Audio has a huge role to play in creating the overall Strictly Come Dancing experience, says sound supervisor Andy Tapley.
While Strictly Come Dancing is mainly about the visual spectacle of fantastic sets, amazing choreography and stunning graphics, audio is often overlooked.
This year, Strictly is making full use of our brand-new sound control room at Elstree Film Studio’s George Lucas Stage 1, which has been specifically designed to support large-scale and complex productions.
Efficiency and ease of operation were at the core of the design process.
The technical infrastructure needed to cope with the exacting demands of a fast-turnaround, high production value show like Strictly is immense.
From an audio standpoint, just consider the stats:
The show has 15 pro dancers, 15 celebrities, four judges, Bruce, Tess and various guest acts which mean the radio mic count alone touches 50.
Each of these mics has to be on a unique frequency, so add to this complexity talkback channels, presenters’ and guests’ in-ear monitors, production walkie-talkies and it’s pretty mind-boggling.
Big Brother was also in full swing next to our studio at the start of the series, so this added to the frequency allocation headache.
But it’s the live music element sets the show apart.
Twenty world-class musicians make up the Strictly band under the leadership of music director Dave Arch – including a drummer, a percussionist, a bass guitarist, two electric/acoustic guitarists, two keyboard players, three trumpeters, two trombonists, three woodwind players and four singers.
They need a massive 60 audio circuits to cover them.
Each band and radio mic channel is split so that as well as feeding the sound control room’s desk they also feed the band’s monitor desk and front-of-house PA desk - providing the mix for the audience via a tightly controlled line-array speaker system.
A variety of 22 mics slung and clamped pick up the audience reaction.
All of this makes for an awful lot of sound hardware. Radio mic racks, aerial systems, split racks, PA amps, speakers, sound desks, band mics and stands, stageboxes and cables must all must be tucked away and be invisible to the viewer.
Fortunately, cabling to the sound control room is now much easier with digital technology. Six portable stageboxes, each equipped with 40 mic inputs and 16 line outputs, are connected to the sound control room with fibre optic cables. This negates the need for the snake’s nest of copper cabling that would have originally been needed.
At its heart of our audio workflow is a Studer Vista 8 sound desk.
With 70 faders this is the largest desk that Studer has made, and includes the latest VistaMix automatic microphone mixing technology.
Together with the 132 circuits from the studio floor, VT and grams channels provide more inputs for the desk – outputting eventually in separate 5.1 and stereo mixes for live transmission.
Strictly is a very demanding show from a sound point of view, and the tight schedule leaves absolutely no room for error.
By Saturday night we have to be ready for transmission.
Of course, apart from the technology, this is only possible because of the professionalism of our sound team. From mic-ing up the presenters and dancers – who often need their mics sewn into their many outfits – to managing the 20-piece band and working through scores of very diverse music, to controlling the audience PA and band monitoring, Strictly certainly puts our sound team through its paces!
Andy Tapley is sound supervisor at BBC Studios and Post Production