By Mark Lewis, Sr. Product Manager, Boston.com
One of the great joys of bringing RadioBDC into the Boston.com family has certainly been the “Live in the Lab” concert series. For the uninitiated, the “Live in the Lab” series is a steady stream of musical acts that perform in the Globe Lab. Typically, the Lab hosts a band for three to five songs, largely acoustic. To date, we’ve had six bands: Animal Kingdom, The Lumineers, California Wives, Bloc Party, Stars, and the sixth, Minus the Bear.
Much like anything else, we’ve come a long way in the way we produce and distribute the concerts to the Boston.com and RadioBDC audience. We thought it was time to peel back the curtain and show off how we tackle set-up, warm-up, lights-up and tear-down. In this post, we focus on what it took to get Minus the Bear live on air.
4 pm (minus 1 day to show)
RadioBDC director Mike Snow begins the stage build-out by setting up the speakers, microphones and monitors for the band. He’ll also set up the mixer (Mackie ProFX12) that will serve the live studio audience and the live video feed.
Another lynchpin of the production, Ed Medina spends the night before arranging the platform for the camera and tripod. If time permits, he’ll drop some lights. Time does not permit for this performance.
10 am day of show (3h, 30min to show time)
Depending on how much access we have to the Globe Lab, or how productive we feel like being, we try to set up studio speakers, monitors for the band and lighting the night before a performance. That’s if we are smart. We’ve done it all in 45 minutes in some instances. The “stage” takes four 400 watt lights, two with red gels to warm the set. In the photo you can see Executive Producer of the Live in the Lab series Chris Rattey setting up the stage video monitors. These are six monitors stacked Brady Bunch style. When not called into concert duty, these monitors usually display Chris Marstall’s innovative Boston Instagram montage. But, for the shows, we hijack the screens for RadioBDC pub and band photos (see video). Rattey has finally mastered setting this up without “herniating” a disk. Chris explains the process in this short video…
Other set-up items accomplished this early are “hanging” studio art work and setting up the camera.
11 am (2h, 30min to show time)
At this point most of the lighting and set accoutrements are in place. It’s time to break out the conduit to the web – the LiveU backpack. Boston.com invested in the LiveU backpack back in January to shoot large breaking news events. It’s come in quite handy recently with all of the live performances. Essentially, the backpack is a TV satellite truck stuffed in a 20 lb. pack. Since the pack relies on cell service (4G if available), it’s always smart to run a test early and often. Too little bandwidth and your stream can be poor. So, there are ways to dial back the quality a bit – if you have enough bandwidth, sky is the limit. The bandwidth gods smile upon us today, signal is strong.
The pack is configured right to our Brightcove account. So, at this point, it’s plug-and-play. Getting out to the web also has an additional step – a CDN. In this case we use a company called Mirror Image. Mirror Image helps us split the video stream into three – flash, HLS (for iOS) and whatever Blackberry needs.
Noon (1h, 30 min to show time)
Minus the Bear is definitely not on “band time.” These guys are pros and show up 90 minutes before the show to make sure everything works. Usually we have more time to set-up as bands are known to stroll in a bit late. We’re happy they are here so we can test levels and shots with actual talent.
We’re used to a vocalist and an acoustic guitar player, but Minus has brought a full arsenal – five band members complete with three guitars, keyboard and a new one for us – drums. Another key ingredient Snow has to worry about is Program Director Paul Driscoll is recording the show on his Mac to playback on RadioBDC. Paul confirms he is getting the feed.
12:30 pm (1h to show time)
At this point we’ve fully tested the video stream. Problem – we have moving pictures, but no audio. We run an XLR from the camera to the board. After 10 minutes we realize a mute button is pressed on the mixer. Problem solved. We listen for the audio stream with Minus the Bear warming up and realize we are only hearing music in one ear. Is the mixer only sending mono? We hope not. Darren Durlach, our shooter for the day, points out that we are taking the stereo feed from the board and it’s clear in the camera.
Monitors are giving us fits and starts but between Snow and Radio BDC’s own Adam 12 they figure out how to get the band the sound they want.
1 pm (30 min to show time)
While the band scarfs down some of Café BG’s finest sandwiches, the production team plows through more testing. All is well with the live video stream. We now have full audio. Crisis averted.
Lucky RadioBDC contest winners start filing into the first few rows of seats in the Globe Lab. Employees from the Globe start to fill in the rest of the seats.
1:15 pm (15 min to show time)
Minus the Bear takes its place on stage and loosens up. All of the technical aspects are behind us, it’s show time.
1:30 pm (show time)
Julie Kramer is given the thumbs up to intro the band and start the show. Just have to hope all of the prep work pays off.
1:40 pm (show time +10)
A light briefly powers down in between songs. A wall hanging drops and almost takes out the drummer. Welcome to live TV! Here is a short clip from the show.
2:00 pm (show’s over)
Show is over, Minus the Bear is nice enough to take some photos and meet the fans. Another “Live in the Lab” in the books. Here is a link to the full set.
Great work by all of the people behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Time to start tearing down. Bela Fleck is in the Lab in 12 hours – time to reset for the fourteen time Grammy winner.