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06 APRIL 2017

written by Mike

WHAT IS MIXING?

 

Why does every audio engineer want to be a mixer?

And why people get Oscars for it?

Sound mixing is an art of combining many sounds into one. There is a simple metaphor to describe mixing that may explain it better.

A lot of mixers say it is like cooking, you add different ingredients to create the perfect dish. Of course, add too much or too little of something and your mix is not as tasty as you wanted it to be.

For many sound engineers becoming a mixer is the Holy Grail. The best of the best are legends in the industry with a lot of money and prestigious awards.

The reason sound mixing is a respectable skill is because it requires a lot of technical knowledge. Also – good hearing, subtle touch, creative mind and, of course, a lot of experience.

Doing a good mix on your YouTube video or another small project is not going to need that much dedication. But it is important to have the fundamental knowledge of the craft. There are a lot of different kinds of audio mixing such as music mixing, dynamic game mixing or live mixing. In this segment, I am going to focus on linear, movie mixing and present how to approach it in your project.

 

TOOLS

 

The days of analog mixing are pretty much gone. And yes, there are still people who will fight for it, but the world has gone digital, and the art of mixing sound followed.

Your basic tools for mixing will be a good computer, software of your choice and maybe a mixing control that acts as a mixing desk.

The mixing control desk will usually not affect your sound at all. All the processing happens inside the software. Sets of faders and knobs correspond to your program and make the process much easier than working with a mouse and keyboard.

The software of your choice can be anything that you feel comfortable working with. Especially, if you are using third party plugins. Remember, the most important tools are your hands and your ears. Well, your eyes too as a lot of work happens on the computer screen.

 

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GROUND WORK

 

Preparation is everything. As a mixer, you will work with a client. Be it a director, producer or an independent filmmaker.

There will be someone looking over your shoulder. That is exactly why good communication from the beginning is important. It will help you decide on a right approach and also right tools for the project.

Will it be a loud action movie?

Maybe it is a subtle drama where the sound drives the story?

Or maybe its purpose is to be in the background, a delicate soundscape.

Sometimes you will have a different idea than your client. Hence, a healthy conversation is important as both of you want to do the best job possible. There is also the other side of preparation that sometimes gets forgotten.

A good exchange of information with a sound engineer and sound editor is important and can make a lot of difference.

Try to develop a healthy dialogue between you and other people on the team. Do that in the early stage of the project and you will receive the sounds just the way you like it.

And it will make the whole process much more enjoyable.

 

TECHNIQUES

 

Techniques of mixing are a topic for a large book, and everyone has their opinion on the subject.

But it is important to understand the fundamentals.

Volume, panning, EQ, and compression are your basic tools when it comes to mixing.

Volume control

is important as you will have to decide which sounds will take the priority over the others. Loud action scenes can be great, but sometimes a moment of silence can have an even bigger impact.

Panning

stands for a panorama, and it means locating the sounds around you. Dog’s barking may come from the left; sound of the helicopter is above your head. And the main character stays in the center.

EQ

represents equalization, and it is a sound frequency tool. Each sound has a frequency spectrum that you can adjust to your liking.

Does a guitar have too much low end? You can cut it out from its spectrum and create space for other sounds.

Compression

we can explain as making quiet sounds louder and loud sounds quiet. It is the most important tool when it comes to controlling the dynamic of your mix. And it can take years before you grasp the value of compression.

PRINT

To print your mix means to record it into stems and masters.

So for example if you are creating a 5.1 surround mix, your master will be divided into six mono audio tracks – Left, Centre, Right, Left Surround, Right Surround, Sub (low-frequency track)

Besides printing your full mix, it is also important to record other stems such as dialogue stems, music, stems, effects stems, vocals stems and so on. These stems will be a part of your final deliveries.

To talk about the art of sound mixing is like trying to explain techniques of painting. Everyone has a different style and approach, and you have to develop your own. It takes years to develop a great ear and sense of a great mix.

And the only way to do that is practice, practice, practice.

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