Miming Vocalists

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Mike Stranks
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Miming Vocalists

Postby Mike Stranks » Sun Feb 12, 2012 2:54 pm

In another forum thread I was asked:

"When did miming turn into lip synching and is it a modern phenomena?"

So here goes with a shot at an answer...

Maybe I'm not up with the current music-speak, but the terms 'miming' and 'lip-synching' mean very different things to me - 'Miming' in our context is someone pretending to sing, when in fact they're miming to a pre-recorded track. 'Lip-synching' is when dialogue has to be replaced in a film and the actors come back to re-reord their lines, but using the images on screen to synch to.

So I'll stick with the whole concept of miming.

It's been around on TV for at least 50 years where for various reasons acts have mimed-along to either their studio-track or one they recorded specifically for the broadcast. (In fact, although technically they were more often s'posed to do the latter because of MU rules, in reality it was very often the former purporting to be the latter!)

But miming "live" has become much more prevalent over recent years. I think the reasons are:

1) The music reproduction technology is much more sophisticated and much more reliable meaning that it's easier for acts to do this without it being glaringly obvious to members of the audience.

2) Live shows for 'name' singers have become much more elaborate with complex scenery, extensive choreography, and movement and spectacle being seen as important as the vocal performance. However, fit the artist is, it's virtually impossible to sing anything like coherently whilst, running, jumping and generally being thrown about the place by atheletic dancers. Thus, to get anything like a satisfactory vocal performance then prerecording is almost esssential.

3) In-ear- monitors (IEMs). The problems of trying to mime realistically to a sound coming through a floor monitor are great and, not least, cause all sorts of problems with timing and delay. IEMs not only give people freedom to move, but also mean that the track to be mimed to is inside the head making the synchronisation much easier to achieve.

4) Autotune. This technology has meant that singers with only an average ability to pitch a note can seemingly produce a sound coherent enough to make a recording. But succesful recordings mean a demand to go on the road. So what is the less than pitch-perfect singer to do? Autotune CAN be used live, but it's far easier to mime to a track which is guaranteed wrinkle-free!

So that's my tuppence-worth FWIW.
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Jon G
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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby Jon G » Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:05 pm

So when Gordon's being tossed around the stage by Beyoncé we know he's actually miming to a Bert Weedon track, right?
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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby Trevor Raggatt » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:04 pm

Another thing I'd add to Mike's list is the improvement in sampling/midi sequencing technology. It's now possible for the keyboard player of a band effectively to drive all of the non-live produced sounds from his computer/keyboard controller.

This means that the entirety of the pre-recorded vocal performance could be synced and driven centrally. Now as with most things this is neither good nor evil - it all depends on the application of the technology.

This capability has been around for some years at increasing levels of sophistication. If you look at old rock concert footage from the late 80s and 90s you’ll sometimes see for one of two songs the drummer will don a big set of headphones or a set of headphones with only one “can”. Back in those days it would be so that he could play along to a “click track” – a tone sent out by the keyboards/sequencers to ensure that the live drummer played at the same tempo and in sync with the complex sequenced keyboard track, sound effects etc and therefore lock the rest of the band/singers into it. Sometimes for bands who did large multimedia shows (thinking of Rush, Pink Floyd, Genesis and the like) it would also be used to sync the band to the visuals.

One of the bid advantages is the ability to blend live with pre-recorded/orchestrated music. Certainly it is now even easier and less obvious when this happens live since most musicians on big gigs like that may be wearing in-ear monitors. No suddenly popping on a bug clumsy looking set of headphones for the drummer.

The sequencer approach when used for miming purposes also avoids to a large extent the old old urban myth of the singer looking perplexed as the record with recording on it starting to skip or slow down as the tape recorder proceeded to mangle the tape with the music on.

So how can this be used for good and ill? Well the X-Factor-wannabe type of miming is probably more on the “ill” side. Although, as Mike says, if you buy tickets to see Kylie, Madonna or Lady Gaga you’re ACTUALLY buying tickets to a “show” rather than a “gig”. The requirements of the spectacular are part of the deal – and that requires reinforcement of the vocals when the artist’s being flung about by muscular dancer.

Having a number of friends in the prog world I know of a number of different applications they use it for. I know of some bands who have live vocals but run pre-recorded vocals in the background at a much lower level (effectively the same lead lines the main vocalist is singing but all driven by the keyboards) to support the vocalists and help re-create the lushness of the vocal production on the record. Another friend uses it as a creative tool live. On a few songs where there are particularly lush harmony vocals as part of the recording of the song (especially if they are a “signature” part of the song) he will trigger samples of the backing vocals from the record alongside the band’s own live backing vocals as an effect. In effect he will play them as a keyboard sound – but only as a background texture. That strikes me as quite a clever and imaginative use of that type of sampling technology.

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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby GORDON » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:35 pm

You're clever you are.. :shock:

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Jon G
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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby Jon G » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:36 pm

But maybe singing live whilst being thrown will come back into fashion, resulting in something between singing and women's tennis:

I'm a survivor EAAHRCH!
I'm not gon' give up EAAHRCH!
I'm not gon' stop UNNNNH!
I'm gon' work harder EAAHRCH!
I'm a survivor YACCCCH!

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Roger
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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby Roger » Sun Feb 19, 2012 11:38 pm

Mike/Trevor,

More proof (as if we needed it!) that the knowledge and expertise on this forum knows no bounds - brilliant :D

As a long-time Roxy Music fan I was interested in a couple of the points raised:

1. I remember "The Great Paul Thompson", drummer with Roxy, wearing big headphones on one track only during their 1979/80 tour. It was called "Manifesto" and so I guess he must have been playing to a click track. I believe he didn't play on the studio version of the song.

2. Phil Manzanera, the Roxy guitarist, now sings on his solo albums "because the technology now exists" - autotune I think!

Roger :D
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Jon G
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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby Jon G » Mon Feb 20, 2012 8:05 am

One real downside of this is that we (ie the public) become increasingly accustomed to polished perfection rather than individual quirky human talent. Think back to any of the great (and maybe not great but favourite) acts of the past. Imagine a world where Bob Dylan or the Incredible String Band were deemed only fit to record via Autotune. Leadbelly playing to a click track. Or John Otway, bless him, miming so his singing was still perfect as he fell off amplifiers.

It's not so bad to enable people who can't sing (or play) to do so, maybe - but it risks forcing those who can to use technology to match those who can't.
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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby GORDON » Mon Feb 20, 2012 9:41 am

Hello all.

I think it's that quest for perfection that most caring artists are looking for. Jon you speak the truth in your posting about all those legendary artists from the past.

My dear friend Bert Jansch was a prime example of this. Some of his greatest moments weren't perfect by virtuoso standards or even recording techniques of the day, but somehow what was "captured" was pure magic. Even Bert's classic recording of Angie had a wonderful drop out toward the end of the piece. As a youngster I just loved that moment and looked forward to it each and every time I played it.

The legendary Bill Leader who recorded many of those seminal albums including my first two for Transatlantic used pretty basic recording facilities way back then, although my albums were recorded at RG JONES in Wimbledon. His Camden Town flat had egg boxes stuck to the wall for acoustic cushioning, and much of Bert's first album was recorded in Bill's kitchen!

I personally love this sort of home made view of recording. Fancy studios are all very well but somehow lack atmosphere!

Getting back to the original point. Listen to any classic recording from those early days and what is captured is a "performance". Sometimes that "performance" is lost in the quest for technical perfection. As a recording artsist I'm always trying achieve both aspects. Technical perfection (or as best as I can do) and a performance that has vitality and life. Harder to achieve that you think! That's why it's always good to try and record a complete performance from start to finish.

When I recorded my TROUBADOUR album I didn't have a machine where I could drop sections in. What you hear on the album are complete performances from start to finish. Imagine recording Down the River, a seven minute piece in one take! I think I did about fifteen takes before finally nailing it, with a pounding head at the end of it. All the guitar parts were recorded in our spare bedroom using a single coil pick-up with an internal microphone. I had to sit rigidly in one position facing a radiator to avoid getting a hum from the pickup!

I still regard TROUBADOUR as a personal favourite, but boy was it a struggle!

Many Thanks Jon for that cracking and thought provoking posting.

Be Well sir.

G.

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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby Jon G » Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:54 am

Thanks Gordon. Your comments about Bert's "imperfections" remind me (and I suspect you too) of the early Shadows recordings. It was always slightly disappointing when they were on TV at the London Palladium because Hank didn't do the fluffed notes and accidental twangs.

I'm told that all the Hank wannabes at the time not only wore fake specs, but made sure they learned to play the mistakes properly!
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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby GORDON » Mon Feb 20, 2012 11:51 am

Yep,it was the mistakes that made the magic...

Having said that, I didn't KNOW they were mistakes!

I just worshiped the man from afar,and now I know him as an acquaintance!

How cool is that...funny old life eh!

Best.

G.

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Roger
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Re: Miming Vocalists

Postby Roger » Mon Feb 20, 2012 12:17 pm

When things do go wrong with equipment it never ceases to amaze me how the top musicians overcome the problem. I remember at Hayling last year when Gordon was playing Dodo I thought there was a problem with the loop station, but as the piece went on I thought I must have been mistaken. Then at the end of the piece Gordon announced that the loop station had been playing up! I don't think most of the audience noticed and it was a tribute to Gordon's ability that he could react to the problem in such a professional way.
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