Fifteen years ago, Hank Neuberger saw the future of streaming audio/video and set up his first “casting rig” at Lollapalooza, essentially launching his new company, Springboard Productions. It was low-key, covering one stage, and stereo audio was sent to a YouTube channel. But it worked, and to put Neuberger’s vision in perspective, one year later the first iPhone appeared.
Since then, Neuberger, whose long and varied career includes roots as an audio engineer/producer, manager of CRC Studios in Chicago and Glenwood Place in Los Angeles, and 30 years as broadcast lead for the Grammy Awards, has added Austin City Limits and Coachella to his streaming client list, along with many others.
This year at Lollapalooza, Springboard was responsible for all streaming audio and video, along with video throughout the venue. More than 100 professionals were brought in to run camera on site and staff two NEP audio/video production trucks—Red and Blue—as well as a new Pacifica truck owned by Azuolas Sinkevicius, which handled final recording and distribution to Hulu and Sirius XM downstream.
From the beginning, Shepard and his American Mobile Studios, have been key to the operation. “I’ve been an audio guy my entire life,” Neuberger says from inside the Red truck, where Kevin Caslow takes the stereo feeds from the various stages and “masters” them for streaming levels on a Calrec Alpha board. “Look around you. Everybody I hire is from audio, either studio or live or broadcast. None of this works if there isn’t great sound. Chris Shepard and I have been doing this a long time. He’s a great engineer and mixer, and for something this size, you need his audio truck.”
Shepard, in fact, has one of the few mobile audio trucks left in the country that can support an event of this scope. Like Neuberger, Shepard is a veteran of studio, mobile, broadcast and now streaming audio, and he’s enamored of ever-changing technologies. Neuberger first brought a DAW around to studios in 1992, and he built his first location-audio “fly-packs” soon after. The American Mobile Studios truck didn’t come until 2008.
“For music on a live broadcast, you definitely want to have a ‘music’ truck as the backbone, then add ‘mix stations’ depending on the number of stages,” Shepard says. “At Lollapalooza, I was in the truck with A2s Jonathan Lackey and Mike White handling the stage, Steven Weeder was the A1 mixer for the Bud Light stage, with A2s Nate Weeder and Caleb Dudte, and on the Lake Shore Stage we had A1 Jason Homyak and A2 Alex Burns. NEP/Springboard drops a fiber rack at each mixing position to pick up our mixes, as well as comm boxes so we can talk to our stage directors and all the other tech folks downstream.
*All of our stage racks are identical and can be linked together when needed,” he continues. “Each has 64 RedNet MPR8 remote-controlled preamps plus 64 MADI. Each connects to our ‘remote control rooms’ via fiber. We also install power regulation and backup at each step. The truck has an Avid D-Command console, while the fly-packs on the other stages have Avid S3s. The preamp settings are all saved in each ProTools session so our pre-show soundcheck levels are all recalled instantly for each band.”
Inside American Mobile Studios, Shepard receives a full multitrack split from the stage through the RedNet preamps and over fiber to the truck. Some bands still prefer to send MADI. He mixes on a D-Command (“because it just works so well with Pro Tools”) with software updated monthly. Each mix position makes use of the mega BX plug-in bundle from Plugin Alliance for processing. Shepard’s current favorites are the bx _J9000 on each channel, Lindell 245 and 345, plus Vertigo Vsc2, on buses with Valhalla reverbs. “I use a Dangerous 2Bus+ in the truck for analog summing,” Shepard adds, “with a bit of para-limiting and some BAX EQ for a smile.”
Shepard listens in stereo out of a pair of Genelec 1031s; he also has an Auratone for checking mono. When mixing, however, he’s usually wearing Sony 7506 headphones. “It’s the reaction time,” he explains. “Out of speakers, my reaction time is just a little bit slower than when I’m wearing headphones. I also hear the stereo image really well in headphones, especially when there’s a lot of instrumentation and you’re trying to squeeze three or more guitars into a mix and still understand the message in the vocals.”
Each mixing station sends a left-right stereo feed to Kevin Caslow in the NEP central command center, sometimes sending an additional subgroup of crowd mics. Broadcast loves a big crowd roar. They also send a backup of the FOH mix just in case there is a glitch.
There were challenges this year, as there always are, but there were no show-stoppers. Preparation begins six weeks out with notes from artists, input sheets, template setups and mass communication with managers and sound teams. Then it’s suddenly showtime, and Shepard felt right back at home on his proverbial bike.
“I never tire of mixing crowds and music,” he says. “We’re always trying something new, trying some new angle on a mic, making adjustments as the day progresses and more people arrive. A few days after Lollapalooza, we got a letter from the GM of Sirius XM saying that was the best-sounding festival they’d ever broadcast. It’s good to know we still got it!