It wasn’t the promise of a performance by Lady Gaga that drew me in to watch the Grammys this year, but rather, some added motivation in having the opportunity to check out the live and broadcast sound systems during a visit to rehearsals at the Staples Center in Los Angeles a couple of days prior to the show.
Lady Antebellum performing with Sennheiser
SKM 2000 transmitters with MMD935-1 capsules
at the show.
Did you watch the Grammy Awards show this year? I did for the first time in several years, and it seems many others tuned in as well, with the mid-February live broadcast (including 5.1 surround sound) on CBS garnering about 27 million viewers and the highest average viewership since 2001.
Still, the entertainment bill for this year’s show proved a compelling mix of currently hot (and Grammy-nominated) pop/rock/country stars (Arcade Fire, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Lady Antebellum, the aforementioned Ms. Gaga, and so on) with some true legendary performers in what has thankfully become more of a concert than an awards show. One particular highlight had soon-to-be 68-year-old Mick Jagger in his first-ever Grammy performance, moving like a man less than half his age in stirring the crowd to its feet as front man for “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” a tribute to soul legend Solomon Burke.
The sound crew working the Grammy Awards is veteran in terms of both overall experience and in service to the event. Shortly after entering the Staples Center, I was greeted by my friend and all-time great guy Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher, who serves as a live system manager/tech for the show, and he commenced with a first-rate tour of key points and people involved with the audio production for the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, which is presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS).
Some of the flown JBL VerTec line arrays serving the
Grammy Awards show at the Staples Center.
The show benefits from a winningly efficient formula for presenting an average of 20 live acts in the course of just three or so hours.
There’s an A and a B performance stage, side-by-side on the front platform, so while an act is appearing on one stage, the other stage is being prepared for the next performance. Every bit of audio equipment, as well as instruments and stage/set/production elements, are meticulously organized on rolling carts backstage in the days leading up to the show. When one act is done, their stage goes dark and everything is rolled off, replaced by the next act’s gear.
The house sound system for the 16,000-plus attending the show at the Staples Center is designed and supplied by ATK Audiotek of Valencia, CA, which has made an art of serving awards shows and special events. While the system followed the same form of the past several years, the ATK team consistently implements upgrades and also accounts for inevitable set and production changes from year to year.
A look up from the front seating rows at one of the
JBL VerTec line arrays that are capable of providing
coverage almost up to the front edge of the stage.
The overall mantra driving the design is “the broadcast is the thing” – the system must stay out of camera sightlines as much as possible, and what’s happening audio-wise in the house cannot impact the broadcast sound. Still, the house also has priority, with Jeff Peterson of ATK performing expert tuning and optimization of the main system. Standing with Fletch at the house mix position, I could just barely make out the silhouettes of the JBL VerTec line arrays flown high above the front platform, and that’s on purpose. Still, they’re there, and do an excellent job in terms of fidelity and overall venue coverage.
ATK deployed 70 VT4889 full-size line array elements in four main arrays, two for the central seating regions flanked by two more splayed outward for expansive areas on each long sides of the multi-level arena. The bottom of each array has curvature so steep that it pretty much handles the front rows.
“We’ve enjoyed tremendous success with VerTech line arrays for the Grammy Awards in the past and this year was no different,” notes Scott Harmala, CTO/VP engineering for ATK. “They provided powerful and accurate sound throughout the arena.”
VerTec subwoofers joined the arrays, flown centrally on a platform, with front fill supplied by VRX932LA compact loudspeakers. Placement of these were largely dictated by the stage/set design, so the sound team worked within the parameter of keeping them largely out-of-camera-sight while insuring coverage right up front. More VRX932LA loudspeakers on delay were distributed around the arena to bolster mid/high coverage to shadowed and other difficult seating areas.
Now let’s take a closer look…
The Bigger Picture
Some of the myriad wireless transmitters
stagedseparately for each artist.
Microphones are the choice of each individual artist, and there’s a wide range of wired and wireless microphones from Shure, Audio-Technica, AKG, Sennheiser, Audix and many others on hand. Several of these companies have a representative on hand throughout rehearsals and the show to be sure all of their respective artists needs are being served. The wireless microphone situation is managed by Dave Bellamy of Soundtronics of Burbank, CA, assisted by Grant Greene, posted with the system receivers in an area just outside the arena bowl.
Bill Kappelman organizing every wireless microphone
being used by performers at the show into trays to
facilitate smooth transitions from act to act, and to
Parker points out that one of the biggest aspects of his and Pesa’s gig is fostering a comfort factor and rapport with all of the various engineers on site, working in the interest of their artists. “Some of them haven’t done TV work, so it’s imperative that we take the time to explain to them how this all works, the setup and layout, to help bring them into the fold,” Parker says. “We address their issues and concerns as much as possible within the format of the bigger picture so that they can relax, because if they’re relaxed, then their artists are going to relax, and that’s going to help result in the best performances. It’s unseen, but is really one of the most important parts of the gig.”
This year, artists such as Barbra Streisand, Arcade Fire, Eminem and several others were his responsibility, and it all went off very well. “There was nothing out of the ordinary, which is good news,” he says. “The Aretha Franklin medley that kicked off the show really sounded good to me this year – those ladies really brought their A game – and that set the pace.”
Grammy Awards Audio Production Team
A look at two of the JBL VerTec line
arrays providing main coverage.
Michael Abbott, audio coordinator
ATK Audiotek, live sound company
Mike Stahl, president, ATK Audiotek
Scott Harmala, CTO/VP engineering, ATK Audiotek
Ron Reaves & Mikael Stewart, live front of house mix
Michael Parker & Tom Pesa, live house monitor mix
Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher & Jeff Peterson, live system managers/techs
Dave Bellamy (Soundtronics), RF frequency coordination
Bill Kappelman, RF microphones manager
Steve Anderson, “split world” manager
Leslie Ann Jones (The Recording Academy), house audio supervisor
M3 (Music Mix Mobile), broadcast music mix
Joel Singer (M3), engineer in charge, Eclipse mix truck
Mark Linett (M3), engineer in charge, Horizon remix truck
John Harris & Eric Schilling, broadcast music mixers
Tom Holmes, overall broadcast mix
Phil Ramone & Hank Neuberger, broadcast audio supervisors
To read the full detailed article see: Live Sound @ the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards