Eight WTF Moments at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards

Gone are the days of Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi.’ Yes, friends, it’s time to throw in the towel because MTV’s VMAs have officially jumped the shark. Maybe I’m just getting older, and maybe this event was always a disaster, but in recent years the content has gone from plucky, alcohol-influenced debauchery, to just a sad attempt for today’s celebrities to one-up the previous year in terms of shock and awe.

In what seemed like the longest (and most confusing) two hours of television I’ve witnessed this year, MTV’s 2015 VMAs gave us nothing of value, except for the lingering feeling of regret that I should have skipped the event all together. However, it did provide us with some laughable moments.

8. Kanye West ‘pretends’ to nap.

Because MTV cares about nothing but ratings (see Moment #1), they asked Taylor Swift to present Kanye West with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, thus making the entire ceremony about their infamous 2009 ‘Imma Let You Finish’ moment, versus talking about Kanye’s career. Like the rest of us, watching Taylor publicly pardon West made all of us want to curl up and fall asleep.

7. Taylor Swift’s Dictatorship

Am I the only one who is sick of Taylor’s army of model BFFs? Her whole ‘Girl Squad’ has become Page Six’s “Plastics,’ with Regina George wielding her power over who is in, and who is out. Don’t get me wrong, Taylor has done a lot of good, but I’d just like to see other people in the spotlight without having to ask for Taylor’s approval.

6. Taylor and Nicki Minaj’s Duet

Forced. This was SO forced. Ok, glad you girls could make up after that little Twitter misunderstanding, but what could have been a great opportunity for these two to discuss the role of the black woman in todays celeb circuit, turned into a swept-under-the-rug performance that ended in a hug that says ‘It’s all butterflies and sunshine over here.’

5. Kelly Osbourne Dances with Nick Jonas

I really think she was just confused about where to go when the Pre-Show ended. In a last minute snag, Osbourne forgot to leave the stage and had to improvise by shaking it in her vintage BeetleJuice look surrounded by a bunch of twerking moon babes.

4. Britney Spears Presents an Award

2015 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
This has nothing to do with Britney–she looked amazing last night. However, her presence, along with Kanye and the entire Kardashian family, made me realize one thing: no one should attend the VMAs after the age of 25.

3. Justin Bieber Crying

Not really sure what happened there. Overall, the guy did a pretty good job with his comeback–he cut back on the flair (and hid that strange new haircut) to remind us why he’s famous (he’s very talented!), but the emotions just got to him in the end. Don’t worry, Justin, you’re just entering into a new phase of your career, hopefully one where you’re less of a jerk and more of an artist.

2. Miley Cyrus’ Everything

She has a new album. She slipped a nip. She wore every outfit imaginable to make sure she slipped a nip. Her hosting as she would even put it, was unqualified, but it was entertaining. I enjoyed the little sketch with Ike Barinholtz and Andy Samberg, and I’ll always enjoy a segment with Snoop Dogg, so maybe it was her supporting cast that helped her push through.

1. Kanye West’s Speech

This, by far takes the cake for the #1 WTF moment. I still have no idea where he was going with any of his speech–he talked about how the Hennessy-induced 2009 interruption affected his reputation, but trailed off on that topic. He kept starting a conversation about how having a daughter has changed him, but again, trailed off. It wasn’t until the end of Kanye’s moment that he actually said the most poignant statement: awards shows are pointless. Because, as the VMAs showed us, the awards don’t really matter unless you can bring together a bunch of egotistic celebrities who will get in arguments or flash a boob just to boost ratings.

But in case you were interested: The VMAs do have a ‘Professional’ category, where the people behind the videos get recognition for his or her work. These are not shown on live TV. Here’s the winners for this year:

Best Art Direction: Jason Fijal for Snoop Dogg’s “So Many Pros”

Best Choreography: Ok Go, air:man, and Mori Harano for Ok Go’s “I Won’t Let You Down”

Best Cinematography: Larkin Sieple for Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar’s “Never Catch Me”

Best Direction: Colin Tilley & The Little Homies for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”

Best Editing: Beyonce, Ed Burke, and Jonathan Wing for Beyonce’s “7/11”

Best Visual Effects: Brewer for Skrillex & Diplo’s “Where Are U Now” with Justin Bieber

In Defense of Kanye West

kanye_west_live_wallpaperThe VMAs are upon us–once again, music’s elite will flock to the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, CA to bring us what may typically be described as the ‘most unpredictable event of the year.’ The VMAs traditionally bring us some of music’s most shocking moments: Madonna and Britney Spears’ kiss on stage in 2003; Eminem’s 2000 performance of ‘The Real Slim Shady’ with way too many Slim Shadys; Lady Gaga’s ‘Meat Dress’ of 2010 (although I will forever love her for her 2009 performance of ‘Paparazzi’ when she started bleeding on the stage from her stomach.). But let’s not forget the most popular of controversial VMA actions: the interruptions; and our reigning King of Interruptions: Kanye West.

2009 was the year Kanye infamously interrupted Taylor Swift during her VMA acceptance, telling her Beyonce’s video deserved the coveted award, sending Swift into silence as she tried to collect herself. (Beyonce would later bring Swift back up onstage to stare the spotlight, as only Beyonce could do.)  Since then, Kanye’s reputation seems to struggle to shake that moment from the public’s eye, despite his achievements over the last six years and the forgiveness Tay Tay so graciously gave him this year.

With the VMAs only days away now, Kanye has already nabbed the spotlight, but this time for a different reason–he’s accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. What is the MJVVA, you ask? Well, it’s essentially a Lifetime Achievement Award for artists who have contributed significantly to the MTV culture. Prior to its renaming in 1991, the Video Vanguard Award was given to artists including The Beatles, David Bowie, Madonna, The Beastie Boys, Janet Jackson, and most recently, Beyonce, who accepted the award following a 16-minute performance from her 2014 self-titled album.

Which bring us to our next question: Why Kanye?

Beyond the outspoken, hot headed, self-aggrandizing Kanye we’ve come to know and love, there’s no denying that as an artist, he’s revolutionary. His 40-minute film to accompany Runaway comes to mind as a modern take on the extended music video, while some of his other noteworthy works include “All Falls Down” and “All of the Lights.” Rolling Stone reports that West has received nominations for 30 VMAs, winning two–one in 2005 for Best Male Video and another in 2008 for Best Special Effects. And who can forget his 2008 performance of ‘Love Lockdown.’

So really, the question should be, why not Kanye? The man’s career has shaped much of modern music–he’s produced some of the most iconic songs of the 21st century, collaborated with the industries finest (his most recent album has Paul McCartney in the credits), and isn’t afraid to use his music to talk about bigger issues (2005’s ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone,’ for example, shed light on the diamond conflict in West Africa).

Yes, Kanye might not be everyone’s favorite person, but there’s no denying it, the man has achieved so much in the world of music. He deserves that recognition. I’m personally very excited to see what he does prior to his acceptance–maybe a best of set? Or a new song? Maybe he’ll surprise drop his new album that we’ve anxiously waited for. Or maybe he’ll just stir the pot in the most recent Taylor Swift-Katy Perry feud. We’ll find out this Sunday.

It’s Time to Talk About Gun Control…Again

This morning, a gunman walked up to a news crew from the local broadcast station WDBJ7 in Moneta, VA. Two members of the news team, reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were shot and killed at close range while interviewing Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce around 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday, August 26. Gardner was also shot and was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. Reports say she is recovering.

The gunman, a former employee of WDBJ7, Vester Lee Flanigan, also known as Bryce Williams, shot himself on I-66 in Faquier County, according to state police. He was late reported dead from hose self-inflicted wounds.

6:45 a.m.–Most of us were waking up at that hour, preparing for our days and catching the morning report from our local news stations. Local news stations like WDBJ7, who sent out their crews to cover the latest topics for the morning broadcast. But for these two young reporters, their day was already half over. I’m sure they were expecting a typical day—show up to work, do a simple piece with the Chamber of Commerce, cover a few other small reports, sign off and head home to go about their days. Newsweek reported that Ward had a job interview after his shift, a step up to the career he was still just starting. These two had so much to look forward to, so much left to give to this world. And in an instant, all that was gone.

These types of stories have become far too frequent in the web of today’s news. Without delving into the subtopics of race, poverty, etc. that also seem to haunt shootings, the story is always the same: the victims’ lives are cut short because the gunman decided the only way to be heard was to open fire. We’ve seen this happen countless times—in schools, in theaters, in places we once thought were safe. Ten years ago, it was unheard of to have your bags checked before entering a movie theater to enjoy a film. Now, kids smuggling in candy to the theater is the least of their worries.

But where do we draw the line? At what point will we acknowledge that gun control in this country is the problem?

In the wake of the most recent shooting, I took to Twitter to see what discussions arose from this tragedy. First, the sheer professionalism of the WDBJ7 staff shined through—with tweets remembering their colleagues, coupled with the live broadcast focused on the slain reporters’ lives and careers, the station kept their focus on the positive, while still providing updates on the hunt for the shooter. My heart broke watching the anchors talk about their colleagues, who they interacted with only hours before. You could sense that as soon as their job was done for the day, the only thing left to do was step off camera and cry. And for the loved ones of the victims—a boyfriend, a fiancée, parents, siblings, friends—their lives will never be the same.

As the day progressed, the back and forth about gun laws started to pick up. Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton called for gun reform, tweeting: “Heartbroken and angry. We must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer. Praying for the victims’ families in Virginia.” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe echoed these sentiments, saying it’s time again to address laws against gun violence.

I feel that each time a shooting occurs (something that is far more frequent now than in the past), the same arguments come out. The anti-gun side argues for stricter laws, while the pro-gun advocates say that we just need to prevent killers from getting their hands on guns. But what constitutes a ‘killer’? How can we prevent ‘killers’ from getting their hands on guns when many are not yet killers? Isn’t the soul purpose for a gun is to kill? What other practical use does it have? The reality isn’t some liberal conspiracy to take away your guns—it’s that our current system isn’t working, and it’s time for change.

I will admit that if I was in charge, there would be extremely strict requirements over gun ownership. In fact, I’d like to see a world where civilians had no need for guns, but I also know that that scenario would never happen—in a government base off balance, there is always room for compromise, even with the issues you feel strongest about. That’s why gun control needs to remain at the top of our list, because the current system just isn’t working. How many more innocent lives must we lose before we make a lasting change?

Safety at Music Festivals

Screen shot 2015-08-24 at 4.57.02 PM

Photo courtesy of SFX Entertainment.

By Kelleigh Welch

*NOTE: This article originally appeared in the August/September 2015 edition of Music Festival Business

No matter the size of a festival, producers look at their multi-day events as a community—and with anywhere between 5,000 and into the 100,000s of people flocking to a festival site daily, organizers need to plan for the same risks you would find in a town or neighborhood of the same size. However, with these festival communities packed into a smaller outdoor setting, producers are able to hone in on more specific safety and health risks that come with the festival territory, ranging from crowd control, overheating and dehydration, to drug and alcohol consumption, and prepare ahead of time for these and other potential risks.

SFX Entertainment, Inc., a leading producer of many live Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festivals in both the United States and Europe, including Mysteryland, Tomorrowland and Sensation, allocates a large chunk of its budget for each festival towards health and safety.

“Our goal at SFX is to spare no expense in order to be the best host possible when it comes to health and safety,” said SFX’s medical and safety director, Dr. Andrew Bazos. “On our grounds, we make sure the level of care is like that in an emergency care setting.”

Health and safety is also a large topic covered at the annual International Music Festival Conference in Austin, TX, with many sessions stressing the importance of preparation before a festival begins.

“Our priority at the conference is to address the safety of the festival patrons—organizers want to make sure everyone goes home in one piece,” commented Laurie Kirby, president of the IMFCON. “Panels at the conference are designed specifically for a variety of things, from harm reduction to addressing drug and alcohol abuse. We also discuss weather-related safety issues, because not only are we concerned with what people are putting into their bodies, but also the environment around them.”

Before the Event
The IMFCON suggests producers do as much as they can to protect attendees, starting with educating them about potential hazards before the festival.

“It’s really about event preparedness and communication to attendees, educating them about and making them aware of the risks and the medical services available at the festival,” Kirby said.

Before any SFX-sponsored event, the company provides attendees with detailed information about suggested best practices while at the festival.

“Our health and safety approach starts before the event starts with public service announcements, followed by a screening at the gate,” said Bazos. “We have EMTs at the gates to make sure people are in good shape when they come to the show. It’s hard to have a good time if they are coming in a bad position, and we won’t allow anyone in who might put themselves or others in danger.”

Founder’s Entertainment, the production company behind New York’s Governors Ball, follows a similar protocol, providing attendees with information regarding drug and alcohol use, dehydration and more through social media and email blasts.

SFX and Founders also keep track of every medical incident that comes through their tents, even if it’s just a bruise or small cut, in order to prepare for those scenarios properly at future festivals. “In the practice of medicine, we make it a point to record data to better the job we do as a doctor. The more we can learn from our data, the better we can improve our coverage,” Bazos said.

“Every single person that comes through our medical tent is documented,” said Founders Entertainment co-founder Tom Russell. “On a four-hour cycle, we get a report on how many people were attended to and if there are any transports, and we share all that data with the police and Department of Health.”

At The Festival
With its main priority centered on providing a fun and safe environment for all patrons, SFX sets up multiple medical tents throughout each festival site, employed with medical professionals ready to treat anything from blisters to dehydration.

“In terms of personnel, our policy is to have an emergency medicine physician on site, equivalent to going to an emergency room,” explained Bazos. “That way, if you’ve had, for example, too much to drink, you can walk into our main medical tent and get top-notch, on-site care.”

SFX also provides a trained team of paramedics to assist in any medical emergency either at the tent or on the grounds. Many of the paramedics patrol the grounds looking for anyone showing signs of distress, so they can offer help before things get worse. “The signs and symptoms of someone not doing well are pretty obvious, even for an untrained person. Our team will do a quick medical evaluation in one of those situations and make sure the person is comfortable and oriented about what is going on,” explained Bazos.

Crowd control is also a factor in SFX’s medical plan, where injuries such as broken bones or concussions are more common. “Those injuries are generally very easy to stabilize and if they are more serious, the patient will get transported. When you put 50,000 people in a field to dance, there will be injuries, and we’re prepared for those,” Bazos said.

Founder’s Entertainment has a full safety plan set in place for its festivals, addressing all scenarios, like hurricanes, tornados or other weather-related incidents, as well as gun violence, terrorist attacks and more. A separate section within this emergency plan includes dealing with medical incidents. “We definitely put a lot of emphasis on patron safety and security. Our priority as producers is to do whatever we can to make sure everyone is having fun and is safe,” Russell said.

Dehydration is another big issue at festivals, especially during the summer months, where festivals are predominantly held in large, open fields with minimal shade. This adds extra risk for attendees, requiring producers to both provide free water refill stations at festivals and encourage everyone to stay hydrated. “Many of our shows have free filling stations, and we’re also aggressive about replenishing electrolytes and providing electrolyte gum and packets,” Bazos said.

A Rise in Drug Use?
In the past few years, music festivals, specifically those that cater to the EDM genre, have faced an increasing backlash after a rise in drug-related deaths at the events, with many related to MDMA or ecstasy. In 2014, the industry saw one person die from drug-related causes at the Las Vegas Electric Daisy Carnival and six at the Future Music Festival Asia, while more than 20 people were rushed to the hospital for drug overdoses at the Mad Decent Block Party Music Festival in early August 2014. Many members of the festival industry argue that drug use, and the unfortunate consequences that stem from it, have always been an issue at large festival events, but the rise in drug-related deaths has caused them to address the issue more.

While festival producers cannot control the decisions that attendees make, Kirby said, education and communication are the best ways to keep festival attendees informed about potential risks. “It’s nothing new (drug use and overdoses),” said Kirby. “I will say that the drugs out there are getting more concentrated and more dangerous, and with that, the stakes are higher. People on site are buying drugs and they might not know what they’re getting into, but that’s not just at music festivals. We need to build an awareness of what people are putting into their bodies.”

In 2013, Electric Zoo, one of New York City’s largest annual EDM festivals (presented by Made Event), cancelled its final day after two drug-related deaths. Acknowledging its decision, Made Event has increased its prefestival education, requiring all ticket holders to watch a PSA on drug use, and the event had drug-sniffing dogs on site during the 2014 edition of the event.

Bazos says age makes a big difference as well when it comes to drug use, as older attendees tend to be more aware of the decisions they make. SFX offers both 18-plus and 21-plus shows, depending on the situation. “I think older people are more aware of their limits in everything, and that means sun exposure, dancing, drinking, etcetera. Everyone makes mistakes and you think as a kid you can do whatever and be fine. Like everything in life, you learn to take care of yourself over time,” Bazos said.

Members of the EDM community are also taking matters into their own hands when it comes to safety, such as with the volunteer organization DanceSafe (www.dancesafe.org), which focuses on promoting health and safety within the EDM community. Launched in 1998, Dance Safe started its efforts towards promoting healthy partying within the underground EDM circuit, but has expanded in recent years with the growing popularity of the genre. The organization has a large focus on drug use, and offers educational services and drug checking services at events, with the purpose of providing people with the resources and information necessary to prevent a potentially harmful situation. Missi Wooldridge, Executive Director of DanceSafe, said that an open dialogue needs to be created to promote safe decisions, versus ignoring or prohibiting the use at all.

“When we do really open our eyes, no matter what we do, people are still going to use substances. We want to create a safe space for young people to come and ask about health and safety,” said Wooldridge. “One of the biggest barriers is implementing drug education and services into the festival community. There’s not a lot of educational resources for people, and that’s a big issue.”

Wooldridge said there is an influx of drugs coming through in recent years that are more potent, or a mix of various substances, causing more problems for users. This, in turn, requires more education on safe usage and drug testing so if someone chooses to make a poor decision, they aren’t aware of what they are putting into his or her body.

“There’s a lack of knowledge with these new substances, and there’s no regulation. The big problem is they are taking something that’s actually something else, and the effects and dosages might be completely different than what they expected,” Wooldridge said.

Protecting Hearing at Festivals
One of the less-addressed medical issues at festivals is that of hearing loss, a common side effect of any live concert event where attendees or employees are exposed to higher sound levels for a long period of time. While many festival promoters are not directly addressing this for employees and patrons, numerous companies in the audio industry are producing new gear to help preserve hearing without compromising the quality of the music.

Among those companies is Ultimate Ears, which caters to musicians with its line of custom in-ear monitors, as well as special earplugs for crews to help preserve hearing.

“Hearing conservation is based on an eight-hour exposure; if you’re working 16 hours a day at a festival, already you’re at a higher probability for long-term damage,” said Mike Dias, sales director at Ultimate Ears Pro.

After extended exposure to loud sound, or even short-term exposure to extremely loud sound, the ear mechanism protects itself with a sort of compression. Given 16 or more hours of rest, Dias explains, the ear can start to rehabilitate itself. However, constant exposure to harmful sound levels (typically 85 dB SPL or higher) can cause more permanent damage. Ultimate Ears encourages performing musicians to be aware of this danger, and designed custom earplugs with an attenuation of 26 dB without
reportedly compromising the quality of sound.

“Whenever someone says ‘earplugs,’ you think of those foamies and you think of it ruining the entire experience,” Dias said. “It sounds like you’re underwater and if you go to a festival, you don’t want to put a barrier on the sound. We offer musician-grade earplugs, one version that are custom-made to the ear, and then a universal earplug that has a linear attenuation that you can pop in and experience the music at a show at a lower volume level (without distorting the sound).

“If you are working at a music festival, it’s absolutely critical to have your ear plugs in. These don’t block anything or interfere with your work; they just block the level of exposure that can be damaging over time,” Dias added.

Understanding that hearing loss prevention is an important consideration for any concert event, festival organizers are aware that more attention needs to go towards it. “We certainly make earplugs available for free,” said Bazos. “There might be a fashion statement against it, but I think it’s a problem that should be addressed more. Overexposure to loud music is a problem in general, and that’s a topic that definitely needs to be explored.”


Just Another Typical Thursday

2016 Republican Candidates from Thursday, August 6 debate.

2016 Republican Candidates from Thursday, August 6 debate.

The world woke up today in a haze. It seems like over the past 12 hours, we’ve experienced this emotional roller coaster–our night was chock filled with ups and owns as we watched America’s top 10 contenders debate over who will be Hillary’s runner up the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election, and swiftly changed over to Comedy Central to bid farewell to our beloved Jon Stewart.

Let’ start with the debate, and oh what a debate it was! Trump vs. Bush, Christie vs. Paul, FOX vs. Trump, the verbal punches were coming from every angle. But what did we get out of the debate? Here’s my take away:

– The Republicans are STILL bitter about New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, hugging Obama. Answering a question on NSA spying, Christie cited his experience with the Patriot Act post-9/11 as to why these surveillances can aid against future attacks. Senator Rand Paul, who has criticized this overall program, calling it a violation of the Fourth Amendment, was quick to jump in to defend himself, turning the conversation into one of the more entertaining back and forths of the night, ending ultimately with Paul delivering a mic drop to Christie: “I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”

– Social Issues, specifically Women’s Health and trending topic #BlackLivesMatter, were not worth the candidates’ time. These topics weren’t addressed until the final 20 minutes of the debate, and we barely touched the surface. Maybe those conversations are set aside for a later date, but with the recent (like 48 hours earlier) blocking of the Republican’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, you would think that this would be the time to talk about it. They did address abortions though, which is always what I love to see–ten white men trying to tell me what’s best for my body. Deep sigh.

– Ted Cruz is terrifying. Most of his actual debate was read right off of a cue card, but it was his closing statements that really stuck with me. In short, he’d reverse everything that the Obama administration achieved. He’d  take his own religious beliefs to the table, go to war with Planned Parenthood, and rescind the Iran deal he so avidly opposes. Of course, after the bell told him to shut up, he had to throw in that his father fled from Cuba. Just FYI.

– Ohio Governor John Kasich actually did well. One of the lesser-known candidates in the pool, he was thrown a question about same sex marriage, and how he would address the issue to his children. Ask this to any of the other guys there, and they’d throw in statements about how homosexuality is against the Bible, and blah blah blah, but Kasich was very poignant. His general acceptance of same sex marriage might give him a boost over the other candidates down the line. Maybe?

– Scott Walker and Marco Rubio debate well. You forget that some of these clowns can actually make a point without jumping down each other’s throats.

– Jeb Bush and Donald Trump go head to head. Over the past few weeks, Bush, who was as surprised as many of us about Trump throwing his name into the hat, has called Trump a “Buffoon” and an “Asshole,” but denied such allegations when confronted during the debate. The best moment to me was when Trump addressed Bush’s statements, causing Bush to step back for a moment just to smile.

Bush Thoughts:

Bush Thoughts: “Why wasn’t I invited to his wedding?!”

– FOX News doesn’t even want Trump to be President. For the other nine candidates, the focus was on the issues, but each time it was Trump’s turn to speak, FOX superstar Megyn Kelly (I think she won the debate) threw facts on top of the questions to show viewers just how awful Trump is. In the first three minutes, she pointed out his misogynistic tendencies–“You’ve called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals,” she said to Trump. His response: “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” THAT was by far the worst comment of the night. It had nothing to do with the election, nothing to do with the issues. It was Trump, once again putting himself front and center and showing the world that yes, he is in fact a horrible person. If elected, he’d guarantee to make his own personal problems his main concern, starting with insulting the women he dislikes. Is that really what we want? Absolutely not. (Side note: Rosie, you did not deserve that low blow. Keep your head up, the majority knows that that statement was rude, crude, and absolutely wrong.).

Relationship Goals.

Relationship Goals.

Luckily, after two hours of watching Cleveland burn, we were granted with part two of evening–the finale of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I don’t have much to say as of yet, but it was the high note I needed to wash the taste of GOP morons out of my mouth before bed. My thoughts:

– It was all about the crew. I loved that Jon, who for the last 16 years has been the face of The Daily Show, made his last night about the people who helped make the show great. Really heartwarming, and made me want to quit my job and stand outside of the studio with my resume.

– Stephen Colbert. In typical Colbert fashion, his entire speech was touching, with a dash of hilarity. The whole Lord of the Rings analogy had nerds like me cry consecutive happy/sad tears, but after his bit about Frodo (Jon) leading the way, he said what we all needed to say: Thank you, Jon. Colbert wouldn’t have his job without Jon Stewart. Steve Carrell, John Oliver, so many great comedians went on to amazing things because The Daily Show gave them a chance. (Sorry, I need to wipe my eyes again).

– Jon Stewart changed the news. Yes, The Daily Show was meant to be satire, but it turned into a reliable and entertaining phenomenon, which, through the years of jokes, gave us insight into the truth. And it gave us a personality that made us come back night after night. So thank you, Jon Stewart, for 16 glorious years. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

BONUS ROUND: In case you missed it, my girl Kimmy K. gave us a gift last night. This glorious selfie that says ‘Yes, I support Hillary.”

Kim breaks the Internet, again. (Hi Kanye!)

Kim breaks the Internet, again. (Hi Kanye!)

All That Jazz

By Kelleigh Welch

The original article in Pro Sound News.

The original article in Pro Sound News.

Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2015 edition of Pro Sound News.

At 4 p.m., the hall is empty. Everything is ready for the big night—the orchestra’s stands  are perfectly arranged under the stage, the microphones are cleaned to add a little sparkle, her elaborate costumes are neatly arranged backstage—all just waiting for the show to start. The crew is expected at 5:30; the plan is to hold a brief rehearsal, let the musicians settle in, and practice a few numbers with Tony before the doors open.

It’s the final night of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s four-night residency at Radio City Music Hall. Tom Young, the long-time production manager for Bennett, invited me to the historic hall before the show to see the set up and talk about working with the two platinum performers on their unexpected collaboration. With only the occasional patter of  footsteps of a venue employee, Young and I saw the silent side of the legendary room—the Art Deco walls echoing back tales of past performers that had passed through—as we dug into just how he helped bring the performance to life each night.

“Radio City—it’s probably my favorite music hall,” Young said, who, as a native of the New York City area, holds extra affection for the 6,000-seat venue. “I was actually a design  consultant when they did the renovations because I had mixed here so much.”

With an age difference of 60 years, the pairing of famous crooner Tony Bennett and pop superstar Lady Gaga might seem an unlikely match, but with her classical training, Gaga really stepped out and showed her versatility in Cheek to Cheek, the jazz album she and Bennett recorded together and released back in September, 2014. As a longtime fan of Gaga, I’ve known her talents from trolling the Internet for underground, acoustic performances, but with Cheek to Cheek, she’s able to really showcase her abilities front and center—breaking herself away from that meat-dress image she created back in 2010. Now on tour, it comes as no surprise that for the New York City stop, Bennett (a native of Astoria, the northern neighborhood in Queens), and Gaga (of New York City’s Upper West Side), would choose Radio City. Acknowledging the setlist of songs that relied on the acoustics of a room, Young said Radio City’s performance hall is capable of supporting that need.

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett at the 2015 Grammy Awards

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett at the 2015 Grammy Awards

“The room is so responsive—you can hear everything, even the grooves on the cymbals; that’s my favorite,” Young explained. “My goal is to capture a good performance. I have a lot of experience and I know that every room has its own personality.”

“Tony does this one number a cappella with no mics at all, and the room really helps make that impact even stronger. Tony owns the art of intimacy—it’s like he’s performing just for you,” Young added.

The stage set up for the Cheek to Cheek tour is fairly minimal. For reinforcement, the tour relies on each venue’s house system, so for the Radio City performances, they used a QSC-powered JBL VerTec line array system (which Young was instrumental in adding to the venue during the redesign). Young controlled the PA with a Yamaha PM5D console, while monitor engineer Jimmy Corbin manned the monitors on a DiGiCo SD7.

“The show is really all about the music. We fly sidefills but don’t use wedges for the main stage. Tony’s coming from a singing background and is very comfortable matching to the house PA,” said Young.

Working with Bennett and Gaga’s show also requires careful mixing with the three live bands. Young explained that the tour has three separate show sets, labeled A, B, and C, which are chosen based on the venue. The A show (used at Radio City, Hollywood Bowl in LA, and the Royal Albert Hall in London) includes a quartet on stage right for Tony, a quintet on stage right for Gaga, and a 38-piece orchestra that rises up on the elevator platform at the front of the stage. Show B, which is the most common of the shows, has an extra 13 musicians added to the mix. Show C eliminates the orchestra all together.

“I’ve been doing this orchestra thing for a long time; I know the music and its sensitivity,” said Young. “The challenge is knowing which mics should be on at various times.”

Young has partnered with Bennett for a number of years, and because of this close relationship, Young said, Bennett trusts him with the sound at each show. “He has a lot confidence in what I do,” Young said.

While Corbin has worked with Lady Gaga before, Young noted it is his first time working with the 29-year-old artist. Gaga, known for her eccentric outfits and catchy pop music, took a big turn in her career by partnering with Tony Bennett for Cheek to Cheek, which allowed her to show another side of her talents.

“This is a new genre for her and she’s done really well with it. She’s a legit singer, and you can see it through her performances,” Young said. Of course, even with a change in genre, it wouldn’t be a Lady Gaga show without seven costume changes.

For wireless microphones, both Tony and Gaga use Sennheiser SKM 5200 transmitters with Neumann KK 105 S capsules. Occasionally, Young said, he also uses DPA and Shure microphones when needed.

At the end of the day, Young said his main goal was to make sure everything sounded perfect for the audience.

“Your biggest comparison is trying to make the live show sound as good as the record,” he said, “but what’s gratifying about the live performance is that you have an immediate response from the people and performers.”

Where Will You Be for the GOP Debate?

Forget wedding bells, it’s election season, and you know what that means—bring on the debates! For the last few months, the road to the 2016 presidential primary was lined with announcements, so much so that I’ve become somewhat Pavlovian when I open my email each morning. Everyone wants to be president.

The fact that this man is leading the polls makes me very, very sad.

The fact that this man is leading the polls makes me very, very sad.

Since the race began, 16 members of the GOP have thrown their names into the hat. Some were expected—Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, and Jeb Bush came to no surprise for me—the first three for their open criticism of Obama’s tenure and their plans to reverse every policy Obama put into place, and the fourth just because he’s is genetically obligated to participate in nothing but politics, despite the fact that his true desires lie in a less conventional career path (see George W. Bush paintings). Other candidates came as more of a shock, especially the campaign of loud-mouthed Donald Trump, who for years has threatened to run for the White House, but always backed out last minute. Now, the man is monopolizing the media with his outlandish comments on Mexico, rape, John McCain, global warming (direct quote: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”), I could go forever, baby.

Some have described the GOP’s ever-growing list of candidates as a ‘clown car,’ but really, it’s more of a shitstorm. Here we have 16 people who can’t agree on the important issues, and instead are picking their favorites and running with them to the polls. It’s almost hard to keep track of them, but for us Democrats, we just have to wait for this disaster to destroy itself, let the dust settle, and then figure out who we have to send our candidate (Hillary, perhaps?) into battle against. Luckily, Thursday we’ll get our first dose of GOP-produced entertainment with their first primary debate in Cleveland, Ohio, and aired on the ‘fair and balanced’ Fox News. Only the top 10 of the 16 will get a chance to debate, but I think we’re in for a treat. My hope is that we’ll be able to gather enough footage to rapid-produce a sequel to Judd Apatow’s 2015 summer blockbuster.


I’m also inviting you to join me on Twitter (@kelleighwelch) during the debate. I’ll be live-tweeting alongside my bottle of wine, so it’s sure to be a highlight of 2015. In the meantime, maybe brush up on the candidates, the New York Times has a great start. The first Republican Debate will air at 9 p.m. ET on Fox News.