Rick Smith points eagerly to a shotgun microphone while discussing the creative and intellectual advantages of learning to mike and mix non-musical sources.
Meeting Topic: Audio for TV Sports Broadcast
Moderator Name: Kevin Martin
Speaker Name: Rick Smith, New England Institute of Art
Meeting Location: Lowell, Massachusetts, USA
Rick Smith discussed the equipment, signal path, miking challenges, and sonic considerations faced by television audio engineers for sports broadcast. An overarching theme for the evening was his emphasis on how working with non-musical sources can ultimately be an informative experience for mixing music as well.
Rick first described how his career got started, citing that he "didn't like studio work" and only having a minimal interest in sports, never considered mixing audio for the sports entertainment industry. Now, Rick is a direct hire for most major television networks as the Front of House Mixer and Monitor Mixer for every major sporting venue in New England and many more across the United States. Woodstock 1994, the NHL All-Star Game, HBO Boxing, World Cup Soccer and the Newport Jazz Festival are some of his major accolades.
Since many of the undergraduate students and a few graduate students in attendance were unfamiliar with this segment in the audio industry, Rick let questions from the audience fuel his presentation that compiled nearly one-hundred slides. Some of these first slides described the typical career path of an Audio for TV Engineer as an A2 and then an A1. Within those descriptions, he defined many different roles of audio personnel as front of house engineers, mix engineers, and technical directors all responsible for abiding the commands of the video personnel and show producers.
Then, Rick showed the class some of the equipment used to capture major sporting events, including modular mix house tractor trailers, patchbay and interconnect infrastructure, and the Calrec Alpha digital console. Rick also discussed how the type of venue can dictate whether or not an elaborate setup of just a few hours up to a week may be necessary for major sports coverage like the PGA Tour and Boxing.
In response to the students' insightful questioning, Rick addressed miking techniques used in Audio for TV Sports. He suggested that modern sports miking placement functions to capture the "action first and foremost", the reaction of the commentators, any sound that can enhance the action of the game, and the reaction of the crowd. In sports, the placement of microphones on the field are "not sonically considered" for the benefit of delivering the ideal spectral mix but for their highly directional qualities and ability to minimize reflections from ground surfaces. He uses Pressure Zone Microphones for their hemispherical response pattern in capturing arena sound, hypercardioid shotgun microphones for their extended sensitivity at a great distance and Parabolic microphones to capture a limited frequency response that provides just enough information between 1-5kHz to understand what the "quarterback was saying in the middle of the huddle" 50 yards away.
Finally, Rick spent some time discussing mix considerations and strategies utilized on the job. He demonstrated how he is typically responsible for preparing a large group of mixes and sub mixes for different personnel involved with the broadcast and for subscribing networks across the globe. Thus, Rick is also responsible for mixing in mono, stereo, and surround release formats, sometimes simultaneously. The mention of surround sound formatting prompted questions for debate such as whether or not the listener/viewer is placed in the huddle on the field or in the stands just a few rows back from center field, what is a common track management on a Calrec Alpha digital sound console, how a typical sports mix is built, and when certain mikes are opened. Rick pointed out the importance of controlling the "dynamic range" of the program and the "spectral balance" of individual sound sources in a way that is non-destructive to the experience of the viewer, despite the possibility that what the consumer is hearing at home is not always translated accurately from the studio to the home entertainment system.
Rick left the students in attendance with many different ideas for reflection upon the end of the seminar. Drawing from his own experience, Rick says he believes he became a "better mixer [using] non-musical sources" and thus, learned to make "EQ and compression invisible".
Written By: Kevin Martin, Sound Recording Technology, UMass Lowell