Surround Sequel

The 45th Annual Grammy Awards Show telecast on CBS from Madison Square Gardens in New York last year broke new ground as the first primetime terrestrial broadcast of an awards show in HDTV with 5.1 audio. The outstanding pioneering work of the audio crew was honored with a well-deserved Emmy Award, a Surround Music Award, and drew praise from the Recording Academy and viewers alike.

Creating a 5.1 mix for the very small percentage of the viewing public equipped with HDTV home theaters was a noble effort but also provided a useful test bed for the production and broadcast processes involved. For this year’s telecast, from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, the audio crew, under the guidance of the show’s producer, Cossette Productions, went a step further, generating a multichannel surround mix that was potentially delivered to every household worldwide.
As Randy Ezratty, the telecast’s 5.1 sound designer and president of mobile music production truck supplier Effanel Music, observes, “[Last year] we got comfortable with the discrete 5.1, but that’s such a small audience. The next level is the audience at home with a more simple surround setup and a [Dolby] Pro Logic II decoder getting it also. It really does add another dimension to this year’s show.”

Leslie Ann Jones of the Recording Academy’s television committee adds, “The 5.1 HD broadcast was groundbreaking last year, and now we’re just trying to improve on that. With the proliferation of broadband and cable, if you have a surround sound tuner at home you should be able to get surround sound, even if you don’t have HD.”

Once again, the show audio was overseen by Recording Academy advisory council member Hank Neuberger, working with broadcast audio supervisor and chairman of the Producers & Engineers Wing of the Academy, Phil Ramone, plus Murray Allen for Cossette Productions, the show’s longtime producer. Additionally, 5.1/stereo music mixers and Grammy Award show veterans Jay Vicari and John Harris, plus Effanel operations and technical manager Joel Singer and crew, were once again present.

As with last year’s show, tight scheduling of musical acts throughout the rehearsals and show required Harris and Vicari to alternate mixing duties from artist to artist. Both mixers typically confer with the artist’s appointed engineer on the mix during soundcheck, which is recorded and then played back between setups and after-hours so that the mixers can tweak the automated mix on the AMS Neve Capricorn digital console in Effanel’s L7 truck prior to the broadcast.

This year’s team also once again included broadcast production audio mixer Ed Greene, who created the Pro Logic II multichannel mix in addition to mixing the stereo broadcast audio. Taking the stereo music mixes from Harris and Vicari, Greene created a mix specifically for Pro Logic II. “To give it a little bit of space, Ed adds some audience, instead of letting the decoder at home grab it and do whatever it wants,” explains Ezratty. “We’re actually encoding it with a Pro Logic II encoder.”

Also new this year was an additional mixing setup in the loading bay of the Staples Center. There, music mixer Bart Chiate, another veteran TV mixer, helped mix the 11-minute funk tribute segment that featured four bands — Earth, Wind & Fire, Outkast’s Big Boi, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and George Clinton with P. Funk — back-to-back and then en masse. Chiate, who was housed in a temporary Gelco building with Sound Design Corp’s 60-input Yahama 02R remote broadcast flypack, mixed the first two funk acts, crossfading between them and in turn being crossfaded by Ed Greene to Effanel’s L7 truck feed for the following two bands before being returned to the broadcast mix for the big finale.

That added an extra wrinkle to the technical challenges. “There is a rumor that there’s nobody on the technical end that can draw a block diagram showing how [the] podium [mic] gets to the satellite,” laughs Chiate, only half-joking. “This is very, very complex.”

Indeed, the Grammy Award Show telecast pushes the envelope of current broadcast technology with its incredibly complex setup. Out there on the bleeding edge, things can go awry, and, as anyone who watched the show will attest, there were problems with the broadcast audio.

But as broadcast audio supervisor Hank Neuberger explains, it was nothing more than human error. “This is the most complex audio production in live television. It’s never easy. Some years it’s less easy than others. This year, the production had a lot of really demanding numbers and changes.”

The glitch was a great example of live television production, says Neuberger. “I’m so incredibly proud of the crew for handling it as brilliantly as they did. There was an error on stage by one of the assistant engineers, who, at the end of Alicia Keys’s performance, mistakenly concluded that the performance was over. He pulled the mult that had the mics for the piano and Celine Dion’s vocal.
“In the next few seconds, in trying to communicate to the A2 to put [the mult] back in, Ed Greene, our production mixer, made the call immediately to tell the stage manager, Gary Hood, to hand Celine the emergency mic that he carries in his pocket at all times.”

But that wasn’t the end of the problem. “The shortcomings of that are that it was not in her in-ear monitors, so she couldn’t tell it was a live mic, and it had no reverb, so when she started singing it was dry.”
Neuberger comments, “From my perspective, this was a great thing. Instead of Celine Dion singing into a dead microphone for three minutes, we got it on the air.”

Additionally, he reports, in the performance that followed Dion, the hastily improvised vocal processing briefly found its way onto Sting’s mic.

“We are pushing the envelope on this broadcast,’” observes Neuberger, “from the stage, through an elaborate setup at our venue, through an incredible transmission issue getting it to CBS with a hi-def picture in sync, with two soundtracks, in real time. CBS is simultaneously pushing the envelope in installing new infrastructure to deliver this to hundreds of affiliates across the country, and satellite and cable distributors. It’s new, and we’re all still learning.”

Surround Professional Magazine