Meet Branden Chapman, The Guy Who Makes The Grammy-Week Trains Run On Time

Branden Chapman, The Executive In Charge Of Production & Chief Business Development Officer at the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences who hasn't slept much this week.

(Photo: Courtesy of the Grammys)

Sixteen events over the course of this week; well-over 10,000 people hired; 160,000 pounds of gear flown out for the telecast; and this year they've added a televised Beatles Tribute concert at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Imagine if you were the person in charge of coordinating all this and about a million other things.

Meet Brendan Chapman, the Grammys Executive In Charge of Production and Chief Business Development Office, who's been working for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for the last twelve years. He's the guy who in part oversees the production of the massive celebration that is Grammy Week. At this point, he hasn't slept much and his email feed hasn't stopped for days; but we got a few minutes of his precious time earlier in the week just before we lost him to the Grammy-Week vortex. Here, he discusses his greatest Grammy triumphs and challenges (an incredible moment that saw him and Clive Davis embracing) and how he manages to keep the multitude of Grammy-Week trains running on time during this exceedingly busy week.

Billboard: How overloaded are you right now?
Branden Chapman: We have 16 events we produce and my department is responsible for six of them and we added the two-hour telecast special "The Grammys Salute to the Beatles" the night after the Grammy Awards--it's all starting to add up now.

So you don't oversee everything?
On some level. My department handles for the most part the National Recording Academy Grammy Week, but MusicCares, the Grammy Foundation and Grammy Museum teams report up and into the structure that is  the Grammy Week. We try to all team and collaborate very closely when it comes to Grammy week. There are other people who have similar roles and oversee production of events and projects in each of our affiliates as well.

How many employees you overseeing this week or hiring in terms of the larger events with catering truck drivers, teamsters, technicians, stagehands. etc.?
It's a tricky conversation to have. When you look at the Grammy Awards Telecast itself we've estimated there's somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 employees who are getting paid to support that production. Those range from ticket takers at Staples Center to exec producer Ken Ehrlich down to lighting designers, stagehands and our independent security company that we bring in to lock down the perimeter -- that's just for the telecast alone. Our Grammy Celebration, an event immediately following the telecast, we've produced for 6,000 guests. When you tie the catering staff, sound engineers,  the team that builds the stage, the design our the room we're prob. looking at 2,500-3,000 that support that event as well. 

That's just two events, but if you add in MusiCares, the Grammy Museum and the Grammy Foundation events it has to be well over 10,000 hires.
Honestly it's a hard number to estimate. The challenge we run into, for example is the LAPD sends a contingent to help us, secure and support that -- do we include them though we don't pay for them? The people responsible for clean up at the LA Convention Center after party even though that's part of our contract for the Grammy Celebration do we include though they're not hired or overseen by our team? It's a hard questions and completely impossible to determine where you draw the line.

But you basically have a small town of  eople and several massive events and other simultaneous events, how do you keep track of it all and stay organized? Do you use Excel?
It depends on the project. Smaller projects we can manage budgets and timelines and use planning tools like Microsoft Xcel. Larger projects we have to depend on our partners. For example for the Grammy Awards we engage Ken Ehrlich and Ken Ehlich Productions and he'll oversee the production and is responsible for getting the lighting, individual talent, producers, writers, the production designer, though we h liaise with them and work very closely with them. For the Grammy Celebration we hire one design company, called Angel city which is responsible for working with us on a budget that we approve and engage them to execute, but they are responsible for hiring and contracting.It really does kind of build up into a pyramid with one person who is responsible of managing the budgets or contracts for each of the projects.

Is there a point where you just stop sleeping - say Wednesday?
There is definitely a time where the emails never stop and the phones never stop ringing—it is impossible to keep up. We do our very best, for the most part we are able to focus on the very essential elements. But in order to stay healthy thru the marathon of Grammy Week you do need to get your rest when you can. Sleeping hours do become shorter, stress levels do become higher, working hours become non-stop. Working hours are simultaneous with the waking hours especially during Grammy Week and the weeks leading up to it. Ultimately, we've found a rhythm to stay on top of things, this year's curveball was that they added a two-hour telecast we're filming the night after the Grammys.

When was that decided?
We have ben talking about it for months. I would say when the final decision occurred in the September timeframe.

Did you say curse words when it was decided?
[Laughs]. No, the interesting thing is I absolutely love my job regardless of all the stress and everything else. One of the reasons I gravitated towards live production is that i enjoy the energy and enthusiasm that goes into knowing that you only have one chance. When the doors open and the guests enter you better have everything ready to go and the best possible experience. I deeply enjoy it.

Where are you during the show and how many types of communication devices do you have?
During the telecast itself, unless we run into a technical issue, I'm lucky enough to sit in a seat and watch a majority of the show. Usually I'm unable to see the first act because we have to get it up and going and then I have to leave the telecast about 45 minutes early to make sure the team at the Grammy Celebration is ready to receive the 6,000 guests.  That will be exciting,

What's your budget for the events you oversee?
We don't discuss that, but I appreciate you asking. Depending on the event the budget dramatically changes, there are some events within my realm—not referring to any telecast events—just private events that have small budgets that are say $75,000 or $100,000 and then they go up to $2 million. But there are various budgets from various events and we produce both small and large that are the non-televised properties, but we don't give any specifics.

What would you say is your greatest triumph as well as the moment where your heart stopped?
I've been in a few situations where my heart stopped because that is simply the nature of live production. earlier I referenced the pre-Grammy Gala and as had been widely reported unfortunately Whitney Houston [in 2011] passed away the day of the event in the Beverly Hilton. So we had a very trying time to manage those details because it occurred shortly before we were opening the doors to the event.  We had a number of guests who were coming in and a lot of people were finding out the news and everyone wanted an opportunity to pay tribute and respect the life and talent that was Whitney Houston. We handled it very delicately and ultimately had to basically reproduce the entire show with many acts that didn't get to rehearse the song they ended up performing . We wanted to change the tone and nature of the event and do it not only with respect to Whitney but in celebration of Whitney.

Wow, what a challenge. So what would you say was your greatest triumph?
Oddly, I think it's the same answer. Clive [Davis] and I ended up embracing at the end of that event, it was a moment where we felt that we had really done something special and the fact that we turned on a dime and yet held such respect and appropriateness throughout the entire event was very, very special. I have a debt of gratitude to Clive for all his mentorship and leadership and to Ricky Minor that day for being the one who hired the most professional and amazing band members that you can ever work with. They were able to learn charts within minutes and play new songs with every act that we had perform that night. And they got to say the words from that were from their heart. The audience were sad and crying during some moments and celebrating in others—it was just a spectacular evening. It was one of those rare moments that was one of the most stressful and emotional heart dropping moments that ended up being my greatest triumph.