Battling that bothersome broadcast mix

Live sound and recording engineer Phil Gornell explains why proper planning, research and preparation is the ideal solution to what has become a common dilemma for his fellow touring professionals.

Perhaps I am isolating some of you guys out there, but in the immortal words of Robert Baden-Powell (scout extraordinaire) it’s better to “be prepared”.

Festival season drifted by as quickly as it arrived this year – the same muddy fields, the same stingy catering, the same portaloo every day for 60 days, and for FOH engineers, the same problem: the broadcast mix.

Doing what we do, we are entrusted by our artists to deliver their musical vision to the masses on a daily basis, but what happens when the masses come via a camera lens? TV broadcast mixes are almost a daily guarantee during the festival runs, and usually they are of a much larger scale than the crowd stood at the concert. And I don’t know about you guys, but I feel torn. Do I offer my services in the truck to deliver the mix I know my band want, or do I stick at FOH?

Option 1: Do both

This is an option many engineers take, feeding an L-R mix to the broadcast truck. All your rides will be there, all the effects will be appropriate, and most importantly, you can mute the drunkest musician onstage. But beware; very rarely do the FOH mixes translate well to broadcast. 

Let’s paint a scenario – you go with Option 1. In all the commotion of your 20-minute changeover (if you’re lucky) you load your file and start line check; you get to open the PA for a whole three seconds to hear your kick drum in the tent. It’s too bright. You start to pull out that 4k that’s hurting your face, and follow suit with your line check with a muted PA. 

Bearing in mind that you have some aggressive highs in the PA, you take a little cut out of the attack of the snare, perhaps lo-pass your bass channels to clean up the hi’s; maybe take a 2.5k notch out of your guitar bus to control the hi-mid distortion. 

Your band walk onstage, you open the PA and they kick in. Hallelujah! It sounds sick! All the worries you had about the aggressive hi end of the PA have gone. But your broadcast mix is swimming 20ft under; a muddy unintelligible mess is currently being streamed live on television worldwide, because you sucked all the life out of your channels!

Option 2: Get your ass in the truck!

Consider that 30,000 people are in attendance to watch your artist play the main stage at Reading Festival, that same performance is broadcast online and via TV sets to hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps your job is to be in the truck, but if you’re not doing the broadcast mix yourself, politely introduce yourself to the engineer and assist with any suggestions and mix moves. These guys work tirelessly around the clock, and might appreciate the break! But be courteous and polite – you’re in someone else’s home.

Option 3: Forget about it

Your job is to mix FOH, so quit the strife and do just that. Rock the house and don’t worry about the broadcast.

Secret Option 4: Make a cue sheet

Voila. A cheat sheet! This is a simple answer that combines all of the above options and is, in my opinion, the best solution; a clearly labelled set list, with fader moves, effect suggestions and set notes. This allows you to keep your influence and signature in the mix, doesn’t require invading someone else’s domain and best of all, allows you to relax and get on with your FOH mix.

A little bit of research and preparation before each broadcast will make everyone’s life easier, and ultimately, make the mixes better in every domain.

Phil Gornell is a touring mix engineer for All Time Low, Bring Me The Horizon and New Found Glory, and an engineer at Steel City Studio in Sheffield.