For the past two decades, freelance A1 Mixer Andrew Stoakley has worked on many of the major sports and entertainment shows produced in Canada. With assignments ranging from MLB baseball to NHL hockey and curling (among others), Stoakley has come to rely on the flexibility and features of Calrec consoles to capture the various dynamics of each sport. In this Craft Interview with Calrec he talks about the importance of being flexible and how dynamic range really hits home in baseball.
Q: Can you provide some background on who you are and what you do?
A: For the past two decades, I have freelanced as an A2 and A1 Mixer and I work on many of the major sports and entertainment shows produced in Canada. As a freelancer for Dome Productions, my main roles include mixing Toronto Blue Jay’s baseball games, professional curling and NHL hockey games.
Q: How did you end up working in the broadcast audio industry?
A: I really just fell into it. I originally went to school for radio and quickly realized that I wasn’t going to make a decent living in the industry because I did not want to be on-air. At that point, I moved into the production space and began working for CBC in Toronto as an A2. I was there for seven years, but I didn’t get the opportunity to mix. So, I left and went to Canada’s Business News Network (BNN), where I spent six years learning the fine art of mixing. I started freelancing in 2007— working mostly for Dome Productions, which has a focus in sports broadcasts. Soon after, I received the opportunity to take over as production sound mixer for the Toronto Blue Jays (I happened to be in the right place at the right time).
Q: Tell us about some of the recent projects you have been involved in.
A: I recently worked on the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Canada’s national women’s curling championship, in Nova Scotia. When I’m mixing curling, I mix for almost nine to 10 hours straight. Every player wears a microphone, so there are 32 RF channels for me to work with, and that’s not including announcers, cameras, FOP or stadium mics, so it’s crucial that I don’t get hand fatigue. With Calrec, the ergonomics of the console are laid out very well, so I can spend hours mixing without my hands bearing the consequences. I can manipulate six faders with one hand opposed to other consoles where I can only manipulate three at a time.
Q: Over the span of your career, how has your work been impacted by the evolution of audio technologies?
A: Many years ago, consoles in mobile units were analog, so we were limited to how many channels of audio we could use. Nowadays, it’s really limited to DSP power. For example, in curling, not all the players wore mics because the console couldn’t handle that many inputs. Now, every player is wearing one – giving the viewer a perspective you never hear in other professional sports. With an increase in mics and channels, there is a lot more for me to be aware of when mixing sound. In hockey, I am more aggressive in my mixes because I want to hear the skates, the puck and the on-ice chatter. Curling really stands out for me because all the players are fully mic’d, so that’s 48 faders that I need to access – 28 RF microphones and another 20 effects mics buried in the rink – on top of the 14 talent mics that we have. If I have to go looking for mics on the console, I’ll miss the opportunity to get a critical moment on-air. The new software on the Apollo goes way above and beyond, but it doesn’t matter which Calrec console I’m using – when I sit down to an Artemis, Apollo or Alpha, I feel very comfortable.
Q: When did you first start using Calrec and why?
A: I was first introduced to Calrec in 2008 by Dome Productions, Calrec’s largest Canadian user.
Q: As a sound mixer in the sports space, what are some of the biggest audio challenges you face? How did you overcome them?
A: In sports broadcasting, it is crucial for sound mixers to find a balance between the announcer, sound effects and background noise – any broadcast mixer’s arch nemesis is the PA. Viewers tune in to hear the announcers talk about the sport, so I must make sure that they are clear and present in the mix. In this job, we are constantly mixing, always moving fingers and faders to achieve the perfect sound. That’s why I like baseball – there is so much dynamic range, and I love that. It makes for a much more dynamic mix. Calrec has a new automix feature that helps when one announcer is quieter than the others. I can use the automix to even-out the sound and some of the other features help me mix the most natural sound.
Q: What Calrec gear are you currently using and how does it improve your workflow?
A: I use Calrec’s Artemis and Apollo, along with the original Alpha, which I still love. Calrec’s new Apollo and Artemis consoles have considerable fader space and real-estate that allow sound mixers to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. The new Apollo software allows me to easily clear the console and label it the way that works best for me. These consoles were designed to help me do my job better. When other brands’ consoles launched digital boards, they felt unfamiliar, but Calrec’s new digital boards still make me feel comfortable when I’m using them.
Q: As a freelancer who uses the console provided on projects, how do Calrec’s consoles stand out from other consoles you have used when mixing sound?
One reason that Calrec stands out for me is because the company’s customer service is top-notch. If I ever have any questions, both the Dave’s [Letson and Lewty] are always available. Studio Consultants, in New York, has a wealth of knowledge, and I am forever grateful for their help. The overall use of the console, paired with the clear sound and the user interface, makes Calrec my favorite system to work with.
As I like to say in sports, the first pitch doesn’t wait for us. We’ve got only ‘X’ amount of time to get the show up and running. If something goes wrong and you have to scramble for answers, it can get really stressful, very quickly. The Calrec consoles do everything possible to alleviate that stress. Calrec’s consoles allow me to do my job most efficiently because I’m not searching through menus – everything I need is right there.