Malcolm Harper at the Amek Media 5.1 board in his Reelsound mobile studio
A few months ago, veteran remote recording engineer Malcolm Harper took his 42-foot Reelsound Studio truck to the Texas State Fair in Dallas to capture a Martina McBride performance for the Oprah show. Harper, whose studio is equipped with a 60-input Amek Media 5.1 analog console, dual 72-track RADAR systems and Meyer HD1 monitors, is based in Austin, but he has worked concerts from coast to coast, including 20 years and counting for the Public Radio International classic jazz program Riverwalk and a couple of previous Oprah music segments. Harper describes a day’s work in his world:
“I got a call from Harpo Productions’ technical director that Oprah was going to be doing the State Fair of Texas, but they didn’t have an artist lined up yet. We found out about two days in advance who it was, and luckily I have worked a lot with Martina in the past and know her husband, John McBride [engineer/owner of Blackbird Studios, Nashville, and longtime live sound engineer/provider].
“We got the truck up there on a Saturday before we taped on Monday. We had been in touch with [live sound providers] Clair Global, who were already set up on that stage. We were able to coordinate with them as far as getting input lists. John travels with a Clair system when he [mixes front of house] for Martina so they used what Clair already had in place. Her band set up — I think it was a six-piece — and she did one new song and a medley of her hits.
“We interfaced with Clair on the splits. The TV truck arrived the next day, we interfaced with TV, as far as getting timecode and feeds back and forth between us. We got to do a line check with Clair the night before and hear a few bands because that stage was already up and running for the State Fair. We established we had good signal, left for the night, got back the next morning at about 4 a.m., and hooked everything up, and they’d had a big rain storm that night, so somehow we had developed some buzzes and snaps and crackles. We spent about an hour going through and cleaning that up, and then Martina’s band arrived at 6 a.m. and we got to do a line check with the band. Then Martina arrived about 7, and we got to do a check with her. Then the show got started and we taped about 9 o’clock till 10, and it was over by 10 o’clock. We ended up taking a couple of takes on the songs. John mixes FOH for Martina, so he wasn’t in the truck the whole time. He did the soundcheck, came out, listened, said, ‘Sounds like we got what we need,’ and after the show he did the same thing and determined which take they would pass on to Harpo [Oprah Winfrey’s production company] that would go on the show, and we were done.”