As we are waiting for Saturday’s final of Söngvakeppnin, we can’t avoid talking about what happened during the semis. Unfortunately, we are not talking about the songs or the performances, but the quality of the sound that was broadcast. A lot of people, both artists, songwritere, journalists and tv viewers ask themselves; What went wrong?
“Horrible sound” in semi 1
The first semi wasn’t even over yet, when we started seeing comments about the sound being horrible, the singers being completely out of tune, their vocals being weak and more. For those of us who were in the audience, this came as something of a surprise, since most of the acts sounded perfectly fine in the hall.
The only things we noticed were Þórdís being tuned a bit higher than Júli, especially right when she started singing, Hildur sounding surprisingly weak and slightly out of tune at the very beginning of her song and Erna Mist being a tiny bit off key much of the time.
So when we started getting reports from people watching the show on tv, about “everybody” being out of tune and sounding weak and horrible, we just didn’t get it. However, when we checked out the broadcast later in the evening, we were totally shocked; what had been sent out into the homes of the Icelandic people, who have the voting power in this matter, was something entirely different to what we had seen and heard in Háskólabíó earlier in the evening.
“The worst thing was that no one could hear, in the broadcast, what we were doing.”
Unnur Birna Björnsdóttir, who is one of the backing vocalists in Júli Heiðar and Þórdís’ act, wrote a very critical post on facebook the day after the first semi. In this post she talked about the fact that RÚV, through the horrible sound mixing, had ruined their chances at qualifying for the final. She has nothing but love for the work that was done on the night, and she says that everything was close to perfect both on and behind the stage, and that they were all very happy with how they sounded in the hall. She then goes on to highlight the massive difference between how their song is supposed to sound and how it came across on screen. They had of course watched recordings of the rehearsals, and they were very happy with the work that was being done, so the result on the night came as a shock to them.
She says that RÚV does a wonderful job on most everything they do, but that they have shown, time and time again, that they struggle when it comes to productions where live music plays a central part. She then suggests that if it is such a challenging task to mix six voices and playback on live tv, perhaps someone other than RÚV ought to be in charge of this, or at least that RÚV hire an experienced sound engineer to be in charge of producing the sound for Söngvakeppnin.
When we talk to her, she says the most important thing is to find the cause, to find out what happens between the final rehearsal, when the sound is fine, and the broadcast, when it’s not. Why doesn’t it sound the way it did at the last rehearsal? She says it shouldn’t really be that difficult to mix such a production well; we’re talking about a maximum of six voices and no live instruments. Some of the participants are young and don’t have a lot of experience. They are nervous enough about their performance and shouldn’t have to worry about how they will sound in he broadcast. There should be a pre-prepared mix that’s done at the rehearsals.
A shame when bad sound ruins a song’s chances
One of the many people to comment on this post was Jóhanna Guðrún Jónsdóttir, to Eurovision fans better known as Yohanna. She said that unfortunately she had to agree on what Unnur was saying in her post, and that it is a shame when this kind of sound work ruins a song’s chances. She also says that she “think this was a great song, but it didn’t succeed in coming through the screen and into people’s homes due to bad sound production.” She goes on to say that this problem is not something new, and that she finds it strange that nothing has been done to fix it.
RÚV made us look bad
We have also talked to Júli Heiðar Halldórsson, singer and songwriter of “Heim til þín”, which is the song that suffered the most. Júli tells us: “I’m am just really sad that all of our work didn’t pay off because of RÚV. The sound was perfect at the rehearsal when two of my colleagues went to have a final look in the transmission car. But when we went on stage Thordis was in front of me in sound level. She is not even singing the lead line in the chorus. So the lead line I wrote for the song became a backing vocal. Also the backing vocals where way to low in level and kind off out. That sucks because the song is written with high leveled backing vocals! It’s a crowd singing the chorus. We did a great job with our performance and RÚV just made us look bad.”
Terribly bad sound work by the RÚV sound team
Hildur Kristín Stefánsdóttir was one of the pre-contest favorites to qualify for the final, and perhaps even win the whole thing. Just like Júli and Þórdís, she fell victim to the sound work on Saturday, and she decided to submit a formal complaint to RÚV. She told us that she had planned on just leaving the matter alone, but after two major media outlets got in touch with her asking about it, she decided she had to get her side of the story out there. Hildur says that with all the work that has gone into the performance in the past months it is terrible when it comes across as flat and boring on screen. It also feels unfair to see comments like “she’s usless live”, “that was horrible” and “she’s not good enough”, when the reason for this is terribly bad sound work by the RÚV sound team. This song is a beat and bass driven popsong, and when the backing track is tuned way too low, there is no way a song like that is going to sound great. And she hoped that the singers in the second semi would have better sound.
Opposite problem in semi 2
Which they didn’t, really. Several of the acts in the second semi also suffered, though not from the backing tracks being mixed too low, rather the vocals were overpowered by the backing tracks. So it seems RÚV had been paying attention to the discussion, but they took it too far in the other direction. Both Aron Brink and Linda Hartmanns experienced this, to the extent that we could hardly hear their voices during parts of their performances.
No guarantee things will be perfect during a live broadcast
In an interview with visir.is, Skarphéðinn Guðmundsson, program director at RÚV, says that since Söngvakeppnin is broadcast live, there is no guarantee that things will be perfect. He says that if this should be 100%, it would all have to be pre-recorded. This is a live production, just like Eurovision Song Contest, where people also always find something to complain about in the production of their song.
He adds that these things don‘t just happen in Iceland. As an example he mentions the Metallica/Lady Gaga incident at the Grammy Awards, where lead singer James Hetfield could not be heard at all.
Skarphéðinn continues: „Thankfully, what happened here wasn‘t nearly as bad, but it goes to show that a lot of things can happen during a live broadcast.“ He also points out that in each case where they receive comments, whether it‘s from the contestants or it‘s reactions from the viewers, they will always try to improve the work.
Can’t rule out the possibility of an act being performed again
When asked how RÚV would deal with a situation where everything goes wrong with the performance of a song, due to technical mistakes, he says that he can‘t rule out the possibility of the song being performed again. „We will evaluate each case separately. If we conclude that a performance has been ruined by something we have done, we can absolutely not rule that out. This is a contest, and we take it very seriously.“
Skarphéðinn says that the contestants are allowed to make requests as to the sound work on their songs during the rehearsals leading up to the contest. The music director from RÚV will assist all the contestants, but most of them also bring in their own sound people to make sure that all their wishes are being met. However, no matter how well prepared everything is, things might happen during a live broadcast to give a result that isn‘t as perfect as people hope and expect.
In the case of the production of „Heim til þín“, he says he can agree that the backing vocals should have been louder. He continues to say that things like this happen in Söngvakeppnin, they happen at Eurovision and they happen in all kinds of live productions with a large number of performances.
We hope that RÚV manages to sort things out in time for Saturday’s final, so that all the wonderful artists will be able to properly share all the hard work they have put into their performances. And that the viewers will be able to make their decission on who to vote for based on the actual performance, and not on badly produced sound.