Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Janice Brown
LIVE IN YOUR LIVING ROOM
Having Timberlake, Meyer and Antunes in the studio eliminated a lot of guesswork. Macomber notes, “A lot of the mixing, in terms of balances on particular songs, were really driven by Justin because he knows what he wants to hear and at what levels. Also, with the complexity of this session and the time limitations, it was invaluable to have Andy Meyer there telling us what he'd been doing and using on the VENUE. In a lot of cases, we were able to get the exact same sounds using the same processors.” They used Meyer's settings in Line 6 Amp Farm on Timberlake's vocal on “Sexy Back,” for example, and his settings in Trillium Labs' TL EveryPhase on his vocal for “FutureSex/LoveSound.”
The ultimate success of the 5.1 mix for HBO hinged on how close the team could get to re-creating the “FutureSex/LoveShow” experience for a living-room audience. “Our goal was not to produce a pristine mix,” Vicari points out. “And though the parts were there through Kevin's arrangements, we weren't trying to emulate the record, either. We were taking a whole other step in trying to visualize the experience of being in that arena and then go with our gut in re-creating that feeling for a 5.1 surround setting.”
For the most part, Antunes' sound-design elements transferred swimmingly. “The intro had sounds sweeping through the entire interior of the arena, and it did exactly the same thing in the mix for television,” says Vicari. “We were able to utilize those ‘surround’ elements similarly throughout the entire show mix.”
Timberlake insisted that the team take a fresh approach on every song and, in general, try all kinds of unconventional panning and placement. Vicari expresses, “There is an overall sound-design continuity to this show, but after that there are no rules — different elements come out in different places at different times. Justin was the main proponent of us doing things so differently.” Macomber recalls, “On ‘FutureSex/LoveSound,’ Justin sat here and flew his vocal all around the room. This particular live show setup, and the visuals, really opened the door for all kinds of creativity.”
With bandmembers playing both live instruments and sampled sounds, there were so many elements to spread out across the surround field, not to mention all of the surround-oriented live show effects. Take the synth section alone, says Macomber: “There were three large keyboard rigs, each of which held several synths that each generated five, six different sounds per song, which allowed different placement for each sound.” As creative as the 5.1 mix got, however, Vicari kept a foundation locked down to match the camera's focal point; Timberlake's vocal, bass and kick drum anchored the mix pretty consistently in the center channel.
Timberlake wanted the 5.1 surround mix to include as much crowd noise as possible, which presented the session's biggest challenge. “Getting our audience mics and all the panning aligned in the right location in the room was very difficult since our audience mics were picking up the whole room sound,” says Vicari. “I would do passes of just audience, trying to keep it consistent as Justin moved out on the arm of the stage into the audience. I gave him the most amount of audience without his vocal sounding like it was drifting off, and he'd still want more.”
Meyer adds, “We had to time-align the audience mics with the actual mix so that when we added audience, it didn't wash the mix out — it actually added greater definition to what was going on in the Garden. In those audience mics, you're hearing the P.A. and the crowd and the room, which, with the right placement, makes you feel just like you're standing in the arena.”
Macomber configured the mixes for delivery to HBO. “We delivered 5.1 and stereo prints — 24-bit, 48k WAV files of continuous show,” he notes. “The show wasn't edited down in any way, so there was really no conforming to do on our end. We mixed off of a reference standard-definition video and printed everything down to the session, and delivered them time-stamped audio files.” At Timberlake's request, aside from broadcast compression, the audio was untouched after it left JALC Studios. “There was absolutely no audio sweetening or mastering done to the files,” says Macomber. “Justin was really particular about this, and the HBO producer was adamant about adhering to his wishes.”
According to Antunes, following the HBO broadcast there were accolades all-around. “We all got e-mail from one of the big VPs over at HBO telling us that this was one of the best mixes they've ever heard for any of their music specials — ever.”
Janice Brown is a freelance writer based in New York City.
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