LOS ANGELES, CA—Plug-ins are becoming increasingly important to the audio production for “music’s biggest night,” the annual Grammy Awards telecast, which was broadcast from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles once again this year.
The use of vocal tuning plug-ins for creative detuning was especially notable this year, according to the show’s longtime audio coordinator, Michael Abbott. The prevalence of vocal tuning plug-ins should hardly be surprising given their ubiquity in record production these days. Still, this year saw a notable surge in usage.
Avatar won two honors at the recent 57th annual Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards, including Best Sound Editing: Music in a Feature Film for (l-r) music editor Michael Bauer, supervising music editor Jim Henrikson and music editor Dick Bernstein. Avatar also won for Best Sound Editing: Sound Effects and Foley in a Feature Film. The night’s other winners included the sound editing teams behind Up, District 9, ThisIs It and Inglourious Basterds. In the TV category, The Penguins of Madagascar, Battlestar
Galactica, House M.D. and True Blood picked up awards. “It’s become a whole matrix, and two pages in a 40-page spreadsheet of infrastructure to help us do it,” commented Abbott during the show’s rehearsals. “Some of the groups want to do dynamic auto-tuning, so [their engineers are] sitting at a laptop at the foldback position making dynamic changes.”
Abbott observed, “Plug-ins are jumping into the mainstream.” No longer just for post production or for music recording, they have become the modern-day equivalent of decades-old hardware such as the Dolby Cat. 43, he continued. “Now we use CEDAR, and WAVES has come out with the WNS [Noise Suppressor].”
Closely monitoring the audio at every stage in the signal path is a top priority for the show. This year, for the first time, the production paid to route an Lt Rt return from WCBS in New York (the show goes live to the East Coast initially) to the Staples Center, according to Abbott, has a similar role at the Country Music Awards, where he and a co-producer instituted a peer monitoring group of people across the country, linked via iChat, monitoring their respective local broadcast transmission.
“On this show, it was determined we needed to make it more specific,” he added. A group of monitors, located across the country and linked via conference phone to an audio crewmember at the Staples Center, was tasked with critically listening to the relative levels of production elements, overall levels into and out of commercial breaks, and other parameters. “We’re trying to get an idea for each provider— Comcast, DirecTV and so on.” As in previous years, key members of The Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing also performed critical monitoring duties during the telecast, using JBL LSR6300 Series studio speakers. “For forensics, after the show, we’re multitracking all the sources, and we’ll line them up and punch through and see what the transparency is like,” Abbott noted.
The ideal way to ensure the audio arrives at its ultimate destination unaltered is to provide the network with the very best soundtrack. WAVES plug-ins played a role there, too. Music Mix Mobile’s two remote trucks, M3 and M3 West, exclusively use WAVES plug-ins to optimize the music mix being fed to the broadcast production mixer, Tom Holmes, including the UM226 Upmixer and MV360 Surround Dynamics Processor.
According to John Harris, one of two broadcast music mixers (the other is Eric Schilling) on the show, “The thing that [the UM226] does that no other manufacturer has been able to accomplish is that when the overall mix is folded back down to stereo for non-surround home viewers, those tracks that had been upmixed and downmixed again sound exactly like they started, when a lot of other upmix plug-ins from other manufacturers end up coloring the sound in various ways.”
As for the MV360, “This is really the key to the show, because in digital TV and the demands of home delivery, we have to be very precise on what we deliver, and it needs to land within a certain dynamic range. The MV360 compressor is so adaptable, it can very easily be molded for different performers,” said Harris.
Ensuring an optimum signal from the stage, the audio crew (this year there were 38 audio engineers and technicians) made use of more than 250 Audio-Technica microphones. They included an array of hardwired mics and Artist Elite 5000 Series UHF wireless systems (for artists including Jamie Foxx, T-Pain, Doug E. Fresh, Taylor Swift, Stevie Nicks and Maxwell), with new AT4050ST stereo condenser and AT4081 bidirectional ribbon microphones selected as part of A-Ts extensive backline complement.
According to a statement from Sennheiser, performers Beyoncé, Pink, Black Eyed Peas, Zac Brown Band, Dave Matthews Band, Lady Antebellum, Robert Flack, Andrea Bocelli, plus a host of presenters used an unprecedented number of Sennheiser and Neumann microphones. Shure microphones were also well represented on stage, including UHF-R series wireless systems for artists ranging from Jon Bon Jovi to Lady Gaga to, during a tribute to Les Paul, Imelda May and Jeff Beck.
Music Mix Mobile supplied 112 channels of Grace Design m802 microphone preamplifiers with A/D converters. For critical listening in the M3 and M3 West trucks, engineers relied on duplicate Genelec systems comprising 8250A biamplified active DSP monitors in an LCR array with 8240A biamplified active DSP rear monitors, with 7260A active DSP subwoofers.