News said that Beyoncé wasn’t lip-synching, but, "in effect, lip-synching"; the Daily Show talked about the "revelation" of her lip-synching. All the media I’m seeing is saying it’s an established fact that she lip-synched.
That’s bunk. She was singing live, to a prerecorded instrumental track. As was Kelly Clarkson, and as was the choir; every single singer on the inauguration stage—this year, and in 2009.
Anybody who deals with mics, and live singing, can easily see lip-synching. It has to do with the sound of a studio mic versus a stage mic, the sound of the reverb/compression and other audio effects on the vocal, the audibility of breath, the tendency of the singer’s mouth to audibly move ever so slightly closer to, or further from, the mic, and tiny variations in phrasing and pitch that would be edited out of a recording.
A soldier can tell the difference between guns’ sounds; a bird-watcher can hear the difference between warbles. It’s not that hard to tell the difference between a live vocal and a prerecorded one.
That lady was singing live.
I’ve also done a bunch of lip-synching, in music videos, and there’s usually some tiny, observable latency, easily spottable by people who perform in, shoot, or edit music videos. If she did, Beyoncé is the greatest lip-syncher in the history of humanity. Go look at some videos—go look at mine, if you want an example of eminently mediocre lip-synching—and then at her inauguration performance.
She was wearing in-ear monitors, as do, basically, all singers who can afford them. Anybody who sings in arenas does. To me, anybody that’d sing outdoors, where the wind blows the sound around, in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and millions on TV, and not use in-ears is gambling absurdly.
(The alternative to in-ears is speakers placed on the floor in front of the singer. Take a look at that stage. They would’ve had to boot senators to make room)
What seemed to freak everybody out was that she removed her left in-ear mid-performance. That’s not a sign of lip-synching, by any means—you do that when the sound is weird, or the track is too loud, or something along those lines.
When I use in-ears—on longer tours, when I can afford to bring along a sound engineer—I keep one popped out, always. I put both in when the sound onstage is horribly indistinct, and that’s rarely.
It’s not like those things are invisible, by the way. You’d have seen it in a not-extremely-close-up shot of the side of her head.
Lip-synching is irritating to me. I was stunned that, after the Ashlee Simpson debacle, SNL continued to have musical guests who lip-synch. I get it, singing sounds like gasping and panting when one is simultaneously dancing—but, SNL? A live TV show for three decades, and you’re not gonna be the sticklers who force J. Lo to sit still on a stool next to a piano?
Funnily, I spent a fair amount of time during the inauguration kvetching about the backing tracks: richest country in the world, and we can’t afford to hire an orchestra and put microphones on them? What is this, the National Anthem at the Gator Bowl?
Almost all big public events, for decades, use canned tracks. I wasn’t an engaged viewer of W’s inaugurations, and I was high during Clinton’s, but I would wager that they used backing tracks, too. Danged Yo-Yo Ma played to tracks, in 2009!
At the very least, what we can now confirm is that no Daily Show or NBC sound engineer was present in the meeting, and that no NBC producer ever got on the com and said, “Camera 3, can we get a shot of the band? Camera 3, have you found the band? Uh, Camera 3…?”
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