Sound Advice On Mix Formats

Sound Advice On Mix Formats


29 MARCH 2017

written by Mike




When we think about the sound, we tend to see it as music in your headphones and movies on your laptop. Maybe a surround sound set up at home if you are a grown up. It’s only when you start to dig more into the world of sound engineering you will discover there is a lot more to standard format and mixes.

Today I will share with you an advice and overviews of the most popular formats, mixes and mix elements.

It is important to recognise them and why we use one over another. It’s is only a surface scratch. The area of your expertise and choice of your focus will require learning more about some formats, and the others may be useless to you.

But like with everything else it is good to know the fundamentals, so you have something to talk about with other audio nerds. Excuse me, audio engineers.

Ok, so where is this stuff used?

Everywhere. I mean TV, radio, cinema, games, Internet and everything in between. And the best thing is, every platform requires different formats and conversion.


No, not really. It requires a lot of technical knowledge and a lot of work.

Let’s start with the basics.



It is one signal. When you record your voice with a microphone, it’s a mono signal.

You can pan it (move it) to the left or the right, but it’s still going to be just one signal. If you duplicate it and pan one to the left and other to the right it’s not going to make it stereo, it will only make it louder (by about 3dB, that is double sound intensity).

So remember while a mono signal can be fed through a pair of headphones speakers it won’t make it stereo. It is still the same one signal.


Stereo means having two input signals. For example, if you are recording a guitar with two microphones it will be stereo. One signal goes to the left, the other to the right. It is only the simplest description because the subject of stereophonic sound is very deep.

For example, there is a difference between stereo and a true stereo that can apply to convoluted reverbs. In true stereo, two input signals are split into four and spread to L/R outputs.

There can be other types such as mono to stereo, joint stereo, intensity stereo, mid/side stereo.

For know let’s keep it simple. Two input signals – two output signals. Stereo.


LtRt meaning Left Total/Right Total is another two-track element with Left and Right audio but encoded with Dolby Surround matrix.

What does it mean?

In normal Stereo, you got two outputs – left and right. We call that mix Lo/Ro. In Lt/Rt, you have four outputs – L C R S (left,center, right, mono surround).

Four tracks are “downmixed” or encoded into two-track (left and right), but it can be played back as mono, stereo or LCRS. You will need special software plugins or dedicated hardware to encode/decode this mix.

It’s not often used, but clients still ask for it.


Some old venues that can’t handle standard 5.1 may need it, airline play and TV could use it too.

R128 EBU

R128 is the latest European Broadcasting Union Recommendation for volume and peak levels. These we use for TV broadcast. In postproduction, you may be asked to produce both 5.1 R128 and 2.0 R128 mixes, both set to standardised rules.

What rules?

LUFS, which is relative Full-Scale loudness, must be set to -23dB (with +/- 1dB of margin) with peak set up to -10dB. For feature films, a peak is set to -3dB. ViSLM is a great tool to measure and correct these settings.

We build R128 mixes from separate audio stems.



5.1 is now a common name for surround sound. The signal is split into six channels L C R Ls Rs LFE (left, center, right, left surround, right surround, sub) and it is the most common set up in home cinemas.

Most DVD and Blu-Ray systems will decode TV broadcast, clips from YouTube or audio from your phone into surround. But it is only when you listen to true surround mix that you can appreciate the art of it.

Games and Blu-Ray movies will always have a true surround mix, and that’s why they sound better than a TV broadcast or streamed shows. There is much less compression on these disks.


7.1 is another type of surround sound. The difference between 5.1 and 7.1 is extra two channels of audio. The signal is split into L C R Ls Rs Lsr Rsr LFE (left, center, right, left surround, right surround, left rear surround, right rear surround, sub).

7.1 mixes are much less popular than 5.1 mixes and only in selected countries movies get a 7.1 cinema release. It depends on cinema sound setup.

5.1 mix can derive from 7.1 mixes and that is what mixers still do on most dubbing stages.


Atmos is the newest format from Dolby. It is still unknown to the general public and only around 2000 cinemas in the world are capable of playing Atmos mix in full scale.

What is it?

It’s quite difficult to explain in words; you need to experience a demo or a movie mixed in Atmos to understand the idea behind this new system. Atmos system divides mix into objects. It has up to 128 separate channels that the system sends to 64 speakers.

I am only familiar with Atmos mixes for movies so take my explanation of the system as only a small part of the technology.

The way the industry leans towards is to mix movies in Atmos and then derive everything else from it. That means 7.1/5.1/stereo and everything in between will be a “downmix” from Atmos.

Some mixers still hesitate and prefer to mix in 7.1 and only then do a quick Atmos job. It is quite an expensive venture and not as effective. Movies you will watch in Atmos will have sound effects flying all around you, rain coming from above, shouts from the left, explosions from behind.

It is quite something. I may write an article dedicated just to Atmos.

For now, just remember – speakers all around you mean Atmos.


Binaural recording gives you the sense of being “in the room”.

What does it mean and how you can achieve it?

And how do you experience it?

Let’s start with the last. Binaural is a headphone mix. I mean you can sort of experience it with surround sound, but headphones are the way to go.

Imagine a band standing in the circle and you being inside of it. That’s what binaural is. It gives you the sense of sounds around you, moving as they pass you.

Liked the article? Follow me! 🙂

Subscribe for the latest updates

Big Project Survival – Phase III “The Last Rally”

Big Project Survival – Phase III “The Last Rally”


25 MARCH 2017

written by Mike





The light at the end of the tunnel! The end is near, only a few more days to go.

But wait.

It’s not over yet, far from it. In the last part of the guide, you will learn how to push through the final barrier. You are almost there; it’s too late to give up now.

Be ready for the last minute change.

It feels like the end is near. Only a few more days and it will be over. The project life cycle is completing. A word of advice. Do not lower your guard.

Last minute changes will come.

The last project was a perfect example of that. The director and clients were tinkering with the product till the very last minute.

“Small changes” weren’t that small and it affected all of us. The funny thing is, deadlines stayed the same. In a situation like this, you can cry and complain all you want. Or you can get on with it. And that is what we did.

You will need the last drop of your strength. These last moments will be the hardest. “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”

After the primary grind, people will relax. Watch for silly mistakes.

There is another problem with last minute changes. Because you and your teammates thought it was over, you started to relax. Even couple of days can cause you to lose focus. And it is going to be hard to regain it.

And with a lack of focus, mistakes happen. And not the big ones. Not the ones that we made before. When we justified them with chaos and disorganisation. Silly blunders, we make them because we started to sit back. To unwind.

Be cautious in these last moments. It’s not over yet.

If you know that something will be late, say in advance!

We set deadlines, and we all work towards them. At the end of the project life cycle, you will deal with deliverables.

When I make my schedules I take the final date minus one day. I set my target date early, so I have one day spare in case something happens. I have to say it does work great. But mix a massive project, tight schedule, last minute changes together and you are heading towards a steep hill.

Every morning I would update my fellow workers on the state of deliverables.

Since other vendors were waiting for us, it was crucial to let them know if something was going to be late. That is why if you feel that you may miss your deadline, even by a few hours, let other people know.

They can prepare and adjust, and if you deliver on time, you will look good!



After the deadline, have a debrief.

When the dust settles, it is important to sit down and review.

What went wrong?

How can we improve for the next project?

Was this project life cycle too short?

Having this conversation is healthy. But don’t spend too much time on complaining and critique. It is over now. Address the issues, but don’t forget to praise. You and the team worked very hard in the last few weeks.

It should be acknowledged.


And the last (and most important) point, celebrate!

Go for lunch, organise a night out. You all need a couple of days to relax and have fun. The next project is coming, but, for a brief moment, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have done an excellent job, and it was because of your team.

In few years you won’t remember the long hours, never ending changes and deadline dates.

But you will remember the people that surrounded you.

And there is no better way to make memories than a celebration over good food!

Liked the article? Follow me! 🙂

Subscribe for the latest updates

Big Project Survival – Phase II “The Grind”

Big Project Survival – Phase II “The Grind”


22 MARCH 2017

written by Mike




Ok, you planned every detail. The troops are ready to go. The battle begins slowly; everything goes according to The Plan. And suddenly, things are starting to go south; morale is falling.

What is happening?

That’s the middle no one wants to talk about. The grind, the dirt, the struggle. The time has come, the second part of the guide is due.

Focus on one task, have a specific list.

Whenever I can, I prepare material in advance. I look at the schedule and make my list. As long as I stick to it, it’s a smooth sailing.

But wait!

We are in the middle of the storm here. Your plans don’t matter anymore.

What can you do?

I found that it was best to focus on one task. People will ask you for favours and help. Don’t take too much on yourself. It’s better to do one thing right than a lot of things poor. As they tend to come back later. If you want to make a list, good. But accept it will change on a day. And prioritise. You will have to decide what can wait. In the project life cycle, there will be ups and downs. In the evening, I would make a list for the morning. Midday next day I would review and change. Update it in the afternoon again. The list kept me organised, but it was easy to deviate from it too.


Don’t play the blame game, mistakes happen.

You and the rest of the team are working long hours. Everyone is tired. Mistakes will happen. It is unavoidable. Now, it can go two ways. You all can think of a solution, fix the problem and move on. Or you can blame each other. We are all human so emotions will call the first shot. Especially when someone’s mistake affected your work.

And I would be the first one to think “why is he/she doing that? What were they thinking?” only to find out, moments later, about my blunders. Work together.

It is the only way to get through it.

It can get hard, but you are all in this together. The importance of morale.

It will get hard. And if you want to push through every day, you need a great team around you. Forget about the gossip and office drama. When you see the same people day in and day out, from dusk till dawn, you know it is all or nothing. So help others if they need help, don’t let the negativity creep in. The table won’t stand if one leg is broken.

In a toxic environment, you won’t get far. Don’t show your tiredness. Understand you are in the middle of the project life cycle.

Talk to everyone, even if it’s for a brief moment.

And not just about work.

Be upbeat, other people will follow

Create a fun environment. Bring some cookies with you and make a silly joke. Have confidence in yourself and others. Misery loves company, yes it is true. But so does joy. And laughter is contagious, everyone knows that. A couple of days ago I was talking to someone about the project, and she asked me,

“How did you manage it?”

“I think it was the hardest job we’ve done. And people who have been working there for much longer, agreed. But you know what?

We had so much fun; morale was through the roof!”

And then I thought to myself if she had asked me about the worst time I had at work. I’d say it probably was when we had nothing to do.

Don’t moan, work on solutions.

You will want to complain.


Because it’s easy. And everyone can relate to it. “I’m tired. It’s late again. I haven’t seen my girlfriend in ages!” All of the above is true, I’m not going to deny it. But you knew what you were signing up for. Stating the obvious will not change anything.

And also, guess what?

Your colleagues are missing their families too. I would be too embarrassed to complain in front of my boss who was there longer than anyone else. And he’s got children, I haven’t.

If there is a setback, work on a solution. If you agreed to stay longer, don’t grumble about it.

It will only make you feel worse on the night.



If there is no one else, take the lead.

Assume responsibility when needed. When you need to talk to your boss, do it. But believe me, he or she will be much happier if you can take some stuff in your hands. I know that I talked about the chain of command before. Still, there will be moments when there is no one to turn to.

Take command, guide your peers and after the crisis, go back to your post. And there is no need to gloat. You have done your duty.

Have a healthy daily routine in place.

This one is important for me. I try to experiment with my routines, and this project was the perfect opportunity. I had to plan around the project life cycle.

I organised my food, sleep and exercise. Even though the days were long, I would still drag myself to the gym whenever I could. I watched what I ate, no junk food or sugar. I cut back on coffee, and I made sure I got, at least, seven hours of sleep a day.

So what is the verdict?

It’s good. Every day I would wake up full of energy and willpower. I sustained the heaviest period without much damage.

I can only compare to other projects when my routine was cigarettes, take away food and lack of sleep. And to be honest, I prefer the new “normal.”

You need to figure out your way. But if you stretch your body too much, you can crash and burn. Just like I did before.

Liked the article? Follow me! 🙂

Subscribe for the latest updates

Big Project Survival – Phase I “The Plan”

Big Project Survival – Phase I “The Plan”


18 MARCH 2017

written by Mike




Not so long ago I was a part of a team working on a big project. It was a high-profile job, and it lasted for several weeks. And it started at the back of another task. I’m not going to lie; it was tough. The project’s life was about three weeks. We worked every day, doing crazy hours. It was relentless. There was a moment when we though we are not going to deliver. The light at the end of the tunnel was dim.

Why am I writing all this?

Well, because it will happen to you. One way or another. There will be a project that will test your ability to focus. And last minute changes will mean that months of planning and preparation will go out of a window. It was mad; it was hard. But we did deliver. And it was a great way to finish off the year. Anyway, the whole venture gave me an idea for a short guide. A guide on how to survive the grind.

You better start to get ready.


 Be flexible. Plan in advance but understand it will all change. Start with the end in mind.

We planned for the most of the year. Everyone knew it will be tough. And still, we were caught off guard.


Deadlines were moved just weeks before the start. Every day there would be an unexpected last minute change request from the client. There were delays, staffing problems, software crashes. It felt like there was a crisis every thirty minutes. And yet we managed.


Yes, the plan was gone, but we adapted to the new environment. Every problem had a quick solution; we knew that somehow we need to make it work. And you will do too. Start with an end in mind. As long as you and the team know where you are going, the rest will follow. Flexibility will be your best ally.




Have a proper chain of command. Check who is available.

You and the guys need to know who is in charge. Everyone can present different ideas but in the end, you will need one person to make a decision. It’s good to have a clear understanding who is in charge. I worked on some projects where it was just a full improv. No firm leadership.

And yes.

Creativity, no rules and all that. It’s all fine. But when you are in deep trouble, you will need a swift decision. You don’t want to be in a situation where there are people in the room asking “Ok, so what do we do next?” Believe me, I’ve been there. If there is no one else, assume responsibility. And move the whole thing forward. A squad needs a commander.

Second thing, availability.

If your department is a full-time staff place, then you know the limits. And as long as no one is ill, it should be okay. But if you need the help of freelancers, book them in advance. Make sure they know the dates. They can still pull out, so have reserves ready too. Remember, failing to plan is planning to fail.

Check your gear.

It should be a no-brainer. Make sure all your rooms are up and ready. Any updates and maintenance should be done at least few weeks in advance. If possible, check the limits and capacity. It’s alright when you have a simple project. But when the big one comes in, and you are running your equipment all day all night; that’s when the stuff goes wrong.

We even calculated how long it takes to have everything back on track in a case of server failure. Twenty-two minutes. And, surprise surprise, when the servers failed all it took was a quick tea break, and we were back in business. And the clients didn’t mind too.

Liked the article? Follow me! 🙂

Subscribe for the latest updates

Get Creative With Your Internship

Get Creative With Your Internship


12 MARCH 2017

written by Mike



Work experience.

We all know the circle. You can’t get experience without work; you can’t get work without the experience. A modern day paradox. James Citrin lists a few strategies on how you can get around it.

You can also find hundreds of other helpful sites on that topic. And yes, stuff, like getting credentials or willing to start at the bottom, is useful. But I noticed that there aren’t many websites that talk about internship itself.

Finding an internship is one thing, but getting most out if it is something else. It’s time to get creative.

What is a work experience?

I see it more as I learning experience rather than work. So, for example, you want to work in a movie industry. You are doing some TV and Film College course with lectures in every aspect of the business. From writing to filming. After a while, you discovered that you liked the sound. And with a bit of luck, you scored a work experience.

I understand there are many different programs to choose from. But my focus here is going to be on a one week-long, unpaid studio runner position. In a sound post production department.

During this short time, you can see for yourself what the job is all about. And if it suits you.

So you want to be a mixer?

But are you comfortable with spending days in a dark room without windows?

Working on something that few people appreciate?

I know, I know. I am painting a bleak picture here. The point is, during your internship you can learn what you want to do. And yes I understand. Doing work for free is unfair. Big corporations are using loopholes in the law, it is unethical, it is wrong, etc. And?

What else would you be doing instead?

Use that time. Meet new people, talk to them, sell yourself.



Before I get to a patronising advice on how to behave in a workplace. I want to tell you a few stories. These are real anecdotes from my previous workplace. I want to show you how different people are, and what you could gain from work experience.

P. was a young man, around 18-year-old. Spent a week with us, helping out. Not many clients, not that much to do. He spent most of his time on the sofa in the corridor. Sleeping. Didn’t do much else. I don’t think I spoke to him besides a “You alright, man?”

M. was a girl in her teens. Enthusiastic and full of energy. Sat with us on some projects, asked questions. We could see she was interested and thrilled to be there. She wanted to make use of every minute she spent with us.

Another story is about two guys who did a week of work experience with us last year.

D. spent three days on the sofa. On his phone. He didn’t clean the kitchen when asked to; his attitude was poor. I asked him if he wanted to walk with me around the studios as there was a production going on that day.

“Nah…I’m alright. Thanks, man.” – he said to me.

“Ok, no problem. What did you say you were studying?” I asked.

“Media and Film, really into that, man.”

Yes, I could see the passion in his eyes.

T. was quite opposite. He cleaned and organised the kitchen after one day. He sorted taxis, drinks, and snacks for clients in the morning. He joked with us all day and walked around the studios during lunch hours.

“Good for them!” you may say, “But how is this going to help me?”

Think about it. All these people were given the same chance, same opportunities. But some of them used it and reaped the benefits later on. The other guys, well, I don’t remember them anyway. Life goes on.

Yes, it can be tough out there. And until I earned my reputation with hard work and dedication I worried too. I worried that there were hundreds of people just like me, hungry for my position. And most of them would do it for less money too.

How do you thrive in a competitive environment like that?

We will get to it at some point, but for now, let’s get back to the subject. If you worry at this moment, don’t. Well, a little bit of fear helps, but the point is to get what you want. I want to give you few tips on how you can get the most out of your work experience. I think these will help you not only to stand out but also to enjoy the internship.

We call it the ‘experience” for a reason.

Number one is:

Create your value, show what you are worth.

Sound cliché? Well, it is.

When I ask you to clean the kitchen, I want to see the cleanest kitchen on planet Earth. Time to make tea for clients?

You serve it with a smile, great attitude, and good manners. Arrive early; maybe there is something that you could do before people get in. You could empty a dishwasher of something. And don’t even think about being late.

People may not say anything to you, but they will notice it. See, a lot of people take these opportunities for granted. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because they don’t get paid for it, perhaps because it doesn’t guarantee a job after. You need to understand that relationships you develop are something that counts. Networking and acquiring contacts are awesome, but how you connect with people makes all the difference.

I sat in a pub with a sound supervisor for a big video game companyonce, and he told me. “Look, when I’m seeking to hire someone I look for drive, passion and value. I ask you for a hamburger, and you bring me a three-course dinner. The skills I can teach, attitude is yours.”

“Look, I’m going to spend at least eight hours a day working with you. Why would I hire someone that I don’t like?”

Ok, so being likeable works. Unfortunately, you only have a week.

The question is, can you develop a meaningful relationship within a week?

I guess you could, but if you are like me, then it can be a hard job. I’m not shy, but it takes me a couple of weeks to come out of the shell. I know myself, so I don’t try to fake it. But some strategies can help you if you are a bit introverted.


Don’t be shy, ask questions!

I know it’s tough. People around you are experienced and smart. Some of them had won biggest awards in the industry.

How can you dare to speak to them at all?

Believe me; I’ve been there too. To tell you the truth, most of them are the kindest, most helpful people you will ever meet. Yes, you will meet the occasional jerk, but who cares? Ignore him.

Ask questions.

Be interested, talk to people.

Have an interest in what we do. If you look like you don’t care, we will not care about you too. And talk to people. Ask how was their morning, how was their work commute.

“Any big projects coming up?”

Interact, remember the names, introduce yourself. And try not to talk about yourself too much.

Be easy-going, easy to talk to.

I remember this guy who was with us for a few day. Nice guy but needy, to the point of awkwardness. He kept saying how much he wants a job in the industry, how awesome everything is. Enthusiasm is great, I agree. But boundaries are pretty good too. I was on my tea break when he came over and asked:

“So, tell me. Are you living your dream?”

“Uhm…I guess…it is a pretty good tea.”

I think it was a green tea with a hint of mint.

Lunch time!

Lunch break is significant. Lunch time is an hour when we’re friends. It’s a time when people don’t want to talk about work. It’s a time when you can get to know them. So don’t be a stranger, don’t sit in a corner by yourself. I know it can be intimidating. All these people know each other, they got inside jokes and stories.

Don’t worry about it.

Sit with them. Laugh when they laugh. Nod when they talk. And speak up when you feel like you can add something interesting to the conversation. I think a good advice is to sit with full-time employees rather than other interns. I mean, yes it may be easier to get to know other newcomers. You are in the same boat; it is simpler to connect.

But the truth is, this kind of strategy will not get you far. Yes, be friends with other trainees, but make your face memorable to people with influence too.

Few more quick points to add would be:

Say magical words “thank you” each time someone helps you out or teaches you something. Remember, they are taking their time to do that.

Maybe switch off your phone? Or put it on silence. And try not to use it. Talk to people, walk around, focus on your tasks. Your phone is not going anywhere, and fewer distractions are better for you.

Don’t gossip about other people.

Gossiping is the easiest way to “break ice”, but don’t do it. You wouldn’t want someone else to do that to you too. Studies show that when you say something negative about other people, your listeners will associate these negative traits with you.

It’s called Spontaneous Trait Transference

If you want to say something about someone, let it be a positive thing.

Work hard. Come in early, leave late, absorb everything and give your maximum effort.

It is that simple.

Liked the article? Follow me! 🙂

Subscribe for the latest updates

Pin It on Pinterest