Live Music Challenges 'Today Show' Mixer

Oct 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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Bruno Mars performs

Bruno Mars performs

Because The Today Showairs live every weekday day between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., preparations for an early morning concert on the plaza must begin hours before, in the dead of night. And for Rifino, there is usually some preparation days before that. “In advance, I usually will have talked to the band’s production manager and the front-of-house engineer and monitor engineer,” he says. “We get all the equipment ordered—we use a company called PRG Audio for the gear because NBC doesn’t really have a place to keep it, so instead they rent the [FOH and monitor] consoles, mic kit and P.A. each time. After I’m done with the planning and special ordering—let’s say they need a mic that we don’t have—I come in at 12:15 a.m., I give everyone their input list and the stage plot I’ve made up, and we go over the details of the day.

Rihanna makes a stop during her U.S. concert tour dates.

Rihanna makes a stop during her U.S. concert tour dates.

“A group’s full touring setup might be 80 inputs,” he continues, “but we want to cut back as much as possible due to time, so if it’s three songs, we’ll cut it down to whatever they need for those three songs, maybe get it down to 45 or 50 inputs. Then the guys will come in, unload the trucks, start building the P.A. system and the staging guys are doing the stage and the lights. I’ll be in my room during that. I like to be prepared, so usually I’ve already pre-set up my Pro Tools sessions, and I’ll probably just have to patch and make some final tweaks.

“We do a line check with the techs around 4:30 or 4:45 a.m. The bands show up about 6 o’clock, and the crowd is loaded in around 6, as well. However, we have a noise restriction—we’re not allowed to make any noise until 6:30. So the band is up there from 6:30 to 7—that’s what I get with the band; that’s what everyone gets. So it’s pretty fast in terms of getting everything dialed up.

“I record the rehearsal flat. At that point, I’m just worried about getting good pre levels in Pro Tools and having a good gain structure. After I get that and I’m happy with everything, and nothing is distorted or too low, I’ll start opening up plug-ins and start to do some EQ’ing and compressing and actually mixing. I’ll record each song and then I’ll play back each one after the fact as I’m doing my mix and save a snapshot of each song.” This way, the board and the processing details are instantly accessible during the band’s performance a bit later during the live telecast. “I record the live performances on multitrack, too, but they never get used.” The band’s FOH mixer will often sit at the console with Rifino to clue him in on a performer’s specific sonic needs or desires.

And it is always a live performance, even if there are occasionally tracks being fired into the mix. “Probably 80 percent of bands have tracks these days,” he says, “but a lot of it is little things—percussion and things like that where they want it to sound big, but they don’t want to pay a guy to be on the road to play shaker. But things like vocal effects—AutoTune or whatever—those are still going on a live vocal, absolutely!

“We have a rule that it really has to be ‘live’ because our show is a news show first and foremost. It’s NBC News, not NBC Entertainment, like Saturday Night Live or Leno. So we cannot have lip-synching on the show. There will never, ever be lip-synching on The Today Show. The program could lose its credibility as a news program if they say such-and-such is playing live and it’s actually me holding a [vocal] track fader.”

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