The audio expert behind the Super Bowl halftime show reveals secrets about the year’s most-watched musical performance
By Peter Larsen
Sound engineer Patrick Baltzell designed the audio for the Super Bowl halftime show for the first time in 1998, and in that year and the five that followed it all went great. Fans in the stadium could clearly hear performers such as Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder or Phil Collins and U2, and the millions and millions of viewers watching on television never missed a note.
But in 2004, when Super Bowl XXXVIII was headed to Houston, Baltzell realized he had a problem. Reliant Stadium’s shape and P.A. system produced a notoriously muffled sound, and the Texans’ owner and the NFL refused to let any fan’s view of the stadium video screens be even partly blocked by the kind of powerful temporary speakers Baltzell normally employed.
“It was a disaster,” Baltzell said at a panel titled “Super Bowl Sound: When the World is Watching” at the NAMM Show in Anaheim recently. “You couldn’t understand a single lyric.”
He figured he’d go home to Los Angeles and wait for the inevitable phone call: ” ‘Well, you had seven Super Bowl shows but we’ve got to get a better sound designer,’ ” Baltzell said he imagined it would go. “I was pretty despondent.”
And then, in the final minutes of the halftime show, “a miracle happened for me,” he said. “Janet Jackson was the closer, and all of a sudden my career was saved.”
Entertainer Janet Jackson, left, covers her breast after her outfit came undone during the half time performance with Justin Timberlake at Super Bowl XXXVIII between the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots in Houston, Sunday Feb. 1, 2004. (Photo by David Phillip, Associated Press)
That’s right, when this year’s halftime performer Justin Timberlake pulled off part of Jackson’s costume and – horrors! – most of one breast was exposed, suddenly the NFL and broadcaster […]