The Technology Behind the Performance
Grammy Awards telecast is not just a glamorous celebration of music’s elite performers. It’s also the “biggest show in audio” and there’s a lot of intricate technology behind the show that is performed at Staples Center to what is broadcast on the CBS airwaves. The various groups of sound and audio engineers who gather together to put on the show are some of the best in the business, taking great pride in sound quality and innovation. In fact, in 2004 The Grammy Awards was the first awards show to be broadcast in surround sound.
LAX Magazine sat down for a chat with Maureen Droney the Executive Director of the Producers & Engineers Wing (P&E Wing) of The Recording Academy. Maureen is a long time sound engineer with a strong desire for excellence. Her job with the Recording Academy is to advocate for the 6000+ members who work behind the scenes.
The remarkable team of engineering professionals who help produce the Grammy Awards include major historical player Phil Ramone (who recorded Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy), innovator Hank Neuberger (The Coachella Festival webcast), and Star Wars sound engineer Leslie Anne Jones. These are the best in the business and they lend their talented ears and engineering skills to the Grammy’s live broadcast.
One of the remarkable feats of organizing and producing the Grammy Awards telecast includes managing the different stages used by each of the performers. If one paid attention during the telecast then one would have noticed that Taylor Swift’s stage was quite different from Bruno Mars’ stage versus the stage used by The Beach Boys. Each performer has a different stage along with their equipment set-up to their specifications. Each stage is rolled out to the main stage for every performance and then pulled backstage afterwards. Imagine the logistical nightmare of arranging it all and then removing the equipment — all on live television — for Music’s Biggest Night; an overwhelming and tremendous feat. Of course, there is a plan A, B and C and everything has a back up.
So, how is this accomplished? First, start with 1500 feet of military grade fiber optic connectors and huge matrix of microphone connections for the wireless mic. Live performance sounds are collected and the audio and video files are sent to CBS studios NOC (network operations center) in New York. From there they are recalibrated and then beamed up to the satellites and into our homes. What’s interesting and, doesn’t really resonate in my non-engineering mind, is that that the video images take longer than the audio images to get to New York so that the engineers in New York have to piece it back together before sending it up to the satellites. There’s also a three-minute delay for the Standards and Practices Departments (known as Program Practices at CBS) to catch all the f-bombs such as the one they missed by Eminem from the 2011 telecast.
It’s mind-bending to think of all of the complicated magic moving through the wires and over the airways to bring us a wonderful and celebratory night of music. The quality of the sound is splendid, and provides for us, the viewers, a magical evening of music and outstanding performances. Thanks to all the brilliant engineers and producers! n