The Nashville Network

Though The Nashville Network may be best known for its affiliation with country music and The Grand Ole Opry, there’s a whole lot more going down at TNN than just line dancing and guitar pickin’. The facility has done audio/video production and post-production for everything from classical ballets and dance programs to cooking shows and music awards.

“Most people have no idea the extent of what we do here,” says audio engineer Marc Repp. “When I list some of the shows that have been done here at TNN, I often hear, ‘You did that?’ They’re surprised by the size of the facility, the quality of the equipment and our track record. It’s the biggest little secret in the TV industry.”

“TNN is an outgrowth of what we used to be, which is a production rental facility,” says Danny Wendell, director of operations. “We are still, and always have been, producing programs for everybody else, as well as TNN. We’re doing [programs] for ESPN, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, the Home and Garden Network, the next Farm Aid in Columbia, South Carolina -you name it.” In addition to all this outside work, TNN’s parent company, Gaylord Entertainment, owns and produces programming for the CMT (Country Music Television) and Z Music cable networks.

The bulk of Gaylord Entertainment’s production takes place in two large sound and video stages, as well as in the theater that houses the world’s longest-running radio show, “The Grand Ole Opry.” All three facilities have fully equipped control rooms, with multitrack recording capability and tielines between rooms. At around 5,000 square feet, Studio B has hosted such shows as Marty Party, Country Kitchen and Southern Living. Its control room houses a Neve V3 60-input mixer, UREI 813B ad Genelec 1031 monitors and various outboard gear. Perched above the 4,400-seat Grand Ole Opry theater is a similar room, equipped with a Neve V3 60-input mixer and Genelec monitors. When not tied up on a Friday- or Saturday- night Grand Ole Opry shoot, this room is used for remixing and sweetening a wide variety of projects.

A recent arrival to the Gaylord studios is a 128-input Neve Capricorn digital console, now sitting in the control room for the 5,000-square-foot Studio A. Studio A hosts a wide variety of regular shows, including Grand Ole Opry Live, The Statler Bros. Show and Riders in the Sky Radio Theater. Most of the Dance In America series for PBS was shot in Studio A and posted at the Gaylord facility. Studio A’s control room, designed by Russ Berger around the Capricorn console and Genelec 1031 monitors, is also used extensively as a remix location. Otari MTR-90 and Mitsubishi X-880 tape machines float between the three rooms as needed.

“The Capricorn resets itself fully, which was a major purchase consideration,” says Repp. “I just don’t understand how some manufacturers can charge a million dollars for a mixer that makes you manually reset every knob. When we’re doing awards shows with 12 different acts, I can reset the whole board in less than ten seconds.”

TNN will be accepting shipment of its second decked-out Capricorn (96 mic inputs, 96 tape inputs and 64 digital inputs) around press time. The board will eventually be installed in a truck for remote recording, which will be the first Capricorn-equipped remote truck in the world. When not traveling, the truck will be providing audio for Prime Time Country. The addition of this new rig will bring Gaylord’s number of remote audio/video production trucks to seven.

Recently, the facility added three nonlinear video editing suites, each equipped with an AdCom NightSuite digital video editor and SADiE digital audio workstation. When audio complexity exceeds the 8-track capability of these systems, post is handled by a suite that serves all three nonlinear editing bays. The nonlinear suites share a single digitizing room as well; both audio rooms are equipped with a Yamaha ProMix 02 automated digital console. Additional gear in the post room includes a Sonic Solutions system with sound-for-picture video option, Sony PCM-800 DTRS 8-track digital recorder, Genelec 1032 monitors and various outboard gear.

Three identically equipped rooms handle the majority of the linear audio post work at Gaylord. Each Russ Berger-designed room boasts a fully automated 48-input Harrison series 10B console, Sonic Solutions workstation, Genelec 1037 monitors and a healthy complement of outboard processing. Each audio post suite is tied via timecode and RS-422 serial to a CMX video editor in an adjacent video suite. Each pair of audio and video post rooms are themselves linked by a common window and door. Does this tight integration of the audio and video post rooms sound a little out of the ordinary? It is.

“We have a unique approach to audio around here,” says post-production supervisor Tom Edwards. “For most shows, we post audio and video simultaneously, instead of doing audio after-the-fact. This way, the producer is hearing and seeing finished product all the time. There’s no guesswork as to whether the audio post can ‘fix this,’ or ‘make this fit.’ We don’t have an offline situation where we know going in that a sound bite is of a specific length. If a voice-over doesn’t fit, it can be modified right then. The producer doesn’t get caught at the back end, in an audio room, wondering if something is going to work. Problems with the audio, such as buzzes or other noises, can be corrected right there as well. Plus, by avoiding the layover and layback of typical audio post, we save lots of time. The producer is walking away with a finished, airable product. They’re done -they’re not walking down the hall to start doing audio.

“By the time we start post-production on an entertainment or sports show, the remixes of the multitrack are done to R-DAT or center-track timecode 1/4-inch,” he adds. “We start editing at the top of the show, putting in all the audio elements with the video. The producers get to see the pacing and the timing of the audio, matched up against the shots they’re selecting -they’re listening to the full mix. We’re sort of in a random-access linear mode at this point, because all the audio is still spread out on all its sources in real time -we’re not layering up anything. It’s all there on separate tracks in the Sonic, on R-DAT or on the videotapes themselves.

“If a producer wants to do a final ‘traditional’ audio sweetening session – if they want more audience excitement here or some more shouts there – we do that in what we call ‘post-post.’ During the original edit, we lay down stereo audio on all four channels of the Digital Betacam master: Channels 1 and 2 are a pair, and channels 3 and 4 are a pair. For sweetening, we bounce tracks 3 and 4 down to 1 and 2 with the new material. If somewhere down the line a client decides she doesn’t like the changes, she can go right back to channels 3 and 4. We do the same thing with voice-over in sports shows, giving them a mix-minus master.”

Another unique audio post-production technique at Gaylord has editors sweetening the audio by triggering sampled applause and laughter -in real time -with a standard MIDI keyboard and footswitch. This “live performance” aspect of audio post ties in nicely with the Gaylord approach to simultaneous audio-video post.

“There was a user interface question we had to deal with, since the sampler was made as a musical instrument,” says Edwards. “It wasn’t clear how we could best access all the samples. Then we thought, ‘why not just use a keyboard?’ The more we looked into it, the more it seemed to be the perfect solution. Editors can customize the keyboard mapping to their particular tastes. Because the MIDI keyboard is touch-sensitive, most of the samples are built up to respond to how hard the key is hit. If you hit it harder, it accesses more material – more applause, not necessarily louder applause. A light key-press might get a couple of snickers; hit it harder, and you get full laughter.” Editors use the footswitch to trigger various MIDI events when their hands are busy with the faders.”

Once wrapped up tight stockpiling content for its own cable networks, Gaylord Entertainment is now finding more time available for outside bookings. “For a while there,” says Wendell, “outside clients were so used to hearing ‘not available’ from us, that they’d kind of forgot about us. We’re working on changing that.”

Once the word gets out that Gaylord Entertainment is available for a greater number of bookings, Wendell feels, the facility will stay busy. “When clients come in here, the place promotes itself,” he says. “We have so many facilities and so much state-of-the-art equipment that people really aren’t aware of. As programming-hungry as cable is right now, there is a continuing need for studio space, quality crews and equipment – we definitely have all that.”