On site final mix in Shamu's theater, SeaWorld of Texas

Producing music for theatrical productions presents many challenges you don’t often face when doing record, film or tv work. Whether for a Broadway style show or, in the case of “Shamu’s Rockin’ Creepshow”, a multi-media, live animal production, there are dialog, SFX, natural animal noises and odd playback systems to contend with. I find that a first-hand knowledge of the end use and venue can really informs my composition and production decisions for each project.

After finishing recoding and mixing this latest production for SeaWorld of Texas here at my studio, I then took the multi-channel stems and a portable Protools 9 rig to the venue to tweak the mix on site and make sure it was all it needed to be. And it’s a good thing I did. Shamu’s stadium is a dome covered, open air theater in the round. While Sea World spared no expense on acoustic treatment of the dome and a killer JBL surround playback system, there remained some unavoidable issues effecting the curve of the playback system and it was much more efficient to deal with it on the stem level of the show rather than on a final mix.

The Orca arena

To speed the process along, I brought my handy Audio Tool Box and used the RTA to analyze the playback system. The dome caused a big bump in several low frequencies, the pool of water sent varied reflections back up toward the speakers, and the monitors on the far side of the stadium sent a beautiful (but inconvenient) slap to the audience across the pool. But once I knew what I was fighting against, it was a simple matter to adjust the problem areas in the stems and, voila, the mix rocked the venue pretty well. It was also VERY important that the animals could still hear the commands given by the trainers during the show, so playback level and certain frequencies had to be considered and set carefully. In the end, both the whales and their trainers showed their satisfaction by dancing along to the final playback.

Now that mix is complete, Sea World staff engineer KC Baetz will program the show control system so that sections of the music will loop seamlessly (if an animal behavior is late happening) before moving on to the next transition. Because show producer Brian Knowlton anticipated this need, we built loopable sections and transitions in to the recording sessions with zero extra hassle (as mentioned in a previous post).

“Shamu’s Rockin’ Creepshow” is not my first production for SeaWorld, and while I was there I had a real “fan-boy” opportunity to meet the animal stars of some of the other shows I’ve worked on. Elrod, the Sea Lion was the most fun, and feeding the Beluga Whales and Pacific White-sided Dolphins was a real treat. But getting to spend a couple of days watching the Orcas and their trainers was incredible. Now I know what I want to do when I grow up!

SeaWorld's dream team: KC Baetz, Sharon Aguillen, Brian Knowlton and doug Minerd

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