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Harmonizing 'The Voice' Workflow

“The Voice” is hosted by Carson Daly and features Shakira, Blake Shelton, Usher and Adam Levine as this season’s judges.

LOS ANGELES—As TV’s top-rated musical competition show, the Emmy-Award winning “The Voice” draws millions of viewers who watch aspiring talent compete for a record deal and worldwide fame. Now in its sixth season, “The Voice” airs Monday and Tuesday nights on NBC as well as internationally.

With multicamera shoots occurring nearly every week, the show’s 90-member post production team—including up to 28 editors, five additional editors (for recap shows aired on the weekends), 27 producers and eight to 10 editorial assistants—faces the daunting task of editing and managing a massive, exponentially growing volume of rich media assets to meet demanding deadlines.

“We’re definitely pushing the limits of primetime reality TV,” said Jim Sterling, post supervisor for “The Voice.” “The biggest challenge we face is pulling together thousands of hours of video footage into dynamic, enthralling shows.”

“The Voice” is shot on Stage 12 and edited in the Verna Fields Building on the NBC/Universal lot in Los Angeles. Hosted by Carson Daly, “The Voice” begins with 48 contestants, and when 12 finalists are chosen it shifts from non-live to live for added excitement. Season 6 began with two-hour pre-recorded shows on Monday nights and one-hour pre-recorded shows on Tuesday nights, and then transitioned to two-hour live shows both nights.

“Without Avid’s collaborative editing workflow and shared media, we couldn’t get this show done on such quick turnarounds,” said Robert M. Malachowski, one of the supervising editors. “Whether editors are collaborating on the same segment or working on different segments, they can set up their Avids the way they like to work. But when the show hits air, it has a consistent quality and look as if only one person worked on it.”

Since its inception, “The Voice” has been based on an Avid MediaCentral technology platform that now includes 40 workstations in a mix of Media Composer offline editing systems and Symphony online finishing systems. Based on the “Avid Everywhere” vision to make collaboration, production, and monetization of media assets easier, every user on the Avid platform can simultaneously access and share media on the scalable 128 TB Avid ISIS centralized storage.

Source material ranges from musical stage performances covered by 14 or 15 XDCAM cameras, rehearsals, judges’ critiques, contestant profiles and interviews, B-roll and archival footage. “The Voice” segments typically involve quick cuts between multicamera takes, transitional video effects, and video and stills in virtually every format and resolution from 4K and HD to YouTube and smartphone videos.

During “The Blinds” (blind auditions), the judges—currently Shakira, Blake Shelton, Usher and Adam Levine—sit in plush red chairs with their backs to the stage so they can’t see the singer or duet performing. If they like what they hear, they push a button to spin their chairs around and compete to fill their teams with singers that could be this season’s “Voice.”

For the “Battle Rounds”—shows featuring rounds where two singers compete by singing the same song together—the production team has to turn around an entire two-hour show from offline to online, often in just five to six days, which is essentially like creating a feature-length film in less than a week, according to Malachowski.

“Now that we’re six seasons in, our process and workflow are pretty well defined,” said John M. Larson, also a supervising editor. “For one particular playoff episode, shooting began the previous Tuesday, and within two hours, our editorial assistants loaded all the low-res files into ISIS.”

“Immediately, 10 to 12 offline editors started rockin’ on it to get that episode locked by Friday and ready to go through the whole network process,” Larson added. Judging by where the storylines were headed during the offline, Larson said the assistants anticipated and up-resed the media they believed would wind up in the final cut.

Besides the fresh media that’s kept online, ISIS can also track thousands of archival assets, like a returning contestant’s blind audition from last season, typically stored on HDSR tape. “Anyone on Media Composer or Symphony can search ISIS for assets, bring them into the editing environment and even work on the same media for faster productivity,” said Dana Ruzicka, vice president of segment and product marketing Avid in Burlington, Mass. In future seasons, “The Voice” can expand or reconfigure their complement of editing systems and add scalable storage capacity to ISIS.

Editors for “The Voice” can simultaneously access and share media on a scalable 128 TB Avid ISIS centralized storage system. “At the start of the season, we create a palette or graphic look and hand that over to the offline editors so they don’t have to guess what the footage should look like,” Malachowski said. “This serves as a guideline that gives the show its signature look and feel.”

After the rough cut is finished on Media Composer, Symphony picks it up from there for HD finishing. “When the editors flip from the offline to online section of ISIS, the low-res proxies are automatically linked and replaced by the corresponding high-res footage,” Malachowski said.

If the footage is by nature low-res—such as a YouTube video—and a higher-res version can’t be obtained, the editors find a creative way of incorporating it using graphics so it doesn’t have to be blown up full-screen.

Symphony’s integrated color correction system—and third-party plug-ins like Boris, Sapphire, Tiffen, Moving Pictures and Stage Tools—also save time since the project doesn’t have to be kicked out of the Symphony environment. While Avid editors do some audio mixing, the finished files are exported to Levels, a local audio post house that uses Avid ProTools and other high-end audio gear to do a full program audio mix.