Eurovision 2023: Behind the scenes of the biggest music spectacle on earth

The UK has long held a unique relationship with Eurovision. As one of the most widely viewed music events on the planet its significance cannot be denied, but for the past couple of decades, the nation’s performance at the contest had almost become something of a running joke. Despite submitting winning entries in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, the UK’s Eurovision fortunes have taken a turn for the worse in the 21st century, often finishing in the lower reaches and, on more than one occasion, finishing last. Indeed, in 2021 James Newman’s Embers became the second UK entry to receive nul points. As such, the country slowly fell out of love with Eurovision, regarding it as a kitsch novelty showcase, instead of an unparalleled platform from which to showcase new music to a global audience of almost 200 million fans. That all changed in 2022.

Following Newman’s bottom-placed zero points offering the year before, few could have predicted the impact a certain Sam Ryder would have not only on the UK’s Eurovision fortunes, but also in becoming a star almost overnight with his entry Space Man. That year he pushed the country to a second place finish, losing out to winners Ukraine yet notching up the most points ever for a UK entry. His success also had implications beyond his own success, with the UK installed as the 2023 host on behalf of Ukraine. As such, Eurovision found itself being embraced and celebrated on UK shores like never before.

Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena was the chosen venue, setting the stage for a Eurovision outing that scaled dizzying heights on every level, from the performances themselves, to the head-spinningly complex production behind the scenes. It also served as a stark reminder of why Eurovision remains such a beloved event the world over, not just because of the music, but also the spirit of diversity and inclusion that flows through its veins.

“I honestly feel like the most important thing for all of us is to be creative,” 2023 winner, Sweden’s Loreen (Tatoo), told Headliner. “It’s hard to be prejudiced when you’re creative. When you’re in a creative, happy space, it’s the best antidote to all these crazy decisions we make and a lot of the problems we see in the world.”

The show’s ability to help break stars such as Loreen also feels as potent as ever. And according to previous Iceland contestant and 2023 performer Daði Freyr, Eurovision is as big as it gets.

“I don’t think there is a bigger platform for a new artist than Eurovision,” he tells Headliner. “If you get into the finals, you are performing your song in front of 180 million people. That’s the best ad you can ask for. It’s a really nice stepping stone if you use it and capitalize on it. It can change the trajectory of your career.”

Freyr’s sentiments were echoed by UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, who also hailed the power of the Eurovision platform in uniting people through music.

“At UK Music we talk a lot about the power of music to unite and bring people together, and there is no greater example of that than what we’ve seen with Eurovision over the last couple of weeks and months,” he said in conversation with Headliner. “We’ve had people of different parties, different generations coming together to celebrate Eurovision. And it puts a global spotlight on the UK and our values and it’s great to show how we can bring people together with music and the potential of music to bring disparate people from across the globe together.”

Of course, none of this would be possible without the considerable talent and efforts of the production teams that bring sound and visuals together to create such a spectacle. From the lighting and audio elements through to the comms and networking technology that knits it all together for those in the room and watching at home, it’s truly a mammoth task.

Among the most crucial technical elements to consider when it comes to the smooth running of Eurovision, an event of such scale and high pressure, is the careful selection of the mixing consoles. DiGiCo has supplied its high-end digital desks for the event for a number of years, and 2023 was no exception.

In this instance, leading pro audio equipment supplier Britannia Row selected two DiGiCo Quantum 7 dual engine, 256-channel mixing consoles for front of house, two Quantum 7s for monitors, along with two SD12 compact digital mixing consoles at front of house to contend with the presenter’s audio feed. There was also a third Quantum 7 in a duplicate setup in the soundcheck room, as well as an SD11, which was used by the playback team for monitoring and bussing audio elements together. With so many channels and mixes to contend with, the need for systems that could handle such a high channel count, with triple redundancy backup, meant that specifying this selection of powerful DiGiCo consoles was a no brainer.

“The programming of the console made a big difference to what the engineers were able to do in terms of snapshot recall – the ability to label and name things clearly, move them around easily, and do all the patch changes quickly,” explains DiGiCo product specialist Dave Bigg. “It's the speed and the flexibility of the consoles that makes them the top choice, but at the end of the day it always comes down to channel count and bus count, because that's what they need to do the show. From a console manufacturer’s point of view, we're very proud to know that people choose our consoles to do these shows and rely on them to deliver the results they need.”

It's the speed and the flexibility of the consoles that makes them the top choice. Dave Bigg, product specialist, DiGiCo

Britannia Row was in fact responsible for handling every aspect of the show’s audio, including the audience mics for broadcast, delivering analog and MADI to the OB trucks, presenter IFBs, time coding, and distributing the Dante and AVB networks. Forming the backbone of the system was a slew of network boxes and routers from DirectOut, which proved integral when it came to distributing all the playback and radio mics. This ecosystem meant that any redundant switching over required, in case of a system failure, was taken care of.

“The design team did an incredible job of making the show look huge in a relatively small space, and really maximizing the space available,” Britannia Row lead system designer Josh Lloyd tells Headliner. “That did make it quite challenging in terms of the design, but I think we found a really good middle ground that worked for everyone.

“The atmosphere in Liverpool as a whole was amazing, and the city did a great job at hosting. From a production point of view, Eurovision never cuts corners; they're willing to pay to do things properly and I think that really shows. It's a very, very slick show.”

When it came to selecting the speaker and line array system, L-Acoustics’ L Series was an obvious choice for a number of reasons, combining a number of advantages in one package: “It’s powerful but compact and lightweight, has wide vertical coverage with very precise coverage control, and allows for a choice of cardioid or supercardioid patterns,” L-Acoustics application engineer Sergey Becker tells Headliner. “The L Series is also much easier and quicker to deploy, which made it perfect for Eurovision. Brit Row had already used it – for the first time in the world – on the Brit Awards, so they knew the benefits it would offer.”

Britannia Row, along with ESC 2023’s head of sound Robert Edwards, also specified an extensive system comprising Shure Axient Digital, PSM 1000 in-ear monitoring, AD600 Axient Digital Spectrum Manager, ShowLink, Wireless Workbench Software and Wavetool Software to provide the robust and solid solution required.

“We needed a reliable system that we could be confident in pushing to its limits, and the Shure systems provided a comprehensive set of tools and products to manage this effectively,” says Britannia Row’s Tom Brown. “The reliability and known robustness of the PSM 1000 in-ear monitors, huge tuning range of the Axient Digital Wireless System, frequency diversity, and invaluable support of ShowLink were imperative.”

As part of the equipment, Shure Wireless Workbench (WWB) software was used for monitoring the signal of all radio mics and in-ears, forming one Shure ecosystem.

“We pushed Wireless Workbench to its limits, using all the tools available in the software to help artists feel fully comfortable on stage,” adds Britannia Row’s Josh Lloyd. “The AD600 Digital Spectrum Manager was also very useful - the monitor antenna receiver and six inputs meant we could monitor antennas on and off stage. This unique tool made our workflow much quicker and efficient.”

DPA’s d:facto Vocal and 4066 Headset Mics were also used on stage during the Eurovision performances.

"For Eurovision, we conducted a series of evaluations and came to the conclusion that the DPA d:facto capsules with the radio system gave us the most neutral and accurate vocal sound," explains Robert Edwards, head of sound for Eurovision 2023.

"They also had the lowest handling noise and had excellent pop-rejection. The response on-axis was very predictable, and the live vocals were easily matched to the studio versions. We also used many DPA headsets for both the singers and the presenters, being firm favourites of the 4066. This might seem counterintuitive since the mic is omnidirectional, but it is so forgiving and has a wide dynamic range. With the largest worldwide audience of any live entertainment show, there has to be total trust and reliability in any product―DPA provided both.”

The Shure AD600 Digital Spectrum Manager was very useful, it made our workflow much quicker and efficient. Josh Lloyd, Britannia Row

Throughout the week-long extravaganza, music for all of the televised live shows and rehearsals was mixed on the Mixbus, a well-equipped music and audio outside broadcast facility that now incorporates an Evertz Studer Vista X console.

BAFTA-winning Andy Tapley (of BBC Studioworks and known for his work on Strictly Come Dancing and RuPaul’s Drag Race) was the sound supervisor on the Mixbus, handling all mixing for the live shows and rehearsals, as well as being responsible for the console programming.

“The snapshots and the automation are incredibly quick to achieve so Andy, who was mixing, was able to do a rehearsal and then within five seconds we could flip to an off-tape rehearsal,” notes Conrad Fletcher, whose SounDesign company owns the Mixbus. “In that time he was able to update all the automation on the desk very quickly. Pretty much every function is only one button push away to be able to do quite sophisticated things.”

The team gets to rehearse with each act the first time, from which they’ll get a mix together.

“They'll give me copious notes about what effects they want on their vocals and then on their BVs, so I pre-programme as much of that as possible,” explains Tapley. “They listen to the mix that I've done and they can look at the video as well as their performance and that's when you get feedback from them about adjustments that they want made. They are so focused and obviously this is a massive thing for them, so we want to give them the best that we possibly can. We work very hard to give them exactly what they want. In the end, we got there and we were very pleased with the result.”

The Mixbus handled the main music mix going out to transmission, with the Vista X mixing anything music-related coming through the Mixbus. Throughout Eurovision week, the Mixbus team were responsible for mixing 45 songs live to air, including guest artists such as Sam Ryder, Rita Ora and Rebecca Ferguson and contestants.

“The Vista X has a number of key features that make it a fantastic console for live entertainment shows,” adds Mark Hosking, director of international sales, Studer-Evertz Audio Solutions. “The sonic quality of the mic pres was a very important point as was the ability to use the extensive Cue List and Snapshot features to manage the rapid changes between acts, firing off MIDI changes to recall external effects settings and completely resetting the console from act to act at a touch of a button. The audio design meant that Mixbus was pretty much its own baseband triplicate ecosystem audio-wise, providing resilience from any wider network issues.”

Once the stereo mixes were completed, they were handed over to another BAFTA winner, sound supervisor Richard Sillitto, who added presentation and audience on board NEP’s UHD1 scanner. He also provided the 5.1 surround mix. Graham Norton’s presentation was added separately, and an international feed was provided to each country so that they could add their own commentary.

“The console was faultless and the truck is fabulous,” agrees Tapley. “What Conrad has done with the Mixbus is build something which not only is technically superb, but it's an aesthetically amazing place to work in as well. It is the attention to detail that sets it apart from anything else – it was such a comfortable, great experience working in it.”

The Vista X has a number of features that make it a fantastic console for live entertainment shows. Mark Hosking, director of international sales, Studer-Evertz Audio Solutions

Every technological aspect of this year’s Eurovision was planned to a tee, leaving absolutely no room for error. Serving another essential role in the smooth running of the live shows was Riedel, which was responsible for the delivery of the accreditation and access control solutions, fiber backbone, signal distribution, extensive communications setup and commentary solutions.

Riedel has been handling the communications and signal distribution systems for the Eurovision Song Contest for years, with the scope of works varying each time depending on the needs of the venue. Unlike the line arrays in the arenas, lighting and mics, you won’t see any of Riedel’s tech on screen or the stage, but rest assured, it’s working away hard behind the scenes, and without it, the Eurovision live shows would come to a grinding halt. As soon as the host city is announced, the Riedel team springs into action by arranging a site visit to assess the technological needs and potential set up for the run of shows.

In terms of the accreditation and access control solution for Eurovision, Riedel supplied the accreditation backend, including interfacing to the EBU’s main accreditation system, five work stations for the accreditation center (including RFID printers), 12,500 accreditation passes, 20 turnstiles and five RFID scan poles for access control, as well as various associated services.

Meanwhile, Riedel’s fiber backbone included approximately 16km of temporary fiber cabling and associated services. In terms of the all-important signal distribution and management, this was handled by MediorNet fiber-based stage boxes in a 22 x 20 gig Riedel standard rack, which processed approximately 200 audio and 400 video signals.

This was one of the best lighting and stage designs I have ever seen at Eurovision. Yung Min Lee, senior project manager, Riedel

“MediorNet has a link capacity of 20 gigabit on the bandwidth and it can do video transportation from A to B, and audio,” says Yung Min Lee, Riedel senior project manager. “We can connect them through one fiber cable and distribute audio and video over Ethernet, which is why we chose it for Eurovision. If we didn’t use MediorNet, you would have had a separated video network, an audio network and an IT network – which is three times more cabling. With MediorNet, we can do it with one device and with one fiber cable.”

The extensive communications solutions for Eurovision included associated services and components integrated and interfaced in Riedel’s main communications system, including a Motorola analogue radio infrastructure, 32 radio channels (simplex and semiduplex), 250 handheld radios plus associated accessories for broadcast and show related communications (show call, TV crew, stage management) and a digital Tetra radio infrastructure (DAMM) for non-broadcast and show related communications (venue, catering, cleaning, power, hospitality, etc). Also included were 30 talk groups, 270 Hytera handheld radios plus accessories, over 100 Riedel RSP Intercom panels, 170 Riedel Bolero full duplex wireless beltpacks and associated accessories and 10 Riedel C3 full duplex wired beltpacks.

Riedel’s Bolero wireless intercom system is capable of supporting up to 250 beltpacks and 100 antennas in a single deployment, which made it the most effective solution possible for Eurovision’s complex needs. The beltpack itself features six intercom channels and a separate ‘reply’ button for a quick reply to the last caller. “And it is in real time,” Lee adds, “so as you can imagine, there were so many people relying on that. You can listen to six channels simultaneously, or select one as the most important one, you can control a wireless intercom with a button on a panel, you can control volume, you can do point to point calls or talk to a radio channel. It was one of the main communication tools for all the stage and floor managers.

Riedel’s commentator solutions included 45 CCP commentary panels, 90 monitors and centralized routing facilities including commentary and coordination lines for 30 MCRs in 24 countries across Europe and the world. The commentary for each country is a key part of the experience for viewers at home during the live finals as each gives their unique take on each country’s introduction film and chosen singer.

As Lee is looking ahead to Eurovision 2024 in Sweden next year, he is satisfied that 2023 was another technically-successful show: “It went very well and everything worked out,” he says. “The grand final was a huge success. This was one of the best lighting and stage designs I have ever seen at Eurovision over the last four years, so it will be quite a big task for the next country to top that! We finished the show this year with a smile.”