Andrew Stoakley is a television audio production mixer with 25 years of experience in remote mobile work, mixing a wide range of sports broadcasts (MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL, CFL, MLS, curling and many others) along the way. He’s currently the production show mixer for the Toronto Blue Jays broadcasts, and I recently had the opportunity to chat with him about his work as a broadcast mixer and the unique challenges of the job.
Michael Lawrence: Your job is broadcast audio, but a lot of what you’re doing is live. It’s still live sound at its core. What are some of the similarities and differences between mixing a band live on stage and doing a live broadcast mix?
Andrew Stoakley: I think the biggest thing is comms. I’m talking about RTS intercoms, not ClearCom, which are just two-way communications, party lines and so forth. But when you use an RTS matrix-based intercom, it adds an entire new level of expertise and knowledge that most live audio engineers haven’t been exposed to.
When you’re dealing with live bands, there might be four [comms] channels: stage, production, audio, and lights, for example. But on the shows that I do, for example the curling broadcasts for the national networks here in Canada, I’m using a 264-channel matrix intercom system. It’s all point to point, and I have 60 or 70 channels of comms. For me, adding that element is a big difference.
The mixing part is really the same: you’re pushing faders up and down to make things louder and softer, depending on what the band wants. In terms of mixing, that’s really all I’m doing for live sports – we call it following the puck – I’m chasing the on-field play that the director and producer are calling, and I’m just trying to capture that.
With TV sports, the biggest thing we hear complaints about is that people can’t hear the talent over the effects [microphones placed to capture the on-field sounds]. And that’s where I find that sometimes folks get a little too heavy handed with the effects mics, and you bury the voices of the announcers, and that’s what people tune in for. They want to hear the announcers talking about the game. I try to make sure that the announcers are clear and intelligible, so you can hear and understand what they’re talking about, but also you’re hearing all those awesome noises you’re hearing on the field of play.
ML: And I would draw a parallel there to the way that I approach a theatrical production or a music performance. Effects are great, and we all love our reverbs and delays and so on, but at the end of the day if you can’t hear the words, the show is just a waste of your time.
ML: So in that sense, I think the priorities are exactly the same. And I would think a difference with broadcast in general is that you’re wrangling a much larger number of inputs than we are. You mention following the puck – you must be able to get to a tremendous number of inputs very quickly. How do you handle that?
AS: Yeah, and not only inputs but outputs. I have probably double the number of outputs that I have inputs, because of the intercom and the TV router in the truck, and I’m sending stuff everywhere. The biggest thing with broadcast consoles is that you need a desk that has fader space that you can access right away. I can’t be searching through pages and pages of inputs to find what I need, because by then it’s already done.
My specialty is baseball – I’m the home show mixer for the Toronto Blue Jays in addition to doing about 40 to 50 of their road games every year. I also mix curling all winter long. With those types of mixes, I need to have the effects mics right in front of me. For curling, there are 30 RF microphones on top of 20 ice effects mics buried in the ice. So right there are 50 faders that I need to get access to, on top of the 14 talent mics that we have. I need to be able to access whatever mic I’m using right in that instant. If I have to go looking for it, I’ll miss it.
When I’m building the console, I tend to have all the effects mics within a foot, maybe a foot and a half, of where I’m sitting at the console. I’m still old school, and although we’re digital, I still come from an analog world and so I place all of the effects mics to the left side of the desk and all of the sources to the right side.
Because in the old days, as you know, there were mono faders to the left and stereo faders and groups to the right. So that’s how I learned, and that’s how I still build stuff, even though in the digital world I can put anything wherever I want. My mind is still wired to do it that way, and a lot of times it’s just muscle memory, right? If I’m mixing, and somebody comes into the room and there’s an issue, I still have to mix the show while I’m dealing with that. So I know by muscle memory where the effects mics are, and I can look at the video monitors and still mix the show while I’m putting fires out. If I changed that layout, I’d be lost.