Why Live Music Broadcast Needs A Specialized Music Truck

We talk to the multi-award winning team at Music Mix Mobile about the unique cultural and creative demands of mixing music live for broadcast.

For many broadcasters, the ability to mix remotely is an attractive proposition. For broadcasters who specialize in adrenaline-charged content like sports, it makes sense, and it’s why so many are building Remote Operation Centers and investing in robust connectivity. It saves money, it reduces travel, and it opens the door to lots more second and third tier content.

But it’s not for everyone, and there is one area of broadcast where it makes less sense.

According to Music Mix Mobile Co-Founder Joel Singer, the ability to work miles from the action is not something his music clients are asking for. Singer’s customers, who include the likes of the Grammy Awards, Country Music Association Awards and Global Citizens Festival, aren’t remotely interested.

And it’s got nothing to do with technology. It’s part of the culture.

Onsite Recording Services

Growing up playing the piano and the bass guitar, Singer has always been musical. But being a musician was not the direction his life was going to take.

“I gravitated more toward making music sound better rather than playing it,” he laughs. “I worked in the music industry for a while and spent six years with Audio-Technica helping build its live sound division and working on microphone design. Throughout all this I continued working in the studio and on the road, so when my tenure at Audio-Technica ended I became a consultant and embarked on a new path.”

Securing funding from wherever he could, Singer designed and built a mobile recording truck and Onsite Recording Services was born. It was luxuriously spec’d with one of the first Yamaha DM2000s in the US, multiple Tascam MX2424s, a Moto hard disk recording editing system and the first Aphex Model 1788 remote-controlled mic preamps in the country. It gave Singer the ability to be very flexible, and the system paid dividends from the outset.

“Its first gig was a worship recording for American musician Michael W Smith and we won a Grammy for it,” says Singer. It wasn’t long before he was attracting attention from the big leagues.

“I had a 3000 square foot shop and a tech room, and now I had a company with a wonderful 18 foot truck,” says Singer. "I started working with Effanel Music as a minority partner, who at that point was the leading music broadcast company in the country; I learned all about broadcast audio and trained to be an Engineer In Charge (EIC) for broadcast events like the Grammys and the other awards shows.”

In late 2007 Singer teamed up with partner Mitch Maketensky to form Music Mix Mobile (M3) with just one truck and one portable system. This year the company celebrates 17 years and operates four mobile units and several flypack systems.  It has a client list which is a Who’s Who of the broadcast industry, has won Grammys, Emmys, Tonys and TEC Awards, and according to Singer, “is the longest job I have ever had!”

Doing Things Differently

M3 is not like most other remote truck operators. With a 70/30 split of live broadcast and recording projects, it covers live events like all other OB providers. Like other providers, M3 also builds a host of broadcast features into its workflows, has redundancy on everything, and operates on familiar SMPTE 2110 infrastructures. So far, so similar.

But the way it operates and how it meets the needs of its client are a world apart. Singer says that “M3 was started to fill a void in the multi-act live-to-air music broadcast industry.” It still does.

It’s All About The Culture

Singer happily admits that Music Mix Mobile can’t compete against the $25m video trucks, but it doesn’t really have to. Music broadcast recording is culturally quite different, and although an A1 in any broadcast truck has many of the same jobs to do, there are different external pressures when it comes to music broadcast.

It is these same external pressures which make remote broadcasting such a hard sell for many of Singer’s clients.

“Mixing a show in Boston from a studio in England is great if you're mixing sports or talking heads, but music is such a touchy-feely thing,” says Singer.  “It's like trying to get the acoustic or electric guitar you have always dreamed about via mail order without ever playing it – it's a tactile thing. Dedicated music productions want to spend their money on a dedicated music truck with professionals who specialize in music production, but also because they might have multiple music acts. They want the artist’s reps to be able to play an active and collaborative part in the process, and those reps don’t want to be on the end of an internet link.

“They want to be with the broadcast engineer pushing faders because they have a better understanding of where all the nuances in the vocals are, where the delay throws are. They will want to come in after rehearsals and spend time with the broadcast engineer/mixer and get the sound exactly the way they need it for the broadcast.

“They want us to be on-site where the artist is because they want to support that artist and show them that everything sounds exactly as it should.”

Where It’s At

That’s not to say Music Mix Mobile isn’t set up for remote production; it absolutely is.

Singer: “M3 is a specialist in music recording for broadcast, and that means choosing gear with solid musical sounding systems. A lot of video trucks in the US use Calrec or other consoles, but for us the Lawo consoles better suit our needs. They have all the broadcast features that our clients demand, and have that musical sound that we desire.”

That includes the ability to work remotely. The Lawo system enables M3 to access a processing core directly at a venue and mix a performance from the truck in a fully remote capacity, but as Singer says, music mixing doesn’t work that way.

“We can do it, but every time we try to sell remote production to a client, they aren’t interested. Music has a totally different vibe and for shows like the Grammys and the CMA awards, people need the ability to be creatively hands on. Big ticket events will never be mixed remotely because everyone involved on the artist side wants to be in the truck.”

This inclusivity is also part of M3’s design ethos. With an emphasis on the visuals, many OB trucks provide a cramped mix environment for audio, with banks of humming equipment and limited elbow room. That’s not the case here. Music Mix Mobile trucks are designed like studios, with spacious soundproofed interiors.

The Right Pro Tools For The Job

Another important distinction which elevates M3 from other mobile providers is that Singer’s workflows also include full Pro Tools rigs. It enables M3 to not only record ISO stems for future manipulation, like its recent project for Apple which required it to capture stems for immersive remixing at a later date, but to use them as playback in the truck.

“What differentiated us from many of the remote companies that when we started was that we were a Pro Tools house,” says Singer. “When we hand the session off, an engineer can open it up in his Pro Tools system and he can keep going without any delay.

“Whether it’s in a truck or a portable rig, we always have redundant Pro Tools 192 channel HDX Madi systems recording everything on every job, and absolutely everything goes into the Pro Tools rig. A typical show may need 112 inputs and we’ll get a split from the show to record all the stems as ISO feeds, but we’re also recording all the audio feeds coming to us from the video truck, like audience stems, dialogue busses and ATVT busses. They all go into the Pro Tool system so that if we have to rebuild something in the future, we have it all.

“In addition, we're creating different mixes, like a music or a vocal minus mix, and if the show is going to post production, we can hand our drives over after the event. But we can also use it as playback. We can use the Pro Tools system to feed the same content back into the console in exactly the same way and through the same channels to enable us to hone the music mix.”

In The Sweet Spot

Singer believes that Music Mix Mobile sits in a sweet spot which addresses a specific niche. Because while there are companies that provide high end resources for live broadcast, most aren’t geared up for this cultural proposition.

“You know, creative is creative,” says Singer. “I mean, that's what music is about. A sports truck isn’t designed for music, and it isn’t built for entertainment. It is built for sports. And many trucks that are built for music might have beautiful analog consoles, but often don’t have the capacity to fulfil the broadcast requirements that our bigger clients demand and expect.

“They can’t do what we do. We are the specialists. They can’t do 17 bands with multiple stages and set changes in three hours. It’s why clients like the Grammys and the CMAs have been using us for the last 17 years. Those are our testimonials.”

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