Calrec Craft Profile – Vaughan Rogers
Vaughan Rogers is a pivotal figure on live sports audio. He joined Sky in 1989 as a Sound Supervisor, and was Head of Audio within 12 months. Over the next 25 years he shaped the audio department at Sky, one of modern television’s most innovative broadcasters, helping to influence the way broadcasters present sound content to their customers.
As the sound department grew (at its peak it had nearly 60 full time sound engineers) Vaughan found he mixed less and managed more, developing strong relationships with key manufacturers who helped Sky to shape the future of broadcast audio. Arguably the most experienced broadcaster in the world when it comes to live mixing in 5.1, Sky launched their HD Sky Sports channel in 2006, setting a template for HD and 5.1 production for years to come, including the first live 5.1 HD sport transmissions.
Now Vaughan is working as a freelance sound mixer, and we were pleased to see him again at one of our free Apollo training sessions in London…and even more pleased that he agreed to talk to us for our latest Craft interview. Here he talks about his time at Sky, the practicalities of returning to mixing after so many years, and the importance for broadcasters to develop close technological relationships with manufacturers.
If you are looking for someone who helped create the sound of live 5.1 sports, you can contact him here: email@example.com
You were Head of Sound for many years at Sky, what did this job entail? Going from an operational background, what were your challenges making the transition to this managerial role?
I joined Sky about six weeks prior to their on air date, 5th February 1989, as a sound supervisor. In the early days the whole sound department was less than 10 people and I was promoted to Head of Sound about a year later. Initially I was part operational and part manager and my job was to develop the technical facilities, which in the early days were very basic! Luckily the expectations from our customers where nothing like as high as they are today, and my task was to develop the sound department and provide some operational guidelines to give some consistency to how we approached things.
The other big part of my job was purchasing equipment; this not only included big ticket items like new audio consoles and outboard gear, but lots of basics too. Every good soundman has his ‘tool kit’ of adapters, cables, etc., and we started with nothing!
In between I was still mixing programmes and preparing the weekly sound department schedules. We had no PCs or Internet in those days, it was just me, my typewriter and a bottle of correction fluid. Even then we all shared a great team spirit, and everybody in the sound department wanted to make this new station work and we did whatever it took to keep us on air.
I had no managerial experience and to be fair I don’t think I was a particularly good manager, I was just doing whatever it took to make it work. Now with 25 years of managerial experience under my belt I approach things in a very different way. It’s much more about developing the people and the team and empowering them to take responsibility, and it’s also about forward planning to avoid fire-fighting. That said, you would need a crystal ball to foresee all the pitfalls in our business…everyday provides new challenges, but that’s what makes the job so exciting!
How important is it to have a relationship with a manufacturer who is able to respond to a broadcaster’s needs? From a broadcaster’s point of view, how much equipment development should be driven by broadcaster requirements, and how much by the manufacturer?
I have to be honest and say that Sky’s relationship with Calrec did not happen on day one. When we went on air we had studios which had been fitted with Sony audio mixers, and although they provided us with a good mixing facility, they didn’t give us the flexibility we needed for some programmes. This was definitely true in the Sky News studio, and a decision was taken within weeks of going on air to replace the audio desk with a Neve 51 series console.
Our relationship with Calrec began a couple of years later, we were looking to re-equip some of the existing studios and equip new studio facilities. In the past we had installed consoles from a number of manufactures such as Amek, Sony and Neve, which are all good general purpose audio consoles, but none of them had anything which was a dedicated “broadcast” console. Calrec was a breath of fresh air, a company who build specialist broadcast mixers with staff who speak the same language, and understand the needs of broadcast sound mixers.
That meeting was around 20 years ago, and since then Sky has used Calrec consoles in all its major broadcast studios. I believe Sky’s close working relationship with Calrec over the years has been a benefit to both parties – we have helped Calrec develop its products by providing feedback on facilities we would like them to provide for us in the future, and they in turn have worked with us to develop products and make suggestions which we hadn’t considered. It has been a win-win situation.
When you approach an audio installation and you are specifying equipment, what are the things you are looking for? What are the primary considerations during this process?
With every new installation we are looking to provide everything we didn’t do last time, and try to future proof the installation with things we think we will need in the future. That said, there are a few basic things we always require from any manufacturers: equipment must be reliable, total redundancy is a must; we need expert support for the product 24/7; it must be intuitive for our sound mixers to use.
In more recent years Sky has championed an Eco-friendly approach to all its studio installations, and set some tough power consumption targets which manufacturers also need to meet.
How do you think the much-heralded interoperable future will affect broadcast infrastructures? What’s your view on the discussion regarding different transport protocols, and is it the panacea that we all think it will be?
Broadcasting has changed a lot in the 30 plus years I have been working as a sound mixer, and the ways which our customer’s view their content has also changed. No longer do we just push programmes out to people’s TV sets for them to watch when we schedule them and fewer families are sitting down together to watch TV together. Like most kids my children prefer to download content to their tablets or PC’s to watch when it suits them.
I think modern technology which allows broadcasters to deliver content on so many different platforms is fantastic, and Sky was very much a leader in that area. The one thing that saddens me slightly is that most kids growing up in today’s world of music downloads believe that’s how music should sound, compressed to death as an MP3 file. Let them listen to a CD and hear the true dynamics of the music as recorded.
You’ve recently moved back into mixing – given the technological developments with modern digital consoles, how are you finding it? Has it been a positive experience? Are the live TV environments different?
My years as Head of Sound at Sky were an exciting time. As a manager I was able to help shape the sound department and influence how we delivered audio to our customers, but with a department of nearly 60 full time sound engineers I didn’t really get much time to practice my art – in fact, I don’t think I mixed many programmes in the last 10 years.
When I left Sky in 2014 it was an opportunity to get back to my roots and do what I always loved doing, working on live TV programmes. It hasn’t been easy! I realised the last serious programme I mixed was on a Calrec S series analogue mixer and I was now confronted with the Apollo digital console, it was like going from flying a light aircraft to a jumbo jet. The theory is the same, but on a much bigger scale.
The flexibility of digital consoles has made the job easier in many ways, but the requirements from production have also increased immensely. The complexity of even some of the simplest sports outside broadcasts are now routinely made in 5.1, with ISO records of cameras, providing international feeds for other broadcasters, complex communications and dealing with the lipsync issues. These provide sound mixers with different challenges and that’s before we even start thinking about mixing the programme!
I have mixed a few programmes over the last couple of months, but I’m still on a steep learning curve with the Apollo consoles. There are a lot of guys who do it week in week out who are much better than me so I’m happy to leave it to them at the moment, 20 years as a manager sitting in front of a desk filling in forms means I have a lot of catching up to do!
Do you think that TV viewers’ audio expectations have increased over the last few years? If so, how much of that is down to Sky!
Sky has always pushed the boundaries and is always looking for new ways to give its customers a great viewing and listening experience.
We pioneered the way we delivered the audio effects on football matches, using more microphones to capture the “thud” of the ball kicks, more crowd effects to increase the excitement for the viewer, and then came 5.1. Sky was the first UK broadcaster to transmit multichannel audio to its customers which opened up a whole new world for them, allowing us to place the viewer in the crowd.
So where do we go in the future? There have been some major improvements in the way people view their pictures over the past 10 years with HD, 3D and now 4K, but none of these have really affected how we deliver audio to the customer. There have been some noises about whether we could do more in the way of multi-channel sound, perhaps 7.1, but I really don’t believe this is the way forward. In reality, only a relatively small amount of people currently take advantage of 5.1 multichannel sound.
There is some work going on with multichannel audio to give customers the ability to take more control of how they listen to the audio at home, allowing them to adjust the relative balance of the sound, and put things into different places in the sound stage, so if you want your commentary only in the left front speaker you can move it, for example, or even listen to commentary in another language.
Using the Internet to allow you to interact with others during sports events, for example, is also a possibility. Watch this space!09/02/15