The Final Film Sound Mix – Mixing Workflow

   By Sarah C   Categories: Mixing TechniquesRecording

The traditional style and workflow of mixing is to have all the sound elements that have been prepared by DX, FX, and MX play in real time while the two mixers blend the three elements together, balancing the volume, panning, EQ, and other sound treatments on their respective material. Sometimes the dialogue is mixed first, and then the other elements are added around it on separate passes. Dialogue takes priority over the other elements, since it tells the story most directly, and utilizes more of the overall soundtrack’s volume. The remaining is left for sound effects and music.

Picture from Flickr user Jared Polin.

Picture from Flickr user Jared Polin.

Usually, mixers play through one scene at a time, including the transition points from the previous scene to the current scene. In the early days of re-recording for film, without the benefit of automated mixing the process was much more difficult. The mixers had to record through a reel of the movie continuously from beginning to end, and if they made a mistake or wanted something to be different, they would have to go back to the beginning and re-mix the whole reel again, trying to remember the previous volume settings and changes. As technology improved, engineers could play and record in shorter sections of the reel, and were able to punch in and out of Record manually. Now, computer-controlled automation makes matching, punching, and recreating passes infinitely easier.

A current style of mixing has developed from this traditional workflow, where small sections of the film expressing an emotional arc are mixed by going back and forth over that group of scenes, until it sounds just right. It is common for a mixer to balance the audio by manipulating volume levels, processing audio with digital plugins, and setting panning assignments using the computer software, mouse, and an optional hardware mixing controller. This process is commonly referred to as “mixing in the box.” However, what is even more common is for the mixers to make basic settings of volume and audio processing in the computer, as well as adjusting mix parameters in real time. Part of the benefit of mixing in real time is to hear what the other soundtrack elements are doing. None of the three elements should be mixed in isolation, without hearing the combination of the other two soundtrack elements. As the mixers progress through the reels of the movie, in small sections, they are then able to review at any time the mixing moves that they have performed. Reviewing each mixed reel upon completion is known as “playback,” and is usually listened to by all those present at the mix, and sometimes studio personnel who may come in to hear the results. From these playbacks notes are taken, and then the mixers re-mix, addressing the changes or fixes.

PAX Quote

“An Oscar-winning sound engineer told me that music, in his mind, is the second most critical element, in that it can tell the story in a way that other sound elements often do not.”

Excerpt from Music Editing for Film and Television by Steven Saltzman © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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About the Author

Steven Saltzman, MPSE is a music editor and composer based in Los Angeles, CA. He received his Bachelors of Music in composition and film scoring from Berklee College of Music and is a certified Avid Pro Tools instructor. He has been editing music for film and television for the past eighteen years. In addition, Steven has lectured nationally, and he has created and taught numerous music editing courses. A recipient of a Golden Reel Award for music editing, Saltzman is also a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, and he sits on the board of the Motion Picture Sound Editors Guild.


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