What is in this article?:
- The planâ€™s the thing: Mixing surround sound for TV
- Sports vs. light entertainment
- Miking the crowd
- Using layers
Sports vs. light entertainment
Although rigging a stadium for a World Cup game and placing mics in a live audience for a light entertainment show might seem different tasks, they share many common aspects. In both situations, we create our coverage so that it’s 5.1/stereo-compatible, as far as possible; we have to ensure that downmixed stereo from our 5.1 mixes will still work for viewers on older stereo or even mono equipment.
Our approach is similar for both types of work: We use a SoundField DSF-2 surround mic mounted high above the crowd or audience to give us the basic ambience of the location in a phase-coherent, downmix-compatible form — we say it’s like the glue that holds the rest of the sound together — and then we supplement that with spot mics. In sports, the exact number varies by the type of game we’re covering. If we’re doing a particularly important match, we might decide to put an extra stereo pair of 416s at each end looking at the crowd from behind the goals, to better reflect how detailed we think the visual coverage is going to be. On “The X Factor,” we have more spot microphones so we can capture more close-up detail, like individual laughs.
There are plenty of other ways to achieve similar coverage. You can put four discrete mics in a stadium and get a 5.1 effect. A lot of people like that approach; you will certainly be able to hear different sources coming out of different speakers. But overall, we find that 5.1 with a strong element of coherence is a more pleasant thing to listen to. In evolutionary terms, we’re programmed to respond to sudden audio impulses from the rear because that’s a direction we can be attacked from more easily. That’s why films use the rear channels for sounds that are designed to scare or unsettle the viewer. When your audio features constant rear-channel sounds, it becomes uncomfortable to listen to after a while.
Also, in a domestic environment, people don’t listen near the middle of the speaker array, in the “sweet spot.” In a typical European living room, people tend to sit towards the rear channels; that’s where the sofa usually resides. So our view is that you don’t need to use the rear channels much; they should really be there to give you a sense of the space in which the event is happening.
Another common aspect is the audience or crowd. From a mixing perspective, the challenge is the huge dynamic range of a crowd. On a football pitch, you have to capture anything from a few shouts and the odd bit of gentle applause right up to 60,000 people screaming their heads off because someone’s just scored in the last minute of the match. The same is true in light entertainment, so you have to have a good compression strategy.