Live mixing on the road for Coldplay’s “Music of the Spheres”

GRAMMY® Award-winning Record Producer and Mix Engineer Rik Simpson has produced thousands of successful records for well-known artists, including Jay-Z, Portishead, PJ Harvey and Coldplay. When tasked with mixing Coldplay’s live Buenos Aires performance in 5.1 surround for their “Music of the Spheres: Live from Buenos Aires” film, Simpson, a longtime NUGEN Audio user, turned to the brand’s Halo Upmix, Halo Downmix and Halo Vision solutions. He also called on several plug-ins from NUGEN’s Producer bundle.

With live musical performances making a resurgence last year, Coldplay not only hit the stage, but they decided to take things a step further. The group presented its “Music of the Spheres” tour to the big screen, broadcasting its performance in Buenos Aires live to cinemas in 96 countries. The live broadcast was mixed on-site by Simpson alongside industry veteran Toby Allington and his team. Simpson was later entrusted with remixing the recording to 5.1 surround for subsequent global runs in theaters, which he worked on at his own studio.

“It was a stressful task, but we managed to get a handle on it and the end result was amazing,” he says. “Quite often, a live mix is a bit rough around the edges; the energy’s good but there isn’t as much attention to detail as one would like. I’m glad I had the opportunity to remix and delve deeper into what makes the songs tick.”

Despite the challenges of the event mix, Simpson took the multitrack recording of the live performance and turned it into a cinematic masterpiece using the NUGEN SEQ-S and Stereoizer plug-ins from the Producer bundle. “NUGEN’s interfaces are very easy to understand and they’re fun to work with,” he says. “SEQ-S is a staple for me and I used it on these 5.1 mixes. Its phase correlation is very precise and it sounds fantastic. Stereoizer is also wonderful; I’ve used it on tons of Coldplay studio recordings in addition to this project. It’s probably my favorite spreader.”

Though Stereoizer was the first NUGEN product in Simpson’s toolkit, it is the Halo plug-ins that he says has had the biggest impact on his immersive workflows. “They opened up a whole new world for me,” he adds. “I knew that Halo Upmix and Downmix were some of the best tools for 5.1 mixing, so when Halo Vision was released, I got my hands on that, too.”

NUGENAnother major challenge of this project was the proliferation of harsh frequencies in the mixes, a result of the buildup of mid and high frequencies from the ambient microphones in the large River Plate Stadium, which Simpson reduced using Halo Downmix. “Once I got into the mix, I put the stereo downmixer across the audience to spread things out, and I loved it,” he says. “It was such a creative way of downmixing and adding ambience, softening the harsh frequencies and making a more pleasurable surround experience for people. Sometimes there’s too much detail with surround, so you get distracted by little things as opposed to listening to it as one piece. For example, you’ll be lost in the song but then you’ll be pulled out of the spell by somebody screaming from the left rear speaker. The NUGEN Halo plug-ins really helped me tailor everything to ensure that the emotional impact of the piece came across correctly.”

In addition to mixing all Coldplay live performances for broadcast and commercial release, Simpson has also co-produced and engineered the majority of their albums. “I first worked with Coldplay in 2002, engineering some of their second record, and later went on tour with them for a bit,” he says. “We built a studio together in 2005 and commenced recording ‘Viva La Vida.’ I started off engineering the record and by the end of it, I had a production credit. It was nice to have my input recognized and appreciated; we made another five albums together after that.”

Simpson looks forward to utilizing NUGEN Audio on other projects in the future. “I feel that I’m in a position in my career where I can choose what I work on and, while I will always work on music with and for artists, I do intend to break more into the market of film sound tracks, video games, TV syncs, etc.,” he says “I’m excited about the creative opportunities that immersive audio can bring. I’m definitely getting more into the 5.1 and Atmos world, and I’m happy that NUGEN plug-ins can come with me on this journey.”