Fox Sports Mixer Plans To ‘Overwhelm’ Audio Student at NASCAR Race

As part of Sennheiser’s sponsorship program to send audio students to live sporting events to learn what it takes to mix them, Matthew Smith, a New England School of Art student, will be behind the scenes at the NASCAR Spring Cup Coca-Cola 600 Race in Charlotte, NC, this Sunday. With 32 production trucks in the Fox Sports broadcast compound, the situation can be overwhelming, even for a student with some broadcast experience, and that feeling is just fine with Fox Sports Senior Audio Mixer Fred Aldous, who will host Smith.

“I think I am trying to overwhelm him, to impress upon him that this is the real deal, this is life for me,” Aldous says. “That’s why you need to start on the local level, so that you can learn to do sports out of a production truck. That’s part of what I try to impress upon these students, along with the rush of doing live television.”

Aldous has hosted several Sennheiser-sponsored students on his shows, but he made sure that, this time around, the student is focused on sports-audio production, not just audio in general.

“That was very valuable, finding somebody that has started to work with the local sports market in Boston,” he says. “For most of these students, 99.9% of their education is done working in studios, so I want to make sure I introduce this student to a very large truck compound. This is very different from studio work.”

Learning While It’s Quiet
Smith will have his work cut out for him when he arrives in Charlotte on Friday. Aldous plans to spend Friday, when the production is dark, helping him understand how 32 production trucks tie together to create a show.

“Having 32 trucks on-site is pretty intense,” Aldous says. “In the local market, everything is done out of one production truck, and, even on a network level, we have three. At this level, we are probably the largest traveling show on the road right now. I think the thing I’m trying to impress upon him is, if you want to be the best in your field, you need to be comfortable with events like this.”

He will introduce Smith to all the elements in the TV compound and walk him around the track to show him microphone placements and how to set up an announce booth.

“We’ll hopefully go through some learning things in the truck while it’s quiet,” Aldous says. “I’ll teach him what an IFB is, show him that it’s okay to do 110 sends out of a desk that only has 98 outputs, explain how you manage the enormity of a show like this, and, hopefully, go through some of the basic signal flow while it’s quiet in the truck.”

Audio, Audio Everywhere
Once the production team arrives on Saturday, along with the organized chaos, Smith will have an opportunity to see how audio interacts with each element of the show, from video shading to tape to graphics. Every graphic on the show, for example, now has sound attached to it, so audio is everywhere on a NASCAR show.

“Audio interfaces with every aspect of every position,” Aldous explains. “When you tie 32 trucks together, everybody has to talk to everybody to understand what’s going on, so the communications on this particular show are as big as the audio-mixing part of it, if not larger.”

He will take Smith through the communications setup, which ensures that the announcers can talk to the director and pick shots that will help tell the story. In addition to the technical aspect of setting up an announce booth, there is a political and psychological component as well.

“When you have an announcer that is somewhat temperamental, you have to make sure you know how to interface with that person,” Aldous smiles. “It’s key to keep that person happy. There is a psychological part of this job. I try to make sure they know that I’m there for them, to help them do their job by making them sound the best they can sound and make sure that they hear what they need to hear.”

He will also take Smith around the track to show him that microphones do not sit directly on cameras on the road but instead must be strategically placed to account for delay.

“When cars are going by at 200 miles per hour, I put microphones farther out to time the delay with the camera shot,” Aldous explains. “On a shorter track, I move the mics farther in. We physically have to look at that; it’s not just dropping all the microphones out there. There is thought that goes into placing all of those microphones for timing purposes.”

Once the race begins, Smith will sit by Aldous’s side as the mixer listens to the director, associate director, producer, and the mix and tries to troubleshoot everything simultaneously.

“That’s the overwhelming part,” Aldous says.

Training the Next Generation
Aldous is one of the most talented and experienced mixers in the business, so why does he bother to spend his free time teaching students what he knows?

“Somebody gave me a chance early in my career, and it’s the least I can do to give somebody else a chance,” he says. “Bob Seiderman took me under his wing at a very young age and said, come along with me. He taught me the ropes of how to do network television, and that’s something that was a life-long benefit to me. This is a way for me to give back.”

The sports mixing pool in many four-sport towns, including Aldous’s hometown of Phoenix, is quite thin, so he hopes that his mentoring these students will help bring more mixers up through the ranks.

“If they don’t learn from people like myself, who learned from people like Bob Seiderman, the basics and foundations go away,” he says. “I want to make sure that I impress upon them that a solid foundation in the basics of what we do in sports is necessary, and they can build from that.”