IS IT Milli Vanilli or is it Memorex?
Is it Madonna or is it Sony?
The question for concert fans these days is: Do you get what you pay for -- a completely live act -- or are performers lip-syncing to tape recordings during live stage shows?
Recently, this has been on the minds of fans and parents and now, the State Legislature.
State Assemblyman Gary Proud, D-Rochester, who recently attended a Milli Vanilli concert with his 10-year-old daughter, said: "We paid $20 a ticket, we get inside and it's obvious that Milli Vanilli is lip-syncing on stage."
"There's nothing wrong with that, but people should at least know," Proud said in a telephone conversation.
Proud recently introduced a bill along with State Sen. Eugene Levy, R-Rockland, that would require "clear and conspicuous disclosure" in ads when the musical accompaniment at a public performance is pre-recorded.
If the bill becomes law, concert promoters and ticket agents must inform patrons that an act's lead vocals are pre-recorded. Failure to comply could result in a fine of $50,000 for the promoter and $5,000 for the ticket agent. The state attorney general's office would act on complaints of performers doing unannounced lip-syncing at concerts.
Milli Vanilli is not the only act caught with its tape on -- Madonna apparently is in the same boat.
The New York Times reviewed her recent concert at Nassau Coliseum and estimated that for at least half the show, Madonna depended on pre-recorded vocals. A spokeswoman for Madonna denied the charge.
Other performers rumored to use pre-recorded vocals in their concerts include Janet Jackson, George Michael and New Kids on the Block.
There have even been charges that Milli Vanilli may be lip-syncing words sung by other singers. Milli Vanilli denies those charges.
Proud said he is "shocked" at how many performers use canned material on stage. "Apparently this is a common practice," he said.
He hopes the the bill will be voted on before the legislative session ends around July 4. If it doesn't, he plans to re-introduce it in January.
"Gimme a break," said Frank Sansone, promoter and president of J.R. Productions in Buffalo. "It's nice to know the Legislature is so concerned about protecting the youth of America by stopping lip-syncing. I just wish they could pass some laws to solve the drug problem."
Sansone says canned music is a part of the contemporary concert scene.
"Today's music is today's music, and it's not just the song and instruments that are important," he said. "On stage, it's the flash, pizzazz and spectacle that people want."
David Meek, general manager of the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, is also troubled by the proposed legislation.
"What are they going to do, get the audio police to check out every concert?" he said. "To me, the whole thing is scary."
Meek also said he didn't believe that Cher used canned vocals during her recent performance in Niagara Falls.
"We've never had a complaint," he said. "I honestly don't know if anything Cher did was pre-recorded."
A spokesman for Melody Fair said canned vocals are not used there. A Darien Lake spokesman also said pre-recorded vocals have not been used during its concerts.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with a performer like Madonna lip-syncing an occasional number during a strenuous dance routine," Meek said. "Do you want to hear her huffing and puffing and trying to sing?"
But Tom Calandra, owner of BCMK Records in Buffalo, said performers have a responsibility to the audience.
"I think if people pay money to see a live show, the performer owes them a live show," he said. "If I want to hear Madonna's records, I can listen to them at home.
"The problem is, these days, these groups go into a studio with a producer. They use computers, drum machines and synthesizers; on tape the sound is perfect. There's no way they can match that sound on stage."
Connie Campanaro, president of Buffalo's B-Sharp Promotions Inc., believes the controversy stems from MTV.
"I think it's a crime, but the kids who go to concerts today don't care if the performer is singing live or not," she said. "They want to see something as close to the video as possible."
Stan Szelest, the veteran Buffalo rocker who is touring and recording with the group the Band, said there is no substitute for live performance.
"The flaws make music real," he said. "Perfection is not human. I mean, do you want to go to a concert and see a guy push a button and lip-sync the whole show? Hey, that's not what rock 'n' roll is all about."