Meeting Recap - February 24, 2015
Grammy Telecast Audio - The Most Complex Audio Production in
February 24, 2015
Shure Incorporated, Niles IL
WRITTEN BY: Ken Platz
The bitter cold did not affect the attendance of our Section’s February 24th meeting. Forty eight committed audio enthusiasts (25 members and 23 non-members) braved the elements to meet and see Hank Neuberger speak about his experiences in supporting the Grammy Telecasts.
Bob Schulein introduced Hank Neuberger by recalling that he had met Hank about twenty five years ago when Bob starting to work on developing surround sound systems (at Shure) and was able to attend a few Grammy Awards shows on Hank’s behalf – the same time that Hank was just getting involved with supporting the Grammy telecasts.
In addition to serving as Supervisor of Broadcast Audio for the Grammy Awards telecast since 1988, Hank is the founder of Springboard Productions and a Grammy-winning producer. He has been the producer of live multi-channel Music Festival Webcasts since 2005, including Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits Festival. He is also the producer of HD broadcasts for AXS, Palladia, Fuse, Vevo, and PBS featuring artists including Arcade Fire, The Dave Matthews Band, Jason Aldean, Kaskade, Nine Inch Nails, Eric Church, Kings of Leon, among many others.
Hank started his presentation by showing AC/DC’s live performance as the opening act at this year’s Grammys. Travis Duffield, Shure’s A/V tech, ‘turned up the knobs’ on the theater’s sound system which gave many section attendees a very close interpretation of what it must have been like to attend the live event. This was especially beneficial in helping to get the meeting started because many attendees had just nestled into the warm theater seats with bellies full of tasty Lou Malnati’s pizza (Chicago’s comfort food) – a sure bet for easily falling into a food coma.
Since he started out as a recording engineer, Hank stated that he really enjoys working for the Grammys because it is a peer organization of record makers. The audio at the Grammys is taken very seriously – higher than most, if not all, of any other broadcasts. It’s all about the sound. This year, the Grammy telecast included 23 live multi-tracked performances in 3.5 hours using over 1000 audio inputs across 4 performance areas/stages at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Back in 1989/1990, Hank was asked to see if he could help improve the broadcast sound of the Grammys and met with the legendary Ed Green where he learned that the three rules of the time were to 1) Get it on the Air, 2) Get it on the Air, and 3) Get it on the Air. The crews, at that time, were mixing the music in a single truck with only a few, very limited, sets of tools. Hank suggested and used two trucks to toggle between the bands which helped them become more efficient but still felt that they were running by the seat of their pants. What really helped them was the advent of the digital era – digital consoles enabled them to no longer have to bring up each music group using photo snapshots of the settings used in rehearsal. They now had the ability to immediately bring up saved settings from prior rehearsals for each act which helped improve their efficiency and reduce their overall stress levels. Two broadcast trucks/trailers are now outfitted with identical gear which enables the teams to move back and forth between recording an act in one truck and then mixing & balancing in the other.
All audio today that is transported or broadcast is formatted in 5.1. Stereo on our television sets at home is a down mix of 5.1. At the Grammys this year in the Staples Center, Hank and his crew monitored in 2 channels but sent it out as 5.1 to CBS Master Control (in Dolby E) where they add national commercials. It is then sent on to the affiliates/cable stations in Dolby E where they then add local commercials and then reformat it as Dolby-Digital – which can be compressed and de-compressed multiple times. Performing local ‘air checks’ across the nation has now revealed that the final audio from the end stations is varying in frequency response. This is still ongoing and hard to decode or solve due to its complexity not only technically but also commercially.
Hank was able to then field a number of questions from the attendees ranging from mixing in 5.1, coordinating the in-ear monitors, FOH and Final Mix collaboration, and use of wired vs. wireless microphones to confirming the age-old-question (but seldom discussed) that most of the artists at the Grammys will sing without the support of backing tracks.
The Chicago AES Section would like to extend a special thank you to Hank Neuberger for providing us such a unique insight into his world and for his continued pursuit of providing quality audio in each of the different mediums that are available today.