The NHL Playoffs are Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

The first weekend’s worth of qualifier games are in the books, and we’ve gotten a look — and a listen — at playoff hockey in the age of COVID-19.

My first reaction to the synthetic crowd noise was that it sounded just like an EA Sports game. Turns out there’s a reason for that, as reports:

“[Sound mixer Matt Coppedge] will work a pair of Ableton Live audio-software systems (one main, one backup) on Apple laptops that hold several gigabytes of sound effects from the EA Sports libraries, recorded in all the NHL arenas for videogames, such as EA’s NHL 20. The inventory includes two separate crowd-sound beds and an array of reaction sounds, such as oohs and boos, as well as team-specific cheers and chants.”

NHL Returns: Hockey Audio Balances Sticks And ‘Crowds’
By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Funny that they mention “boos”, as the lack of negative crowd responses was the most noticeable failure of verisimilitude for me. I wondered if the broadcast team got guidance from the league to omit them. If at any point the simulated crowd objected to a call, I didn’t hear it. (I’m not trying to nitpick. I’m sure it’s a complicated endeavor, performing the part of 20,000 hockey fans, live.)

At other times, the artificial multitude seemed to be made up entirely of fans looking at their phones. Sure, the goal horn jolted a reaction out of them, but they went a conspicuously insufficient level of apeshit, for example, as the Habs killed an extended 5-on-3 power play in the third.

Final reaction: Before watching a bubble game, it hadn’t occurred to me that one purpose of the canned crowd noise would be to cover on-ice banter when, in the heat of competition, players momentarily forget network broadcast standards. However weird it sounded at times to fans, I’m sure it was useful from the standpoint of the FCC.

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