NEW YORK, NY—The late night network television talk shows have gone through some changes in recent years, introducing a new generation of hosts that—hopefully, for TV executives—appeal to a younger audience. With musical performances taking an even greater role in some of these shows, the Recording Academy presented a Grammy SoundTable at the recent 139th AES Convention that focused on the men behind the music mixing consoles.
The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing hosted its annual Grammy SoundTable event, “After Hours: Mixing for Late Night New York,” which addressed the challenges, logistics and technical expertise of mixing for late night TV. Shown from left: Bob Moses, AES executive director; Harvey Goldberg (Late Show with David Letterman, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert); Grammy Award-winning bassist/singer Will Lee (moderator); Josiah Gluck (Saturday Night Live); Maureen Droney, managing director P&E Wing; and Lawrence Manchester (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon). As the audience discovered at “After Hours—Mixing for Late Night New York,” moderated by bass player and Late Show with David Letterman alumnus Will Lee, the faces behind the host desks may have changed, but the faces behind the mixing desks have not. At CBS, Harvey Goldberg, a Grammy-winning engineer, mixer and producer, joined Letterman in 1998 and remains in place for new host Stephen Colbert. Josiah Gluck, a music producer and engineer, is in his 24th year as co-music mixer—with Jay Vicari—at NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Laurence Manchester, music mixer for NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, is now approaching seven years on the production.
The three mixers work in different environments with differing workflows and diverse audio equipment, yet there is commonality, as Goldberg explained: “Recording music on television is not always the best environment acoustically. Television setups are always much, much smaller than they appear. You have musicians sitting much closer together than you would normally want them.”
There are also hard, reflective surfaces everywhere. “It’s every possible scenario that you would not want to have as a recording engineer,” he noted. “You start to develop what I call ‘defensive mixing.’
“Normally in a recording studio, you’re going for the highest fidelity possible. You use mic that capture the entire sound of an instrument. Mics I would normally use in the studio do not work in this environment. You want to find mics that are far more directional. Then you have to try and get them to sound as if they’re high-fidelity.”
There is not much space for the guest and house bands at 30 Rock’s famed Studio 8H, either, according to Gluck. “I remember working with Taylor Swift. The drums were on a riser, and Taylor is tall. So I had a snare drum being played about five feet right behind her head. What do you do? You do the best you can.”
He continued, “An SM58 on a wire is great in those situations. You can get it hi-fi enough. It has tremendous rejection, and it works great with monitors; you have to play very nice with PA and monitors.”
Two floors below in Studio 6B, Manchester has the luxury of working in a remodeled facility purpose-built for great acoustics. “Jimmy wanted the studio to sound fantastic. There’s a Meyer Sound Constellation system, which is installed throughout to give some variability to the ambience of the space. It can be tuned in zones, for the audience, the monologue position and the band on stage. That’s controlled by the front of house mixer. What I get is a nice-sounding audience, a band that’s happy on stage and a best shot at an imperfect scenario to work with.”
There is another challenge common to all three shows, as Manchester noted: “You don’t have a lot of time. It forces you to make decisions, and to come in with a game plan, with just enough time to maneuver an alternative if something is not working. Experience is what you rely on in lieu of ample time to pull it together.”
Audio gear varies from studio to studio. Goldberg has a 128-input SSL C200 digital music console. “I have roughly 48 channels for the house band and another 48 for the guest band,” he reported. “We mix in stereo. I’m not sure how much of the audience is listening in 5.1. And I’m not a firm believer that you can take a 5.1 mix and fold it down to work in stereo.”
Goldberg records to both Radar and Pro Tools. “Over the years, I’ve found Radar to be slightly more stable. But Radar doesn’t do as many different things as Pro Tools.”
Gluck, mixing on a 144-input Lawo mc66, records to a 192-track Pro Tools rig with a redundant Fair-light system, including Pyxis for the video track. The show is live, of course, but during sketch rehearsals, he will record stereo mixes of the music and production: “I send that to our MD and he can work with the artist and they can rehearse to that.”
He added, “We always mix in surround. We make it as comfortable as possible in stereo and then we’ll put some select elements out a bit. We’re a proscenium show; you’re basically experiencing it at home as if you were in the audience.”
For Fallon, which is prerecorded, Manchester uses a similar Pro Tools set-up, integrated via MADI into the Digidesign console. “It allows great integration with picture and the ability to do post production work as well,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s one mix that goes out the door. There are inherent compromises in that directive. It has to work everywhere, and that’s a challenge. But our show is mixed in 5.1 and I do a lot of listening to the downmix,” said Manchester.
Meyer Sound Laboratories