The Super Bowl broadcast chalked up another record this year, pulling in 111 million viewers, according to Nielsen, an increase of more than 4 percent over last year’s telecast, which was also a record. Of course, the Super Bowl has also become a high point in the advertising calendar, so audio post and music houses were busy prior to the game, especially on car commercials, which accounted for almost half of the ad time, with nine automakers represented, plus Bridgestone, CarMax and Cars.com.
Jeff Payne, owner of Eleven Sound in Santa Monica, CA, worked on four Super Bowl commercials, including VW’s “Black Beetle” and Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit.” “All of them were surround,” he reports. “70 percent of the stuff I do is 5.1. The days are gone where the clients are afraid of 5.1.”
Stephen Dickson at POP Sound in Santa Monica turned out a Super Bowl Doritos spots, winners of a contest for fan-submitted commercials, were not mixed in 5.1, he says. But, he notes, “It played 5.1 in the Super Bowl so FOX must have ‘unwrapped’ the spot.” He continues, “Typically, at this point, the majority of commercials, even if they’re in HD, are stereo mixes.”
With airtime near $6 million per minute during Super Bowl XLV, do advertisers spend a extra time fine-tuning their spots? According to Ann Haugen, executive producer/general manager at original music house Elias Arts in Santa Monica, which worked on six Super Bowl spots, schedules can vary greatly.
“We started working on Audi’s ‘Release the Hounds’ spot back in October. There were a lot of effects and it’s a huge spot, so they really started early and got it done ahead of time.”
Conversely, she says, “There were ones like Budweiser [“Wild West”], which went up to the final, final day they had to ship.” Somewhere in between was Chevy Volt’s “Discovery’: “We did a couple of revisions, we had it soup to nuts in two weeks.”
On VW’s “Black Beetle,” Payne says, the sound design was by 740 Sound Design, “who did an amazing job. There wasn’t any dialog or VO, it was just music and sound design...that spot was designed for 5.1 mixing.” Unusually, the music, a cover of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” was delivered pretty much in the full Pro Tools session. For the Chrysler spot, featuring Eminem, he got a full track and the choir split out. “But I was still able to do enough.”
“Do we get more time to mix? You would hope, but it’s not really the case,” says Dickson. “I had stuff that I was mixing and shipping to meet a FOX deadline about six hours before it was due.” Dickson also had some last-minute fixes on mixes done elsewhere that had phase cancellation problems. He notes, “This year, FOX was offering everyone a chance to come and see their spots before Super Bowl in their theater.”
FOX was hard-nosed about spots meeting its -24 LKFS spec, according to Payne. “I heard from a couple of my clients that lots of stuff had gotten rejected.”
Some of those mixes brought to Dickson had similar problems: “For example, they were hitting -8 digital straight across center channel, but were still -17 on the Dolby meter. If you’d mixed it to -24 to begin with, you were allowed to go to -6 peak, so you could have had some dynamic range and a little headroom.”
The good news, however, is that business is up, as Haugen reports: “We had a banner year last year. I think the industry has slowly come out of the slump.”