Musician Geddy Lee (right) is interviewed by Michael Chabon on PBS series “Speakeasy.” Photo: Kat Villacorta
“Speakeasy” is a new American Public Television show that features revealing conversations with iconic musicians discussing the current state of the music industry. Recorded with Sennheiser and Neumann technology in the historic McKittrick Hotel, the landmark building creates a prohibition period-style backdrop for each of the interviews.
The show, which spotlights casts Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Grammy Award winners and other iconic musicians in a casual setting, is produced by Don Maggi and Denis Gallagher (of “Front and Center Entertainment”) and directed by Pierre and François Lamoureux (FogoLabs). To capture the pure sound of those captivating interviews, the show is using an array of Sennheiser MKH 20 omni-directional microphones and Sennheiser’s G3 wireless system for the recording, and a fully equipped 5.1 surround system with Neumann KH 120 nearfield monitors for mixing and post-production.
“At the end of the day, our job is to stay out of the way of the content and deliver programming in the purest sense,” David Belafonte, another producer on the show, said.. “’Staying 'out of the way’ is a gift that should be left to only the best technical professionals and equipment.”
Belafonte has been using Sennheiser gear since the 1970's, helping set up his father's stage shows. “Over the years, this is a brand that has always delivered a consistent, qualitative value add for the artist,” he said.
“Speakeasy” uses Sennheiser MKH 20 microphones to capture the sound of the room within the historic McKittrick Hotel.
Pierre and François Lamoureux, both music graduates from Montreal's McGill University that have extensive experience in producing audio for video, are responsible for creating the 5.1 audio mix that has become such an integral part of each “Speakeasy” episode. They mic’d the talent with a combination of wireless lavaliers and seven MKH 20 omnidirectional condenser microphones, which were placed around the perimeter of the room in a standard ITU specification to capture every nuance of the audience's reaction.
“We tried to develop something unique with this series, where it really looks and sounds different than most talk shows,” François Lamoureux said. “I wanted to have the option of having an omni and a super cardioid mic on the talent, and the other thing is that I knew I wanted to mic the entire room for surround. For the room mics, I had no hesitation choosing the Sennheiser MKH 20s . I knew it had the gain I needed, as well as an exceptionally low noise floor so it would be quiet during passages where no one was speaking. I also knew it would deliver the most realistic experience for the viewers, making them feel like they were there.”
Prior to mixing each episode, François acquired a 7.1 monitoring system, consisting of seven Neumann KH 120 near field monitors, which were configured to recreate the recording environment at the McKittrick Hotel as accurately as possible. Though the program is currently mixed in 5.1, Lamoureux intends to mix next season in 7.1.
Neumann KH 120 monitors are used during the mix and post-production of "Speakeasy."
“The Neumann KH 120s were unbelievable,” he said. “As soon as I started mixing these shows, my mixes started translating extremely well, everywhere I played them.”
During the taping of “Speakeasy,” Lamoureux monitors on Sennheiser HD 650 and HD 280 headphones before bringing the audio files to mix on his 7.1 Neumann monitoring set up at FogoLabs. When mixing, Lamoureux said he is looking for an authentic translation of what actually occurred in the room during the interview. “I don't do any tricks, I just work with depth,” he said. “Since this is an interview show, my goal is to recreate the space so that the audience at home feels like they are in that room with me. I want it so when I shut my eyes, I can actually ‘see’ the talent and the audience.”
Ever since Lamoureux has been using the Neumann KH 120 speakers, he said he has not had to deal with any speaker limitations. “These speakers have a very linear frequency response,” he said. “While testing them, I realized I could mix according to what sounded good to me — the only EQ I was doing was EQ that was needed.”
While the program is still in its infancy, the producers said having Sennheiser at their side is critical. “If you consider that the audio chain is only as strong as its weakest links, then you better have solid links throughout,” said says Belafonte. “We have that with Sennheiser.”
“Audio is just as important as video,” Lamoureux said. “If the camera fails, well, we have a great audio recording. But if the audio dies, we've got nothing. You can't listen to a light show.”
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