Live-Record for ROADiES
by Gary Raymond
When Jeff called me for Roadies, I was very excited to be working with him, Don and Cameron again. This would be my fourth project with Cameron Crowe. Several of the other department heads were also veterans of Cameron’s films; such as Production Designer Clay Griffith, who I had worked with on Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown.
Live Record for Roadies At our first pre-production meeting, Bill Lanham was introduced as the technical consultant. I had planned on providing a simplified stage monitor mix which I had used for similar situations, but Bill wanted to use the bands full rider contracts verbatim. We upped the technical gear to handle thirty-two inputs and a dozen stage mixes with house and side fills in addition to my eight-track sub mixes for Post. Depending on the bands riders, we provided several stage monitors as well as In Ear Monitor mixes, side fill and house stereo mixes as needed. All inputs were split before the mixers and I created two eight-track sub mixes for Post. These were recorded on two Pro Tools rigs, one for backup.
During the pre-production phase, I contacted the Post Editor, Jenny Barak, to determine what they wanted. Although the live records on the pilot episode had been done as full multitrack recordings, Post used an eight-track sub mix to capture the essence of the performances and greatly speed up the mix-down process, and this is what they wanted me to deliver. With the time constraints of television being what they are, they felt they could trust me to give them the elements in a partially mixed format.
This was fun as I have more than twenty years of experience mixing more than four hundred top livetouring bands, starting back in the ’70s with War and Earth, Wind & Fire. My concept with the sub drum mixes was to get a fat sound with plenty of low-end, presence on the snare and air on the cymbal. Essentially, to target different frequency bands with each instrument so the Re-recording Mixer could still manipulate the separate instruments by frequency ranges. I also panned everything to different degrees, which facilitated the separation. At the recent Mix magazine MPSE CAS event at Sony, I had Re-recording Mixers come up to me after our Music Playback Panel to tell me that is often what they will do with summed tracks, which was very cool to find out.
Gary Raymond back in the day on Rock Star I did the drums as a stereo sub mix and all the vocals and solo instruments as iso tracks dry. Some of the bands had very large track counts, so in some cases, I provided guitar and keyboard sub mixes as well. We also had multitrack iso’s on everything, so Post was able to mix efficiently and still have complete control over levels and effects on vocals and key instruments. The entire recording we did was the onstage concert performances. As Jeff and Donovan explained, we decided to have all the offstage “acoustic” performances recorded by them with conventional boom microphone techniques. The only crossover was that we had Don Coufal with his boom to record the room sound during the stage performances so Post had some to play with. For dailies, we fed production the stereo mix that also went to the house speakers.
I had about sixty hours of prep time before we started shooting as there were many aesthetic decisions regarding the look of the equipment. I had provided all the dress and practical concert sound equipment for Almost Famous as I have a lot of Pro Sound gear from my concert-touring days. It was decided that the look would be contemporary, so that dictated flown arrays with digital boards. However, the Art Department took liberties based on aesthetics.
The current digital boards seemed too simple in their looks; instead, production purchased a Yamaha analog mixer, circa 1990s, as it had about a thousand colorful knobs. As far as dress verses practical, there were several decisions regarding the EQ, racks, wedge monitors, side and drum fills.
We did full live recordings of all the bands with their complete rider requirements. The difference in manpower and time is half-day with one music Playback Operator for straight music playback versus a three-person crew and two days of prep and recording for each band with live records. Clearly, efficiencies were improved when we used the same stage for all the band recordings and it was redressed to represent the different concert tour venues. We did do two episodes “on the road,” Halsey at the Honda Center and Phantogram at the Roosevelt Hotel.
There were very few turnarounds as the shots looking at the audience were actually done at the real venues, the LA Forum and Staples Center, and all the stage views were done on Stage 25 at Manhattan Beach Studios, with the exception of Halsey and Phantogram. The Honda Center and Roosevelt Hotel episodes were smartly scheduled after the first few episodes, so by then, we had our system down.
The live recordings resulted in absolutely real and authentic performances with excellent sound quality by all the bands. Timing and other potential problems were avoided because all the dialog was before or at the end of each performance. In addition, dealing with seasoned bands that had been doing the same songs for months or years is a lot different than “cast” bands that are put together for a scene and may not have worked together before the shoot date.
I’m very proud of the fact that the concert performances we recorded; every episode, every scene, every band, every song, every take and every track, we had good recordings. Production never had to reshoot because of our recording team. This included dealing with a citywide power outage at one point, and in some cases, the musically excellent “younger” bands showing up to set with several pieces of gear not working or missing.
We had a great team effort and I want to thank Jeff Wexler CAS and Donovan Dear CAS and their crews plus our team of Bill Lanham, Steve McNeil and James Eric, who worked with me on Almost Famous and Steve Blazewick for their great teamwork and excellent efforts. I also want to thank Prop Master Matt Cavaliero and Head Set Decorator Lisa Sessions for their huge help sharing information during the initial decision-making process and of course, a thank-you beyond words to Cameron Crowe for creating this fictional based on a reality world, that so many of us were able to share creatively with him, the entire production and the audience who watched the show.