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Read Her Lips : R&B Singer Says Hot Dance Hit Is Lip-Synced

February 21, 1991|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"It's just plain wrong the way the music industry is dealing with the lip-sync situation," said Wash in a phone interview from Milwaukee. "All these accountants and lawyers who are running the business lately seem to have lost touch with what music really is."

What music actually is these days, however, seems to be anything but real.

Since the advent of MTV, record companies have increasingly come to place a higher premium on visual spectacle than musical performance. Plus, many of today's hottest producers pride themselves in manufacturing digitally sampled audio illusions with sophisticated electronic machines and computer programs.

"With technology being what it is today no one can really be sure that what you're watching or listening to is live or Memorex," said RCA's Galante. "Modern technology allows producers to sample and combine one person's voice with another's image."

Galante suggested that record companies need to stop viewing lip-synced music video projects as aberrations and begin recognizing such endeavors as a new musical format. He compared audio technological advances with special effects in science fiction movies.

"The only difference between the music business and the movies is that when you watch 'Star Wars' you're aware of what's going on because you've seen some behind-the-scenes special about how the illusions were made," Galante said. "It's just that no one has ever been exposed to what goes on behind the scenes in a recording studio."

Michael Rosenfeld, a music industry attorney not involved in the Wash cases, suggested that deception occurs when producers do not inform record companies who is actually singing on a recording. Contract terms between producers and record firms are currently being renegotiated to offer companies better protection against misrepresentation by producers, Rosenfeld said.

"If a producer signs a contract and misrepresents the facts about who is really performing, the company should be able to take it out of their hide," Rosenfeld said. "Producers must understand that performers have to be paid and credited or sign releases and that those doing the lip-syncing must be designated."

Galante agrees. He believes the time has come for the industry to embrace the technological revolution and inform the public.

"What companies need to do is to begin educating the public in liner notes on our products as to exactly what makes up these records," Galante said. "That way, when the consumer buys it, they realize the voice is one person and the face in the video is somebody else. Then what it comes down to is whether they like it or not and want to purchase it."

Still, Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences--whose organization revoked Milli Vanilli's 1990 Grammy after their lip-syncing ruse was exposed--said he could not imagine a day when the academy might consider legitimizing a "special effects" artist category in the pop music awards.

"I do not see lip-syncing as a technical achievement in pop music," Greene said in a phone interview from New York. "I understand that we have moved into the age of video where image is often emphasized as much as music in marketing, but we award Grammys for excellence in musical performance not packaging."

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