In this Craft interview, we meet Sean Prickett – a “young gun” audio mixer that’s making a real name for himself on some of TV’s most high-profile live and audition shows. Currently, Sean is A1 for the live-broadcast finals of the FOX reality-TV dance competition “So You Think You Can Dance” (SYTYCD), and he just wrapped up the nationwide tour for the show’s auditions-and-callbacks phase. Other impressive A1 credits include the 2017 U.S. Presidential Inaugural Balls, SYFY Channel’s “Live From Comic-Con,” and MTV’s “Wonderland” and “VMA Weekend,” and he’s now working on the new season of “American Idol.”
In 2015, Sean founded Drop Shop Audio to fill a niche for specialized broadcast audio rentals, engineering services, and control-room buildouts, with a focus on traveling productions like SYTYCD and other specialized projects. We talked to him about his career, his company, and Calrec’s role in his current projects.
How did you find yourself in the audio engineering business and who were your influences?
I’ve been interested in music and audio since I was very young. Right out of high school, my focus was more on music and touring, and I was able to get on with Clair Global as base-level system tech and then eventually moved out of touring and into their broadcast division as a broadcast audio engineer. After about five years with Clair, I transitioned into full-time television audio and started freelancing, and I haven’t looked back.
Along the way, I’ve been very fortunate to be helped along by some very key players in the business, including well-established mixers like Mike Abbott. It didn’t hurt that I came up in the Los Angeles area, where there’s been a shortage of qualified audio engineers for a while now. Even today there are more shows than there are qualified mixers.
What led you to found Drop Ship Audio?
After I’d begun to acquire a couple of key pieces of gear, like the Calrec Summa, I saw a need for a boutique, specialized audio provider. There are plenty of companies that support the large truck market but not many that offer audio control room build-outs and flypacks beyond the truck realm. And that’s just the type of solutions that shows like SYTCYD and “American Idol” need for their touring audition segments.
The growth of streaming video was another big factor. These productions have a growing need to produce video content for distribution beyond the traditional avenues, such as online streaming services; in other words, content that’s not produced by the trucks. It’s another niche I wanted to fill with Drop Ship Audio.
Tell us more about your workflows for “So You Think You Can Dance.”
First, I was audio engineer for the road segment, which lasted multiple weeks and consisted of audition shows in New York and Los Angeles as well as the “Academy Week” for the callbacks in Las Vegas. I traveled to each location with the audio flypack I’d created using the Summa.
With its smaller footprint, the Summa is an ideal solution for the flypack. It gives me the big-broadcast capabilities of the Apollo, but in a package that’s easy to pack into a road case. Also, thanks to the Hydra2 network, the Summa is really scalable – it’s easy to connect it to other Calrec consoles, and adding I/O is as simple as renting an extra box and plugging it in. That’s a huge benefit from both a usability and rental standpoint.
With the first broadcast on August 7, we entered the live finals phase of the show and the production moved to CBS Television City in Los Angeles. Every Monday night, I mixed the two-hour live show on an Apollo in the studio, which utilizes the Calrec Hydra2 network for stage connectivity and distributed I/O.
Going back to the Apollo at CBS must feel a bit like going back to your roots with Calrec. How did you get started on the Apollo originally, and what lead you to purchase the Summa?
There is certainly a great comfort factor in going back to the Summa. The first time I used an Apollo was several years ago, when I first transitioned to becoming an A1. One of the first truck shows I did was in NEP Denali’s California truck, which has an Apollo in it, and I remember being amazed at the sheer horsepower of the desk. Since then, I’ve done a lot of work on Apollos, a given since they are the standard consoles on many of the NEP fleet. Last January, I mixed the coverage of the U.S. presidential balls on an Apollo aboard Denali California, and I’ve done multiple studio-based shows at CBS TV City using the desk.
The Apollo has really become my console of choice for mixing live shows, so when I decided to put together the flypack offering for Drop Ship Audio, the Summa made sense. With the Summa, I’m able to offer my clients the same reliability and power as Calrec’s larger consoles. The touch-screen user interface lets me access more advanced functionality a lot easier than I could on other desks of the Summa’s size. For SYTYCD, Calrec delivered and commissioned the desk right before we did the first show. For me to be able to just sit down at the Summa and build a show, having never mixed on it before, speaks volumes about the usability across the Calrec line.
And also, as I mentioned earlier, the Hydra 2 network – the same Hydra technology used in the Apollo – gives the Summa tremendous routing flexibility. Since Calrec uses the same I/O across all of its consoles, I’m not limited to field boxes made only for the Summa, and I’m never limited by the desk or the amount of I/O. I’m never left thinking “I wish I could do that” – I can do almost anything I want to on a Calrec desk.
Where do you see the audio industry headed? What are the biggest trends?
Audio over IP networks is making huge inroads in entertainment broadcasting, and emerging formats – like Dante for audio booth and communications interconnections and AES67 – are really re-shaping the way we do things. There’s also a continued movement away from copper and towards all-fiber backbones, which means we can locate production further away from the venue without affecting signal quality or limiting our capabilities.
One of the things I love about Calrec is that it’s really trend- and future-proof. Calrec has done such a good job of evolving feature sets and functionality through software upgrades, which means that as new formats emerge, my investment is protected. When you have a desk configured the way you want it and you get used to the layout, you don’t want to have to go out and buy a new one. You can stay with the form factor you know, but also keep pace with the latest technologies and add new user functions just by upgrading the software.
Anything else you want to say about your partnership with Calrec?
As a small rental house, it’s great to be able to offer my customers a Calrec. It’s not just the prestige behind the name; since Calrec desks are in the majority of OB trucks across the U.S., most of our rental customers know how to use them. Calrec has done a great job of making sure the user interface and operation are the same across all its consoles, so it’s easy for any engineer to jump on a Summa or Apollo and go.
Also, I want to give a shout-out to my Calrec West Coast support rep, Patrick Schneider. He’s really given me an unheard-of level of support. Here’s an example – I ran into a problem in the middle of doing a show once. Even though the issue turned out not to be Calrec-related, he was willing to show up with a spare and swap it out for me. There really aren’t too many vendors that are willing to go that extra mile.