Andrew Fletcher: Mixing TV Award Shows

Andrew Fletcher

FOH Engineer, PA Mixer

The Latin Grammy Awards, The Voice, Miss Universe

How would you describe your responsibilities?

I mix the sound at television award shows for the audience, as opposed to the broadcast mixer who mixes the sound for the viewer at home. My job is to create a balanced and exciting mix for the audience while not impacting the broadcast mix with too much volume or room resonances that could make it sound hollow to the viewer at home.

What is your overall approach to the job?

We are always pressed for time in television, so I have to be very quick when it comes to sound checking bands. I will pre-EQ instruments and set up effects and compressors in advance, as I will typically have only 20 or 30 minutes when the band is onstage to complete the sound check before we start rehearsing on camera. The band's own touring engineer will usually sit with me and give mix notes during the sound check, and then they go to the broadcast truck to make sure the mix is good for the millions of people watching on TV. I have to be careful with volume, especially in the low end, as the TV cameras will shake and blur the picture.

When it comes to dialog we usually use Schoeps mics on podium stands either side of the stage for presenters and hosts. I will EQ the mics to get the maximum gain before feedback as I will have people stand at varying distances from the mic during the show as well as groups of people standing around it, some on axis some way off axis with the pattern. Each presenter mic stand has a hyper and a cardioid element; the hyper is used for one or two presenters, and the cardioid for multiple presenters standing around the mic position.

How do noise control tools make your job easier?

With our dialog mics, we do pick up a lot of room noise. Say there are three presenters standing around the mic, about two feet away, and you open the cardioid element to make sure you can hear the outer two presenters. You now find that you can hear the fan noise of the lights above the stage, and people moving scenery backstage. With the use of the Waves WNS Noise Suppressor plugin, you can reduce the background noise to an acceptable level while still maintaining clear dialog from your presenters.

Now, say you have one person at the mic receiving an award, usually the vocalist of the band who is used to singing right into a mic. He leans in to your podium mic and now you have a problem with proximity effect and increased low end, which will cause room resonance and create a hollow sound for the TV audience at home. Using the C6 Multiband Compressor plugin, you can set a cut at 100 Hz with one of the two narrow filters and set the threshold so that when someone leans into your mic, the plugin will compensate for the proximity effect of the mic. You will find that when people get close to the mic other room resonances will be triggered, which you can cut out using the other bands of the C6. It'll be different for every room but, with a little rehearsal time, you can quickly find the frequencies and where to set your thresholds.

How do plugins compare to hardware noise suppressors?

I have been using the Cedar for a number of years. Typically, I would have one device inserted on a bus, and that would have to do for all mic types I would use on a show. With the WNS, I can use multiple instances of the plugin: say, one on my podium mics, one on my lavs, one on my handheld mics, and one on my live announcer, all of which will have different polar patterns and require different settings on the WNS for optimal results. The C6 has been a great tool for me giving me control I never had before over the range of different presenters sharing a mic.

How crucial is low latency processing?

Low latency is very important in live applications. There is already latency in the mixing console and the PA processors and with dialog, the speaker can be put off by hearing themselves back from the PA, especially if there is a long delay which often causes someone to speak slowly.

Could you describe some of your plugin settings?

With the WNS, I first EQ the mic to get maximum gain before feedback whilst maintaining a clean and full sound. With nobody speaking into the mic, I will then push up the level until I can hear room noise and then use the faders on the WNS to remove it. I never use the WNS as an EQ, rather just to clean up room noise. The factory preset of the WNS is a great starting point.

With the C6, I generally use the first filter to cut 100 Hz with a Q of about 2 and a range of -10 dB. After that, I use the crossover filter to reduce any frequency bands that start to sound nasty at higher volumes such as when a person leans into the mic or has a particularly loud voice. These points will differ in each room. The last filter on the C6 can be set up as a DeEsser.

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