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Capturing a Grammy Awards Like No Other

The 63rd Grammy Awards telecast was very different due to the pandemic. For the veteran audio team behind the annual television event, that meant throwing away the old playbook and starting virtually from scratch.

Typically held in Los Angeles’ Staples Center arena, this year’s Grammy Awards show was largely pre-taped on sets next door at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Typically held in Los Angeles’ Staples Center arena, this year’s Grammy Awards show was largely pre-taped on sets next door at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Los Angeles, CA—With pandemic protocols still in place and a new producer at the helm, the 63rd Grammy Awards show was very different from previous years. For the veteran audio team behind the annual television event, that meant throwing away the old playbook and starting virtually from scratch.

With no possibility of getting 20,000 people together in the Staples Center, the event’s longtime home, producers moved this year’s awards show next door to the Los Angeles Convention Center. In media interviews ahead of the broadcast, new producer Ben Winston challenged viewers to guess what was live and what was pre-recorded. The answer was actually simple—only the award presentations were live on the night.

COVID-19 protocols put a stamp on the entire proceedings, says Michael Abbott, who has been the show’s audio coordinator for more than three decades. For one thing, he says, “I was in an office by myself,” in the middle of the outdoor “truck farm” alongside the Denali broadcast remote trucks, M3 music mixing trucks and other temporary offices.

“Two Gelcos were also provided for the Pro Tools operators, JP Velasco and Aaron Walk,” says Abbott. “Adjacent to that was our file transfer room with Glenn Lorbecki, who managed the artist approvals. We also had a mixer, Paul Wittman, who was monitoring and QCing audio for the participants on Zoom.”

Production mixer Mikael Stewart managed the outdoor live award presentations and other elements on a DiGiCo SD10.
Production mixer Mikael Stewart managed the outdoor live award presentations and other elements on a DiGiCo SD10. Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Inside, one of the convention center’s massive halls was outfitted with a set comprising an entranceway—a giant gramophone horn—and five stages facing each other, with adjoining isolated artist holding areas. Adjacent to the set was an audio area crewed by socially distanced PA mixer Jim Ebdon, at a DiGiCo SD12, Michael Parker and Andres Arango at monitors on a pair of SD5s, and Ian Guitierrez, at an SD21, monitoring the RF microphone signals. On the night, production mixer Mikael Stewart managed the outdoor live award presentations and other elements on a DiGiCo SD10.

“For the most part, we maintained the same workflow as usual,” says Abbott, except that artists’ teams were not allowed into the M3 trucks to advise on the mixes due to protocols. Instead, engineers and producers sat at listening stations in the hall with headphones and a video screen to monitor their artist’s performance. A hands-free intercom footswitch enabled real-time interaction with M3 music mixers John Harris or Eric Schilling.

Miranda Lambert’s appearance was part of a three-song show opening all shot in one pass.
Miranda Lambert’s appearance was part of a three-song show opening all shot in one pass. Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The 22 artists and groups visited the set in the days leading up to the Sunday broadcast to capture their performances individually, with some exceptions. “The cold open walk-in to the hall and the three back-to-back performances was a pre-tape that we did in one pass,” says Abbott. “And Mickey Guyton, Miranda Lambert and Maren Morris were all done in one pass. The In Memoriam segment was done on multiple days and pieced together. It requires a lot of attention to detail to make sure you’re not painting yourself into a corner for the edit, or else the sequencing and segues won’t match.”

BTS, unable to travel due to coronavirus restrictions, filmed their performance on a duplicate set in Seoul, S. Korea.

Grammy Awards Show Begins Transition to AoIP

With no audience for the performances, there was no need for a PA—well, almost. To ensure that there would be some energy in the room for performers to feed off, production provider ATK ground deployed some of its C6 speaker boxes due to weight constraints of the convention center’s grid and positioned a pair of JBL subs at the corners of the five stages. “We took a music stem and a vocal stem from the M3 trucks. Jim Ebdon did a PA mix with those stems, audio and video playbacks, host mics and a variety of other elements,” says Abbott.

The novel production setup added significantly to the workload, he says. “I had said for a couple of months that if we’re going to pre-tape, we’re going to end up re-mixing. I tallied them up, because I was so exhausted the day after the Broadcast—we did 75 remixes, sent and approved, on the Friday before the show.”

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