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The audio technology that’s making reality TV real

To produce enough material for reality TV shows such as Big Brother, new audio techniques have developed

Today, large capacity media is now widely available at low cost, making continuous recording a practical and financial reality. This is essential to obtain all the material for the crews that have to shoot almost constantly – as discussed in the first part of this piece.

The SADiE LRX2 has been used by Simon Bishop on The X Factor and BGT in what senior support engineer Steve Penn describes as a “stripped down version” running with the MTR (multitrack recorder) program. Penn says this set-up offers full metadata capability for logging as well as USB and XLR connectivity with three I/O cards, including MADI. “When we were designing this we spent time with sound recordists, including Simon Bishop,” he says. “This kind of working has now changed the way people think about reality TV.”

A facilities company that has worked through the evolution of reality shows is Roll to Record (RtR), part of the NEP Broadcasting group. RtR made its name in this niche area with Big Brother; it continues to work on that show but has branched out into variations on the theme, notably the Educating… series. The most recent series was Educating the East End, which, like its predecessors in Essex and Yorkshire, follows teachers and pupils during their school day.

Mick Bass, RtR’s commercial director, explains that the main ‘cast members’, the people identified by the production team as the most interesting or with potentially dramatic stories, are individually miked using Sennheiser wireless units. “As much as possible is recorded,” he says, “because a story can hinge on one nuanced conversation.”

Radio mic feeds are combined with signals from fixed mics, which provide both effects and pick up secondary characters who are not wearing wireless packs. “We need as good a mix as we can get,” Bass comments, “but we also record as much as possible off the radio mics for belt and braces.” Mixes are made on two new DiGiCo SD10B desks, while the ISOed wireless mics are recorded on to JoeCo BlackBoxes (pictured).

This gives the post-production team the opportunity to go back to the original tracks using timecode to find a clean version of a line if the one in the mix is indistinct. Educating the East End spends months in the edit, contrasting dramatically with the fast turnaround on Big Brother, where a day’s events are packaged into an hour of highlights that evening. “There has to be a usable mix at the first go for that,” says Bass, “but there are fewer protagonists involved.”

Which suggests that the reality is we should be more worried about Big Brother listening to us. (Roll to Record)

(Kevin Hilton)