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.