The real deal
By Li Qing  ·  2024-06-07  ·   Source: NO.23 JUNE 6, 2024
Poster of the music show Singer 2024 (FILE)

'After a prolonged absence, Singer 2024 is back, thanks to a commitment to authenticity and a respect for singers. Here, music always serves as the greatest common ground for communication."

The Singer 2024 production team posted this message on Weibo, China's X equivalent, on May 12 to mark the program's return after a four-year hiatus.

From its debut in 2013 to the end of its eighth season in 2020, the Singer series had attracted over 100 singers from around the world and presented nearly 900 songs across the spectrum of musical genres. The show has always provided a platform with top-notch equipment, production and aesthetics for artists to shine and compete.

However, the Singer 2024 team decided to add a little twist: abandoning the use of autotune, and broadcasting this season's 12 shows live, featuring one-take performances on Hunan Satellite TV and its online platform Mango TV. A jury of 1,000 audience members inside the studio or on the video platform can then vote for their favorite singers.

Hong Xiao, the show's producer, stated at a press conference in the lead-up to the first episode that as Singer returns to screens, he hopes the show will embrace authenticity through live broadcasting. This format can help the program, each episode of which lasts over two hours, to stand out amidst the current dominance of online short videos.

"Live broadcasting comes with unpredictability and spontaneity; these aspects make up its charm. Our goal is to provide our audience with a new experience," he said at the press gathering in Changsha, Hunan Province.

The show's bold attempt instantly sparked public interest and online debate. Many expressed how the omnipresence of performances fine-tuned in post-production has negatively impacted their perceptions of music competitions and programs.

Hitting the right note?

Undoubtedly, this particular innovation has transformed the once-declining music program into a resounding success.

According to CVB, a television show statistics collector affiliated with the National Radio and Television Administration, the premiere of Singer 2024 gave Hunan Satellite TV a 1.84-percent share of viewership nationwide, a leading advantage of 40 percent over the best performer among the other 33 provincial satellite TV channels.

The first episode accumulated over 100 million views in less than 24 hours on Mango TV. This success also positively impacted Mango Excellent Media Co. Ltd., Hunan Satellite TV's new media platform, as its stock prices surged by 11.69 percent on the first trading day after the premiere, resulting in an overnight market value increase of 4.92 billion yuan ($591.7 million).

"Recent years have seen an increase in the use of sound modification in music programs. So I was looking forward to the new season and to seeing something fresh," Zhang Xu, a music show enthusiast, told Beijing Review.

Zhang noted that in the three episodes of Singer 2024 that had already been aired at the time of writing, some performances didn't quite hit the mark. She added that the fact that the program is broadcast live and doesn't use autotune does give off a more genuine vibe and enables talented performers to excel.

However, as the production team was preparing for the new season, many singers declined the invitation to appear on the show due to concerns that the "unfiltered" broadcast would "expose" their vocal abilities.

A live performance can strain the vocal chords and this can, in turn, affect a performer's competitive mindset. Plus, in the digital era, any mistakes they make may go viral online—and continue to haunt them for many years to come.

"Many declined our invitation because of the live aspect, making it difficult for us to get artists who meet the criteria of talent, courage and availability," Hong stated.

Generally, vocal tuning in music shows is not only restricted to adjusting intonation and rhythm but also includes modifications to tone, volume, or spatial effects such as echoes.

Different types of songs require different approaches to post-production. For example, pop music requires engineers to maintain a balance between the vocals and the volume of the music, highlighting the singer's vocal style.

It is also common to recreate the live atmosphere in post-production to create a more immersive sound experience.

In addition, due to advanced audio equipment and live performances, studio audiences tend to overlook minor imperfections that should be addressed before programs are broadcast on television or posted to online platforms.

Genuine appreciation

Wang Lei, Director of the School of Music Technology at Beijing Contemporary Music Academy and a participant in many popular music shows, told China News Weekly that a single song in a music variety show can contain up to 80 tracks.

He also mentioned that it takes an average of about eight hours to mix a song for these shows—almost the standard for recording studios, which spend about 10 hours on recording and mixing.

Jin Chi, a pop singer, believes that the most captivating aspect of live performances is the display of "in-the-moment, real emotions."

In an interview with Southern Metropolis Daily, she mentioned it is impossible for every song to be flawless. And she stressed that the slight imperfections make each performance unique and irreplaceable.

A singer's dynamism, power or even tension can also be revealed in these imperfections. She added, "I would find it a shame if autotuning eliminated these genuine emotions."

Singer and music producer Zeng Yiming believes that using technology to improve one's sound will affect the public's perception of and appreciation for good music. He told Southern Metropolis Daily that prolonged exposure to such "filtered" programs makes it difficult for people to recognize genuine talent, which is unfair to dedicated singers who have invested considerable time and effort in their musical pursuits.

An editorial in Guangming Daily newspaper commented that the show's live format removes the veil of the domestic entertainment industry by emphasizing less reliance on technology and fewer edits.

"If you're not great at it, just keep practicing. Let's not allow technology to overshadow creativity. Only true talent can meet the audience's expectations," the article read.

Zhang said she hoped audiences such as herself will be more understanding and supportive of singers who choose not to have autotune applied to their songs so that everyone can truly develop their singing skills, leading to a better listening experience in music programs. BR

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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