Springsteen's Super Bowl sellout?

An audio engineer explains the impossibility of miking a halftime performance at the Super Bowl. Will The Boss' fans forgive him for singing along to a prerecorded backing track?

Did you catch Bruce Springsteen's halftime performance on Sunday? Turns out, you were listening to The Boss sing to a prerecorded backing track.

According to this Chicago Tribune interview with Super Bowl pregame entertainment producer Hank Neuberger, only Springsteen's vocals were live (Jennifer Hudson and Faith Hill lip-synched).

As Neuberger correctly explains, it's impossible to set up a rock band for a live performance in five minutes and have anything approaching decent sound. Either you sing to a prerecorded backing track or you accept that millions of viewers are going to hear a crummy performance.

The Steelers weren't the only tough guys at the Super Bowl--could you get back up and sing after that? NBC

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some of his vocals weren't live, either. In big rock 'n' roll productions, it's not uncommon to have a prerecorded vocal track running at the same time, and a sort of reverse-limiter running on the live vocals--if the input on the vocal mike drops below a certain volume, the track automatically switches over to the canned vocals.

In some cases, this is done to hide the flaws of singers who genuinely can't sing, or for aging singers who can't hit certain notes anymore. In other cases, it's simply to allow the singer more freedom to run, jump, slide into the TV cameras, and then magically resume the vocals without missing a note or even taking a breath. For the most part, audiences never notice.

Still, a lot of fans imagine that Springsteen operates at a higher level. I suppose that if there were some sort of thermometer that measures rock 'n' roll authenticity, the Boss would score near the top: he writes and sings his own songs, tours frequently, and plays long shows with a different set list every night.

But this wasn't about his live shows, which he has no problem selling out. This was about informing the tens (hundreds?) of millions of Super Bowl watchers that this singer they used to like back in the '70s and '80s has a new album coming out. This was a 15-minute commercial. And it seems to have worked--Working on a Dream enjoyed high positions on both Amazon.com and iTunes on the Monday, after the game.

At least the game wasn't fixed.

 

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