What is in this article?:
I now mix “The X Factor” on a Calrec Apollo. Before that, we needed so many simultaneous inputs, I used multiple consoles. Somewhere, there’s a picture of me working with five sub-desks. With more than a 1000 inputs, I had to find a way of laying everything out that covers all the unexpected things that can happen during a live show. It’s down to planning again.
I’ve evolved certain standard ways of organizing things over time. There’s a lot of layer capability in the console, up to 12, and A and B options in every layer. One of the first things I did was decide not to use any of the B layers, so I asked the manufacturer to write a software switch for me. I asked for locking as well, so that certain key presenter channels remained on certain faders irrespective of the active layer. I also asked for them to implement layer faders, where you put the outputs of everything on one layer through a single fader. If you’ve got a noisy mic on a layer somewhere and you need to take it out in a hurry, there’s no time to worry about how to access it. You need a single fader you can reach for. Layer 6 is always where the master faders are for the groups, and I have some emergency mics on hand on layer 4, for example, in case the radio mics break down, or I have to use cabled mics because the radio rack has died.
Compression and limiting is important on “The X Factor” because no one wants the large dynamic range of the audience on an in-your-face pop show like this. I use a tried-and-trusted external compressor/limiter across a group that I make up of all the individual audience mics, excluding the surround microphone. All of the spot mics are compressed separately, and then I add the surround microphone on top, and I ride the gain on the composite. Some fairly severe limiting goes on for the applause, and compression too, at a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio.
I use the desk’s built-in dynamics processing for control of the final 5.1 mix, but by that stage, the really unpredictable element, the audience, has been dealt with by the external compressor/limiter. A downmix is done automatically within the desk to stereo for live transmission. I also generate auxiliary feeds for the foldback desks and PA desks, which are separate, and a multichannel MADI stream of the week’s backing tracks and vocals for another team to remix and send to iTunes. Within a few minutes of the show’s end, the tracks can be sold online.
Plan for breakdowns
Be sure to plan redundant systems into your setup. Our SpotOn systems have never crashed on-air, but just in case, we mirror them so that when we trigger one, a second one is triggered in sync. We even have a third in reserve in case a mains bump takes out the two primaries. Other people might say that’s overkill; to me, it’s just job preservation. Similarly, with the microphones, we have lots of spares, and the presenters and judges have dedicated spares.
I don’t worry about mixing the show live any more. It’s live TV, so something can always go wrong, but I hope that we’ve done enough planning to get us out of most things that could go wrong.
—Robert Edwards is Sound Director at Video Sound Services Ltd, a UK-based broadcast sound and mixing consultancy providing services to international broadcasters including BSkyB & HBS. He has been the sound supervisor on ITV’s “The X Factor” since the show’s inception in 2004.