A little over a week ago, an audio recording that was supposedly made during a Beyonce “live” performance made its way on the Internet, after Howard Stern played it on his radio station. The recording, of “If I Were a Boy,” was believed to be Beyonce’s board feed and, as fans must already know, saying it was horrendous is clearly an understatement.
The moment it hit the air on Stern’s show, the recording spread on the Internet, being picked by all the major media outlets and presented as the real deal, uncovering a “truth” skeptics had constantly hinted at: Beyonce couldn’t sing live for dear life. However, the next day, it was revealed that the recording had been doctored – and the man behind it was a 26-year-old computer arts student going by the name of Aladdin82 on his YouTube channel, or Matthew Zeghibe in real life. Below, Matthew tells us in an exclusive interview why he chose Beyonce, and how he made the audio recording sound so real.
Softpedia:Most people already know you, Matthew, or have heard of you. However, they know only too little about you, most of the media referring to you as the “Beyonce hoaxer.” To start afresh, please tell our readers something about yourself, and how you came to “pick” on this particular pop diva to alter her vocals. Were you after Beyonce as some have speculated, or was it precisely her untarnished reputation that made her more interesting to you?
Matthew Zeghibe: Yes, I really need to change my name to The Beyoncé Hoaxer... they call me it at my local Starbucks now! Well, I’m from Connecticut, but attend school in San Francisco at the Academy of Art University, studying Computer Arts New Media. I’ve had a fun life so far.
I’ve been blessed to have amazing friends in the industry, 2 that have worked directly with Beyoncé! In the past, I’ve been fortunate to work with Cirque Du Soleil, Walt Disney World, and Janet Jackson. Prior to the Beyoncé Hoax, my art has been featured on MTV, Perez Hilton, Love B Scott, Adobe, and at local San Francisco galleries. I’m a jack of all trades in the Art World... but still growing as an artist.
I think all of the world is a secret fan of Beyoncé... including myself. Her diverse catalogue of catchy hits, intricate dancing skills, and over the top productions, make her an artist who can easily be enjoyed by any age range. I was not after Beyoncé. I chose Beyoncé simply because of her thick, dramatic Mezzo-Soprano voice, and powerful 3-octave range. This makes her vocals bulky enough to push to digital extremes, with little distortion.
Softpedia:How did Howard Stern happen to stumble precisely on your altered audio recording? Did you ever think that it would become such a big deal and would cause this huge stir in showbiz?
Matthew Zeghibe: I have my theories on how it ended up in the hands of Howard Stern. I’ve done some research. The original video, which was hosted on YouTube, was pulled down on 4/20 by Sony. At this time, my video had been hosted on YouTube for 4 months – roughly. On 4/22, Howard Sterns played the clip, and labeled it as a direct feed from a sound board, at the Today Show, which launched the media war that we all know about. Again, that’s just my latest theory, and I’m not complaining! It worked out well for Beyoncé, and also for me! When I made this video, I knew it was hilarious, but never expected it to get any bigger than my small following on YouTube.
Softpedia:A short while back, you told Rolling Stone that you altered the audio recording to show the world how easily artists and the media could be manipulated. Could you please elaborate on that?
Matthew Zeghibe: Let’s start from the beginning. Realistic pitch alteration cannot be applied to a sound with a mix of other sounds overlapping it. So, the challenge was to remove all sounds attached to the voice. So, where people are fooled is how was I able to isolate Beyoncé’s live vocals, without affecting the live band, the crowd, and background singers.
Softpedia:Speaking of altered vocals, tell our readers more about how you managed to do that without changing the other vocals or the track (what software you used, how long it took you to do it, the level of difficulty, etc, in as many words as you think fit for our readers to fully understand). In other words, please explain the one thing the entire world is wondering about: how did you do it to make it sound so real?
Matthew Zeghibe: In the last few years, the world has put a demand on HD-everything! If it has an HD logo on it, we want it!!! This has forced almost every show to broadcast in the highest qualities, simply to attract more viewers. This is where my trick is! The performance was broadcasted into my home as Dolby Digital 5.1... which basically means we are getting 6 different channels of audio, each playing a different audio, to give a realistic surround sound effect.
Imagine this... One speaker is playing Beyoncé’s microphone feed, one set of speakers is playing her band and background singers, and the other set is the screaming fans, and bass. Once I Tivo’d the performance in HD in 5.1 Dolby Digital, I transferred the file to my Mac. I used “MPEG Video Player” to load the file, and then separated all 6 channels. That gave me her live acapella version of the song! It wasn’t perfect yet. I used some equalizer settings to cancel out some faint drum and bass sounds.
This is the fun part. There’s a LOT of ways to apply pitch, and I’ve dabbled with a hefty amount of the programs. None came close to the usability, and quality offered in Melodyne, a pitch correction program by Celemony. I simply loaded the live acapella into the program, which uses a visual graph of where each note falls, on a musical scale... and I get to pick and choose which key to move the note to. Melodyne also has a lot of amazing features that make it so easy to achieve almost anything with a set of vocals. I watched the Beyoncé video, and applied dramatic effects to match Beyoncé’s theatrical facial expressions, and body language, which added to the realistic quality.
Celemony is amazing at what they do, and they are actually coming out with a groundbreaking audio program called DNA, which is going to rewrite the music world! After I pitch-altered all the vocals, I mixed the audio back with the other channels of the performance, meaning the band, background singers, and crowd. I saved it as one file, and replaced the original audio with my altered audio... and the rest is the wild story we all have heard!
Softpedia:Do you see what you did as a direct attack on Beyoncé, or in any way as a violation of copyright? What would you do if the star and her legal team ever came after you for ruining her reputation with your doctored versions? Have you ever considered the option that her fans might see this as offensive for mocking her hard work?
Matthew Zeghibe: I never had a ploy for this video to be used against Beyoncé. I simply wanted to give YouTubers a bit of comedic relief. I feel an immense amount of pressure from our struggling economy, and I’m sure the rest of America agrees. That’s why Comedian American Idolist Nick Mitchell AKA Norman Gentle lasted so long this season. It’s also why the new color trends are EVERYTHING [that is] vibrant and colorful... we need to change the vibe of our nation! If anything, this simple 4-minute video is a nice departure from our everyday lives.
I guess this is a good time to brush up on media copyright laws... because I don’t know how my humor at Beyoncé’s expense can come back to haunt me. I have become too comfortable with the free-for-all that YouTube provides. When I created this in January, I imagined it as the digital approach to a Saturday Night Live skit.
Now, my video serves as a testament to the misinformation on the Internet, the power of pitch-correction, and the emphasis of perfection, placed on performers. This could have been detrimental to Beyoncé’s talent... and I would never want that to happen to mine. Yes, this video could be perceived as me mocking Beyoncé’s hard work, but I’m sure if it was done to a rival of Beyoncé, her fans would be the first to venerate it, and spread it to the ends of the Internet.
The response from her fans has been a mix of emotions. Some have responded with nothing but love, and wishes for more of this type of videos. Others have made funny parody videos about me on YouTube. And then others have used the power of Google to hurt my reputation. I have found my name attached to false, malicious, and defamatory information, simply to hurt my professional career. And of course, the occasional death threat... praising Beyoncé as the Messiah of Pop Society. I’ve endured a life of artistic criticism... I can handle it... I just wish that the feedback would be constructive, versus asinine.
Softpedia:Beyonce said she did not mind your version of her “If I Were a Boy” was out there, but her father clearly felt differently. Have you been contacted by anyone from Beyonce’s camp in this regard?
Matthew Zeghibe: The Beyoncé camp hasn’t said a word to me.
Softpedia:You know you could probably start something really nice with your parodies, something like the music version of the Worth1000 website. Have you given this any thought? Do you have other artists on the to-do list in the immediate future or do you plan to stick with Beyonce?
Matthew Zeghibe: I definitely have given thought to creating an online community that ties pop culture with the digital medium. Right now, I’m trying to get my blog off the ground. I’ve also been working on a YouTube series starring my Grandmother. It’s called “When Grandma Attacks,” and features my dramatic, Italian, church going, hyperactive grandmother, and the little tasks that consume her life... like finding her lost bottle of whiskey, or her professionally coaching the Yankees and the Red sox, through the TV. Also, trying to graduate sometime soon, and working for my University... it’s a hefty amount of work, I’m trying to find the time for! I will not be leaving the Internet world any time soon, that’s for sure. And the title of Prankster might stay too!