Hank Neuberger Q&A

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Tom Kenny


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Hank Neuberger, left, with Guy Charbonneau at last year’s Coachella Music Festival

Hank Neuberger, left, with Guy Charbonneau at last year’s Coachella Music Festival

Hank Neuberger began his audio career in the 1970s in Chicago, working as a producer, engineer, and studio executive at Chicago Recording Company, where he still holds an Executive VP title. In the 21st century, however, he has become something of an audio nomad, lending his considerable production talents to the summer festival circuit, cast albums, Grammy telecasts, and events of all shapes and sizes. He is a Grammy-winning engineer and a first-call audio supervisor for the biggest events in the business. Mix caught up with Hank, today the president of Springboard Productions, as he was in Los Angeles meeting with AEG and advancing the audio/video capture of this spring’s Coachella Music Festival…

Let’s talk Grammys. You’ve been doing this for a while, and last year you won an Emmy…
It has been my privilege to supervise the broadcast audio for the Grammys for almost 20 years. We were very fortunate to win the Emmy for sound for a special last year. We have a very dedicated team that is responsible for that kind of an achievement. The most important guys are the guys with their hands on the faders, the music mixers. Those are Eric Schilling and John Harris, and our production mixer Tom Holmes. Our mission is the same. The Recording Academy takes it very seriously. We want to make sure that when those artists come on that show—it’s the biggest audience many of them will ever have at one time. We want to make sure their sound is spectacular, nothing less than a perfect balance of the song they perform on the show. We do a lot of advancing, not just with the artist, but with the technology.

This year we’re aiming for the February transition to digital broadcast, which kicks off a week after our show. In practice, a lot of the networks have already kicked it in. We’ve been anticipating for a couple of years and last year we specifically produced our soundtrack on the Grammy telecast in the format required for digital transition. What that means in practice is that we produce one soundtrack on site, a 5.1 surround track that is transported to CBS, which then transports that around the country and around the world. That means our mixers are simultaneously monitoring in 5.1 and 2.0, the way the 2.0 would be derived from the home viewer’s listening position.

We are very careful to simulate the exact downmix parameters that the CBS broadcast chain employs throughout their transmission. The same metadata parameters so that we can anticipate what it will sound like in 2.0 because the networks in most cases are only transmitting the 5.1, and they are relying on the downmix algorithm that home viewers are using to listen out of two speakers.

How do you top last year?
We just try to do it again. The Recording Academy is so single-mindedly dedicated to the excellence of the music that we present…one thing we do on this show that no other show does is that we created a, parallel premix world for artists and their producers to prebalance their rehearsal so that we have a starting point when they hit the stage. We’re able to spend more hours per artist in prebalancing, and we think that pays off.

Is that why you have the two mixers?
That’s part of it. Three days of rehearsal and the show is so daunting that it’s just too much for one brain.

And they work in parallel?
They work in the XM/Effanel truck and a mirror room that’s generally referred to as the ORB. The Offline Remix Booth.

Tell me about the pre-telecast?
The other thing I do in Grammy week, and this is the second year, is we produce a live webcast of the pre-telecast, where about 100 awards are handed out in advance of the Grammy telecast. Last year we did it for the first time. That will be available at grammy.com. All those awards, plus performances, the day of the Grammys.

And your other lives?
I’m still in the studio business. I still carry some arcane titles, like Executive VP of CRC, where I started back in the ‘70s. And also with Glenwood Place Studios in Los Angeles, where we were fortunate this year to have fabulous clients like Kanye West and Britney Spears and Alicia Keys and Courtney Love. Great clients. But as everybody knows, the studio biz is a constant uphill battle. We love it, we take great pride in the work we are able to do in those environments. I just produced a cast album at CRC for a brilliant musical called Million Dollar Quartet, which is a musical based on the night in 1956 where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins were at Sun Studios with Sam Phillips. There’s a brilliant musical doing great in Chicago right now and ready to go around the country. I’m still in the studios, I love that, and I know how important it is for all studios to diversify and do anything in professional audio that is rewarding. Just working with one segment of the pro audio business is generally not enough.

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