Sound mixing is more than just pushing faders and tweaking knobs. It is an art form. Randy Thom, a well renowned sound mixer that has worked on award-winning films like The Revenant, said, “Mixing is figuring out what is essential to the moment and subordinating everything else.” Here are three reasons from The Sound Jack why you need to hire a professional sound mixer for your next film, commercial, or podcast.
1) The Emotional Power of Sound
Sound provides the power of time travel. When you hear a song from your middle school punk rock phase, you can picture your wicked algebra teacher telling you to turn off your music. You can smell the freshly sharpened pencils and see where you carved your name into your desk. This moment is so vivid, because of the emotional power of sound. Sound mixers use this sensory power to help an audience understand what to feel and what is important in a story.
In the opening scene of The Revenant, a tribe of Indians attacks a band of fur traders. As you hear the sounds of a vicious fight, the fur traders scramble to a boat in hopes of escape. At first, the sound mixers push the raw sounds of the battle – the sound effects, Foley, and dialogue. You hear the skin piercing arrows, the intense collisions of fist and body, flesh being torn by tomahawks and exploding gunshots, and the intense breathing and grunting. Slowly these sounds are washed away like the blood in the river, and the ominous tone of the powerful music swells in – helping us understand the dark side of frontier exploration. This control of what you hear and when you hear it is no accident. The sound mixers are using the emotional power of sound to fully immerse the audience in this fight for survival.
Like a painter uses texture and color to evoke emotion, a sound mixer uses sound effects, Foley, dialogue, and music. The unique way that these different elements are mixed and juxtaposed against one another helps tell the story. A sci-fi, action movie is going to be heavy with sound effects and music versus a romantic comedy where dialogue is king and sound effects are subtle. If these elements are not mixed properly, the audience will know and be taken out of the moment. They will ask questions like “what did she say” or “did you hear that?”
Sound mixers juggle between 20 and 1,000 tracks of audio. Obtaining the right balance between all of these elements that elicits the correct emotion can be a daunting task. Find a sound mixer that understands and uses the emotional power of sound.
To paint pictures with sound, a sound mixer must first spend years mastering the technical aspects. Each of these different skills plays into the craft: understanding of signal flow, efficient use of DAWs like Pro Tools, a lifetime of ear training, and a mastery of analog and digital consoles. Once these basic skills have been developed, an understanding of the different mixing standards is crucial to bring it all together.
Have you ever noticed the blaring commercials between segments on your favorite TV show? Or felt like the sound of an action movie in a theater was so intense that your ears would bleed? These are great examples of the complicated mixing standards used for TV, film, and the Internet. For instance, the commercials and TV shows that go to networks have different requirements in terms of measuring loudness and how they want the audio tracks separated for deliverables. Movies mixed for the big screen often have to be mixed in different formats like stereo, 5.1 and 7.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos. Compared to TV, a mix for the big screen requires less measurements. The mix can be more subjective and normally contains a lot more dynamic range. Then there is the Internet, which is basically an open playground with no rules or limitations.
With technology advancing the way we experience media through different platforms like virtual reality, cell phones, and movie theaters; the need for a professional sound mixer that understands the complicated technical requirements grows. Find a sound mixer that can navigate the intricate world of media and adhere to technical mixing standards while maintaining your creative vision.
In the primary age of the DIY mentality, we spend countless hours teaching ourselves the basics of new crafts. We learn a little about a lot, but we master nothing. Professional sound mixing requires the specialization of a master.
A film director must have the vision for a project; but he must also have the support of a producer, discipline of an assistant director, and creative eye of a director of photography. Four-time Academy Award winning director, Alejandro Iñárritu understands the importance of collaborating with specialists. Re-recording mixers Randy Thom of Skywalker Sound and Jon Taylor of NBCUniversal worked with Iñárritu on his latest film, The Revenant, and speak very highly of his approach toward creative sound mixing. Jon Taylor said,
“He has a supersensitive ear, it has to be unique, authentic and real, it can be the smallest thing, but we’ll do everything that it takes, he will leave no stone unturned, and it will get even better. Alejandro is so thorough, even when you know it’s perfect, he’ll go – ‘lets go try some other things.’ You end up trying a bunch of things and rarely will you ever go back. You’ll wind up with something just a little bit better. It only ever gets better.”
“He is unbelievably unique, he only works out of emotions, it’s only what moves him that matters. That can be very difficult – but when you move him, then you got it, that’s where it’s supposed to be. This film has a real elegance, it was about finding that balance between what is elegant and what is haunting.”
Iñárritu’s most popular films, Birdman and The Revenant, were nominated for a total of twenty-one Academy Awards. His specialization is developing a story from start to finish on the big screen, but he understands that others specialize in sound. He uses the sound mixer’s specialization to enhance his movies. Find someone that specializes in sound mixing.
Whether you are producing a commercial, directing a film, or recording a new podcast; whom you hire to handle the sound mix is an important factor. Find someone that specializes in sound mixing, someone that understands the emotional power that sound can create, and someone that has the technical knowledge to get the job done right. Don’t compromise. Just do it.
If you are looking for a more in depth look into the world of sound mixing, Avid offers a fantastic six part video tutorial.
The Sound Jack offers sound editing, sound mixing, sound restoration and sound design for all video, film, and podcasts. If you like this article please share it or leave us a comment. For more sound help, check out our other articles on sound editing, sound restoration and sound design.