The 52nd Annual Country Music Association Awards ceremony at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena was hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, and saw Entertainer of the Year Keith Urban and Male Vocalist of the Year Chris Stapleton (also with Song of the Year, ‘Broken Halos’) among the winners.

Country Music Association AwardsThe show’s 22 music performances and awards introductions were handled by a pair of DiGiCo SD-Range consoles – an SD7 helmed by Blackhawk Audio President Rick Shimer at FOH for the event’s music performances, and an SD5 for the evening’s production audio, piloted by ATK Audiotek Principal Pat Baltzell. The house audio was delivered through a JBL PA using a combination of VerTec 4889 and VTX V20 enclosures.

‘Rick and I have done this show for nearly 20 years, and the SD consoles have made a huge difference in both the house sound and the workflow,’ says Baltzell, who was also the sound system designer. ‘We split the sound between us – Rick handles all of the music mixes from the stage, while I do the production mix, which is all of the audio elements other than the music: the awards introductions, acceptance speeches, video rolls, and so on. We’ve found that division of labor to be the most efficient workflow.’

Baltzell notes that the DiGiCo SD5 console, with 253 input channels and up to 124 aux and subgroup buses, might have seemed like overkill for the few mics used for the presentations, against the order of magnitude larger number of inputs that came close to maxing out the SD7 console at FOH. However, he notes that in addition to the production audio for the show, his SD5 console was also the fail-safe hub for the entire production.

A separate music feed was being continuously sent from the SD7 at FOH to Baltzell’s SD5, in the event that there was an interruption in the feed from front of house to the broadcast truck, it could be switched over instantaneously. And in case the signal path from the venue to the Denali broadcast truck failed, Baltzell could route the audio for the entire production directly to the satellite uplink truck.

‘As a result, the SD5 was taking on the potential for much greater responsibility for the event,’ he says. ‘That’s one of the reasons I chose it – I knew it could handle that kind of pressure. It has tremendous capacity to do a lot of things simultaneously, and do them all well.’

The event ran smoothly, with Baltzell happy to have DiGiCo’s EQ and multiband compressors at his fingertips, because awards shows often have unique audio quirks and the CMA Awards are no exception. For instance, there are Meyer MM4 compact speakers built into the steps leading to the stage used to cover the first row of seating, and every other seat in the first row has a JBL Control 25 speaker positioned under it to compensate for the higher-than-usual line array hang used to keep the stage sightlines clear.

CMA Awards

‘As a result, I don’t put the production audio into the bottom three speakers in each array, to create a buffer area around the podium microphone,’ he explains. ‘The SD5 is able to zone all of that and let me dial in exactly the EQ I need for each of those speaker locations. And unlike years ago when most of the announcers were men, now we have a lot of female presenters, so for that I’m using the de-essing capability on the equalization to keep the sibilance out of the mix. I have a dialog rack that has a few outboard processors that I love to use for this type of work, but having the kinds of options the SD5 gives me is very helpful.’

The console  has to keep the speech  intelligible throughout the performance, but could be called on at any moment to be a music desk: ‘We were able to do strictly 96kHz on this show for everything, including the monitors, and I have never heard a music show sound better than they do on a DiGiCo desk at 96k,’ he says. ‘The sound is so clear yet has plenty of depth. On a big show like this, DiGiCo makes all the difference.’

Broadcast live in 5.1-channel surround sound on the ABC Television Network, the event also made extensive use of Audio-Technica hard-wired microphones, plus Artist Elite 5000 Series UHF Wireless Systems with ATW-C6100 Hypercardioid Dynamic Microphone Capsule.

Audio-Technica’s Artist Elite 5000 Series UHF Wireless System with the ATW-C6100 Hypercardioid Dynamic Microphone Capsule was used for lead vocals by Audio-Technica endorsers Jason Aldean (performing with Miranda Lambert), Florida Georgia Line (in a segment with Bebe Rexha) and Cole Swindell (during the Luke Bryan & Friends segment), along with background choir vocals during the Chris Stapleton/Maren Morris/Marty Stuart segment. Aldean and Florida Georgia Line were each nominated in three categories, and Swindell was nominated in two.

The backline mic complement of A-T wired microphones included the AT4081Phantom-powered Bidirectional Ribbon Microphone on guitars; AT4050 Multi-Pattern Condenser Microphone on overheads and choir; AT4047/SV Cardioid Condenser Microphone on guitars; AE2500 Dual-Element Cardioid Instrument Microphone on kick drum; AE5100 Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone on hi-hat and ride cymbals; and ATM350a Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone and ATM250 Hypercardioid Dynamic Instrument Microphone on toms.

‘What a pleasure it was to use the new A-Ts for CMAs this year,’ says James Stoffo, RF Coordinator/Microphone Tech. ‘The RF power output delivered rock-solid performance for the show and made the CMAs this year the smoothest one ever. It is easy to tell that A-T did a great job with the design and introduction of the new wireless system. All performers used the 6100 capsule and the wireless sounded spectacular.’

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