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That World Series Crowd Is Getting A Boost From LA Phil's Sound Designer

The retractable roof at Globe Life Field is closed prior to Game Three of the 2020 MLB World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays on October 23, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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By Darby Maloney and A Martinez

When the Dodgers take the field tonight for Game 4 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, only about 11,000 fans will be in the audience. That's roughly a quarter of what the Texas stadium could hold.

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But, thanks to sound designer Fred Vogler and his team, those of us watching on TV will hear a crowd that sounds much larger.

"It's not a gimmick -- it's not a laugh track. We have a bunch of files -- sound files that we have spent a lot of time curating -- that we've turned into a big sound, a real, authentic sound."

They are the audio experts working with Fox Sports to augment the crowd sounds for a range of live games that are being played in largely empty stadiums because of the pandemic. They design the sound for Major League Soccer, college football, the NFL and Professional Bowling in addition to the MLB games.

In "normal times" -- pre-pandemic -- Vogler is the principal sound designer and the front of house mixer for the LA Phil. He's worked on their Hollywood Bowl and Disney Concert Hall shows for 18 years. Vogler told KPCC's Take Two that his team at Fox Sports is made up of other people accustomed to mixing sounds for live music performances.

"Fortunately I've spent a lot of time in the crowd. Most of the mixing I've done isn't backstage or in a booth somewhere. I'm out in the crowd. That's actually true for all the mixers that I have working with me. We're all performing arts mixers. So you know these guys have mixed Aerosmith and Sting, Santana, Depeche Mode and so their familiarity with how crowd reacts is really high."

In May, when the Bowl season was officially canceled, he found himself with a lot of time on his hands. His original idea was to create an "immersive audio experience" for the MLB players and coaches on the field -- inside the stadium. He considers athletes to be like performers and believes that they need the sounds of an audience to get the most out of their work.

Vogler and his team did a couple of demonstrations -- one at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and one at Dodger's Stadium. For each team they set up 12 huge banks of speakers and played crowd reactions to hypothetical home runs and double plays. The players loved it.

"To see the happy dance, the fist pumping thing -- that kind of thing -- was really the kind of excitement that we wanted to provide. We saw Justin Turner do it and Alex Wood. I think Justin even said something about adrenaline. It brought a little more significance to the at-bats and some of the things being done."

But MLB had a hard time figuring out the economics of bringing this live in-stadium sound design to all the teams. So, instead, Vogler got the contract with Fox Sports to bring their sound design into the studio. Now it's done in real time while watching the games. The mixers have thousands of sounds to choose from and are seeking out new sounds all the time.

Fred Vogler says it's been a learning curve, but as they've honed their skills they hope they're bringing a bit of normalcy to live sports in this pandemic. He says that for sound design to really sound authentic you just want people to feel excited and engaged. Vogler says, "if people don't notice what we're up to, then that's a win."

Want to hear samples? Click to play the audio version at the top of this story, courtesy of our newsroom's public affairs and culture show Take Two.