by René Coronado
During the playoffs, its common to get a television tease package to promote the start of every game broadcast. In this post, I’m going to break down a typical import, design and mix process for a tease that aired on Fox Sports during the Stars 2019 playoff run.
Audio mixing is so much more than just trimming handles and setting levels, and I hope to show here the amount of detail that goes into each of the projects that comes our way.
The first thing that has to happen is that the editor sends me an AAF and a reference quicktime via our mediashuttle portal. Media shuttle is great because not only is it encrypted and bandwidth accelerated, its also not cloud-based, which means that the files get delivered directly to our servers, allowing us to start work on this side without having to download anything.
Once files arrive, I track import the AAF into my protools template. The Fox Sports editors are very good about labeling and organizing tracks that they transfer out to me, so dropping things into the proper places in the template is very straightforward.
With tracks are place, the first thing I handle is all of the dialogue. In the spot I’m illustrating here there are only play by play calls in the edit, but its also common for there to be VO, sit down interviews, nats and other elements that are each treated similarly.
Voice processing is a delicate art. I’m working hard to make every syllable clean and intelligible while at the same time not doing anything that will call attention to itself. My general process is to first treat every clip inside of izotope RX. RX shows me the spectrogram of the voice and allows me to edit out any errant sounds and noises, and then automate my processing of P-pops, low cuts to get rid of rumble, and baseline level setting.
This initial processing actually does very little to sources that are recorded well, and can sometimes dramatically improve audio with real noise or distortion problems.
Once the first pass of cleanup is done its time for the volume ride, eq and dynamics. I’ll typically ride the volume of the voice pretty tight, then put compression on top of that, then any other de essing eq cleanup that needs to be done on the tail end of that.
The end result is a super clean sounding voice track thats tight enough to anchor the rest of the mix.
With the voice tracks prepared, I now have an clear guide against which to ride the music and place the sound design.
Occasionally the music will need editorial or EQ help. Most Avid and Premiere editors can only go to frame level accuracy on the edit, which can cause some cuts to drift slightly off beat. I always solo out the music and clean up any missed or slightly off edits and dissolves while retaining the integrity of the timing that the picture was cut to. I’ll then use EQ (if needed) to shape out the music against the voice and get it ready for this context.
With the music in shape, its time to ride the fader. Music rides can be pretty aggressive, but they’re never really done with a mouse or by eye. I always make sure my speaker level is up at a calibrated loudness, grab the fader, and look up at the screen when riding music. Sometimes I’ll even stand so that I can get enough throw on the fader! Once a first pass is done I’ll often go back and tweak some of the more important moves even further – popping out drum hits the picture is cut to or otherwise filling up little spaces where the music needs to run the specific moment while staying with my loudness spec.
With music and voice in place, its time to move on to sound design.
For sports stuff I have a massive library of crowds, announcements, horns and everything else that I’ve spent the last two decades recording, editing and labeling. In addition, I have designed a huge array of whooshes, impacts and other transitions that get heavy use in these types of promos.
Because I was generally the one who recorded and tagged these elements, I know exactly how to find them within our much broader sfx database.
Every sound moment is different, these effects often get additional processing in the context of the tease, both for mixing and stylistic/storytelling reasons.
I treat sound design like ingredient based cooking – only using clips that I’m happy actually bringing up and hearing. This means that the curation and editorial process as easily as important as the actual recording and mixing.
With sound editorial in place, its time to do one final pass on the mix where I spend my time listening for additional spots I can add impact or excitement, confirming clarity of the voices, and making sure I’m within my loudness spec.
Here’s the sfx stem isolated on its own. Note not only the designed stuff, but the crowd elements that are from the event itself.
The final step is to render, label and archive the entire project for delivery. Labelling and archival is incredibly important both for continuity and for making revisions and reconforms fast and efficient.
This particular tease took about 90 minutes from front to back, and was turned around on the actual date that it aired, which is not uncommon.
Here’s the final render – I hope you enjoy!