Bleacher Report A1 Mark Steinmetz Discusses Mixes Audio in a Digital World
Calrec Audio recently sat down with Mark Steinmetz, the busy A1 mixer, studio operator, editor, and all-around technical guru for Bleacher Report, a highly popular online destination for sports fans. Entering his fourth year with Bleacher Report, Mark has his hands full mixing countless live shows, including football broadcasts and network TV hits, and a live musical artist series. He also manages an audio production mixing department for Bleacher Report’s larger productions and podcasts.
Tell us more about Bleacher Report.
Every week, Bleacher Report streams a broad lineup of live and live-to-tape shows on topics ranging from the NFL and NBA to college and fantasy football, presented on the Bleacher Report app as well as online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. In addition, the network hosts live video game simulations with top athletes and produces its own long- and short-form comedy programs. Bleacher Report also records multiple podcasts. Bleacher Report’s 600-square-foot and 1,400-square-foot studios keep busy with up to 15 Facebook Live streams every week during peak season and various other productions.
How did you get your start in audio mixing, and what attracted you to sports broadcasting?
From an early age, I have had a passion for live music and sound. In college at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, I took up broadcasting with a focus in audio production. I was heavily involved in the school’s television club as an audio mixer, mixing bands for live broadcasts and live sporting events. I also focused on post mixing for broadcast with Pro Tools, which helped me become not only a versatile A1 but also a seasoned audio post mixer well before I left college.
What attracted me to sports broadcasting was its sheer magnitude. American sports are one of the biggest broadcast markets around. I wanted to be involved with the pinnacle of audio mixing/production and the sports broadcasting industry has helped me achieve that. Football, for example, requires a complex combination of audio equipment that makes the mix all come together. The A1’s responsibility is to know every piece of equipment to mix the show and supply proper communications. It’s exciting to be in charge of audio mixing/engineering for such large-scale events.
What career path brought you to Bleacher Report?
I started my professional career working with the New York Giants and Ferro Productions as an ENG mixer. ENG wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do but it was a foot in the door, and as time went on I was able to move into A2 and then A1 positions. I was responsible for mixing all live Giants shows that aired on MSG Networks including Giants Training Camp Live, Giants First and Ten, Press Conference Live, and many more shows. I was 22 years old and succeeding as an A1 in a major media market.
After the New York Giants, I moved on to CBS Digital Media, where I focused on post mixing for broadcast as well as live mixing for NFL draft shows and more. My time at CBS was really valuable because I gained an appreciation for the full lifecycle of audio, including experience in correct mixing techniques from start to finish.
How have you seen audio technologies evolve over your career?
When I first started mixing for the Giants, we were using an analog Midas board with outboard dynamics processing. Dante was just coming into the mainstream and our audio routing backbone was analog. When I moved to CBS, that was my introduction to the digital world and I started mixing with digital SSL boards on CBS productions. As someone who came up in the 1990s, I felt really comfortable with digital boards. These powerful computers allowed me to achieve things with my mixes that I never could before. Audio routing became a lot easier and cleaner without analog patch cables. I could route anything I wanted to without having to leave my chair!
Now we are entering the age of remote mixing, in which an event is happening elsewhere from the main control room. It’s incredible that we can access mics, IFBs, and comms from a remote audio mixer that is located thousands of miles away! Also, we’ve entered the age of AES3 and Dante audio mixing, which make audio routing a lot cleaner and simpler. Dynamics processing and EQ are seamless and accessible on every channel with today’s boards. As I mentioned, as an A1, I now have a lot of power in my hands without having to leave the desk to run and patch things.
You’ve just brought on a couple of Calrec Brios as part of a comprehensive studio upgrade. Why did you choose the Brios and Calrec?
We’ve heard consistently from friends and co-workers in the industry that Calrec is the premier mixing console for television and sports. We chose the Brio because of its user-friendly layout and powerful features, which really set it apart from the other boards we saw at trade shows. Brio can accommodate any skill level, which makes it really ideal for our crew. Our audio operators love the console’s ease of contribution and mix-minus features, with a layout that’s easy to grasp at first glance and displays the data in a very intuitive and natural manner.
How does the Brio address your key challenges as an audio mixer?
As an audio mixer one of my key challenges has always been routing and sending audio where it needs to go in a seamless fashion. Depending on the show, we sometimes create three or four separate mixes that go live and also get repurposed to podcasts and for live-to-tape video content. With Brio, routing each mix is so intuitive that even some of our non-audio staff can manage it. The desk routes analog, AES, Dante and SDI sources seamlessly via without any issues, and its contribution menu lets us integrate submixes, IFB output, and aux to help us eliminate errors in our audio routing. Plus, its auto-minus feature makes mix-minus creation simple.
Another challenge I have as an audio mixer is maintaining a clean mix on talk shows with large panel discussions. Brio’s automixer effectively “listens” to each input and weights the person(s) speaking at that moment. As a result, for these types of shows I no longer have to constantly ride faders and can focus on the show rundown. Besides this, Brio’s preamps, EQ, and dynamics processing are the cleanest I’ve heard from any broadcast mixing console.
Where do you see audio mixing heading into the future?
The future of audio mixing is decidedly digital, with Dante and AES3 fast becoming standards. Also, many facilities are embracing automation to run their shows, which was another big factor we looked at when purchasing the Brio. Many of us in the audio industry are interested to see what happens with 360-degree audio. The Brio is 5.1-ready, which means we’ll be ready if 360 audio takes off. The Brio has basically become our audio hub, and we could not be happier with it.