Nashville Skyline

A look at the audio end of the “American Idol”-like TV program “Nashville Star”

The success of American Idol has, not surprisingly, spawned a number of imitators. Probably the most successful is the USA Network's Nashville Star, which focuses on mainstream country music. The program, which runs each year from March through May, is performed live to air every Tuesday night. It is shot at the BellSouth Acuff Theater at Opryland in Nashville.

The Nashville Star crew. Top row: stage techs Danny Breedan (left) and Billy Hunter. Second row down, L-R: broadcast music mixer (guest artists) Paul Special and stage tech Jackie Brooks. Third row down, L-R: RF technician Jeff Brigette (standing), broadcast music mixer (house band and contestants) Kooster McAllister, broadcast production mixer Tom Davis. Bottom row (from left): monitor mixer Shane Hamill, FOH Bob Bussiere.

Nashville Star features 10 contestants (five male, five female) selected from approximately 20,000 people who auditioned from around the country. Like American Idol, the show includes judges, but viewer votes cast by phone and the Internet ultimately decide the winner, who is awarded a deal with RCA.

I hooked up with Paul Special, one of the broadcast music mixers on Nashville Star, to get the lowdown on the making of a typical episode. The production crew usually meets on the Sunday evening before the Tuesday of the broadcast to discuss the upcoming show. “Each week will require a different amount of input channels, RF mics and RF channels due to both the number of contestants and what the guest artist will be bringing. Between guitar and bass rigs, in-ear monitors and handheld RF mics, some guest artists will bring in 10 to 20 channels of wireless gear,” Special says.

The music mix for the house band and contestants is done by Kooster McAllister in the Record Plant Remote truck, using a 54-input API analog console and outboard gear. A Yamaha DM2000 digital console is used to mix the guest acts, and there's one in the Record Plant truck configured for 48 inputs and run by Special. “I do not use any outboard gear [for the broadcast],” says Special, “as the DM2000 has plenty of DSP for EQs, gates and compressors on each channel, as well as up to 12 stereo reverb/delays built in.”

The shows are recorded onto 48 tracks of RADAR 24, as well as 48 tracks of Tascam DA-98 for backup. A stereo mix is then sent to Tom Davis, the production mixer, in the video truck. “Ryan Smith from Shure has supplied us with a wonderful package of mics for the entire production, and Clair Bros. handles FOH duties, as well as supplying monitors,” says Special. Clair Bros.' front-of-house mixer is Bob Bussiere, who handles the house band with the contestants, the judges' mics and various production elements sent to him from the video truck.

Bussiere uses a Midas Heritage H3000 with 53 inputs, running 11 different zones using the Clair iO drive system with control by wireless tablet. Bussiere runs a total of eight Clair R4 cabinets and four Clair ML18 sub cabinets for his main P.A. He is also running four Clair P2s and eight Clair P110 cabinets for fills and hot spots.

Clair Bros. monitor mixer Shane Hamill uses a Midas Heritage H3000 console and a sidecar for a total of 70 inputs. He is running 18 different output channels. These include four mono wedge mixes and three stereo in-ear mixes for the house band and four stereo mixes for the downstage wedge monitors and sidefills for the contestants. Hamill uses the Clair MD1202 wedge monitors with the Clair iO drive system and Crown 36×2 power amps.

The Wireless First RF technician on the production is Jeff Brigette, whose job is wrangling the 16 channels of Shure UR4D dual-channel diversity receivers and UR2 mics with KSM9 capsules. The Shure rigs are for each contestant's performance mics, as well as two contestant backup mics and the two hosts' mics with two host backups. Brigette also coordinates the RF channels for the house band's three in-ear mixes, as well as eight wireless guitar, bass and fiddle channels, and 10 to 15 channels of stage manager, cameraman, audio tech and lighting tech belt packs and wireless IFB channels.

Tom Davis handles the final broadcast mix on a 48-input Neve Libra digital production console, located in All Mobile Video's Crossroads video production truck. “Tom deals with all of the music elements Kooster and I send him: the eight audience mics, the various hosts' RF mics, the judges' mics, the audience sweetening elements, audio from videotape packages, et cetera,” Special explains.

The Internet music mixer is Tony Green of CrowFly Entertainment. Green takes his line-level feed off of the multitrack bus outputs of both Special's DM2000 and McAllister's API console, then creates a downloadable music mix. For that, Green uses two Yamaha 02R96s, cascaded together recording onto 48 tracks of Nuendo. Green, who monitors through ATC speakers, typically records the soundchecks on the first day of rehearsal and mixes through the night so he has all of the contestants' material uploaded and ready to go by showtime the next day.

“No matter how many times you do a live-to-air show, you get a little bit nervous right before,” says Special. “You hope you have all of your bases covered and know your backup plans. If the show is running long, little bits are removed on the fly. You must listen to the associate director for cues as to any omitted items, as it can affect what mics need to be used at any given moment. Everyone goes through their notes and snapshots, and we usually have a great show with no problems.”

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