Learn Live Sound: Understanding Press Feeds

Live Sound Engineers create press feeds to simplify supplying mixes to media

In the life of an audio engineer, there are many challenges to meet in the process of mixing the sounds of your artist or client, and delivering that sound to the audience. However, there may come a time when you are asked to provide a mix to someone other than the seated guests and ticket holders.  What about delivering the mix to the media, meaning reporters or commentators sent to cover the event for the news?  Some shows are newsworthy enough to attract news crews, reviewers, pundits, maybe even Nightline (think Lady Ga Ga in a dress made of meat, or an appearance by a controversial hardcore group called Body Count).  To help you provide content to these folks without having to distract yourself too much from mixing the show, you should provide a press feed. This is actually pretty simple to setup.

pressWhat is a press feed? It’s a copy of all or some of the sounds of your mix, sent out of your console from a separate output.  This can then be provided to reporters or other news gathering people, to record for broadcast or some other new gathering purpose. Press feeds are usually used at gigs where there is a news event or speech, or a performance that needs to be re-broadcast as part of a segment for television or radio.

Mix wise, setting up these feeds are fairly simple, as they only require the engineer to make a secondary mix. A secondary mix is a good idea for this purpose, as opposed to just splitting the main mix out to the press feed.  This is because the main mix is set up and adjusted based on how it sounds in the PA system, and that mix might not highlight the same elements when reproduced for a broadcast.  Things can get a little tricky when you have limited outputs, especially for secondary mixes (“sends” or “auxs”). Most modern mixers have an auxiliary send section in addition to the main outputs, and depending on the mixer you could have anywhere from two to ten sends to use. Now, in a full event (presenters, bands, MC, etc.) you may be using these auxs as wedge/in ear monitor mixes. Auxiliary sends are the best way on smaller mixers to make a press feed as well, because like the monitor mixes, they need to be independent of the main mix.  This is where the need for several aux mixes starts to add up!

pressYou need to be prepared for the type of events you’re mixing. Successful gigs are always the result of proper planning ahead of time.  What if, after figuring out the aux outputs that you’re going to need for monitors and one press feed, what happens if ten reporters want to tap into your system? Do you give all ten different mixes?  Imagine it: the first reporter asks to plug in. He’s good. But ten minutes later, others are coming over asking for a feed. You can dedicate more auxes, if you aren’t already using them, and if you have them. Unfortunately, you’ll probably run out of auxes before even getting to the stage monitors, and you will have made a LOT of extra work for yourself dialing in these press mixes.  You can get pretty creative as well, as long as you know all your gear’s potential outputs (auxes, direct outs submasters, matrix outs, etc).  One show, I had so many people wanting a feed I ran out and then I had to tell the videographer to take a send of my powered speaker’s parallel out. I’ve even used headphone sends in a pinch. The good news is that, most of the time, the people that need press feeds will probably be fine with the same mix.

If you do these type of events often and need press feeds that feed many different destinations without hogging all your aux outs it would be better to invest in a press box. This is a hardware box that looks like an audio snake and takes an audio output from your mixer and splits it to many mic or line level signals which they can tap into.

Press boxes come in two varieties, passive and active. Passive are cheaper, and need a line level signal to feed them, but only put out a mic level signal. Active boxes are powered and are more expensive.  They often have more options though, like outputting mic level and a couple line level signals. This means you can run into another passive box if you still need more outputs. One popular configuration is the 2 in 16 output, and while these can get expensive, they may be just what you need to manage a large press pool at your gig.  If that’s your dilemma, at least you can congratulate yourself for being the engineer at such a notable and newsworthy event!

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