Calrec Craft Profile – Fred Aldous
Fred Aldous is regarded as one of the best sports mixers in the business, and he's probably one of the busiest.
In a well-established career as a broadcast sound mixer he has won 22 Sports Emmys in several categories, including Best Live Sound, Special Achievement and Technical Team Remotes. When he's not doing that, he’s in demand as a broadcast design audio consultant, both for broadcasters and for hardware manufacturers and technology companies.
He’s worked for all of the major television networks on a bunch of top sporting events including the Olympics, World Series, NCAA National Basketball championships, Daytona 500s and many more. Fred has been a consultant to FOX Sports since 1998. Not only has the majority of his work with FOX has been to shape and develop the sound of big sports events like the Super Bowl and The Daytona 500 (NASCAR), but to mix them as well.
Despite this level of success he still finds time for more philanthropic activities, working with The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) to create a broadcast curriculum which helps ensure young engineers and mixers receive proper training.
In short, not only is he one of the most experienced sports mixers in the business, but he’s a thoroughly decent guy. It's amazing that he has found the time to talk to Calrec, and as always, we are grateful that he has.
It's been said that mixing live sports in the USA can be challenging at the best of times, but the Super Bowl is the king of them all. What sets the Superbowl apart?
With the popularity of the NFL, the stakes for the broadcast partners are very high and demanding, given the rights fees and number of viewers. One of the differences from an average NFL weekend and the Super Bowl is that in any given week there are several NFL games to choose from. The Superbowl is the final game of a long season with a world-wide audience.
FOX Sports' Super Bowl broadcast on February 2, 2014 in New York drew 112.3 million viewers - not many people can say they have 112.3 million customers at one time instantaneously. Not only is the viewership enormous but the financial stakes for the networks are staggering as well. Just look at the cost of a commercial break.
Each network adds additional equipment to help capture the Super Bowl , so from a technical aspect we have resources available that we don’t have during the regular season. One challenge is how do we integrate the added equipment into the biggest show of the year without compromising what we have been doing all season.
There have been a number of big changes to broadcast audio over the last ten years: 5.1, HD, second screens, Loudness. Object based audio is on the horizon…What has been the single biggest change to your working environment over this time?
I don’t think you can narrow it down to a single event. From an audio perspective it was moving from stereo to 5.1. Not only did we need to learn how to mix in 5.1, but we also had to identify the compromise between a 5.1 mix and a stereo downmix that was being derived from the 5.1 mix. At FOX Sports we only deliver 5.1 to the affiliates, they do a downmix for their SD feeds and downmix themselves.
Most of our challenges come from the downmix the consumer's TV set produces. If the simulated surround sound feature is activated, it really destroys the downmix. We no longer have control over it.
With the C.A.L.M. act now federal law, we are mixing at different levels than we once did. Learning and understanding the ballistics and differences between audio level formats is still a mystery to most. ATSC A/85 Recommended Practice is what we are being held to today.
NASCAR is unlike any other motor sport - the speed, the intensity, the peril, that track! How do you deliver that atmosphere using sound? How has it developed over the years?
When FOX first acquired the rights to broadcast NASCAR in 2001, chairman Hill metaphorically gave me a blank piece of paper and said make it sound like it never has before. I really don’t know of another network where the chairman is such an advocate of audio.
Before FOX broadcast its first NASCAR race, I created a microphone tree with a variety of mics. I went to the Bristol race and the California race in Fontana California. I recorded all of the mics to a multitrack recorder by placing the mic tree around the track in various locations. I then went back and listened to what mic sounded best at each location and picked my mic selection from there.
One of our challenges is how we give the viewer the sense of speed at home. Watching NASCAR visually the car usually enters the screen upper left and leaves lower right, so we had the sound of the cars come at you from the front left and exit rear right; it brought the car through the viewers living room.
Chairman Hill was so impressed he created a segment called “crank it up” where we take a few laps without announcers. We were the first network to do this. Networks pay the announcers a lot of money to talk, and such an initiative was - and still is - unprecedented.
What will new surround formats like Atmos and Auro enable you to offer viewers that will enhance the Super Bowl and NASCAR listening experiences even further? Are these formats appropriate for home broadcast?
I think object-oriented audio will have a place in the home market delivery, although at this time I am just not quite sure how. For the most part we are so limited on set-up time that I think we will have to come up with a streamlined way to execute this. It may need to be done as a second feed until we can figure out a way to easily incorporate it into our normal set-up.
You are very well known for big-ticket live sports events – what, if anything, encouraged you to specialize in this area?
Luck, being in the right place at the right time, and a lot of hard work. I think most of us want to be the best at what we do.
I met my mentor Bob Seiderman when I first started freelancing for CBS in the mid 80’s and I dug the rush of network shows, knowing that millions of people are hearing your work vs. thousands for local shows. I was fortunate Bob took me under his wing and helped to get me where I am. I was hooked.
What I have found over the years, aside from the added pressure of performing, is they tend to be easier than a local show or a smaller network show, I get the resources (time and labor) as well as the equipment that I need to do a large show. Set up and managing the show are the most difficult parts of a large show, mixing is the lay down.
What is the most satisfying thing about using Calrec products to take on these challenging jobs? Are there any features you find especially useful?
For me Calrec has one of the most straightforward signal flows in the digital world. I felt their first generation of digital consoles more closely resembled their Q2 analog console than other digital consoles and their predecessors. It made the transition from analog to digital much easier. Now that we have had years to get used to the digital workflow, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I really like the TFT meter display of Calrec consoles, especially the newer models (Apollo, Artemis), the amount of information that is available to the mixer is astounding. I don’t know of another console that gives a mixer the flexibility of layout and the choices of what is available to meter.
You work very hard to encourage younger people to get into broadcast audio. Can you tell us a little about this and why you do it?
I was fortunate that someone gave me a chance and made an investment in me; I feel a strong need to give back. Everyone in their careers has had someone help them at some point by giving them a chance, and as we get older and more established in our careers I feel we need to “pay it forward” if you will. Most of the high-end network mixers like myself are not going to be doing this a lot longer; we need to educate the next generation of mixers.
I feel so strongly about education that I sought out The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) and worked with them to create a broadcast curriculum at their already world-class audio school. It took some persistence to convince administrator Kirt Hamm and digital manager Robert Brock to sign on. We have created a control room (with video) and a 42’ mobile unit for our teaching purposes and they have similar control rooms that we teach out of.
After years of promoting educational needs, I think the networks are finally starting to realize the importance of educating technicians in their field of focus. Early on in my career we had the time on site to learn set-ups and equipment. Unfortunately with budgets the way they are now there is no time on-site to teach or to learn.26/03/15