Photo: FOH engineer Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher at ATK Audiotek’s DiGiCo SD7 desk on the set of NBC’s The Voice
Emmy Award-winning reality television singing competition The Voice has been a ratings juggernaut for NBC, with Season Six debuting at the end of February 2014 to an audience of nearly 16 million viewers. As the season moved into its final live performance phase in April at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, front-of-house mixer Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher selected the DiGiCo SD7 console as the best choice to optimize broadcast audio quality and manage the show’s large number of inputs and outputs.
“The SD7 sounds amazing. I challenge myself now on how little EQ I can use, as most things sound great with just a high-pass filter,” says Fletcher. The Emmy Award-winning engineer’s credits include such major television entertainment and awards shows as The Grammy Awards, American Idol, Film Independent Spirit Awards, Miss Universe, Billboard Music Awards and numerous others.
According to Fletcher, the DiGiCo console is uniquely capable of handling the large number of inputs and outputs. “This is the only console I can do this show on, if I want to use one console, as I have 153 inputs and 53 outputs.”
From the SD7 console Fletcher generates 53 outputs from the live band music mix and contestant vocals, as well as production audio playback elements, feeding a multi-zoned PA system flown above the audience. Dialog from the four judges (Adam Levine, Shakira, Usher, and Blake Shelton), host Carson Daly, and the contestants is fed to a speech-only speaker system positioned under the audience seats, at various locations around the stage, and flown above the set. ATK Audiotek of Valencia, CA supplied all of the production sound equipment for the show.
“For The Voice I have to land 144 inputs from the stage plus effects returns and a few local inputs such as an iPod,” Fletcher continues. “All of these inputs have to be available on the surface at all times as I have to seamlessly transfer from a musical performance to a dialog section and then back to another musical performance again, which may consist of a guest band or the house band with a live string or horn section. I keep all of my dialog inputs in safe mode and switch snapshots for the music during the dialog portions of the show.”
Fletcher separately processes the music and dialog feeds in order to minimize coloration from the front-of-house PA leaking into the mix being created by broadcast production mixer Michael Abbott in the nearby NEP Denali Silver remote truck. The SD7 is integrated with a Waves/DiGiCo MultiRack SoundGrid and SoundGrid Server One. “The SoundGrid system really helps because I can put Waves plug-ins on everybody separately,” says Fletcher.
“Everybody – Adam, Shakira, Usher, Blake, Carson – has their own plug-in chain in MultiRack. They’ve all got a WNS, the Cedar-style Waves Noise Suppressor plug-in, on their mics. I can hear the room coming back and I just adjust it until it’s clean.” He adds, “Carson’s also got a C6 multiband compressor; it’s de-essing and de-thumping him when he really gets on the mic.”
Fletcher continues, “I’m using the multiband compressor on all the vocals – I love it. You can get rid of a myriad of problems with that plug-in and get a great vocal sound with little or no EQ. I also use a hall reverb and a plate reverb for vocals, depending on the song, and a room reverb for drums. I round that out with a couple of delays for vocals – all DiGiCo inboard effects.”
The routing and busing flexibility of the SD7 makes it ideally suited to broadcast applications like this, as Fletcher relates: “I’m using about 20 groups to get stuff to the matrix which enables me to create a mix-minus to any speaker – very important for TV. I also have 10 or so auxes working for effects sends, feeds to subs and vocal monitors for the coaches.”
The powerful functionality of the SD7 additionally enables Fletcher to focus his attention on relatively few controls during the dynamically changing show, despite the large numbers of inputs and outputs that he must manage. “I use the control groups to mix the show, which I have down to four faders: performance, host, coaches and artist,” he elaborates. “I use a single snapshot for each song, which I put in show order in the snapshot list and load using a macro. I also have macros set up for updating a snapshot, saving the file, calibrating my outputs to 0 dB, switching my Waves plug-ins in and out of the audio chain, and for turning on and off certain speakers around the stage.”
With the four judges sitting relatively close to the audience with open lavalier microphones, plus the host and the contestant on stage with handheld mics, Fletcher also utilizes the Waves Dugan Automixer plug-in to reduce unwanted noise in the vocal channels. “On this show, I’m using eight channels of the Waves Dugan plug-in,” he says. That includes the judges, host, and contestant, plus two spares for guests. “It’s all done through the SD7’s buses, so I can send anything to the Dugan; it’s very flexible.”
Season Seven of The Voice is scheduled to return to NBC in Fall 2014. Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams will replace Shakira and Usher for the new season. For more details, visit: www.nbc.com/the-voice