Conducting Grammys: ComplexArrangements for CBS

Three hours of live music makes for the most complicated production in TV
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The sound of music at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards will once again be played by some of the biggest stars in the business during the CBS telecast on Feb. 10. But behind the scenes, the technical process of making sure the production and all these celebrities hit the right notes involves “the most complex live-production jigsaw puzzle ever,” says Jack Sussman, executive VP of specials, music and live events at CBS Entertainment.

This year’s three-hours-plus show will feature about 18 live performances on two stages inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, using 17 cameras, 300-400 microphones, three major production trucks and a plethora of screens for dazzling special effects. “It is the most [elaborate] entertainment event on TV,” says Sussman. “With all the live performances…there is something like a quarter of a million pounds of gear that has to be moved into the building.”

Thanks to that complexity, CBS will have about 500 people working directly on the production— the kind of numbers that a broadcast network might typically mobilize for the Super Bowl. Another 1,000 or so people will be helping with the event.

To help bring all that together, the production will use NEP Broadcast’s Denali Summit truck, which is one of the biggest in the business, and two nearly identical trucks from Music Mix Mobile, notes Eric Cook, supervising producer at AEG Ehrlich Ventures, the company run by the show’s executive producer, Ken Ehrlich.

The Summit is equipped with a Grass Valley Kalypso switcher, software from Playback Innovation to run the EVS playback system, the Ross XPression graphics system and a Calrec Alpha audio console, Cook says. Sony cameras, particularly the HDC 1500, are the workhorses of the show.

Inside the arena, the production uses DiGiCo mix consoles that are linked by fiber to two Music Mix Mobile trucks outside the Staples Center. These trucks are equipped with Avid Icon D-Control audio consoles.

Audio coordinator Michael Abbott, who just finished his work on the 2013 presidential inauguration that featured 16 live performances, calls the Grammy Awards even more complex.

One major challenge is managing all the RF frequencies and microphones, Abbott notes. The show uses microphones from Sennheiser, Audio-Technica and Shure, while Dolby also supplies some recording and encoding equipment. Around 48 microphones may be on at any one time, and hundreds of others need to be managed so they go on and off in the right sequence, Abbott says.

Over the years, the Grammys producers have also worked to set up workflows to handle the complex rehearsal schedules needed to bring the event off without a sour note, investing heavily in state-of-the-art audio equipment for the HD, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound production. “There aren’t many people these days that are willing to go to such great lengths to raise the bar for audio,” Abbott says.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow

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