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Oscars Music Director Rickey Minor Reveals 10 Secrets of the Telecast

Rickey Minor is an old hand at conducting music for live TV shows, having handled such chores on “American Idol,” the Grammys and the Emmys. This year, he scored his biggest gig yet: as music director of the Academy Awards.

“It’s the biggest and most prestigious show for a reason,” he says. “It is the most challenging in terms of time. Some 160 cues, not only the nominated material but all of the production numbers, ‘In Memoriam’ and all of the music has to get done in just a few days.

“It was magical, surreal, and I felt like we did what we came to do, which was to use music to raise the vibrations on the planet,” he adds. “People left feeling hopeful, happy, tapping their feet.”

During the course of a post-Oscars interview, Minor revealed 10 things most viewers probably don’t know about music on show-biz’s biggest night:

  1. The play-ons and play-offs for presenters are not played live by the orchestra.

“In the past they had five cues for the nominees. When the winner is announced, the conductor would go ‘Number five!’ and give the downbeat. Now, we go into Capitol studios, pre-record and mix those, and that’s left to a playback person. ‘Black Panther’ is announced, they push that button.”

  1. If something malfunctions, they’re prepared to play everything live.

“I always have extra stuff in the book. We have music prepared to play anyone on, although it’s more of a generic play-on. And we play the big numbers when we go to commercial. The trick is to make sure that there is no sonic difference between the live stuff and the pre-records.”

  1. The music director does not decide when a winner’s speech has gone on too long.

“It’s always the director. Sometimes people want to make an emotional plea, a political plea — they want to make the world better, that’s always the case. I don’t think [the producers] really wanted to play anybody off, but this year some people really pushed.”

  1. There was an overall concept for the music on Oscar night.

“I wanted the show to be more inclusive, musically. This is the Oscars, so you have to have the big majestic play-ons. But I wanted a different soundscape, starting with the theme. I used Afro-Cuban and Latin percussion to create a tribal kind of rhythm. Then we included music from nominated foreign films from the last 20 years or more. We had music from Italy, Romania, Spain, Cuba, South Africa, West Africa, India, throughout the show.”

  1. Decisions about how to present the five nominated songs are complicated.

“The minute the nominations come out, there is a conversation with the artist’s management, the studio, producers, everyone. The core of the song, length, timing, musicians onstage, all that is determined early on. But when you get in the room, that’s where the magic happens. So it’s during rehearsals that all the major adjustments are made.”

  1. So what about Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper doing “Shallow?”

“They rehearsed at the Dolby Theatre, I think it was on Friday night. We had laid out exactly what was going to happen, and they came in and adjustments were made. The orchestra didn’t play, only her core rock band onstage. It was incredible.”

  1. Was there any plan to perform “All the Stars” after Kendrick Lamar declined to attend?

“I don’t believe that the Academy would do anything without the consent of the artist. I don’t really know the ins and outs of that number in particular. When he decided he wasn’t going to come, there was talk of, what would it look like if there was a performance without him? That was, of course, discussed with the artist’s management. We didn’t have anything prepared for the orchestra sessions, or the rehearsals.”

  1. The show ran three hours and 23 minutes. Did the musicians get a bathroom break?

“That was one of my first questions. Do you not drink water for two days prior? This year, the L.A. Philharmonic played onstage during ‘In Memoriam’ so there was a mad dash by everybody to the restrooms.”

  1. Speaking of the LA Phil, who decided that a cue from “Superman” would be the “In Memoriam” music?

“That suggestion came from Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil. Very respectfully, we had composer John Williams do the re-orchestration. For me to be in that room at that moment with John Williams and Gustavo Dudamel, that’s something that I’ll treasure forever.”

  1. So the show finally ends, and we hear the orchestra playing the last piece under the end credits. Was it live?

“That was a pre-record because it was cut to video. A third of the musicians went to the bathroom, a third went home and a third went to the bar.”

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