Live Sound on Eurovision Stages: Junior Eurovision Pre-Show Edition

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Over the course of the past few months, 19 songs have been released and will compete against each other on the Junior Eurovision stage. While their studio versions attempt to put the singers in the best light while in the controlled studio environment, live performances may vary greatly, sometimes due to factors beyond their control.

France’s Carla performed her song “Bim bam toi” on children’s television program Gu’live, a game show for teams of children to win prizes. The performance can be found below.

“Bim bam toi” as performed by France’s Carla on Gu’live. Published 8 November 2019.

In a studio mix, the vocals are usually added relatively early so all the musical elements in a recording can exist without being overpowered. During live performances, the balance between music and vocals is more dynamic and must be properly equalized and mixed to accommodate all parts of the music. In the studio version of “Bim bam toi”, the instrumentals and especially the bass and bass drums are much more apparent. Carla’s vocals are also less front-and-center in the studio version, not just because of the balanced mix, but also because some vocal processing was added, including equalizer, reverb, and possibly some delay. The yelled parts also seem relatively throaty, which may cause vocal damage in the long-term. The studio version is linked below for comparison.

The official music video for “Bim bam toi”, which includes the song’s studio version.

If the backing track in the live performance was recorded directly from the microphones in studio, some of the missing bass could be explained. These studios are not large concert halls and do not have large speaker stacks like the JESC and ESC venues do. For example, the sound of the live performance of Mariya Yaremchuk’s “Tick-Tock” (Ukraine 2014) is not as clear as the studio version, but this can be attributed to using the venue’s sound systems as the main source for both the vocals and backing track. Since the venue was equipped with multiple subwoofers and other speakers powerful enough to carry low-end information, the bass relative to the vocals was fairly balanced, even if the high frequencies did not travel as far, which follows the physical properties of any wave – low frequencies carry if not strongly, and high frequencies are strong, but do not carry. The live version can be found below; the studio version was linked earlier in this paragraph.

“Tick-Tock” (Ukraine, Mariya Yaremchuk) performed live at the Grand Final for ESC 2014.

Not all shows have a live-only approach to their sound design. For example, ESC 2016 mixed live vocals, ambience, the backing track source, and the live audience together to produce the resultant sound. In “What’s the Pressure”, the first song in the Grand Final, there is a dip in the volume of the guitars at 0:34 compared to the studio version (starts at 0:27), but the brass section plays very clearly at 1:07 live, if a bit less vibrantly. The vocals are again mixed tightly with the rest of the audio components.

“What’s the Pressure” (Belgium, Laura Tesoro) performed live at the Grand Final for ESC 2016.

Spain’s Melani also performed her song live on La 2 Noticias, the news show that airs on RTVE’s second channel. The performance can be found below:

“Marte” as performed by Spain’s Melani on La 2 Noticias. Published 12 November 2019.

Unlike “Bim bam toi” live, the “Marte” vocals have a very noticeable delayed reverb effect on top, while the backing music seems relatively unaffected, if recorded in the room. Reverb effects can make a sound source (what a microphone picks up) seem like it’s in a larger environment (cave, room, etc.) than before, but at the cost of clearer sound and attack – how long it takes for an intended sound to reach its full volume. Sounds that are less clear tend to also be pushed towards the background, so putting time-based effects on the vocals while doing nothing to the backing music may have posed a problem despite Melani having monitor speakers by her feet.
Melani’s artist description also suggests that she trains in a classical tradition, and that her favorite Eurovision song is “Zero Gravity” (Australia 2019, Kate Miller-Heidke) also supports this. There is no issue with classical singing, and perfecting the techniques to the level of singing like the late Maria Callas is a lifelong journey; however, classical music has been slow to introduce electronic elements into stage performances, and performers less accustomed to microphone usage may be less aware of how to manage microphone proximity in order to balance the loudness of different sounds. The below video, a singer rehearsal of Skyharbor’s song “Celestial”, shows both the combination of more reverb effects in the music instead of the vocals and moving away from the mic on louder notes to naturally balance the volume. This allows for the vocals to shine unobtrusively against a heavy, but sufficiently clear backdrop.

“Celestial” as performed by Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT, ex-Skyharbor). Published 18 May, 2012.

What does this mean for Junior Eurovision on 24 November?

Some of the performers may have more experience than others in live venues. As a competition for children and younger teens, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest is a great platform from which to meet international musical contacts and friends. There can only be one winning song, but this contest can give participants a fresh perspective from which to approach the greater music world and perhaps continue in the footsteps of the Tomalchevy Sisters (JESC 2006 winners; ESC 2014), O’G3NE (JESC 2007; ESC 2017), and Nevena Božović (JESC 2007; ESC 2013 and 2019), who have competed on both the junior and adult Eurovision stages. What awaits the performers this week? We will soon find out!

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