Mike Abbott, established A1 mixer and owner of All Ears Inc., has had an extensive career mixing audio for some of the most popular TV and high-profile awards shows. For more than 25 years, Abbott has worked with various Calrec consoles, but his current console of choice is the Apollo, which he’s using on the current season of The Voice.
Can you provide some background on any notable recent projects/shows you have worked on?
As I started listing my audio mixing & engineering projects in 2018, I realized that it has been a very busy year so far. I am thankful for the clients who have requested my services. The year 2017 ended and 2018 started with the Fox Times Square New Year’s Eve 2017 telecast, followed by the SAG ® (Screen Actor Guild) Awards, DirecTV Super Saturday Night Live with Jennifer Lopez in Minneapolis during the Super Bowl, 60th Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden and the Independent Film Spirit Awards during the first quarter of the year.
From April to July, I mixed the audio for the Streaming Media of the “March for our Lives” rally in Washington D.C. with a 150,000 people in attendance and millions more watching online, an NBC Project Musical Reality Pilot, Songland where the premise is like The Voice meets Shark Tank, The Voice lives and The Voice Season 14, the 10th Season of Shark Tank, The ESPY Awards, Sound Design for the MGM/CBS Project TKO, a Shawn Mendes Apple Music streamed concert and consulting for DirecTV on several 4K TV concerts.
From August through December, I worked on Stand Up 2 Cancer at Barker Hanger that aired Live on 70+ networks and broadcast streaming outlets and will start the tapings of blind auditions for the 15th season of The Voice. In October I started working on a new series, Pod Save America, that broadcasts live on HBO from four cities over four weeks, in November-December I will follow The Voice live season for 15 broadcasts and then onto 2019, which is shaping up to be another busy year!
How did you get into the industry?
I started straight out of high school in the 70’s building speaker cabinets for a sound company that provided sound reinforcement for touring rock bands, where I was taught how to build transformer isolated mic splitter systems, assemble hand-wound inductor coils for passive 2-way crossovers, learned how to identify frequencies using 3rd octave graphic equalizers, worked as the 3rd man on the sound crew tasked with stacking speakers, AC power distribution and loading the truck quickly and efficiently. The hands-on apprenticeship training led me to being offered the FOH and foldback mix positions for Rock, Pop, Jazz, Latin & Classical musical acts, which provided me the opportunity to travel and work around the world for 15+ years.
In 1982 I started mixing as FOH and stage foldback for various TV projects such as the 1984 Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies, Academy Awards and the GRAMMY Awards. In 1986, I was hired at the then fledgling Fox Network, the day after the premiere of the Late Show with Joan Rivers, as a staff mix engineer. In 1986, I moved over to CBS working as a staff audio mixer at their Television City facility for six years. Starting in 1994, I spent six years working at Paramount Studios on the syndicated entertainment news show Entertainment Tonight and Leeza talk show for NBC.
Working at the TV networks and production facilities provided me real world hands-on training and a broad understanding of broadcast audio workflows. During my tenure at CBS, I was assigned to mix talk shows, game shows, sitcoms, soap operas, variety specials, post production, promo production, sporting events, network news and ENG remotes. I was given the opportunity to work in these disciplines and it provided me with a diverse range of skill sets.
What is the audio set-up for the type of TV shows you do?
Talk shows and game show projects are usually staffed with a production A-1, two to three Floor A-2’s, a PA mixer and, if needed, a foldback stage mixer. These shows vary with their production schedules; a typical four-day production provides for an ESU (Equipment Set Up) of five hours and we are on-camera and rehearsing with musical talent or stand-ins after the meal on the first day. Then, there are eight to ten hours of rehearsals for the next two days with a VTR or live show on the fourth day.
For The Voice live shows, we have a production A-1, production audio track playback/recordist, broadcast music mixer, music mix recordist, four to six floor A-2’s, a FOH and foldback mixer, two foldback assists, a sound system tech and an RF coordinator monitoring the operation of 40 + RF Devices, 17 audio mixers and techs. During the Voice lives, which run six to seven weeks each Spring and Fall, our production schedule provides for three 10-12 hour days of rehearsal for the 15+ musical performances on our Monday-Tuesday broadcasts.
On show days, we have a technical cue to cue in the morning and a dress rehearsal in the afternoon. The amount of rehearsal time in the schedule the production company provides is an extra production value, which in turn produces the “Big Shiny-Floor Broadcast” The Voice is known for.
Tent-pole event productions, such as the Super Bowl, Academy Awards & GRAMMY Awards can be staffed with 40+ audio mixers and techs. At the GRAMMY Awards, there can be 60+ audio mixers and techs depending on how many artists bring in their own tour audio stage foldback systems. These techs can be deployed to 7-13 mix stations, three performance stages inside the venue and three broadcast mix platforms located outside of the venue.
The GRAMMY production schedule provides a pre-cable install day, where four A-2’s run the fiber and analog mults, one day of ESU that can include, with time allotted, a tech cue to cue set where all the scenic elements are pre-set, and spike marks are put on the stage. This gives the production an idea of where potential staging issues may arise, audio is onstage coordinating with the stage managers how to best deploy personnel and hardware. For the next three days, there are 10-12-hour days of rehearsals with 7-10 artists rehearsing each day. On the day of the broadcast, we may start with a rehearsal of an artist followed by a 3-4 hour dress rehearsal.
As the three days of rehearsals are done out of sequence, the dress rehearsal is the first time we see how the set changes will work. Inevitability there will be logistical issues that develop during the dress rehearsal; we have a saying bad dress, great show. After the dress rehearsal, inter-department post mortems are followed by a quick reset for top of show and the 3+ hour broadcast starts shortly thereafter.