Make sure your individual
elements are logically grouped on as few tracks as necessary to keep the
mix from becoming a massive confusing mess. On the other hand, use as
many tracks as necessary to give the mix engineer the flexibility he or
she needs to remove or change individual elements. To some degree, that
depends on the engineers style, the amount of time for the mix,
and the mixing systems capabilities. Ive delivered as little
as a stereo pair of hard sound effects and a stereo pair of ambience,
and as many as 32 tracks of hard sound effects.
If you handle dialog and music as well as sound effects, never put them
on the same tracksthe panning and EQ tend to be totally different
for these elements, and combining them creates a conceptual headache.
Ask the mix engineer what he or she wants and make it happen. Make sure
your sound elements are clean, are well edited, and sync to picture nicely.
Time is a precious commodity during a mix, and fixing problems comes at
the expense of making the best mix possible.
Always bear in mind that dialog comes first. If a sound effect gets buried
or a clarinet part cant be heard, it is unfortunate but not drastic.
However, if a spoken line is unintelligible, the audience is robbed of
the story. People are tuned to listen to human speech, and they get annoyed
when they cant understand the words. Thus, music and effects are
always subservient to dialog in a mix.
Dialog is so critical that the standard mixing convention in film is to
use the center channel primarily for dialog. Separated from the music
and effects that fill the rest of the space, the words are always heard
in the middle of the screen. Dialog is sometimes compressed and limited
to help it ride above the rest of the mix. You can also use EQ to make
sure that too much information in other elements doesnt compete
with the same frequency range as the words. If a line is still not reading
well in the mix, turn everything else down a bit.
How do you make music and effects coexist peacefully? As mentioned earlier,
one answer is to ensure that important events dont happen simultaneously.
Another approach is to have the textures augment each other through contrast.
For example, music that is tight and nicely percussive matches languid,
airy, continuous ambiences. Similarly, ambient, Brian Enoesque soundtracks
contrast well with a tighter, sparser, more event-driven approach to sound
Music and effects can always inhabit different parts of the frequency
spectrum. There will be times when the music feels buried or the effects
subtlety is lost. That is all part of the dealit is most important
to tell the story effectively and artfully. If that means whole swaths
of sound or music get lowered or removed in the mix, so be it. The creative
process of shaping and changing the sound culminates in the mix itself.
Limiters are useful for increasing the overall perceived level of an element
or mix. I try to avoid using limiters when creating premixes or stems
(partial mixes); I prefer to preserve as much dynamic range as possible.
In the final mix, though, limiters are often used to shoehorn everything
in. Kent Sparling, a rerecording mixer at Skywalker Sound, believes that
limiting in the mix is a necessary evil. Its a shame to have
to make everything louder to compensate for a problem in the storytelling,
Magazine, March, 2001
© 2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved.