Sennheiser, Fred Aldous Take Student ’Round the Track for Coca-Cola 600

If you’re wondering where the next generation of broadcast-sports audio mixers is coming from, just ask Fred Aldous and Sennheiser. As part of the microphone manufacturer’s ongoing collaboration with most major sports broadcasters and several higher-education institutions, a few prospective audio mixers have been able to spend one-on-one time with leading A1s at high-profile sports-broadcast events, learning what it takes to mix a major-league sports broadcast and discovering that there there’s more after school than hoping for a Lady Gaga remix.

As he did last year, Fox Sports audio consultant and senior mixer Fred Aldous was shadowed by a promising student as he set up the track and the truck for the 2012 NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, NC, last month. Shawn Brewer, who graduates this year from the Conservatory of Recording Sciences in Phoenix, asked all the right questions, according to Aldous.

“He asked if things ever go wrong, and I said, no, nothing that you can’t handle as long as you’ve done all of your prep work correctly and anticipated where problems can arise,” he says. “He understands that broadcast is a situation where you get one chance to get it right the first time, and he appreciated that.”

Aldous, an Emmy Award winner for his mixing work, toured Brewer through Game Creek’s four-truck compound, including the FX A unit, the main production truck where Aldous operated from a Calrec Alpha with Bluefin; FX D and its Calrec Sigma used for the track-effects submix; and FX D, where a Yamaha M7CL console handled audio for the wireless in-car and other race comms.

He walked Brewer through microphone placements, including new Audix D3 mics used on speed-shot cams, a recent addition to the track-ring complement of microphones, which also includes DPA high-SPL 4007s and Audio-Technica AT-825 condensers. Aldous also uses the Sennheiser MKH70 shotgun to add reach to the shots, and all of the show’s wireless gear goes through Sennheiser SK 250 UHF receivers and 1046 RX receiver systems. “The Sennheiser RF is bulletproof,” he observes.

Aldous and Brewer spent two days on the qualifying and practice runs broadcast on Speed channel leading up to the big race. “I took him through the entire process,” he recounts, “from listening to the sound of the cars on the track to microphone placement and choice, collecting sounds to the submix [console], and processing them there and then on to the final mix.”

Sennheiser’s Mentorship Program has been in place since 2009 and has thus far seen about 10 students participate on sports shows for HBO Sports, Fox Sports, the NFL Network, and CBS Sports. Sennheiser National Market Development Manager Dave Missall, who conceived of the program, says plans are to include ESPN in future events. Sennheiser covers the costs of transport, lodging, and food for students it sends to network events. “It’s all about showing students at the audio schools that there are really interesting alternative ways to apply their knowledge,” he says.

Robert Brock, director, digital department, for the Conservatory, notes that Brewer was the school’s first student chosen to participate in the Sennheiser program, which, he says, offers the right student a singular opportunity. “We have a pretty complex decision process for who gets to go,” he explains, noting that prospects have to have a GPA of at least 3.9 and a near-perfect attendance record, submit a résumé, write a cover letter, and create a one-minute video expressing why they want to try working in broadcast-sports audio.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a great opportunity,” he adds. “Shawn seemed like exactly the right candidate for this: in his profile, he’s always expressed an interest in live audio. He seemed like a natural to be exposed to the way broadcast audio works.”

The choice of this school for the program comes at a time when the Conservatory is in the initial phases of creating its own broadcast curriculum, for which Aldous will be a consultant, helping the school pick topics and courses and assemble a teaching infrastructure for broadcast audio.

“Broadcast has been somewhat underserved at the audio schools,” says Aldous, “and I’m glad to see that that’s changing and that I’m able to be a part of that working with the Conservatory.”