Together with my business partner Ian Rosam, I’ve was busy most weeks this past year mixing live sports for 5.1 broadcast. In the summer, we were heavily involved in broadcast-quality control for the London Games, and for the ninth year running, I have also been responsible in the autumn for the weekly live broadcast mix of Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor” on UK network ITV. “The X Factor” is produced by talkbackTHAMES (part of the FremantleMedia Group) and SyCo Tv. The program franchise is licensed by FremantleMedia Enterprises and is produced in 25 territories around the world.
The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the surround mixing techniques I have developed through this work and other projects, but the fader-moving part of live mixing for broadcast is often the easy part of the process, relatively speaking; the more involved part by far is the planning and preparation.
Carefully thought out mic placement, system and signal path design, and attention to mixer layout are essential prerequisites for any 21st-century live broadcast mix. Time permitting, there’s no substitute for sitting down with a pen and paper before a job and doing a bit of planning. What does the client want? What can I deliver, and does it match that? How much time will I get for troubleshooting?
If possible, time should always be set aside to carry out tests on the mics, checking, for example, that they’re all equally sensitive and adjusting input gains if they aren’t, and looking for crackles or other artifacts. Even physical tests are helpful, like shaking a windshield to make sure that a mic hasn’t fallen out of its mount.
It might sound old-fashioned, but sending test tones through the groups and paths of the system can often flush out problems. For example, if a side-chain has not been properly set up, you might find that your compressors aren’t working as expected. If you have a synchronization problem — and they still happen all the time with digital cameras and systems — a simple clapperboard test makes it immediately apparent. Ideally, all of this should be done before you can even think about mixing.