When baseball cranks up again, Erik West will
be handling sound on the Brewers’ games and that means bringing the
TV audience the crack of the bat, the slap of the catcher’s mitt, and
the roar of the crowd. Sound & Video Contractor’s
Bennett Liles spoke with West recently.
S&VC: Erik, thanks for being with us on
the SVC Podcast from Milwaukee, where you’re doing freelance TV sound
on baseball games. This is an area we haven’t gone into much and
it’s a fascinating subject. There’s a lot to doing sports
audio for TV. I used to do that myself way back in the prehistoric days and I
was curious about what types of sports remotes you like to
West: I take anything and everything that I can get a chance to
do, and that’s a cool thing about this business. I get to do a lot of
variety stuff like baseball, basketball, football, occasionally soccer,
occasionally volleyball, sometimes Olympic sports like gymnastics, wrestling,
track and field. I’m in Milwaukee, Wis., so being so close to a Big
10 school in Madison, I get to mix different things. But I also mix non-sports
broadcasts as well. I just finished up working with the BBC and the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra on a broadcast. However, there I was just a recording
engineer and handled routing, timecode and communications, which is one of our
jobs as you know, and sports TV business is handling all communications well as
S&VC: So how long have you been doing TV sound? When
did you get into this?
West:[For] about 10
years; my first broadcast gig was a basketball game, and I really had no idea
what I was doing. I had some experience in video directing at a job. I went to
film school, but I was way in over my head in my first mixing gig and then I
stepped back and got a chance to A2 for a while and then I A2’d
baseball and then I got my first chance to mix baseball when there
weren’t any mixers in the market and then they’re like,
“You’re it.” So it’s been about nine years for baseball, 10 years total.
S&VC: Well, that will give you an appreciation for who’s
working for you out there on the field and doing all the manual labor if
you’ve been there and done it yourself.
West: Absolutely. Most mixers start as A2s and then work their way up. I think
that’s an important step, so you know where the A2s are at and that
way you can take cues from your A2s when they’re not able to do something
or a challenging cable run or something you can reconsider.
S&VC: Yeah, and that’s what’s really
interesting about sports coverage is that every sport sort of has its own
personality. What’s the most challenging aspect you see in doing TV
sound for baseball?
West: I say the most
challenging aspect of mixing any sport is really the changing trucks. Trucks
that I haven’t seen before, different consoles, different patch bay
layouts, different router set ups. That’s the most challenging part.
You can look at an empty patch field and there are over 2,500 patch points.
That’s all at the moment you need to find one or two for a stereo,
and that can be a bit much.
As far as mixing sound, I would say that getting my
stereo crowd to sound the way I like it can be the most challenging, and now I
am talking about on the road because at Miller Park, I’ve got
everything the way I like it. I work with the team to get my mics where I need
them and that’s a big help.
When I’m at a ballpark I
don’t regularly work at, when I position my crowd mics, it can be a
challenge and I have to rely on A2s and a lot of times they’re use to
mixers who have no problem with booth crowd mics. That’s actually one
of my pet peeves and that’s one of my, I go to that last—this
putting a pair of shotguns out of the booth, which seems like it’s a
standard for a lot of people, but it drives me nuts. I can’t stand
the sound of a booth crowd.
Often times there’s a PA speaker hanging
near the booth or at least the PA’s imaging heavy to one side or you
hear slap back off the wall either from inside the booth or just above it or
just below it. A lot of times I don’t get out into the venue a ton
because I’m pretty busy setting my show and it’s not until
like game time that I notice with the booth crowds how bad they can be, which is
actually why I use two stereo sources for my crowd especially if I have to go
with a booth crowd. I like to layer two different stereo sources.
S&VC: Some of these stadiums are sort of fiendishly laid out.
It’s like they wanted to have the latest and greatest of everything
and then they thought, “Oh yeah, we’re going to be doing TV
out of here, too.” Have you worked any particularly difficult
stadiums for TV remotes, say, long distance mic line runs or hard-to-get-to
West:Yeah, nothing really stands
out. I mean when I do Big Ten soccer in Madison, the venue is not cabled at
all, so it’s long DT runs and long single XLR runs to try to get to
your goals and to any kind of far side effects. Depends on where they have the
teams set up.
In the past, they’ve had the teams on the far side, so
over there I need a TOC headset plus an official stats headset, interview
headset over there and then if I wanted to have some sort of snoops for the
coaches or for each team, I’d have to do all that. Usually I end up
cutting that out because of the long cable runs, so you have to sort of adapt
to where you’re at and do the best with what you can with what
S&VC: And when
you’re doing home games you have an obvious advantage. How long it
normally take after you get to the stadium to get things set up and ready to
go? What do you do first?
thing I do is I take all my DT fan outs and I patch the inhouse I/O panel so
that’s all cabled out to all the different spots in the park. We
pre-cable Miller Park at the beginning of the season, so I run a lot of effects
mics for baseball. I have mics all out in the outfield in the gaps along with
bull pins, [so] if someone jumps up and catches something off the wall or the
ball hits off the wall, I like to hear that.
There’s a big
plexi-glass or a scoreboard that’s covered with plexi-glass I have a
mic on that so if somebody jumps up to stop a big homerun bang you hear that
crash, so I’ve got all that. So it’s nice having all that
pre-cabled. So the first that thing I do is I basically take all my fan outs
and patch the wall.
Meanwhile my A2s are running the DTs from the truck to my
fan outs and then I head into the truck and start patching. Frankly, when
it’s a home show and I’m on my normal home truck,
it’s actually pretty easy because I just recall my show and I have
several different versions of my show based on temperature and how crazy I want
to get with that, but it only takes me about an hour to throw all my patches
and double check everything myself and then I eventually talk to the tape room
and we check all of the routing and that’s called
That was a tough term to understand when I transitioned
from rock n roll is checking like what we would call in rock n roll a line
check is called faxing. I’m like what is this fax stuff, so you fax
and then by then the A2s have got stuff cabled, everything pinned up, and so we
fax the booth, fax the set, fax all of our talking mic drops, and then I listen
to all my field effects that the A2s put out and make sure that I
don’t have any noise or any buzz or anything like that on any of my
lines and that’s usually before preproduction.
S&VC: I notice you’re using some Shure mics to get
effects. What do you see as the most important thing in getting crowd sounds
and game sounds and picking up things like the umpire calling balls and
strikes? Do the umps ever object and say you’re getting too close or
picking up too much of that?
West:No, and you
know when I mix a network fox we actually mic the umpire and we’re
not supposed to use that in the actual live to air mix. We ISO that and then it
goes to a tape machine so we can record that for sounds of the game, but every
once in a while, if there’s been some sort of, say, clutch pitching
situation and the batter strikes out, I’ll look and I’ll
grab like that ump mic and so we can hear the hoop-haa of the umpire calling
That’s sort of cool, but you’ve got to be
really careful because yes, they wouldn’t like hearing too much, but interestingly
enough, the only thing you’re really hearing with my Miller Park set
up, without a network fox situation, you hear them if they holler out their
strikes. Other than that you don’t hear a ton.
S&VC: What do you like to do on say EQ-ing for the crack of bats
and the smack of catcher’s mitts and stuff like that?
West: I EQ my back cracks like a kick drum, sort of my old rock n
roll roots, not exactly the same frequencies. But I pull out a bunch of mid range
probably 600-800Hz about 6dBu with a medium Q and then I boost a little low end
and depending on the weather, that will go from 100Hz to 200Hz or somewhere in
between with a tighter Q, a more narrow Q, about 2 or 3dB.
And then, depending
on the weather, once again I boost a little AK, 6-8 K, 0-3dB depending on the
weather and the mic really and that’s one of the things I love about
the VB-89L shotguns that I just started using last season. You don’t
really have to do much with the high end because it’s all there.
It’s just very crisp and I love those mics.
I was going to ask you about those and you’ve apparently got an
advantage in using the Shure VP-88 for crowd sounds? Where do you put those?
West: If you look at a ballpark, normally there’s the net
that follows the backboard or right around home plate, so my VP-89s, my
shotguns are up about 12ft. in the air just behind the net. Basically I use
conduit that has a yoke back bend that bends back sort of over the crowd just a
little bit and then up.
So I have enough I can get the long shotgun in behind
the net so that protects the mic from the ball on a foul ball or something like
that. And those are on either side of that net actually on the aircraft cable
that holds that net up.
So those are my first base and third base bat crack
mics and then on most parks, and specifically at Miller Park, there’s
a robo camera positioned right behind home plate about 15ft. in the air and my
VP-88 is mounted just underneath that, behind the net as well.There’s
a hole in the net for the cabling to come through for the robo cams, so I took
off that and actually brought my mic through the net so it’s on the
crowd side and I point it up at about a 10-degree angle to avoid too much
Although that doesn’t make a huge difference with a
great stereo mic like that, but that height is perfect because you hear a
murmur. If you’re really paying attention you might be able to pick
up conversations but not really. It’s just high to not hear that and
now this is a full ballpark and at Miller Park we have the benefit of selling
out a lot, so it’s always sort of a playoff atmosphere there. So when
it’s dead, sometimes I boost up so that it still sounds like
there’s crowd there.
You can hear a little bit more, but ideally,
when it’s a nice full house, you don’t hear any individual
voices except for say vendors which I love, like a vendor off on my image to
camera left from the camera four position calling out beer here and you can
hear that on the left side and maybe another vendor on the right side. So
that’s pretty cool.
sometimes you can pick up the vendors in the stands so well you almost have to
pay them scale for being on the show, but it’s been interesting
hearing how you do game sounds and crowd sounds. In part two we’ll
get into the PA system interaction and how you set up the guys in the announcer
booth. I appreciate it Erik. Erik West, freelance sound engineer for TV sports.
Thanks for telling us about it.