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What is a 'live-on-tape' performance?

02 April 2021 at 17:30 CEST
Jendrik getting ready to record his live-on-tape performance Mantas Repecka
Fans will hear the phrase ‘live-on-tape’ a lot between now and the Eurovision Song Contest in May - but what does it mean, and why is the process important for participating artists?

Due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, Eurovision organizers needed to come up with lots of creative ideas to make certain the Eurovision Song Contest could go ahead while ensuring the health and safety of the crew, competitors and fans.

One of the biggest conundrums by far was the challenge of how to give each participating act their time to shine if circumstances meant they weren’t able to take to the big stage.


The solution was to ask each country to record a ‘live-on-tape’ version of their planned performance. If the artist is able to perform live at the Rotterdam Ahoy in May, the tape will not be used, however, if they are unable to travel to the Netherlands (due to travel restrictions) or have to quarantine while at the Contest, the live-on-tape recording will replace their planned performance.

This back-up plan is a relief for all the artists who have been preparing for months, as France’s Barbara Pravi tells during the recording of her live-on-tape entry:

"I’m happy that we can make this tape today because last year they had to cancel the Eurovision Song Contest so I’m very, very grateful that this year it’s gonna be OK, even though I might be [stuck] in Paris, and the audience is all around the world."

Barbara Pravi (France 2021) FTV / Joêl Saget

Beyond a set of basic guidelines, each participating broadcaster will have the freedom to create a performance they are proud of and they feel will best represent their country.

However, with delegations recording their live-on-tape entries in different locations across the globe, how do Eurovision Song Contest organizers maintain fairness?

Ensuring fairness

Before recording their live-on-tape entry, each participating broadcaster met with a co-ordinator from NPO/NOS/AVROTROS (our Host Broadcasters this year) to submit a recording session schedule, studio setup, camera plan and signed ‘Declaration of Compliance with the Production Guidelines’.

Head of Contest, Twan van de Nieuwenhuijzen, explains:

“Of course, it’s still a competition, so it has to be fair and it has to be equal. There’s a timeframe of one hour, and within that hour an artist can only perform three times. Then it’s totally up to the delegations to choose which one of the three takes they are most satisfied with.“

Each hour-long recording session is watched live by representatives of the Eurovision Song Contest, independent voting observers and the Host Broadcasters.

Twan further clarifies the submission process:

“Within the hour, delegations have to start uploading the files, which includes the full mix (the version you’ll see on TV) but because this is a competition and we need to check that everything has been conducted within the rules, they also have to upload every specific audio file and every single isolated camera shot.

We realise that extra effort is needed by the delegations to create these performances, but it’s good to know that they’re taking it very seriously because they may be judged on these back-up tapes during the competition.”

Once all the recorded material is in, everything is checked and approved by the Host Broadcasters and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Show producers then create a final sound and vision mix to ensure uniform levels, and that mix is sent back to the artist's Head of Delegation for approval.

In an ideal scenario, none of the live-on-tape recordings will be needed during the Semi-Finals or Grand Final, but their existence does means the show can go on whatever happens!

As a treat, will broadcast all 39 live-on-tape recordings as part of Eurovision Song Celebration: Live-On-Tape on Saturday 29 May.