Here’s What It’s Like Making The Super Bowl Halftime Show
The Super Bowl is one of the most celebrated sports events of the year. For many fans, the championship game is the highlight of football season - regardless of whether or not their team made it. With so many viewers, the halftime show has become an elaborate entertainment spectacle that has taken on a life of its own.
Millions tune in for the musical number, which has offered up some of the best artists in the world. Super Bowl halftime performances require significant planning for everything from stage design and placement, lighting, sound, costumes, and more.
The best Super Bowl halftime performers spend months preparing for the big show. As a result, a great deal of unseen labor goes into what is arguably one of the most highly-visible gigs in entertainment.
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Organizers Have Just Six Minutes To Prep The Field For The Performance
Field preparations for the performer, band, any back-up singers, dancers, and all equipment are a tricky endeavor. The staff has about six minutes to get everything onto the field and in position for the 14-minute performance.
Veteran sound engineer Patrick Baltzell has worked on more than a dozen Super Bowl halftime shows and told The Verge:
From the end of the first half of a football game to the beginning of the halftime show is between six and seven minutes. That’s how much time you get to build the entire show on the field.
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Artists Must Meet Certain Selection Standards
Performers must adhere to specific standards for Super Bowl halftime show consideration. These standards include the ability to appeal to a diverse audience because of the number of people who watch the event live and on TV. The NFL creates a shortlist of potential entertainers for the host city to make the final decision.
According to The New York Times, the gig is unpaid. The halftime show boosts the artist's popularity, and they often experience a sales spike following the performance. However, the NFL covers all show expenses incurred by the artist.
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Most Of The Performance Is Pre-Recorded
Much of the music at the Super Bowl halftime show is pre-recorded. The only live components are the vocals and drums (sometimes). This process combats any unforeseen technical problems and guarantees good sound quality. One performer admitted to Cracked that even marching bands on the field use pre-recorded tracks.
Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea said the band was comfortable with all the elements of its 2014 halftime performance. Of this, he tweeted:
I am grateful to the NFL for having us. And I am grateful to Bruno [Mars], who is a super talented young man for inviting us to be a part of his gig. I would do it all the same way again.
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Lighting And Set Designers Begin Their Work Almost A Year In Advance
Lighting and set designers begin preliminary work on the upcoming halftime show as early as April of the previous year. This is just two months after the previous event and a full 10 months before the next one.
Super Bowl sound engineer Patrick Baltzell told The Verge of the early start:
We make our first site survey in June [to] take a look at the big picture of the space. Where are we going to put broadcast trucks? Where are we going to put the audio compound where we build all the speakers?
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Organizers Start Preparations Before An Artist Is Even Chosen
Given the preparation timeline, logistics are in motion sometimes before the chosen act has even agreed to perform. This gap means that substantial work on design and choreography cannot begin as soon as preferred. Instead, lighting designer Bob Barnhart tells PLSN this time allows designers and producers "to see what the [venue] will bring."
Producers must then overcome logistical problems, such as elaborate sets that could potentially obstruct fans' views. Given the unique flow of each location, the extra months of preparation are necessary for optimal set design.
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Lighting Is Pre-Programmed Virtually
According to Emmy-winning lighting designer Al Gurdon, who has worked on multiple Super Bowl halftime shows, lighting is one of the most critical aspects of the show. Designers don't have extensive access to the venue before the show, so planning and programming happen virtually.
The lighting designers create a virtual representation of the stadium to program the lighting. Programmer Michael Owen talked to Live Production about his work during Beyonce's 2013 appearance:
With this show, I would say that 90% of it was programmed virtually. After doing... programming in London at PRG, then we went to New York and set up our... system at the Alvin Ailey dance studios where Beyoncé was rehearsing. We also had a set up in New Orleans as well to keep working on the programming.