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Topic: Mixing for film

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  1. #1

    Mixing for film

    I wish to learn more about the technical side of making music and specfically music for film. Let's for the purpose of this discussions stick to using GPO in film scoring for short films and stick to stereo. Also, let's leave the discussion about orchestration ad composing for another discussion. I am talking here about the final process after the score is written and sequenced and I have to mix it down to a wav file that I will put on CD for the sound editor.

    Even though I would have loved to have a complete surround sound studio, I am sticking to a standard stereo setup for the moment, mainly because of the cost involved and the fact that short film indie producers do not have the budget or equipment for 5.1.

    I have the Paul Gilreath book where there are great tips and discussions about mixing an orchestra. I would like to know if mixing for film would be any different than the standard methods for orchestra.

    IMO The purpose of mixing an orchestra is to achieve best realism. The object of mixing for film is to achieve best effect suporting the scene on film.

    I have some basic questions:

    1) How should one mix a GPO orchestra score for a short film. Are there special considerations?
    2) With regards to stereo panning, is it best to stick to the standard GPO setup of orchestral seating?
    3) Regarding use of reverb, should one stick to one overall reverb or should one use different reverbs or different reverb settings for different instruments and different scenes?
    4) Regarding use of eq, should one be more agressive with the use of eq on different instruments?
    5) Regarding use of digital effects, is it a good idea to add digital effects like delays, stereo imaging, etc?
    6) Regarding balance between instruments, should one keep to the orchestral balance or should one increase balance on some instruments?
    7) How much liberty should one take with percussion? Is it best to stick to orchestral sounds or could one make use of any percussion effects?

    Many would say that realism is the most important, while others would say that there are no rules and everyone should do what sounds good (typically the answer one would get from some other forums). Is there a good acceptable balance between the two viewpoints without the mix sounding goofy?

  2. #2

    Re: Mixing for film

    My habits are simply personal preferences:

    1) I mix GPO with a bit of the Lexicon Pantheon Reverb that comes with SONAR Producer. If my final mix is a little low, I'll bring it up a bit with hard limiting in Adobe Audition, but will refuse to smash down peaks across the board!
    2) I've yet to score for full orchestra, so I pan sections accordingly to taste. My ensembles are typically smaller: woodwind duet, string quartet, brass choir. I also tend to put them in a smaller setting, chamber reverbs rather than halls.
    3) I stick with one reverb, but give due consideration to placement in the physical orchestra. For example, I'll tend to put slightly more reverb on percussion, as they sit in the back. If I have featured piano, then I bring it up front with less verb. Some people will use identical reverbs with only a *touch* of difference in the programs, such as increasing pre-delay for more distant instruments: I'm not that good yet!
    4) I never, never, never EQ orchestral instruments, not per-track or full mix.
    5) I've used delay on my real tenor horn (solo) to get an echo effect that enhanced the mood. Otherwise I "keep it real".
    6) Again back to #2, as per ensemble size. However, I can't really remember a case where the GPO levels were too awfully inappropriate. One thing to keep in mind is that the levels are set so that the near full orchestra can play without clipping, so it will seem a little low for small ensembles. I've tweaked *all* instruments in a small group to boost their volume by the *same* amount, but have never changed the balance between them. You could really do the same thing with your trim control (in the host), but I suspect that removing the attenuation within the player via the volume knob will give you more dynamic response later in the signal chain.
    7) I'd say that any percussion is game, so long as you're using dry samples with no reverb imprinted on them! So make sure you place them in a similar panning and "depth" (reverb amount) in the virtual space, and you should be good. One note, though: if you're using a conventional rock/jazz drum kit with the orchestra, mix it down to mono: a person at that concert would not be hearing the ride cymbal left, hi-hat right, and panning toms! But that's only if you're going after a "live" sound, I guess: if the scenario you're simulating is an orchestra backing a full miced and mixed rock band, then anything's game.

    Again, just my personal habits, and only working on my 6th short film at the moment, so I'm by no means expert!

    - m
    Free MFX and other plugins: http://www.TenCrazy.com/
    Markleford's music: http://www.markleford.com/music/

  3. #3

    Re: Mixing for film

    Markleford thanks for that comprehensive rundown. At least you are a couple of shorts ahead of me, so your experience counts a lot.

    In general it seems like you are going more for the "real" feel to the orchestra when doing films. IMO that is very good advice you give. On point 6, I am finding that sometimes I want to bring up some instruments, especially the basses, but after listening to it a day later it sounds goofy again and I take it doen. The next day and the next listen, I will think that has no impact and bring it up again. So I keep messing around and never finding the right level.

    Great advice also about mixing & panning the jazz drum kits with the orchestra. That's a point I missed.

  4. #4

    Re: Mixing for film

    I've learned a lot in scoring a recent feature-length micro budget film. I'll answer the best I can.

    1) How should one mix... special considerations?
    Does the scene have dialogue? Then you have to play a support role. This means ANYTHING that obscures a word is problematic. I sometimes time chord and timbre changes to occur only during gaps (even very short ones) in the dialogue. Some instruments will fight some actors voices by crowding similar harmonic space.

    2) Stick to the standard GPO setup of orchestral seating?
    Use what sounds best to your ears. I usually used standard seating, but altered it for smaller ensemble sections, or when introducing additional non-traditional sounds & instruments.

    3) Different reverb settings for different instruments and different scenes?
    Choose for each scene. For me, it depends on the mood, style, instrumentation, and audio content from the scene itself. Be careful not to use too much reverb if it starts to muddy the overall sound. When things get muddy, the director or editor will pull your music down in level until it's clear... sometimes that means almost all the way!

    4) More agressive with the use of eq on different instruments?
    I only eq problem instruments, or for special effects. I do, however, eq the entire mix in the following manner:
    1. If there is dialogue, it sometimes helps to cut back a tiny bit at 1khz and/or 2khz. These are frequencies important to voice intelligibility. This will help the music stay at a good level without obscurring the voice. It sounds crazy, but it actually works!
    2. In particularly troublesome scenes, I have actually done spectrum analysis on each actors voice to see where most of their harmonic content is in the frequency spectrum. If you are losing their voice, cut the music slightly at those places.
    -- Neither of these two adjustments will change the overall sound of your mix in any noticeable way (if done judiciously). But they will add to the clarity of the scene's audio in its composite form.

    5) Add digital effects like delays, stereo imaging, etc?
    Depends on what works for your style of music. I use effects quite liberally in some sections.

    6) Regarding balance between instruments, should one keep to the orchestral balance or should one increase balance on some instruments?
    Always balance everything by hand, until it sounds the way you want it to after it's placed into the scene. You may find that your favorite little alto flute line is completely gone when the dialogue goes in. It's your music, so highlight what you want in it.

    7) Could one make use of any percussion effects?
    Nothing should be out of bounds unless the director tells you it is. There is nothing wrong with using ANYTHING that makes musical sense to your ear. I once found a musical use for an overly squeeky office chair. Not kidding!

    Many would say that realism is the most important, while others would say that there are no rules and everyone should do what sounds good (typically the answer one would get from some other forums). Is there a good acceptable balance between the two viewpoints without the mix sounding goofy?
    You are the composer. Your ear is king. There are times when you will want realism, and times when you don't. You should not think of your job as being to fool the audience into thinking that only real human beings playing real orchestral instruments were used. Your job is to convey the emotional content of the film in whatever way you feel appropriate. There are an infinite number of "non-goofy" ways to combine real instruments and imaginary ones.

    I think you are worrying a little too much about the "right way" to do it. The trick is to learn to shut off that part of your brain, while switching your ears into high gear. To quote Duke Ellington, "If it sounds good, it is good."
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  5. #5

    Re: Mixing for film

    Jamie Thank you very very much. Your experiences are wonderful to learn from. You suddenly made me realise one MAJOR problem I have. The rough cut I am working on at this time does not have the dialogue in yet. That is going to be a problem and I will have to get in touch with that producer real fast.

    Thank you so much.

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