Despite being largely a visual spectacle, the importance of sound in sport cannot be underestimated. Whichever game you follow, the drama and suspense – the highs and the lows – are not simply created by what we see, but also by what we hear. Read on as we explore the incredible lengths sporting sound professionals go to transmit the ambience in the arena, to our TVs at home – the sounds that make every game unmissable.
Accompanying each great sporting moment is a cacophony of sounds. Perhaps most notable is the voice of the commentator, urging us to watch the events unfold, to drink them in – but it goes deeper than this. There are many more subtle sounds that keep every fan enthralled – whether it’s the crowd’s sharp intake of breath as a catch is dropped, or the spring of the board as the diver leaps into action. When we close our eyes and remember, we don’t only see the last few metres of Mo Farah’s home straight, we hear the jubilant cheers of the London crowd as he crosses the line. Fans of Formula One will forever recall the roar of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes engine as he powers towards the finish line in Mexico. Anthony Joshua’s final, decisive hook on Wladimir Klitschko may be etched in the memories of sport’s fans, but the thud of the glove and the proceeding ring of the bell reverberates just as strongly. As we sit at home watching on our televisions, it’s an element that is often taken for granted. Herein lies the skill of the sporting sound mixer.
Professional broadcast mixer, Phil Adler – one of the many talented technicians responsible for conveying the soundscape for numerous Olympic Games and Super Bowls – summarises: “the challenge is to get as immersive as possible for the viewer, while keeping the announcers and commentators clear”. To succeed, a number of different audible components must be considered; the organic sounds of the action that add authenticity to the spectacle, the crowd noise that generates an atmosphere, and the words of the commentators that keep us informed at every stage. Achieving the right mix is quite literally a balancing act – add this to the pressure and immediacy that comes with a live broadcast, and the difficulty is clear to see.
That’s why sports sound mixers need to be dynamic and fast-thinking, in control at all times, while simultaneously ready to improvise in accordance with the events taking place. Andrew Stoakley, mixer for the Toronto Blue Jays, describes his set-up: “I have two microphones in the bullpen, so you’ll hear the pitcher and catcher’s mitts. I might put mics on cameras that can get into dugouts. I have a series of six microphones that I use to pick up crowd noise”. The real skill, aside from understanding and operating the highly technical equipment, is the intuitive recognition of when to switch between the microphones. Mixers like Stoakley are required to have a feel for the game or event; to know when to focus on the celebrations of the players, or to avoid a cursing and frustrated fan. For the spectator at home, this seamless filtering of sound is one of the key factors in their viewing experience – and the fact that it often goes unnoticed is testament to their masterful timing.
We can draw similarities between the work of these skilled sports sound mixers and the work of our talented producers. With every audio brand we create, the same efforts are undergone behind the scenes – as we apply a unique seven-step process to ensure a production is heard in crystal clarity over the telephone. So next time you sit down to watch your favourite team – or are placed on-hold to an On-Hold Marketing production – take a moment to appreciate the talent of those working behind closed doors.