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Mixing VH1's Hall of Fame Broadcast

Brian Riordan talks about his audio post process and the challenges he faced By Frank Moldstad

Brian Riordan on the dub stage at Levels Audio Post with his new Digidesign ICON D-Control.
The process of mixing VH1s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame broadcast, which aired March 21, was sort of like fitting an elephant through a keyhole. Brian Riordan, owner of seven-year-old Levels Audio Post in Hollywood, distilled an incredible number of tapes, broadcast packages and music mixes down to a 90-minute package. And of course, this being for broadcast, time was tight -- the finished mix went back to New York on an 11 p.m. flight the night before it aired.

This years Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony took place in the ballroom at New Yorks Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and saw the induction of Blondie, Black Sabbath, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Sex Pistols, and record executives Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.

In this interview, Riordan talks about what he did for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame event, and how he did it. An experienced broadcast mixer with a background in music, Riordan [see IMDB listing here]  also shares some insights about audio post for broadcast in general, his Digidesign ICON D-Control Pro Tools HD set-up, and his favorite plugins for broadcast work.

Can you start by describing what you did for this project?

I handled all of the audio production for the packages, and all of the roll-in material, prior to New York. There was a handful of Behind the Music-style summary packages that showed Miles Davis life, one on Sex Pistols, one on Blondie, and one on Skynyrd. You have to try and fit it all into a three-minute piece. Unfortunately some of that stuff is not going to win any awards, because some of the interview footage is from 1963, and was recorded with a handheld. So we had a lot of work trying to make things audible for those. Once that was done, they got rolled into the show.

The show every year ends up being about a five-and-a half-hour long event. And we try cut it down to a two-hour show for the premiere version, and then cut it down even further to get it under two hours, or 90 minutes, for all of the VH1 re-airings.

Did you have latitude as far as how long it would be, and what you would cut?

Well, we kind of all work together. The executive producer, Joel Gallen, is very hands-on. Hes working in editorial in offline trying to get it to time, and then having to make edits mid-performance is where I come in and work hand-in-hand with them. If an edit doesnt work musically, you know, its obviously no good. Sometimes, editors will make an edit where it looks visually good, but obviously if its a bar of 3 /4, it doesnt do me any good in the middle of a Skynyrd song.

Maybe with a Miles song ?

Yeah, right! But basically, once I got the show to time, we loaded in all of the ISOs, all of the [Tascam] DA-88 loads, which had all the isolated audience mics, all the isolated RF mics, the podium mics, the ATVT tracks, which are all of the program material thats rolled into the show, with individual camera ISO mics, and I pretty much conform to their new cut. And I take all of those tracks and line it up against their OMF, and pull it all up and reformat it all. Unfortunately, as far as today goes, theres still no brilliant way to auto-conform within Pro Tools when youre dealing with more than eight tracks. So its kind of a manual operation still to this day. We have assists help us with that, but we get everything all sunk up and in sync, and then pretty much just remix. The line cut on this show actually sounded pretty good, but I need to be able to have full control when Im in. Theyll swap out a music cue underneath somebodys speech, and I just have to have everything totally isolated.

So essentially, its a complete remix, because I load in all of the prefade ISOd mics instead of going off post stage stems. But its not too grueling, as long as the recording was done properly, which in this case it sure was.

Why a DA-88 tape instead of a hard drive?

Well, thats typical. Very rarely, but every now and then Ill get a Pro Tools drive with all of the stuff on it. But thats still very rare even today. I generally get DA-98s, thats how its done on "American Idol," thats how its done on the Music Video awards, the MTV Movie Awards, you name it. I guess its peoples fear of hard drives, I dont know. If it were up to me, Id love it if theyd just send a hard drive. It saves me a digitize.

That would save you hours!

 Yeah, it would, or at least my assist hours. But you know, it is the way we do it. So Ive got seven DA-98s and a bunch of I/Os and we just kind of dig it all in in real time. So it doesnt kill us too much. But on a five-hour show, you know, when I dont know what two hours theyre pulling -- theyre taking bits and pieces from throughout the five hours --  it becomes a little bit of a tedious process. A lot of times along with the post show, Ill do the band mixes as well. But on this one, Jay Vicari in the XM Satellite Truck, which used to be Effanel Music, did all of the band remixes. He remixed Skynyrd, and Metallica and Blondie. And he gave me stems. He gave me basically a dialog track, and he broke the rest out to like six stereo pairs of stems. So I still had control of his mix once I got everything in there, if I felt like we just needed the vocals to pop a little bit more or something like that.

So you had his tracks and all the other stuff to put together?

For more information on Brian Riordan's facility Levels Audio Post, go to the web site here
Yeah. There probably were about 48 to 56 tracks of DA-88s that were for the production side of it --  all the audience mics, the handheld mics, the podiums, the roll-ins and all of that stuff. And then theres another 48 tracks thats got kick, snare, high hat, guitars, bass, vocals, backgrounds and all of that. So Jay took those 48 tracks, I took the production, and we kind of met in the middle. He delivered me his stuff on a Pro Tools drive and I just kind of sunk it up and made the cuts where we needed to cut the performances down. Because with Skynyrd, it ended up being like a nine-minute guitar solo in the middle of their performance.

What kind of edits like that did you do?

Well, we try to do it as musically as possible, to preserve the songs integrity as much as humanly possible. No artists like having their songs cut down. So it definitely becomes a little bit of a sensitive issue. We try to pull time out of peoples speeches, out of those kinds of areas first. But its very difficult when youre dealing with a show like this. Generally, you know, when were doing a two-hour awards show, we shoot maybe 20 or minutes fat, and have to cut that out. This is a five-and-a-half-hour show, cutting down to 90 minutes! So you can imagine the challenges that the producer and the editors have.  

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Related Keywords:Audio Post, Levels Audio Post, broadcast, mixing, Digidesign, ICON-D, Pro Tools, plugins, VH1, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,


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