As even the most casual of sports fans know, the Super Bowl is a huge event in the sporting calendar and has long since expanded beyond the game itself into a full weekend of entertainment. This year saw Dome Productions contracted to supply OB services for the AT&T Super Saturday Night with Lady Gaga event, with myself acting as Audio Guarantor. This was a great win for Dome Productions and, speaking personally, it’s been the most exciting job of my career so far.

The event took place at the Island Gardens in Miami, Florida and Dome Productions was chose as the OB truck provider. Our vast history in OB productions and the capabilities of our newest 4K truck, Dome Vista, helped us handle three separate event nights including a live Boxing event and multi-artist concert, though it was the Lady Gaga show that was far and away the most complex in terms of the services we provided.

Despite its 4K video capabilities, this article is about the audio side of things with the concert “streamed” live on Twitter. So what, you may ask, is the role of an Audio Guarantor? I like to think of it as a Systems Tech in the PA World. I was responsible for the technical planning, setup/routing of the Calrec Apollo 144-fader console, all the audio mapping to/from the two multi-track recorders, and ensuring everything worked 100 per cent for the two audio mixers on this show.

What was immediately different, at least for me with this gig, was the fact that the audio took priority.

We had all the dedicated audio resources we needed along with the time and effort required to set them up. I had people helping me to make sure the audio was as good as can be with technical resources to make sure that everything went brilliantly in that regard. That was great, considering that in sports broadcasts, audio is often the second most important thing.

For Lady Gaga, looking at the technical details, we received three 56-channel MADI streams from the FOH DiGiCo console over coax; 32 analogue stems via a Calrec Hydra2 48×16 Stage Box over fibre; and a two-channel board mix via analogue DT-12. The total count from FOH was 202 channels of audio. We added our own audience response mics to complement the ones provided by FOH and had microphones on three cameras and two EVS machines for the open and close videos with a stereo return feed from Twitter for monitoring.

Her band and her production used a lot of live instruments. As an example, including electronic pads, there were 22 channels just for drums: two kick drum mics; three snares (mic’d top and bottom); two hi-hats; a number of rack toms and floor toms that were all individually mic’d; a ride-specific mic; overhead mics; and two stereo drum pads.

There were a number of different bass keys and a bass DI – so that was another six channels just for bass. There were two guitarists who both had their cabinets mic’d and a Kemper digital amp modeling system so they could quickly change their tone from song to song. Each had their own system and microphones. Then there were four synths, all stereo. Lady Gaga also had a lot of her own instruments – an acoustic guitar, bass guitar, a keytar and a piano. She also had four different vocal mics/headsets while the dancers all had headset mics as well.

The show also included a lot of channels for playback — 32-channels in total, including background vocals, playback drums, keys, bass, synths, etc. These are pre-recorded backing tracks. There were also a lot of triggers and comms coming to us – plus some instruments that weren’t going to be used in the show – so we didn’t take those as we had no need. We took stereo stems of a lot of the instruments to make our mix easier, but we ended up doing our own mix of the drums and bass from the individual mics.

Bill Malina, who is Lady Gaga’s studio mixer, mixed the broadcast side of the show along with Eddie Marquez. They each handled different items and make decisions on plugin use and other sonic choices. The FOH mixer was Pal Ramsay, who also mixes her Vegas shows, and he built stems of most of the instrumentation and vocals to simplify our mix since he knows all the cues in her show. Rather than us trying to remember what particular synth is being used on a song, we take Paul’s stem mix.

We used a MADI router from DirectOut technologies – which was very impressive – to manage all the MADI and it allowed me to take the incoming MADI streams and, using a matrix GUI, rebuild streams to send back out of the router. I simply took all the incomings streams and rebuilt them into two MADI streams for output to the Calrec Apollo console, which has four MADI inputs. We landed all 128 channels of MADI from the router, and 32 stem channels from the Hydra2 Stage Box in the Calrec. We built our own groups for mixing/processing and using direct outs of everything we sent three 64-channel MADI streams back into the M.1K2 MADI router to be distributed to the main and backup multi-track recorders. Multi-track records were handled by two MacBook Pro laptops running Reaper and 2 RME MadiFace XT interfaces. We recorded 164 channels into each as a main and backup record. All the individual mics, the FOH stems, the stems we created in the truck and our two mixes and timecode from the truck were recorded.

We had one sound check with Lady Gaga where we ran through most of the set and then another sound check with the band where we ran through the whole show. Both soundchecks were recorded, and using those recordings we spent two afternoons while cameras were being set up and cables were being run to finesse plugins, EQ, compression, and so on. Those two days of remixing soundchecks ensured that when the live show happened, everything sounded great.

As mentioned, it was the whole weekend leading up to the Super Bowl that was happening in that space and Dome Productions was covering all of it with this truck, which shows the breadth of its technical capabilities; but an interesting logistical situation did develop. When we first showed up, we set up and rehearsed the Lady Gaga show and then that was packed up: the stage – the whole FOH – was boxed up into trucks and was taken away. Then the boxing show showed up, which was live on the streaming service DAZN. Lance Gordon, who was featured in a Calrec craft interview not too long ago, was the A1 while I was the audio guarantor. Lance knows the Calrec better than anyone, and the A2s all know the show. I was there to basically babysit the Lady Gaga setup and make sure Lance and his crew had all the resources they needed while protecting our Lady Gaga setup. After hours of live Boxing, they packed up and the next day featured a Harry Styles concert with other opening acts. The show wasn’t streamed anywhere, however, the truck was used to shoot for the big screens.

Finally, on Saturday morning, the Lady Gaga show rolled back into the venue. We set it all up again, did a quick rehearsal and off we went. It was, as everyone agreed, a unique situation to set up this big show, test it, then take it all away. It wasn’t traditional but that’s what the situation called for, and so we coped admirably. One of the reasons it happened that way is because Dome Productions believed it could all be done with one truck. Traditionally, each event may have its own truck, but being able to produce this event with one OB truck meant huge cost savings for the client and overall efficiency benefit gained from sharing resources and equipment from show to show.

The sonic quality of the Calrec Apollo was a big advantage for this event and is something that I’ve talked about with other A1s over the years…what you put into a Calrec console is what you get out: there is no colouring; there’s no characteristic other than transparency.

In the music world maybe that’s not quite as beneficial because you choose certain consoles precisely because of their sound but in the broadcast world it’s a great advantage because you always know that a Calrec console will sound clean and won’t change anything.

With Calrec there’s no tonal characteristic and this was a real benefit. They used so many plugins to shape the sound – analogue modeling, channel strip plugins etc, – that what we really needed was a huge router with a large surface of 144 faders. That’s what the Calrec Apollo was for them. Believe me, a lot of that large surface was used too. We had multiple layers and they were mixing top and bottom rows. A very “hands on” mix.

Then there are Calrec’s DSP and headroom benefits. With so much processing power built in, we had absolutely no need for any additional. We could create as many channels/groups/outputs as we wanted, with no worry about reaching a limit. While I was on a job after this, I asked another A1 whether he agreed that he’d never really had a Calrec distort before. So we tried to make it happen and we genuinely couldn’t. We could crank it up, with meters pinned in the red and no clipping. People are very aware of this – there’s so much headroom in a Calrec.

This was a complex job in terms of the audio and overall logistics, but it was also deeply satisfying to work on. I had a number of panic moments, considering my experience in large-scale entertainment shows like this is pretty minimal, but being able to trust the technology and my co-workers turned it into a successful event!

"This was a complex job in terms of the audio and overall logistics, but it was also deeply satisfying to work on. I had a number of panic moments, considering my experience in large-scale entertainment shows like this is pretty minimal, but being able to trust the technology and my co-workers turned it into a successful event!"

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