What do you need from your audio team?

As a television producer and director, there are certain things you should require from your audio people. This post looks at what those things are.

A good number of years ago, I produced and directed a LIVE prayer event from a church right by Central Park in the heart of New York. The event was on September 11th and commemorated the events of that day a few years earlier. It was a sombre but significant event with national prayer leaders flying in from all over the US for this one evening.

I used the facilities of a company I know in the USA called Skystorm. I had worked with them several times and knew how good they were. I liked them as not only were they excellent at what they did but they were also easy to work with. They are still one of my “go to” companies when I need anything state side (if you ever need a production company in the US please do check them out).

Because of budget limitations though, we decided to use a local vendor for the audio side of things and have them supply us with stereo feed for the broadcast. That was a mistake……..

During the broadcast, I became aware that although I could hear all the “stage” activity, bands, speakers etc. I couldn’t hear any audience at all. When I checked with the guy running the audio, he told me he wasn’t aware I wanted audience mics so didn’t add any.

OK, so that’s my fault for not having spelled out our requirements when we discussed the production but, anyone used to mixing for TV would know that audience response mics are important – right?

Well, it appears not so. The rest of this article is an attempt to spell out what I would suggest all of us on the video end require from the sound teams we work with so we can all be on the same page.

I have (except the story above) worked with some of the very best audio engineers in the Christian media space and have always found they have been on the same page as me. But, after the experience in New York, whenever I am working with a “new to me” sound team, I will always have a detailed conversation about what I am looking for. That is a lesson I have learned. Don’t be afraid to have these conversations as we are all on the same team and having them will help build that sense of team work as well as ensuring our viewers get the best end product.

I get that we are all at different stages with different resources and budgets so I know that what I am about to outline might be a stretch for you right now. That’s OK, I have been there too. My “audio” coverage of events has progressed from getting a simple stereo feed from the front of house desk, with no dedicated person on broadcast sound, through to mixing via “group” outputs, all the way to having a dedicated sound team and separate broadcast mixes. I have worked with all extremes.

What I am laying out here is what we should all be aiming for. My hope in this article (other than giving you a laugh at my failure above) is to give video people the tools to have a conversation with their audio guys and the audio guys an understanding of what we would like from them.

  • A separate dedicated feed of every stage input, mixed independently of the front of house system.
  • Compression, limiting, EQ etc that adds nuance and “colour” to the sound.
  • Audience response mics that allow the viewer at home to experience the range of emotion from the audience. These should mix in and out and NOT be on all the time as a general rule though I like my sound “wet”.
  • A mix that allows for dynamics. When things go quiet (a holy hush), I want the mix to allow for this. Also, when things go crazy loud, the mix needs to accommodate the emotion of that BUT without adding any distortion etc – so I need a focused engineer who is on his game the whole time.
  • I want the BEST mic possible on the preacher, one that is appropriate for the venue (so if feedback is an issue, not a lapel mic) and one that the speaker is comfortable with – so if they are not used to a headset then a hand held is better. Whatever works from a holistic stand point not only from an audio perspective.
  • I want the engineer to position their mix station OUT of the main room so they are not affected by the venue sound and instead are experiencing the same audio that the people at home will get.
  • I want them to watch the video feed and mix for that. This means I need to get them a monitor – ideally a multi view so they can be ahead of the game (they’ll see all my cameras and my preview).
  • I want them to be part of the team and not an “island”. I don’t want them creating the “best” sound, I want them creating the “best sound for video”.
  • I want them to follow the action, to be aware of all the mics that are being used, know which to bring up at any time and not miss cues. If the lead guitarist starts a solo, I want them to ensure he is “pushed” in the mix. At the same time, I make sure I get a camera focused on him. This is another reason for them to watch the video output BUT also, they need to be on a comms circuit with the director or producer (whoever is calling the show) and also a stage manager who is relaying real time changes that happen from the event side.
  • I want them to be attentive and responsive to my requests.
  • I want them to understand the best mics for every job BUT to also understand this is video and NOT audio – so sometimes there need to be compromises made if the best mic looks horrendous on video, what are the other options?
  • Finally, I want them to monitor the FINAL broadcast output (an “off air” feed) and adjust that rather than just listening to the output of their system.


FINAL CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT

I don’t want my sound team so focused on getting the perfect sound that they give me a mix that “eliminates” God. A good friend of mine, and the BEST sound engineer I have ever worked with, coined a phrase when he was reviewing a mix done by a recording engineer rather than a LIVE engineer that has stuck with me. Paraphrased, he said “They’ve mixed God out of it”. What he meant by that was that the mix was so perfect, so sterile, so close to a studio album that it completely lost the experience of what happened at the event. I don’t want that – I want the people at home to experience what the people at the event would have experienced.

Is there anything you would add to my list above, I'd love to know?

Categories: audio, Broadcasting, Leadership, production, quality, set up, Skills, Team

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