The average television viewer of the Olympic Games may not think about the details of recording audio for sports, but rest assured it is an intricate art form that requires finesse and some creative touches. In other words, not everything you hear through your television set is ‘real sound.’
Sports audio engineers often have to enhance the sounds of sporting events, either by miking the athletes themselves and adding that to the overall sound of the arena or in some cases by mixing in pre-recorded sounds compiled in more controlled environments.
For example, rowing is a particularly difficult event to capture sound for, because it’s such a long race and often has loud background noise like helicopters and chase boats. To get around this, audio engineers go out for a ride with rowers before the real event takes place, record the sound minus all the background noise, and add their recording to live race.
You may feel a bit duped, but in reality sitting on your couch probably delivers you a more complete audio experience than that of someone sitting in the stadium. You get to hear every little sound the mics pick up that wouldn’t be audible to those actually attending the events. It’s a necessary practice to deliver the best possible product.
Is there a definitive line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ when it comes to audio for sporting events? Should there be?
Peregrine Andrews, Sony Award-winning freelance audio engineer and producer of The Sound of Sport, which aired on BBC Radio 4