I think everyone in our group was happy with our roles – including me. I ended up dealing with Studio and Gallery sound and VT production.
Studio and Gallery sound
When first introduced to the old mixing desk in the TV studio, I was surprised it didn’t have a Preview option. I’d worked with similar desks before, and they had a button for each channel that would be used as a preview just in the control room, without sending signal to the main mix. So during Easter break, when I found myself with a bit more time in Ellen Terry, I asked Paul Adkins to walk me through the mixing desk and explain how I could use a preview option. I wasn’t yet sure if we’d need it in our workflow – but it is a good thing to know anyway. He showed me how I can set up the desk so I have a similar result and even feed it to one of the monitor speakers, plus a couple of other things around the studio.
It later turned out this knowledge wouldn’t be used – not only because we didn’t end up needing previews (my idea was to be able to hear the presenters while their microphones are muted), but because the mixing desk was replaced after Easter. It was a big shock for all the groups, and I was of course also annoyed from that. The biggest problem was it’s a different type of audio mixer – its whole logic of working is different. It also had a confusing switch between main mix and control room preview – which made listening to the programme and monitoring sound levels quite hard. The VT deck was also connected in a strange way, not allowing for proper sound control. And, it wasn’t very clear how one would go about monitoring sound levels – the LED indicators didn’t seem to work properly (I thought).
Getting to grips with all the equipment
It was a huge relief a few days later when we asked Paul for help on something else, and he spent a couple of minutes walking me through the audio mixer. It turned out I had been doing a lot of things wrong – so it wasn’t a surprise the rehearsal that we had recorded had distorted sound levels for the VTs. He showed me that the SOLO buttons weren’t working the way I thought – soloing individual channels if more than one are active. They were just a way to check sound levels individually on the LED indicators. He also showed me how to set up the desk so that the sound levels are shown on the LED indicators, and that the same sound that is fed onto the main mix is also the one that goes to the preview speakers.
Another very cool and important ‘hack’ I learned was that if you connect only the left channel of a two-channel source, it forces its signal to mono. It was very useful – because I prefer to have proper mono rather than having two uncontrollable left and right channels that we don’t really need – at this stage it’s enough for us to have any sound, and it’s too much to ask for stereo effects on a live TV programme.
Setting up the sound mixer
So equipped with all this new useful knowledge, I made sure I set up the audio desk as simple and straightforward as possible – for easy operation.
This is the scheme I made as a guideline so I don’t start from scratch every time we had a run-through:
The first scheme shows how I should set up the right part of the mixer so I get the same levels on the monitor speakers as the main mix. I also put an indicator where I should set up the main mix levels – it varies slightly, but it’s a good guideline.
The second scheme shows how the microphones are set up, what there is on each channel and again, guideline levels setup. It proved extremely helpful – definitely something I’d do in another production.
In order to make sure I was dealing with the same levels for each source, wherever I was able to, I set up the initial gain to the maximum – that allowed me to only work with the mixer faders and to make consistent and predictable changes.
The sources I had included the VT deck, music bed from a CD player, and the studio microphones.
Since there was action in three different spots in the studio (left, centre and right), I decided to work with three microphones and position them close to these three hotspots. This proved helpful both for having decent sound levels and also for keeping the microphones out of the way of the cameras. I set the left microphone in channel 2, the centre one in channel 3 and the right one in channel 4. This way, when watching the programme on a monitor in the gallery, I had the same left to right setup on the audio mixer and I could control the levels in an easy and logical way.
What I did was to have all the three microphones set up to a low but usable level (also in case one of them had a fault, I had good sound from another one). I would then set the microphone that was closest to where the action was currently happening to a higher level to clearly hear the presenters. This helped to have consistent sound throughout the whole show, and also allowed for quick reaction if the presenters were moving or the sound levels were changing.
Since I got to deal with the VTs, the first thing I did was to make sure they all had pretty much the same sound level. I knew they would come out on the same deck and it was more practical to have consistent levels throughout the whole programme. Another thing I did was to reedit some of the UGC clips – cutting out the beginnings and endings where needed, and more importantly – I reedited the Funny faces VT so it had a better rhythm along with the music, and a stronger ending – so that when cutting back to the studio, it made more sense for the presenter to make a silly face.
Also, I made sure I cut the VTs to 30 seconds each – so it’s easier to work with them in the script and running order, and to make the PA’s job easier. I also added 10-second countdown clips between them – so that if we mess up the times, what the viewers see is not a spoiler for the next VT, but just a generic image – plus, it helped the VT operator know how much to rewind the tape. In the final run-through, we had two occasions where the countdown was on screen – so I think it was good I did this. However, next time I have to deal with VTs, I would instead have a branded countdown – with the logo of the programme for example. I think it makes more sense to see the show’s logo than a black and white countdown clip.