The team working for this ceremony was composed of prized, talented and experienced professionals. Our mix engineer, Flavio Senna, is no exception. Flavio has worked on countless classic Brazilian records, has done live PA for internationally renowned artists and throughout his career has collected more than a dozen awards, including Grammys and Latin Grammys. He also is co-owner of the most traditional professional recording studio in Rio de Janeiro, Companhia dos Técnicos (aka CIATEC), which many decades ago was called RCA Studios and belonged to the record label prior to their acquisition. Most of the music for the Olympics Closing Ceremony was recorded and mixed at CIATEC. The recording engineers were either his son, Flavio Senna Neto, William Jr. or Arthur Luna.
During this interview, we will have both Flavio Senna and Flavio Senna Neto describe their part on the recording and mixing of the music for Olympics Closing Ceremony.
Flavio, you were the mix engineer for the soundtrack of the Olympics, and you have worked with Ale Siqueira, the musical director, in other projects in the past. The choice of doing the final mix of the Olympics soundtrack here is largely due that this is your room and where you are most comfortable, and yet one had to consider that these sessions would need to be accessed in many different systems. With this in mind, the decision was made to keep the mix in-the-box. Could you please tell us about the tools that were chosen and what you guys did to synchronize the teams and systems to have this multi system compatibility?
SENNA: I have worked many times with Ale, and we understand each other very well. He sends me his sessions, and I’ll execute what he wants me to do to the track, but I’ll do it my way. So there is trust and affinity. At first, we were going to mix on the Euphonix, but the results were sounding so good working in-the-box with our HDX system. Because we would need to be fast, and the large amount of recalls we would need to execute, we decided to keep the mix in-the-box.
You have been a part of the project since the scratch versions of the tracks, correct?
SENNA: Yes, that was one of the thing I requested from Ale. Since we were not going to have a lot of time to do the final mixes in the end of the process, I requested that as the sessions took place, I would mix the new elements in as they got recorded. For example, if a violin was added to the track, everything else would be balanced, I would just have to add in the new violin. So I would just update my mix as the new elements were added. In the end, I had everything ready to meet the deadline. We spent three days going over all the mixes to make sure everything was taken cared of for the final delivery.
Many of the artists that participated in this project are spread out throughout Brazil, exactly because Ale wanted to pay homage to the wide variety of composers within their respective cultures and musical styles. How was the logistic of these recordings and receiving sessions from many different studios around Brazil?
NETO: From the beginning, it was decided everyone would all be on Pro Tools 12. So all we had to do was some IO adjustments at times, and we were all set to go. We would try to use plug-ins that everyone had available to them, but when there was something we didn’t have, we would use Track Freeze or Commit. All we had to do was open the session and record. No real complications there.
SENNA: We decided with Ale from the beginning that everything would go through the quality control of Companhia dos Técnicos. Everyone does their work well, in Maceió, in Bahia, in São Paulo, but they all do it their own particular way. So when it came time to mix, we decided to unify it all using my standards of mixing, which I use for the work I do.
NETO: Since these tracks were recorded in various studios, there comes a time when someone has to match them in terms of timbre. Tracks within the same song sometimes were recorded in different locations, so when it came time to mix, we had to make all the tracks sound unified. All the songs were part of a story, and they had to be presented in context.
Senna, one of the things that caught my attention during the mix was that you not only made technical decisions like applying EQs and compressors, but you would also make arrangement decisions, such as muting elements, creating delays and textures. You would take instruments that sounded acoustic and would apply radio and lo-fi effects on them. Some of these choices you would make without producers or Ale present. This shows the great trust he has in you, for most of these decisions were incorporated to the final arrangement. Tell us more about this aspect of the production.
SENNA: I believe that when one chooses an engineer for a project, one wants everything he has to offer: his sound and what he can contribute creatively to an arrangement. Because I’m close to Ale, I know what he likes; I know a lot about what he wants and the result he desires to attain in the end. I also know about the time he didn’t have. In this project, he didn’t have time to think about those delays the way he usually does. Ale has fantastic ideas, and I learned a lot from him. So when I imagined that something would fit in well, I would add those elements because I knew he was going to accept them. When I mute something, for example, it’s so that we can grow more dynamically down the line. Or, it’s because there are two or three sources in the same frequency region. That is something that I will do at times. When the producer is not around, I do everything that I believe that needs to be done and then I’ll show the producer. That’s a characteristic of how I mix.
You mixed these tracks having in mind that they would playback at the Maracanã Stadium, and that they would also be broadcasted to home systems. Those are two very contrasting acoustic environments. What did you do different during these mixes that you probably wouldn’t do on a record because of this?
SENNA: The advantage of having mixed at CIATEC was our monitoring systems. I have a PA (JBL 4350 H) and a TV (Yamaha NS 10) in here. I really think of that. I have some experience with P.A., and I know Maracanã well. I know what it sounds like in there and what frequencies build up. I did think of the 70,000 people that were going to be there, but I left some things in the hands of the PA engineer as well. I thought more about the broadcast, the billions of people that would tune in. I liked how the mix sounded on TV, even though each channel had a different sound, everything was there. The timber changed but not the balance. So I mixed having this in mind, thinking of the subs and speakers and to not let any frequency overbear in the broadcast. The range of frequencies are quite different when thinking of home TV systems, so I would consider this in my mix decisions. I had more low mids, and I would clean up a lot between the lows and low mids. On records, I leave this audio dirt in — I like it. It makes the sound grittier, pulsating, sounding less electronic, less processed. But this region for this Olympics project, I had to clean up a lot because of the playback in Maracanã and for broadcast as well.
Could you name five plug-ins that you really enjoy working with?
SENNA: I enjoy some of the Slate plug-ins, FG-Grey compressor. I also like Revival, I use it a lot, and his Neve EQ as well. And from Waves, I couldn’t go without my Q10.
NETO: In general, we use the Waves bundle a lot, a basic bundle that has most of the plug-ins we need and that we usually use, which are Q10, H-EQ and the Renaissance bundle with RBass. With just the plug-ins from this bundle, we can do any project. But since we would be working with teams in other locations, we all defined plug-in bundles to subscribe to as well and we ended up getting to know new plug-ins.
Here in this studio, you have HDX cards and many HD I/O interfaces. Tell us about what you felt changed sonically and also regarding processing power when you made the upgrade to this system from the HD3 system. How did this change impact your workflow?
SENNA: When we purchased the HDX system, we set up that good old blind test where we would compare A to B; I didn’t want to know which was which. I didn’t want to be influenced. There were 12 engineers in the room to hear a drum recording to make the comparison. We all picked out the HDX System. The stereo imaging, the definition, wider and with a greater sensation of spatiality.
NETO: Not that the HD3 system was bad — we used them for 10 years. But the gain with HDX was really significant.
SENNA: Yes, that was one of the greatest changes I’ve seen. There was a clear difference between the two systems. HDX with the new HD I/O was a great evolution, an unmistakable sound.
NETO: Regarding processing, here at the studio, we need to be ready to take on any type of project. Today we have a set up that has 64 channels of I/O, and we can insert plug-ins on all the channels at 192KHz.
SENNA: We have two HDX cards and four HD I/O interfaces.
When the mixes were finalized here at CIATEC, I would open up the session files and split all the subtypes of instruments into stems as it was requested for delivery. And these stems were what went to Carlos Freitas in mastering. Since he mastered the separate stems individually, he was in a way dialoging with your mix. How did you guys communicate during this process? How was this dynamic?
SENNA: I have gone many times to Carlos’ mastering facility, and he has already been to CIATEC many times as well. He knows where I am mixing. He has already mastered many records I have done; he knows what I like, and I also know what gets in his way. I know what frequencies are not welcome, what type of compressing I should avoid. So I do keep in mind the work that he has ahead of me. He doesn’t have to solve sonic issue in the master, for I mix thinking of the limits that he has when mastering. During the mix, we have much more to do than in the master. So I aim to facilitate the work for Carlos so that he can get to that amazing sound.
Last but definitely not least, on the next blog, we will hear from Ale Siqueira, the musical director and master mind that put together and lead the creative team for the music and sound design of the Olympics Closing Ceremony.