Film Composers: 5 tips for a better mix.
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Mixing is one of many stages in the process of creating music for film. The mixing process involves balancing all of the different elements of your music against each other.
Here are 5 tips to help you acheive a better sounding mix.
1. Take breaks
Your ears can only take so much. Take frequent breaks to prevent listening fatigue and keep a fresh perspective on the mix. This could also mean taking a break from the current set of speakers your on, so spend a few minutes listening in your car or another system/room.
2. Calve out space in the low end
A tight and focused low end is the foundation of a great sounding mix, but this can often be difficult to achieve. Use high pass filters to remove unwanted frequencies and create some space for your low end to shine through. If you are working with orchestral music then the focal points will be the double basses, low brass and the bass drum, with the cellos sitting just above.
3. Use eq and compression with intent
This doesn't mean never use them. They are fantastic tools but it’s worth resisting the temptation to reach for them right away. Listen closely and think through exactly what you are trying to achieve sonically. Ask yourself how will I use these processes to achieve that goal?
In the case of compression this could be:
- Level out dynamics in playing
- Add colouration
- Bring out the quieter elements of a sound
And for EQ,
- Cut problematic frequencies (Corrective EQ)
- Boost frequencies to enhance an element of the sound (Sweetener EQ)
- High pass filter/ Low pass filter
By applying just that extra bit of forethought, you are moving towards the mindset of a professional mixing engineer.
4. Check your mix on other systems
Always keep in mind that the physical properties of your mixing space will greatly dictate what you are hearing. Always check your mix on multiple systems/spaces and make corrections where needed.
If the track you are mixing is for a film/game project and not just a portfolio piece this is doubly important. Most film/game projects the audience will be experiencing the music through a mobile device, laptop or television so get a good idea of how your music carries over to these systems from a studio environment.
Recommended systems to check your mix on: Car, phone, TV speakers, laptop, tablet.
5. Consider the bigger picture
When the mix for your score is complete, it will then be sent off to the re-recording mixer to be mixed in to the film.
At this stage your music will be competing against dialogue, foley, sound effects and everything else in between, so try not to get bogged down in the micro details when mixing. Make your musical intentions direct and digestible, and leave plenty of room for the mixer to work with.
Remember, dialogue is king, so you should balance your levels so that your music is at the appropriate loudness relative to the dialogue track. You can begin this process at the composition stage by always making the dialogue track the loudest thing you are hearing when scoring to picture.
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