Risks and rewards

Why broadcast in surround sound?

At the Grammy Awards, we are always interested in pushing the envelope. We were the first major live awards show to be held in an arena (Madison Square Garden 1997). We are very aggressive in our staging and physical production. Our audio is in a class by itself. This year we had 19 live musical numbers. The fact that we can pull this off is truly a tribute to everyone on our audio crew both in the trucks and on stage.

That being said, in 2003 the next frontier for us was high-definition and 5.1 surround. Although I wanted us to be first, I was a little hesitant about taking the most complex show on television and making it more complicated. I was doing a show for BET in Washington DC, and Eric Duke offered me All Mobile Video’s high-definition truck at no extra cost. We set up standard-def and high-def monitors side by side, and, once I saw it, I knew we had to do this. Randy Ezratty and Effanel were there as well, and the planning stages had begun. After numerous dinners at The Capitol Grill with many of the engineers involved, I was confident that we could actually pull this off.

The next step was to get approval from NARAS. I met with Neil Portnow and Garth Fundis and we were on. We would be the first live awards show broadcast in high-definition television and 5.1 audio.

One of the biggest challenges facing those who want to produce a live television show like the Grammy Awards in surround sound is the lack of rehearsal time to get it right. Our mixers Randy Ezratty, Ed Greene, John Harris, and Jay Vicari have three days to rehearse 19 live musical acts ranging from symphony orchestras to alternative bands. They get roughly an hour and a half with each act. The product is remarkably good.

The audio department on the Grammy Awards is truly a team. In addition to Randy, Ed, John, and Jay, we have the legendary Phil Ramone, Murray Allen, and Hank Neuberger representing NARAS and making sure everything is up to their standards. Mike Abbott coordinates the interface between talent, production, audio, and the various facilities companies. The unsung heroes of the whole process are the A2’s who work the stage. Pete San Felipo, Rick Teller, and their crew make all of the impossible set changes happen.

As we move forward, our show will continue to sound better and better. This was our second year of broadcasting in HD/Surround and we were much smarter about it this year than last. In 2003 at Madison Square Garden we were using hardware and software on the video side that had never been used in our application before. We were literally writing software right up to air. Most gear comes to shows in road cases — much of ours showed up in cardboard boxes.

As the technology gets better on our end, the broadcaster’s end, and the consumer end, the audio experience at home will truly be like that of being in an arena or theater.

Surround Professional Magazine