Mics Galore For Super Bowl Audio With The Gaga Touch

Any Super Bowl TV audio production is a big undertaking. After all, it comprises three distinct parts: the game itself, with sound effects from the field and the crowd as well as commentary; the presentation for the entire broadcast, including the pre-game; and the musical and staging extravaganza that is the Half-Time Show. Super Bowl LI was no exception. More than 100 microphones of varying types captured the drama of the New England Patriot’s comeback, while Lady Gaga’s tightly drilled performance featured mic changes to match her change of costume.

The main focus of the audio production was Unit A of Game Creek Video's trio of Encore interconnecting OB trucks. In this vehicle, featuring 1276-channel/144-fader (12 layers) Calrec Apollo console with Bluefin2 processing, FOX Sports' audio consultant Fred Aldous and two assistants mixed the game. Two Calrec Brio desks were also in the sound area for sub-mixing.

"There was a sub-mixer for mixing just the field effects from parabs [parabolic microphones] and camera mics," Aldous says. "I also had a tape release mixer for pre-mixing most of the EVS machine playbacks. There were about 50 playback devices, which is more than one person can handle."

Even with two other engineers working on two sub-mixers, Aldous still had a large number of inputs coming into the central Apollo desk. "I landed well over 1200 audio sources into my console in Encore, with more than 250 feeds from the desk to various destinations such as EVS records and international distribution," he comments. "There were around 100 microphones used for FOX's game coverage of this year's Super Bowl, not including those used for the studio show that was on-site with us as well."

Members of the audio team for Super Bowl LI, with Fred Aldous centre (under the 'R')

Members of the audio team for Super Bowl LI, with Fred Aldous centre (under the 'R')

The crew working on game audio totalled ten people, including Aldous. Technicians set up microphones round the field and in the crowd to capture as much of the atmosphere and action as possible. The main crowd mics were four Audio-Technica 4050ST side-address stereo condensers, which were suspended 15-feet in the air at the 20-yard lines.

These were supported by two stereo rigs positioned by Aldous at the announcers' booth: a DPA 4022 compact cardioid mic crossed pair in an XY configuration, which is able to be placed some distance from the target source and produce a good ratio between sound and reverberation; and two DPA 4006 omni-directional mics in a spaced A-B arrangement, also known as the Time Difference Stereo technique.

Sennheiser MKH 416 short shotgun mics were fixed to the upright poles of each goal to catch the sound of any wayward kicks hitting the woodwork. Because the 416s were being used in transducer mode, Aldous explains, they gave a "nice full sound" on impact. "We did get one 'boing' during the game," he adds.

The parabolic mics were Sennheiser MKE 2 omni-directional lavaliers, with SK250 wireless transmitter packs, running in conjunction with Sound Devices MM-1 monitoring amplifiers. A Schoeps CMIT 5U blue shotgun provided directional audio from the Sky Cam aerial camera.

With the high number of sources Aldous partly relied on automation to bring up mics associated with more remote positions. "I used 28 GPI [General Purpose Interface] triggers from the vision mixer for robotic hallway cameras, pylon cams and assorted graphics devices," he says.

All events broadcast by FOX are produced in 5.1 discrete surround sound. This configuration includes the centre dialogue channel usually associated with feature films. Aldous omitted this component to create a purely effects-based audio picture. "I build a 4.1 sound bed from the crowd mics, mixing in camera mics and parabolics to the front," he explains. "My philosophy is to leave the viewer in the stands hearing the crowd all around them. The field never leaves the front of the viewer, so I put everything from the field in the front soundfield."

Mixing of the studio show and pre-game entertainment was carried out in another Game Creek Video truck, Peacock, renamed Cleatus after FOX Sports' Transformer-like robot mascot. Production mixer Mike Stock worked at another Calrec Apollo, while the kick-off show and red carpet sequences were mixed by Mike Del Tufo on a Calrec Artemis board that had recently been installed in Game Creek's Chesapeake unit. Signal distribution between Encore and Cleatus was over MADI (multi-channel audio digital interface) connections.

The play-by-play commentary was by Joe Buck, with Troy Aikman providing analysis. Headsets for the announcers were Sennheiser HMD25s and 26s, while their commentary was mixed through a Studio Technologies Model 230 console in the announcer booth. Sideline reporters Erin Andrews and Chris Myers used RF mics with Sennheiser 5005 capsules, provided by BSI in the 1.4GHz range, for their contributions, with Sennheiser MD46 dynamic cardioids for backup. The reporters also wore Future Sonics in-ear monitors connected to Lectrosonics R1a wireless receivers.

Lady Gaga was a super hit at this year's Super Bowl LI.

Lady Gaga was a super hit at this year's Super Bowl LI.

The game is the core of the Super Bowl broadcast but the Half-Time Show - or, to be more accurate, the star of that show - very often upstages the football. As this year's star was Lady Gaga that was almost inevitable. While her performance didn't have the party feel of Katie Perry (and the 'Left Shark' dancer) in 2015 or the political overtones of Beyoncé and her uniformed dancers last year, Her Gagaship turned in a sharply produced set that made an instant impact.

She first appeared on the roof of the NRG Stadium in a pre-recorded sequence singing a rendition of Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land, interpreted as a call for greater inclusion of all people in America. From there she 'dived' into the arena on a harness, landing on a platform to start a fairly breathless 13 or so minutes with Poker Face.

Gaga's end-of-show jump from the stage.

Gaga's end-of-show jump from the stage.

The sound mix for this segment was by Paul Sandweiss of Sound Design Corporation, who has mixed six of the seven Half-Time Shows this century. Sandweiss worked on the Calrec Apollo desk in NEP's Denali truck; other details of this part of the production were not forthcoming.

What was obvious, though, was that Lady Gaga performed using three Sennheiser SKM 5200 wireless mics at different points during the performance. These were "blinged up" to match her costumes; a heavily jewelled one for the opening of the set; a more restrained look during Million Reasons, the only ballad and a chance for her to catch her breath; and then a dazzling white number for the finale.

Lady Gaga's Half-Time show ended with what could be the ultimate 'drop mic' as Her Ladyship threw that particular SKM 5200 from the stage, caught a football and then jumped after the microphone.

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