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A playback singer is a singer whose singing is pre-recorded for use in movies. Playback singers record songs for soundtracks, and actors or actresses lip-sync the songs for cameras, while the actual singer does not appear on screen.
South Asian movies produced in the Indian subcontinent are particularly known for using this technique. A majority of Indian movies as well as Pakistani movies, typically include six or seven songs. After, Alam Ara (1931), the first talkie film, for many years singers made dual recordings for a film, one during the shoot, and later in the recording studio, this practice continued till 1952–53. Popular playback singers in India enjoy the same status as popular actors, and music directors, such as Rahul Dev Burman (1939–1994) and A. R. Rahman, also receive wide public admiration.
Most of the playback singers are initially trained in classical music, though they later often expand their range. Mohammad Rafi and Ahmed Rushdi, both are regarded as two of the most influential playback singers in South Asia. The sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, who have mainly worked in Hindi films, are often referred to as two of the best-known and most prolific playback singers in India. In 1991, Mangeshkar was cited by the Guinness Book of World Records for having sung more than 30,000 solo, duet and chorus-backed song recordings, more than any other singer in the world. In 2011, Guinness officially acknowledged Asha Bhosle as the most recorded artist in music history, surpassing her sister.
Other popular singers include Bhupen Hazarika, KJ Yesudas, Mukesh, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Noor Jehan, Sandhya Mukherjee, Sabina Yasmin, Kishore Kumar, Geeta Dutt, Anuradha Paudwal, S.P. Balasubramaniam, K. S. Chitra, S. Janaki, Swarnalatha, Alka Yagnik, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Sonu Nigam, K.K., Shaan, Himesh Reshammiya, Mika Singh, Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan, Zubeen Garg.
Songs in Bollywood movies – the combined products of the talents of lyricists, music directors/composers, and singers – often determine the extent of success of individual movies; as such, playback singers are an important part of the Indian film industry. Soundtracks for movies are usually released before the movies themselves.
Playback singing is not as common in contemporary Hollywood given the fact that musicals are not as frequent. It was, however, more widely used in the past. Notable Hollywood performances include Marni Nixon in West Side Story for Natalie Wood's character (she also did dubbings in The King and I and My Fair Lady), Bill Lee voicing the Christopher Plummer character in The Sound of Music, Lindsay Ridgeway for Ashley Peldon's character as Darla Dimple in the animated film Cats Don't Dance, Claudia Brücken providing the singing voice for Erika Heynatz's character as Elsa Lichtmann in L.A. Noire, and Betty Noyes singing for Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain, a movie in which playback singing is a major plot point.
- List of Indian playback singers
- List of Pakistani film singers
- Lip-synching in music
- Dubbing, also known as looping or post-sync.
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