digital reporter

More than just artists wired at the Grammys

Now that 150 tons of gear have been taken down from the rafters, 13,000 amps of power switched off and 150 stagehands, 130 technicians and 23 stage managers have moved on, Staples Center can return from being the venue of Sunday night's Grammys to its roots as home to the Lakers, Kings and Clippers.

The performances from what has been dubbed music's biggest night might have held center stage, but the backstage digital technology was orchestrated with the same split-second synchronicity as the performance of Shakira and Wyclef Jean.

"Every year we start with a blank piece of paper," says Ken Ehrlich, who executive produces the show with John Cossette and has refined the rapidly progressing use of digital technology. "But it's our large team of the most talented designers, technicians, craftsmen and sound engineers that make it happen."

New to the stage design this year was what Doug Mountain, consulting engineer and voting member of the Recording Academy, calls the "video walls": myriad LED tubes above center stage that are manipulated by computer and display video elements.

Also accompanying the 19 high-definition cameras used to capture the evening's 22 performances were 900 digitally controlled German-made spotlights and more than 800 additional computerized lights.

But it was the audio technology behind the event that customized the crooning of Justin Timberlake and Dixie Chicks for both analog and digital broadcasts that proved most complex (each carries audio transmission differently). The telecast is recorded in a stereo and 5.1 surround sound version.

"As a digital medium, viewership has increased by 35% on high- definition sets, and our largest technical achievement has been (to be) able to accommodate this transition," says perennial Grammy producer Phil Ramone, who also fulfills the role as broadcast supervisor on behalf of the Recording Academy.

Ramone was one of many involved in the massive recording process, which is split up into multiple video and sound trucks.

One of those trucks is referred to as a "mirror image" broadcast truck or offline remix booth. It allows sound mixers to be intimately familiar with each artist's performance before the telecast.

"We digitally track everything," Mountain says about the recording process that goes on during the rehearsals. "We use computerized mixing consoles to take a snapshot of the mix in rehearsal, which allows us to accurately set the controls for vocals and instruments in each live performance."

The night's recording required the deployment of more than 1,200 audio inputs, the strategic placement of more than 600 microphones and a dedicated mixer just for the orchestra. The sole purpose of one engineer was to capture pockets of high activity and notable reaction in the audience during the performances and awards.

Additionally, the production used two stage locations, with both featured during the country music portion. That required the use of in-depth audio mapping, multiple mixing consoles, fiber optic cables and pre-amps.

"There's of course more emphasis on audio with this show," says Hank Neuberger, a supervisor of broadcast audio as a Recording Academy adviser. "We really try to take care of our artists."

Adds Ramone, "What we're looking for every year is to raise the standard of audio for our audience."