Jan 23, 2013
…she did sing along with a pre-recorded backing.
[Update - Beyonce has finally gone on the record about the "controversy" and confirmed this - for more info click here.]
The video above clearly shows Beyonce singing live at President Obama’s inauguration, despite the fact that many news outlets are claiming she mimed.
You can also clearly hear the pre-recorded backing in the video, made earlier in case of technical problems. (Thanks to Daniel Holter for posting a heads-up on this video.)
But the live vocal is the one most people heard.
You can tell by listening carefully to the two performances audible in the video above and comparing them to this live feed:
For more clues that she sang live, listen for these points:
- When she starts singing, her voice is hard to hear – the microphone gain is too low. The sound-man quickly corrects this – but if we were listening to a recording this wouldn’t happen – in fact back-up recordings are used to solve exactly this kind of problem.
- At 1’16″ in the video above, she tilts her head slightly closer to the mic and the sound gets suddenly more bassy. This is because of an acoustic effect known as the “proximity effect”.
- At 1’52″ she takes out one of her earpieces. Some people are citing this as more evidence she was lip-syncing, but in fact it’s what singers do when they’re having trouble hearing the pitch of their own voice through the earpiece. By taking it out, she can hear her own voice more clearly and sing in tune more easily. (In fact, if the pre-recorded vocal was going to her earpiece, she may well have been finding it distracting.)
- At 2’17″ she smiles slightly, and you can hear this “smile” in her voice.
None of these clues are conclusive, but to fake all of them, plus the details of the performance itself, would make Beyonce the best lip-sync artist in the world !
And anyone who has heard her sing live knows that’s not where her true talents lie…
[Edit - see below for more...]
So why are people saying Beyonce mimed ?
Because the band did mime.
Why ? Apparently Beyonce hadn’t been able to rehearse with the band, and wanted the security of using the version she had certainly been using to practise in the run-up. Or perhaps because it can be next to impossible for a large group of musicians to play in tune in extremely hot or cold temperatures – and it was cold at the inauguration.
The original reports were “confirmed” by representatives of the band, who said that Beyonce asked for the pre-recorded backing, and that’s almost certainly true. (The band has since issued a formal statement saying that “no one in the Marine Band is in a position to assess whether it was live or pre-recorded.”)
Any singer would find it seriously difficult to put on a great performance to a band that was struggling to play in tune, and for something this high-profile it’s understandable that you’d want the best chance to get it right.
But the video at the top of this post uses both audio feeds, probably by mistake, and combined with the other clues leaves me in no doubt that Beyonce sang live – and that her live performance is what most people heard.
So, it’s been 24 hours and Beyonce’s team still haven’t made any comment – meanwhile CNN are quoting an inauguration official who says she decided to use the pre-recorded version the night before.
There are several different versions of the video available, all with slightly different sound – how can this be ? Why are there two voices audible on some versions, and not on others ?
The answer is that it’s standard practise at an event like this for all the audio to be made available to broadcasters, so that each of them can do their own mix – their own blend of presenters, music and ambient crowd noise.
All of which makes it very difficult to know exactly what we’re hearing! And some people are even claiming that Beyonce’s mic wasn’t switched on at all.
But here’s a clue I haven’t mentioned before – in the first WSJ clip above, you can clearly hear wind noise on the mic (and Beyonce’s scarf flapping) at 0’36″. This proves the mic was live – and that it was used in this broadcast, at least.
And you can hear the same thing in other versions, crucially in the video on Beyonce’s blog, too, at 0’48″ – even though this version has been cleaned up to be the least “live-sounding”, with reverb and compression, and the wind noise reduced.
My verdict ?
- The mic was live
- Beyonce sang
- Whether she wanted it or not, the live mic sound was made available and used in many, if not all of the broadcasts
- Her performance was every bit as good as the “safety” pre-record – in fact it was so close that it’s hard to tell them apart !”
We have no way of knowing
exactly why Beyonce chose to use the recorded backing, or if she really wanted us to hear her live performance. But we did – and it was great.
She didn’t mime, she sang great – what’s all the fuss about ?
Update 2: Confirmation !
I think there’s a reaction to all of this from Beyonce hidden towards the end of this post from US Magazine, and I think she confirms exactly what I’ve been saying in this post…?
“She did sing,” the source explains to Us [Magazine]. “There was a [pre-recorded] track, but Bey sang 100 percent.”
“[Using a pre-recorded track at live events] is very very common,” the source clarfies. “The track was only there as a backup.”
“And the source tells Us that Beyonce is … disappointed by the hubbub”
Update 3: In detail
Since originally writing this post, I’ve become more and more convinced that not only did Beyonce sing live, but most of us heard her. To see exactly why, take a look at this video:
The Final Update
Beyonce has finally gone on the record about the “controversy” and confirmed that she sang with the pre-record – for full details click here.