By Janice Brown
New York, NY (December 28, 2005)–New York City totally went country last month, with the CMA Awards happening, for the first time ever, in NYC’s Madison Square Garden, and the Grand Ole Opry bringing its 80th Anniversary show to Carnegie Hall. Steve Gibson, music director for the Opry, says the Opry decided to capitalize on the completely atypical concentration of country music talent in the Big Apple for the CMAs, in planning its Anniversary concert. The concert was held on November 14 and included performances from Allison Krauss, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, and Alan Jackson, among 11 performers in total, and Gibson and Opry chief technical engineer Kevin Rynan assembled a mobile recording rig to capture the magic for radio simulcast, as well as a two-hour Grand Ole Opry Live television special and 5.1 surround DVD expected in early 2006.
“It’s been over 40 years since the Grand Ole Opry’s been to Carnegie Hall,” says Gibson, citing an Opry performance there back in 1961. “This was a great opportunity not only because of the availability of the talent in NYC, and the visibility of the CMAs, but also because we were taking this special 80th anniversary event back to Carnegie Hall, presenting what we do here in Nashville every week on that impressive stage.”
With All Mobile Video (AMV) handling the broadcast recording for the simulcast on Nashville’s WSM radio and on the Grand Ole Opry’s Sirius channel, 111, the Opry’s mobile recording rig recorded the show for the upcoming DVD release. Based on the Opry’s recording systems in its two Nashville venues–the Opryhouse and the Ryman Auditorium, the mobile rig consisted of an AMD64 workstation with dual AMD Opteron processors, running Steinberg Nuendo 3.1, with an internal RME MADI card which received a feed from the AMV truck’s Sony Oxford console. “All we had coming to our truck was a MADI stream, a video sync and a timecode,” describes Rynan. “We plugged that into our rig and sync’d up with the AMV truck.”
For digital audio sync the Opry’s rig employed a MOTU Digital Timepiece, word clock input from AardSync II, Word Clock Output to Lucid CLKx6 Distribution, and word clock distribution was handled via a Lucid Audio Clock Distribution Amplifier, and word clock input from MOTU’s DTP. As one of the largest producers of live music broadcasts and related products, the Grand Ole Opry has had to identify the most reliable recording system, and that–they believe–is the AMD workstations and Nuendo.
Rynan describes, “Initially, we decided to go with Nuendo because we have a Euphonix System 5 console, which is all-MADI based, and we wanted something that would interface directly with that. The AMD, with the internal RME cards, hooks directly up to the Euphonix System 5. We had a system prior to the AMD that really wasn’t as reliable as we wanted. Since installing the system in April of 2004, we’ve had virtually no problems. So, it was a no-brainer when we started talking about what we’d bring to NYC. [AMD’s] Kelly Stuart supplied the mobile rig and the rest is history.”
Even beyond the peace of mind the AMD’s rugged 64-bit processing provides in a live recording scenario, Rynan points out that the system’s been a big time saver. “We’ve had the dual processor machines in since April and in September of 2005, we put in the dual-core platform and that has allowed us to playback 56 tracks directly off of FireWire drives–our current back-up–without having to download off of the FireWire to our local drive in order to playback. That has saved us hours and hours.”
Another strength of the AMD-Steinberg Nuendo pairing, according to Gibson is its headroom for dynamics. For the Carnegie show, though the artists had agreed to take an “unplugged” approach to their performances, the system had to handle a fairly wide dynamic range–from the sweet and soft bluegrass tunes of Allison Krauss to more amp’d up performances like Brad Paisley and Martina McBride.
“This was clearly a road show for us,” shares Gibson. “We didn’t have our usual support personnel and stage-hands, and so, logistically, we felt an unplugged approach would be the best way to go. Also, that’s really the appropriate musical approach in such a live environment as Carnegie Hall. Although we never really hit big volume levels, we still had to make transitions from very soft performance artists like Vince Gill and Allison Krauss to a couple of artists that were amplified.”
The Opry’s audio team utilized the “spectacular” mic selection at Carnegie, and brought along some of their go-to mics and Ampeg tube DI boxes from Nashville. “We opted to use the normal house mic positions and microphones that are in Carnegie Hall, and our guys put three mics off of the apron of the stage pointed back at the house. When they pushed up the faders and heard the hall, everybody agreed that this was not something we should mess with. And, in terms of 5.1, our mix consultants put their heads together and concluded they had what they needed.”
The front-line mics used were Carnegie’s Neumann KMS 105s, and the Opry brought their own Neumann BCM 104s to mic instruments. The house and surround mics were already in place in the Hall. “We used their split of their house mics,” says Rynan. “They also had a Schoeps back-hall mic, which is a microphone on a wire that they move back and forth through the house. It’s a fabulous design and it’s very obvious from the recordings–we got everything we wanted out of the audience mic setup. We also used some AKG shotguns along the front-lines pointing out at the audience for a little more fill.”
For a grand finale at the end of the concert, Alan Jackson’s band played while all of the 11 performers came back out to sing a final song. “That was difficult,” notes Reinen, “but we pretty much pushed every mic we had up to the front-line because each artist would step in for a particular line of the song, and that was on top of Jackson’s full band.” Back in Nashville, later last month, Reinen concludes, “I threw the mix up today at the Opry House and all of the tracks sound fabulous. I can’t think of one thing we would have changed.”