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Behind the National Quartet Convention Feed, Part 1

Dec 2, 2013 3:14 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Inside the TNDV video truck named Aspiration at the National Quartet Convention.

How do you keep up with all of the different acts that you have to record and get to them very fast? They’ve got these acts coming one after the other in rapid fire performing for a limited time and then very quickly you’ve got a whole new act onstage.

They do, and I think the key to this, just like anything else, is preparation. Our audio team is absolutely fastidious about taking notes during sound check, making sure the inputs are labeled. When we get into the Pro Tools recording, all the different tracks are individually labeled and time-code stamped. And typically we run time of day, so if we run into the post-production process and we need to identify a certain microphone from a certain act, if we know what time they performed, it’s easy for us to jump right to that track and extract anything we need from it. So I think organization is crucial, good note taking during sound checks, and then making sure to maintain a time-code infrastructure that’s easy to follow, and like I mentioned, for us that’s time of day, that makes organization of this massive amount of data just that much easier. [Timestamp: 6:36]

And this whole event was held I believe in Freedom Hall in Louisville and I think Freedom Hall has been there for awhile. It’s not a new place.

It’s not a new place. In fact, it’s showing its age a little bit. There’s a number of facilities at this venue that have actually been shut down because of their age. Freedom Hall is still very much open and active and we’re lucky to have done a number of shows there. You know, we’ve worked with a number of single acts. You know, we’ve done New Year’s even specials with various acts in this building and we did the United Pentecostal Church’s annual convention there a few years ago. But it’s also good for NQC because it is in the round and this is a round-style auditorium, easy access for cable pull, lots of great camera locations. Not only that, the crowd sound is very robust in this round room, so when we set up all of our crowd microphones to get that surround sound feel, we’re actually mixing true surround sound in the truck, so the crowd noise is a crucial element. The room really lends itself to good-sounding crowd noise as well as great sound from the stage. So it’s an old facility, but it’s still a good facility and I bet it has a number of years left. [Timestamp: 7:47]

And on the video side of things, were you producing IMAG for the big screens in there?

We were. They had a number of 20,000-lumen projectors throughout the venue as well as flatscreen TVs and confidence monitors, and we actually had the ability to switch the screens independently of the broadcast feed. So just because we had a certain camera punched up in the TV truck, we might be sending a different camera or an advertisement or a logo into the streams inside. We gave the broadcast team independent control and they took advantage of that. Obviously when the doors open and everybody’s coming to sit down, you want to have logos or advertisements up on the screen while you might not necessarily want to see that out in the trucks. So we made sure that the truck could control the screens independently and see both destinations, whatever they needed, respectively. [Timestamp: 8:37]

Now that seems like some pretty long cable runs for video. What kind of video signal format did you feed to the big screens?

To some people it might seem like a long run, but 400-500ft. for us, that’s child’s play. When you do a lot of drag racing like we do, you know we do a special called Bluegrass Underground, that’s shot on location in a cave. The camera cable runs for that are 1,500 feet. Four or five hundred feet is nothing, but what we use to achieve those distances is we have a selection of fiber optic cable. The cameras use fifty fiber camera cable and for our video and audio feeds we use single-mode tactical fiber cable and a special conversion system that converts fiber optic light into HD-SDI video and that fiber optic light allows us to travel hundreds and hundreds of feet without losing any image quality or having drop outs. So fiber cable for the video, fiber cable for the audio, and fiber cable for the cameras makes sure we can get the distances achieved without any signal loss. [Timestamp: 9:34]

That’s a whole lot lighter stuff to haul around in the truck and by hand in the venue setup.

It is. You know, we come from the days when we had to use multicore cable and we thought by the time we went to Triax that we had really made it and that lightweight Triax cable would make our lives much easier. Well fiber has made it that much easier again. We have the camera cable, the SMPTE fiber, that’s still a little more robust; it’s similar to Triax. But the tactical fiber, it’s extremely lightweight, we can carry thousands of feet of it, and it’s capable of carrying hundreds of signals. You know it takes one fiber for me to transport up to 64 audio inputs back to the truck and compare one tactical fiber strand to the five or six DT-12 copper audio snakes it would have taken is night and day. So it’s much lighter and much easier to work with. [Timestamp: 10:23]

And all you really have to do is just keep the dirt out of it.

Keep the dirt out and keep the forklifts off of it. Our tactical fiber is Kevlar-wrapped, so it is very tough, but it’s still glass. I mean it’s still fiber optic, so it’s still very susceptible to being slammed in a doorway or run over by a forklift. So we are very cautious with it, but the good news is it’s lightweight, so if we need to get a little bit of gaffer’s tape and tape it up over a doorway, it’s not that difficult to do. [Timestamp: 10:50]

Nic, when you pull in with the truck and you have so much to do I know your time is limited so what do you do when you get there? I know you have things lined up so things happen in the right order.

We do, and luckily shows like this provide us with an excellent team of camera operators and utilities and A2’s to work with us, but it is important to have an order of things, so of course getting the trucks parked and powered and leveled is first. Then we jump on the cable pull and we do it one at a time and we’re very meticulous about our labeling of cables. We also pull a lot of spare cables in case we were to have a problem so we don’t have to run additional cables after the fact. We go ahead and pull some spare cable right off the bat and label it as spare, and then we get into the construction mode. We build the cameras, we build the camera cranes. We set up the crowd microphones. And the final step is the FAX, the facilities’ check to make sure tally lights are correct and the microphone gain structure is correct, and that everything is aimed where it should be aimed. And after we do our facilities’ check – our FAX – we’re ready for our show. That typically gets us into rehearsals where we actually get to practice and test and make sure everything is working how we expect it to and then it’s show time. And luckily on a show like NQC, we have a full day just for setup and testing, so we take advantage of that and go ahead and get a chip chart out and color correct all the cameras under the production lighting in the venue. You know, we go around to each individual camera and make sure the intercom and the tally lights and the return video are all correct. Audio-wise, we do exhaustive line checks even before the sound check. We want to make sure that what we think we’re getting on the floor is coming up on the right input with the right label in the audio truck even before the artists’ sound checks. So we get all that done on the set day and that way the next day when we come in, we know we’re 98 percent of the way there. We just have to add the talent to the mix. So that’s when the artists take the stage. We make sure that the color and the flesh tone looks correct on the cameras. We make sure the audio is true and that we’re getting good, clean sound from every microphone. Then we hit the air. You know, we’re off to the races webcasting, feeding the screens and capturing all the cameras for broadcast. So it’s a long process to get a facility like this installed, but with the team that they assemble for us, it’s something that we’ve done long enough to where we know we can do it efficiently and effectively and have a great week of shows to follow. [Timestamp: 13:08]

And then probably all you have to do is to take about a week to get all the music out of your head.

Working with any barber shop or any harmony-based organization, I think they refer to them as the tag – the very last solid note that the group hits. Those tags kind of ring in your ears for a week or two after the event, but being able to hear some of the best musicians in the world that sing better than any other quartet in the country – at least we hear those tags how they were intended to be sung and there’s some really impressive musicianship that happens on that stage. [Timestamp: 13:39]

I’m sure there is and a lot of it assembled all in one place and things are as professional behind the scenes as what’s going on out there onstage. Thanks for telling us about it. Nic Dugger with TNDV and the National Quartet Convention in Louisville. Sounds like a lot of fun and in part two we’ll talk more about the JoeCo Black Box recorders, the Studer Vista 9 console, and some of the intercom stuff so we’ll see you in part two.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you very much.

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