Tuesday, 25 November 2014

AMP involved in new partnership with BBC Introducing

On Wednesday December 3rd, guests from BBC Introducing will be on-site to launch a new partnership with the department of Production. The partnership will see AMP students capture and post-produce sound which will ultimately be promoted via the BBC Introducing YouTube site.

When asked about how the partnership with the BBC came about, Steve Partridge (head of department for Production) said: 

"We have been filming live music performances for a few years now and have gained a reputation for doing this pretty well. Colleagues from the BBC noted this during a visit a year or so ago and as a result agreed to my proposal that we might partner with them to support their remit from government to promote new music"

Steve continued,  
"The music [captured during multi-camera shoots] will be broadcast via BBC 3 Counties on the Saturday, and the video output will be promoted via the BBC Introducing YouTube site. 
This is increasingly a collaborative project that will engage all three course areas within the Department. The multi-camera crews comprise Film & TV Production students, the audio crews who manage live sound and post-production/mixing are Audio & Music Production students. And the aspiration for when we have installed our new Vizrt VR solution (likely to happen around Christmas), which is of great interest to our partners at the BBC, is that we will soon be able to offer the option of filming a band in a full VR set that has been created by animation students as a full 3D render that will then run in real time via the green screen studio facility."

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Trip to The X Factor

On Thursday the 13th of November, a group of third year students (myself included) took a trip to Fountain Studios in Wembley, to the set of The X Factor. Dan Peters, our live sound lecturer had managed to organize the visit as he had previously toured with sound engineer Ben Milton, and now Ben mixes monitors for the show.

First of all we were taken for a tour of the TV studio. As we walked around, we were given an explanation of how everything works, the procedures that are followed and the equipment that is used for such a massive show. As you can imagine, the equipment used is of the highest caliber and is very impressive. One thing about the studio its self that stood out was how small it looked in person compared to on TV.

Mixing monitors for the show came across a mammoth task as it’s not a case of just sending sound to stage. Traditionally a monitor engineer would be in charge of the foldback, making sure the band can hear each other/what they want to hear to enable them to pull off the gig at an optimum level. A lot of the time this can involve a fair amount of diplomacy which has it’s own problems. The X Factor is broadcast live (roughly 9 million viewers a week) so the monitor engineer has additional tasks to do. As well as providing the foldback for the different contestants/backing bands, the job also includes making sure everybody can hear each other, e.g. the contestants can hear the judges and visa versa, the producers of the show can be heard by basically everyone and as well as the performers, dealing with the presenters, to name a few.


For monitoring purposes, the show uses a mix of 14 stereo in ear monitor mixes and a large number of monitors on stage.  The main console for mixing monitors is the DIGICo SD7, however they also use a small SD8 for guest bands that come in to play on the show e.g. One Direction, this means that an external engineer won’t interfere with how the show is mixed. The smaller SD8 is also used to mix The Xtra Factor straight after.

We were also taken up to the gallery to see what is used to mix the sound for broadcast. This is where we met Robert Edwards, the sound supervisor for the show. This means he is in charge of what is heard on TV. He explained to us a little about his role. The backing tracks are received on the Friday morning and are mixed on an in0house protools rig. They are then bounced to stems for the live engineers to mix for the contestants. The desk used for mixing to broadcast is a Calrec Apollo Console that can handle 1000+ inputs and Robert splits the desk into different layers to suit the layout of the show.


All in all it was a really good trip that gave an interesting insight into real world live sound and broadcast sound. It was particularly positive to hear that Ben went to University and did a degree in an area of sound before he began working in the live sound industry, with a variety of jobs. This experience will also be useful with what we do at University as even more comparisons can be made to what we learn and what we do as this runs parallel with industry practices.  

Friday, 7 November 2014

Release The Bats - Live Music Recording

People say sound isn’t something you just hear, it’s something you feel. I certainly felt the sound, blasting out at around 110 dB for an assigned OB task; a video recorded live session of the band “Release the Bats”. Sounds simple, right? Jam a couple of microphones into an amplifier, throw a microphone at the singer and whatever microphone shaped objects are left get carelessly positioned around the drums. “Give it a raw feeling”. It doesn’t work like that, especially when you’re being assessed, and want to get the best sound opposed to doing the mother of all botch jobs. Before the actual day, preparations were made between myself and my peers, technical riders and stage plots were designed (on behalf of the band whom made communication a difficult process) and contingencies were prepared in the event of problems. The first problem we came across was the concept of an OB. In other words, we were being assessed on something we’d never done, and hadn’t used the equipment (a nice shiny Midas Pro2 digital desk) in over half a year.

Needless to say, I was worried about complete catastrophic failure on our part. When the ball got rolling, and we started setting up, nerves were eased. That was, until we encountered a problem with sending a direct link from the desk, upstairs to the recording studios. Using even more technology, known as Focusrite RedNet, we attempted to send all the audio directly to the studios without processing it on the desk. It’s another thing that we’ve never done before, and encountered a problem almost instantaneously, no sound. This is bad, but we quickly found the missing link that was causing the whole issue, a good old trusty router. Who would have thought of it? Certainly not us, that’s for sure.

This is all before the band has arrived, in typical punk fashion, they arrived little over an hour late, and this is where the show began, things started to become real, and everyone had to put their professionally first. Lines had been checked, and it was all about getting the best damned sound with the given environment, until we realised that the monitors weren’t plugged in. It was a bit funny that the band weren’t getting any vocals through their monitors. Without further ado, they were plugged in, line checked, and appropriate monitor feeds were sent as requested. Simples.

Not only did we have to record the sound for the OB, sending a premix to the PT Recorder (which records all the sound and the video together), we had 48 hours to do a studio rough mix, with a 48 hour turnaround. Mixing the drums wasn’t so much of a problem, sampling the drums to compliment the recorded drums assisted the mix, it’s the vocals that caused the greatest issue. Tune? Dynamic control? Vocal technique? It’s like he not only ignored the conventional singing technique, but done the exact opposite. Performance value was great, but recording quality was a difficult thing to work with in the studio. There was no amount of compression that could save the vocals, so the dynamics had to be ridden manually to ensure equal levels overall. That at least stopped it poking in and out of the mix, the tune and melody was the second and bigger problem. Autotune was out of the question, using Melodyne, a pitch correction to gently shape the vocalist’s tune was also impossible (due to bleed and sharing microphones), so what do you do when you can’t make it sound better? A lightbulb moment, make it sound worse. Adding grit and distortion to the vocals made the tune somewhat irrelevant, as a matter of fact the imperfect tune complimented a rawer mix.

Overall, the entire production was challenging, but successful. It’s taught us all how to work together, collaborate with video students, liase (or attempt to liase) with bands, and informed us how important getting a decent sound right off the bat (haha, get it? Release the Bats? Okay, I’ll stop). There was certainly room for improvement, but it wasn’t a failure either. I’d quite happily do an OB under similar circumstances, with the newfound knowledge of the technical understanding within Outside Broadcasts, and from which, can only improve the end result and product.