The AMAs are almost here and that means music’s biggest names out in force, performing and waiting to see whose fans are the most dedicated. But behind every heart-wrenching Selena Gomez performance and Iggy Azalea upset, there are a team of producers hustling to keep the stars moving and make the show as engaging as possible.
Larry Klein, one of the night’s producers, spoke to Billboard about what it takes behind the scenes to make all the onstage magic happen.
What is it, to you, that sets the AMAs apart from other awards shows?
The main thing is that we’re the only fan-based awards show. It’s not an Academy, it’s not an organization, it is the fans voting for their favorite artists.
How do you think that impacts the tone on the day of?
It is what it is — it’s just like, how does it impact the talent on any awards show what they don’t win? It’s the same way. In all honesty, what’s funny about it is sometimes somebody is so huge — number one everywhere — but they don’t win an award because their fans didn’t vote like other fans voted. Some people have bigger fanbases than others. Even though they might not be as big as somebody else, their fanbase is bigger. They have more loyal fans, and the more loyal fans vote.
How does social media — obviously a huge part of fandom and awards shows in 2015 — figure into how you plan the show?
There’s not many other outlets like this for people to do what they do — the awards shows are like the only place left where you can really be creative with your song, and not just come out with your band and sing it. You can really have the look, the feel, the environment.
Years ago, I worried about a show, and putting a show together. Now we have more meetings about the social world than we do about the show, in all honesty. Everything we do, we try to fit in the social world somehow, some way.
Are there any big changes ahead of this year’s show?
I try to push the button every year — I always want to out-do what we did last year. I don’t want to remain the same ever. The way I can push the buttons — I can’t write a song, I can’t sing a song, I can’t play an instrument — is to make what’s on that stage help bring the song across.
Visually, I try new things. This year, I have somebody performing in a wall of fire. I’ve never done that before in my life. I have a swimming pool onstage, for Christ’s sake. I’ve never had swimming pool onstage. That’s how I can push the envelope. I put the artist and his or her designers on a phone call with all the AMA people, and collectively, we work up this wonderful performance. Until somebody doesn’t like it, and then I just tell them, that was the artist’s idea.
Since you don’t know the results of the voting until pretty late —
I hate that. I really hate it. Years ago, I knew the results beforehand, and I knew who I had to get there. Now, I gotta fight for everybody [to come], because I don’t know who’s going to win! I always thought about lying, but I can’t do that.
What’s the most stressful thing about the day of the awards?
If I’m going to get lunch or not. We do a dress rehearsal day of show, we try to do it to time. We finish at 3 o’clock, doors open at 4 o’clock, we go live on the air at 5 o’clock. The day of the show is not as stressful as what you’d think — we’re all in the same mindset. Are people nervous? Of course they are — we all have cues, we all have stuff we have to do.
Am I nervous? Yeah, I’m nervous on every level — not for what’s going on onstage, because I respect all the people who work on this show way too much. The stagehands, the stage managers — they know what they’re doing, I’m not worried about them not getting the set-ups together. My worry is time. It’s not like ABC gives all the time in the world to be on the air. My whole thing is keeping the show to time, period.
All I do is sit in my little producer’s tent with a timer and an A.D., and they just keep telling me: “You’re 11 seconds over, you’re 12 seconds over” — and we do go by seconds. I just gotta keep juggling where to cut 10 seconds, or whatever it might be.
Do you have any clue as to who will win, or is that totally separate from what you work on?
In my head I have an inkling. Music has been my life for as long as I can possibly remember — my license plate is “Rock N’ Roll.” I can sit back in my little cubicle here, look at my show boards, and I can sort of go, “Well so-and-so’s gotta win this award.” But once again, fans vote, and sometimes I’m surprised. I always write down my predictions before the show. Sometimes I’m right about all of them, sometimes the fans surprise me. You never know.
The American Music Awards air tonight (Nov. 22) at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.