At the annual Grammy Awards®, sound itself takes center stage: recorded sound, as trophies are presented for songs and albums; live sound in stage performances by nominees; and broadcast sound for millions of music fans tuning in to the show worldwide.

For the artists, the live sound of the Grammys can be the high point or low point in their career. After all, the prestigious award is conferred by members of the Recording Academy® to honor excellence in the recording arts and sciences. Onstage in front of fans, peers, and celebrities from beyond the music industry, nominees may feel as if they’re giving the performance of a lifetime.

That puts a lot of pressure on the people behind the scenes, and Dolby invited Variety reporter David Cohen to take a firsthand look at the work that mixers do. David learned from show veteran John Harris that the feeling of mixing the Grammy Awards telecast is much like winning a fight.

With an Award of Special Merit and years of consultation to the sound teams supporting the telecast, Dolby is no stranger to the Grammy Awards. We asked Gary Epstein, Product Marketing Manager at Dolby and long-time consultant to live broadcast events, to give us his perspective on knockout sound at the show.

Lab Notes: What’s the sound mixer’s goal for the Grammys broadcast, and how is it achieved?

Gary Epstein (GE): All live performances are presented in 5.1 surround sound for the Grammy broadcast. The sound of the show is closest to a live concert album. The performers—or a representative of the performer—and the Grammy mixers determine the mix that is used for their live performance, but the addition of picture allows the mixer to support the video image.

A sound mix for a television show has to support what you see. For instance, if there’s a close-up of a solo, the sound mix should highlight it audibly. That’s where the mixer’s style of presenting the music comes into play—and each mixer has a personality is reflected in their work.

Lab Notes: Is the ambient sound less important in the Grammy Awards than, say, in a live sports event?

GE: The audience excitement is equally important to both types of broadcast.

Ambient sound draws the television audience into the experience, acoustically as well as psychologically—it’s like being there, in the theatre or in the stadium.

Lab Notes: What’s your most memorable Grammys moment?

GE: Seeing legendary producer Phil Ramone and kidding around with that amazing gentleman yearly.

Editor’s note: Watch the Grammy Awards mixers at work at the 2012 show.

That’s what a Dolby expert loves most about the Grammys. What really spoke to you at the Grammys this year?

Enter your email address. We'll notify you about new Dolby Lab Notes posts.