Event Producers Give the V.M.A.s ‘B’: MTV Show's Audio Was "Flawed"

Event pros discuss their favorite (and least favorite) moments from the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards in Brooklyn, New York, including 'NSync's surprise appearance, Katy Perry's Brooklyn Bridge set, and the problematic audio production.

By Lauren Matthews August 26, 2013, 9:26 AM EDT

Event producers called the surprise 'NSync reunion at Sunday's Video Music Awards "epic."

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for MTV

The MTV Video Music Awards landed in Brooklyn for the first time on Sunday evening, bringing the iconic show to the Barclays Center with presenters including Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Hart, and Jared Leto, as well as showstopping performances from Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Katy Perry. We asked some of the country’s top event pros to weigh in on their favorite moments—as well as on the details they thought needed improvement. Here’s what they said.

Matt Stoelt
What I liked: “Taking the show to Brooklyn versus Manhattan seemed to give it a bit more character and edge. The design and implementation of the main stage treatment was both unique and dynamic, allowing each performance to be distinguished without several massive changeovers. At large, the set transcending from the floor to ceiling helped to bridge the gap in the large arena format that traditionally seems to make the stage sets feel too small for the space. The overscale Moonman and presenter stage brought back a grassroots feel with a modern spin using the integrated LEDs and chrome finish, giving the MTV brand just the right amount of integration into the show. The Bruno Mars segment was by far the best, fully utilizing all of the intelligent lighting, digital media, and a throwback laser show that gave the entire space a different look and  feel. The ‘main event’ with Katy Perry offsite was on point and smart creating a relevant extension of the show beyond the venue, using the Brooklyn Bridge as the backdrop.”
What I would have done differently: “First and foremost, the audio delay, quality, and delivery was seriously flawed. Building an entire show on and around today’s hottest and most influential musical artists, making sure that basics are covered should be the top priority. The audio feed seemed to be a mix coming from the house, I think in the efforts to give viewers an experience of being in the room. However, this translated the viewing experience to feel more like a bootlegged YouTube video than a high-end production. I feel that the programming could have had a bit more depth. The Justin Timberlake segment was powerful and well put together but went on for too long. Overall, I felt like once again there was just too much going on.”
Letter Grade: C. “Simply put, a show of this magnitude is no small task and logistically they have it together. The audio issues combined with the semi-expected arena format made this year’s event feel much like the years before it and there was nothing creative, innovative or unique brought to the table.  Given the access to talent, sponsor revenue and production talent, this event should be setting the tone and making trends, and it feels to be in sort of a generation gap.”
Matt Stoelt is the C.E.O. and creative director of Stoelt Productions, an event, marketing, and creative firm with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. Designing and executing more than 100 events annually, Stoelt Productions has produced the Clio Awards, Chrysalis Butterfly Ball, the Adweek Brand Genius Awards, and Billboard Women in Music.

Debra Roth
What I liked: “I loved the red carpet in Brooklyn, right there on the street. What fun, and to bring so much attention to the neighborhood! Lady Gaga set the tone for an evening of transformation with her quick changes. The stage set was revealed slowly and used a futuristic theme, lighting effects, and a great runway. Tube light fixtures, LEDs, and these giant sculptures were spread throughout the arena creating different spots to highlight the presenters. I liked the many effects used and the surprises, such as 'NSync rising up during Justin Timberlake’s (too) long set. Katy Perry’s closing number, filmed outdoors at the Brooklyn Bridge, was a great addition and a big commitment to film in an additional spot, outdoors. I thought there was great work on all the social media and interactivity, from streaming live to contests to the outreach before on Twitter, Instagram, and Vine. Also the amount of pre-show in the New York area was impressive.”
What I would have done differently: “The opening and closing of the Star Trek-like portal for stage entrances and the pattern that they used became predictable. One time the portal didn’t work so well and the cameras focused on it. The sound also wasn’t always good on the vocals, especially on Bruno Mars. They did try to keep effects moving and changing but with the technology available today I would have added more pizzazz. I would also have liked more changing of the stage set, more use of video projection or LED screens. The lighting could have featured more color. Perhaps more integration with the social media could have been worked into the live show.”
Letter Grade: B+. “ I personally didn’t love it. The flow became repetitive, they tried to add new things but with the technology available today they could have done more. It looked like an arena. The stage set was ultimately understated.”
Debra Roth was formerly the chief creative designer of fabric structure company Pink Inc., where she worked with brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Proctor and Gamble, Macy’s, and MTV. She is now the co-founder of the recently launched company the Originators, which specializes in 3-D space design, fabric decor installations, and live special effects for events, exhibits, environments and experiences.

Bruce Starr
What I liked: “This year was all about performances, and each one truly brought their best game to the table. Everyone will be talking about Justin Timberlake for years to come, and the 'NSync moment was perfection. Each mini show by the performing talent was so impressive, and MTV made sure to make best use of the space, making every act feel different and special, while bringing over the top theatrical stages, pyrotechnics, and lighting to the show.”
What I would have done differently: “What I thought was missing was a host. While Jimmy Fallon presented Justin Timberlake his award, it was so apparent that it would be amazing to have some consistency and commentary between acts and awards, as there was a lot to comment about! A host would have tied the night together in such a strong way.”
Letter Grade: A. “This was probably the best V.M.A.s since I can remember, and one that left everyone talking. There were so many moments, performances, and surprises that will stay with everyone for the time to come. Kudos on a major job well done.”
Bruce Starr is the co-founder and partner of BMF Media Group, an experiential marketing agency focused on brand marketing, event production, music supervision, sponsorships and promotions, and talent management and booking, that has worked on everything from Perez Hilton's “One Night In...” series to the international Carrera Escape party.

Thembi Wesley
What I liked: “I absolutely loved the use of street artist—now mainstream artist—Kaws' reimagined Moonman.”
What I would have done differently: “I would have brought more use of the city, Brooklyn, into the overall look and feel of Barclays—similar to what they did with the whole Katy Perry bit.”
Letter Grade: C+.
Thembi Wesley is the senior events director of Team Epiphany, a New York-based brand solutions agency that specializes in experiential marketing, talent booking, and social media strategy. The company, which has produced more than 40 events in the last six months, has a client list includes Pepsi, Samsung, Timberland, and Heineken.

Jeffrey Marcus
What I liked: “Props to the entrance of Pharrell Williams during the preshow, with a group of old school bikers. Nice nod to Brooklyn! The massive 60-foot tall inflatable Moonman had amazing details and worked well with the setup of the venue. The lighting of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for their heartfelt performance was spot on and memorable. Lastly, Justin Timberlake’s impressive greatest hits medley with a nostalgic 'NSync cameo was epic and that’s why the man deserves the Vanguard Award. You could feel the love at Barclays Center.”
What I would have done differently: “Lady Gaga’s wig changes and set design needed to go up one notch. It was a tad amateur-ish and the backdrop was distracting; I would prefer if she did a 2013 version of Wigstock with a cool digital mapping of hands clapping for her backdrop—after all, isn’t she singing her new song, 'Applause'?”
Letter Grade: A-. “The minus is due to the on and off audio glitches during the telecast.”
Jeffrey Marcus is the president of JMVisuals, a New York-based full-service event design and planning company focusing on brand identity and image direction.

Will Curran
What I liked: “The red carpet street was a brilliant idea. They did an excellent job involving Brooklyn into the theme and the entire event. Justin Timberlake and 'NSync stole the show. His performance of nearly all of his hit songs was an incredible peak to the show, and really brought the energy to the next level. Lastly, the visuals for Bruno Mars' performance were incredible. Excellent use of laser, moving lights, and LED screen.”
What I would have done differently: “The start of the show was sort of a lull. Lady Gaga's performance was not one of our favorites, then followed by Miley Cyrus's performance—including her shaking her junk all over Robin Thicke—left us all wondering if we should keep watching. The performances improved as the night went on, but if you're going to keep people tuned in from the start, you need to start on a high energy note.”
Letter Grade: B+. “Justin Timberlake really helped carry this positive letter grade. His performance had the entire venue on their feet dancing and singing. Not only was it a great performance for the VMAs but also one for the history books. However, we were not as impressed with stage design as in past years, and some of the performances were just sub-par.”
Will Curran is the president of Endless Entertainment, a Tempe, Arizona-based event company that handles entertainment, lighting, audiovisual production, staging, and special effects. The company's clients have included the X Games, Fiesta Bowl Block Party, and Phoenix Comicon.

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