Music Videos -- Lip Syncing?

So I’m watching some music videos today, and a thought comes to me: music videos rely heavily on cuts, typically presenting the performers in various different settings, all while singing/playing along with the song. However, there’s never any noticeable gap in the song; this is all part of the effect. This got me thinking: I have no idea how the music works in a music video. Do music video producers just use the song as an audio track, and then work on creating a convincing-looking lip-sync job? Is the song in a music video the same as the album version, or is it re-recorded for the music video? Oftentimes, a music video will cut between an “artistic scene” and a “band on stage performing with instruments” scene; is the audio track taken from the performance that you see clips of during the video?

So basically: what’s the deal with music videos?

Typically, the audio track will be played on a machine that runs at a specific, controlled speed – like a DAT deck or a crystal-controlled Nagra. The music is played and the actors/band “lip synchs” and play their instruments to the music. The camera is also running at a precise speed, such as a crystal-controlled 24 frames per second. Modern editing can be done with a computer or on video, but the “old-fashioned way” is to copy the audio that was used on the playback to magnetic film. This yields a piece of film that is the same length as the film that contains the images, and there is a frame-per-frame corelation between them. The two pieces of film are aligned by putting the image of the slate (those little boards with the black and white sticks on top) with the sound of the sticks clacking together. In a synchronizer (a mechanical device with two or more sprocketed wheels) the film stays synchronized. If you want to cut away from the action, you might take 50 frames of image out and replace it with 50 frames of a different image while not cutting the audio film. When you run through the frames (about two seconds) of, say, a kid’s birthday party and cut back to the original footage, you’re still in synch.

That’s a very simple explanation. Nowadays there are timecodes, computers, etc., but the concept is still the same.

Man, I had this all typed out and when I hit preview, I find someone beat me to it. Here’s my answer anyway.

It really depends on the artist. For example, until “Losing my Religion,” R.E.M. did only performance videos, meaning they actually performed the song at the shoot. Usually, though, the band shots are not real. Watch closely and you can see that guitar players will not change chords much, if at all. For those videos, the song is played over speakers so the artist can lip-synch, and the song is dubbed in during editing to finish the video. MTV’s Making the Video specials are a good way to find out. if you can stand the fact that they are all about Britney Spears and N*Sync.

Something else to keep in mind is that some of the ‘artists’ are so pathetically bad that they can’t stay on time with the ‘music’ that they’re lip synching to, in this case, you’ll often see a cut every beat or every fourth beat or so, like in the Eden’s Crush or Dream videos. Dream can’t stay on tempo and in synch to save their life, notice their videos cut about every other beat. My friends and I noticed this during deep introspection (staring at the performers boobs) while we were stoned.


Lip-syncing to a pre-recorded track can have some other benefits, aside from not having to do a million and one (more) takes because the band f*'d up the song. In a lot of hip-hop videos (and others, I suppose) the music and the camerea are both run at a speed slower than normal. This makes makes movements look exagerrated or cartoonish, while allowing the singers and dancers to look like they’re singing and dancing to the music being played…its weird.

For some good videos that aren’t synched, check out March Of The Pigs by Nine Inch Nails, and I beleive that Gave Up by Nine Inch Nails isn’t synched either. Its hard to tell, because there are multiple cameras in the video, but seeing as the video is shot inside a recording studio, it’s entirely possible that its not synched.