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Do you always think your cues are mixed too quiet in final TV/Film mixes?

Discussion in 'Working in the Industry' started by Rennaissance_manta_ray, Sep 7, 2017.

  1. Rennaissance_manta_ray

    Rennaissance_manta_ray Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2013
    I know we're probably all biased because we're composers, but except a few examples, I usually think that my music is mixed way too low in any indie films or TV episodes I score.

    I'm working on a show right now where I'm replacing some temp that's mixed really quiet. Normally I'd work with the music up at full volume and then see how it sits at a close-to-the-temp low volume after it's mixed. This time I started fooling around with writing and mixing with the cue really low like it's probably going to end up, and it got me wondering how other composers approach this situation/frustration.

    Do others have any great tips that keep you from being disappointed with the final mix?


  2. MatFluor

    MatFluor Senior Member

    Jan 11, 2017
    I haven't scored any Episodes or Movies as of yet (only some games). But as far as I heard, the complaint is not too uncommon.

    So, for what it's worth, often I read these measures to ensure not to get turned down too much:

    • Write around dialogue - meaning stay out of the ranges of the Actor's voices
    • Use some panning to make space for the actors voices
    • Of course deliver stems so they can mix themselves
    • Play the cues at a resonable volume and mix it under - if it clashes anywhere, you get turned down - dialogue is king, SFX is the prince. You come after that.
    I hope I could help a bit ;)
    Kubler and gsilbers like this.
  3. Alex Fraser

    Alex Fraser Senior Member

    Jun 21, 2017
    My music is always mixed too low, especially when the sound mixer is also the SFX person... ;)
  4. charlieclouser

    charlieclouser Senior Member

    Dec 20, 2009
    If you use lots of beefy, sub-heavy bottom end sounds (which I am definitely guilty of), it will be harder for the mixers to "fit" your score into the available headroom they've got to work with. This is why I use such heavy multi-band limiting in a lot of cases - to push those sub-booms down into the murk without audible "pumping" when the booms hit.

    If you have a cue that's got no bottom, like for instance Alexandre Desplat's excellent cues from "The Ghost Writer", then they can be placed at any volume without getting dangerously close to maxing out the available headroom. I notice that on those rare occasions when I'm scoring a quiet, "talky" scene, and I don't use any of that delicious bottom end that I love so much - the score rarely winds up "too quiet" in the final mix. As soon as I bring the full mayhem, that's when I always wish the music was louder in the mix - but those situations are often the ones with massive sound design of explosions, screaming, etc. - so I guess it's no surprise that the music level will suffer behind all that stuff.

    But that bottom octave, those sub booms... I do love 'em so - but they do eat up a lot of the VU meter's range. I basically couldn't use the sounds I like until I developed some ways of crushing things with multi-band compressors / limiters / mastering processors. For me, the first processor that let me use the sounds I wanted in the manner I wanted was TC MasterX5 on the PowerCore platform. This is basically a five-band "Finalizer" mastering processor, with a very limited set of controls, but what it could do very well was apply heavy limiting to one frequency range (like 20-120 Hz) without affecting any other frequency ranges. This let me have cues with lots of mid and high range pulses interspersed with occasional beefy sub kick drums - but no weird volume dips when the subs hit.

    When the PowerCore platform became obsolete, I had to frantically search for a replacement for my beloved MasterX5. The closest I've heard is Waves L3-LL MultiMaximizer, which is basically a five-band version of their excellent "L" series limiters. It doesn't have a "sound" or character of its own, isn't emulating a Fairchild or whatever, and won't do anything other than invisible level control. Other folks like Fab Filter's Pro-L limiter and a variety of other plugins that act in a similar manner. I use L3-LL a lot, but sometimes I will use iZotope Ozone's Maximizer module for a similar purpose.

    But careful selection of sounds and arrangement, and painstaking fiddling with multi-band limiters, can really help give the mixers the headroom they need to place your music a little louder - even when it's "quiet".
  5. dgburns

    dgburns za

    Nov 4, 2012
    I'm going to disagree a little bit with Charlie, just a little bit. What I've seen is that the low end stuff plays two roles, one is that it's out of the way of the dialog, and two it's going to fall off faster then the high stuff when turned down. So I find, obviously depending on the cue etc, that I tend to add more of it IF I have re-recorders that are turning the music down. I guess it's part of how the ear hears that the loudness curve is not linear.

    But there's another aspect to this issue- the idea of the density of the music against the picture. Sometimes you're just f&$ked and the scene calls for lots of noise from you, but you KNOW it'll all get turned down. The effect of loud music turned down is a peculiar thing for me, it kind of runs counter to it's original intention, that is, to be heard freakin loud. It is the ONE thing that I think about more then anything else when starting to write a cue- namely the density I'm after. Frankly I think any experienced composer is going to be sensitive to that first and foremost.

    One thing I've noticed in some mix rooms is there are level control plugins strapped across the music subs somewhere, sometimes acting like duckers, or sometimes just for level police. I think at the end of the day it doesn't matter how you engineered the score, between the mixers and the producers, fader levels become the first line of defence when the assault of sound coming from the speakers overwhelms the output. In this case, working to a lower printed level can actually get your score across more as you intended. And it gives the mixer more play room with the fader because otherwise he's got it down into the -25 range if you deliver fully compressed, up to 0dbfs cd master level stuff.( not that they haven't seen that, not does it phase them either way )

    Frankly, some sfx guys are amazing at being "lyrical" in their sound design, while others, in my experience, throw alot of noise at the screen (imo, too many layers of noisy sfx). I've heard many a section come back with completely unmusical sfx overtop a section that buries the score and the first thing I thought was "if I stripped away 80 percent of that shit, we'd have a scene that is starting to connect" emotionally.

    Well at the end of the day, if the call is for over the top music, you just do it and make it as best you can and let someone else move their little finger and lower the volume of your opus to the point you barely hear it above the "ambience" cut in while h-bombs are going off left right and center.

  6. chillbot

    chillbot Forum Bot

    Feb 6, 2014
    La Canada Flintridge, CA
    Good advice but so very little of the overall content on television gets scored to picture (and left where you scored it, not moved around by an editor/producer). I mean obviously yes if you get a Game of Thrones or a House of Cards that's fantastic but for every good drama there are possibly 1,000+ hours of other crap. I would guess it's way less than 1% of overall television in the US that's scored to picture.

    Also panning is tricky.... you have to be careful of flamming.

    I should preface this by saying televisions and audio and setups have gotten so much better my advice might be completely out of date. But agreeing with Charlie it's ingrained in me to roll off so much bass for TV on every track. How it used to be anyway, if you delivered a bassy cue it would get the crap compressed out of it until it was so small and thin you could barely hear it.

    And you always had to test your tracks in mono, if you panned stuff that sounded good in stereo, or if your drums and bass weren't perfectly in groove, it could sound fine in stereo on your pro monitors but you'd hear this crappy flamming effect on TV.

    All that aside, yes TV music is mixed very soft. I'm not sure if it's too soft or if we are biased but yes that is correct. You get used to it though....
    Rob Elliott likes this.
  7. OP

    Rennaissance_manta_ray Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2013
    I got buried working on this pilot, but I just want to say thanks to everyone who chimed in! Lots of great opinions from great composers : )
  8. gsilbers

    gsilbers Part of Pulsesetter-Sounds.com

    did you have a chance to go to the rerecording stage and let the director know?

    also, nowadays theymix with loudness meters to usually 24lu. so one thing is to get a dialogue mix going on your session that hits that area always and as previouslt mentioned. mix aroundd that. get your calibration going the right way and then youll see the levels on your mix and try to tell the director to let the engeneer know to keep it around those levels as those are the ones it creates more emotional.... bla bla.. some creative psyco bable. just get the director to think about that the days before mixing. try to be objective. not all music is going to be the main feature. heck nowadays with transformers type movies with wall to wall music so let the director/producer know some section to do whatever but other ones make sure the music is correctly balances as its important to THEIR story.

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