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Behind the Scenes at the Grammys, An Army of Technical Talent

By Eric Richardson
Published: Sunday, January 31, 2010, at 04:05PM
Grammy Music Mixers Eric Richardson [Flickr]

John Harris and Eric Schilling will be responsible for mixing the music that is broadcast from Sunday night's 52nd Grammy Awards.

The millions watching tonight's broadcast of the 52nd Grammy Awards won't see John Harris or Eric Schmidt, but they will certainly hear their work. Though both are Grammy Award winners, they won't even get to step foot inside Staples Center. Instead, they'll spend the three hour show in a truck outside, where they'll tag-team mixing responsibilities for 16 live musical performances.

Getting the show dubbed "Music's Biggest Night" on the air is a technical feat made possible by a crew of nearly 400 and the work of the best-of-the-best in music's behind-the-scenes professions.

The technical specs for the show are staggering. 130 tons of lighting, sound and set pieces are hung from the Staples Center ceiling on approximately 3,000 feet of trussing. Powering up the lights, sound and video equipment takes 13,000 amps.

The crew includes 160 stagehands, 150 technicians, 26 stage managers and 38 audio engineers and technicians.

As if the number of live performances and the variety of sets weren't daunting enough, the adoption of HD televisions and 5.1 surround sound has made it even more important that the output be exactly right.

"When we first went 5.1, I used to tease everybody that there are people in Ames, Iowa, and Cheboygan emailing us right now saying, 'I think the left channel is a little light and the guitar in the back seems unusual,'" said Phil Ramone, a 14-time Grammy winning producer who oversees the show's audio.

"We used to be able to do this show ten years ago in the Shrine Auditorium for 6500 people and it wasn't a big deal," recalled Leslie Ann Jones, Director of Music Recording and Scoring at Skywalker Sound and a technical advisor to the show. "Now, you can not do it unless you're in a place as big as Staples because of the amount of equipment that you have to have. Every band, even if they're an instrumental band, they've still got ProTools inputs and all kinds of stuff. We probably use more wireless microphones than any other show."

Responsibility for those microphones falls to Dave Bellamy of Soundtronics Wireless. During a visit on Thursday, Bellamy was preparing to retune the system to handle interference being thrown off by the massive LED video ribbons that will create a backdrop for tonight's performances.

With a show this large, sometimes it's best not to think about all that could go wrong. Bellamy says he's fond of a quote his dad used. "Don't worry about the horse going lame," he said, "just load the wagon."

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