Mixing tips for a Balanced Film Soundtrack (Part 1)

In our Tip Tuesday blog post series, one of the least discussed topic is Film Sound.
Even though Audio for Film is part of our Diploma Course Curriculum, much is not discussed in this blog about the topic.

Howdy SEA Fans, welcome to another Tip Tuesday blog post and today we are inviting your attention to some tips on Film Sound Mixing.

This post is the Part 1 of the series and we would like to give you a few tips for the setting of your films and videos.

The topics discussed in the post are of-course only touched upon and in most cases mean whole universes of further complex information.

However, as an inspiration for your music settings, this contribution should bring along some basic knowledge that you would like to deepen on your own, it’s worth it.

Volume and Loudness

Both terms sound the same at first, but have an important difference.
Volume is the unit of sound measurable in decibels (abbr. DB), loudness, on the other hand, is the perceived volume, depending on a few factors, such as noise. the frequency range. Important for a homogeneous film sound are both properties.

Basically, the physical volume must not be exceeded. In video editing programs and other multimedia software, the master volume (sum) is usually displayed with a dB scale.

This has its maximum at zero dB, which can be a bit confusing.

However, zero does not mean “inaudible” but represents the maximum level before the digital clipping. Note, therefore, when mixing the movie sound, not only in the music dubbing but also in dialogues, off voices etc. the master level – this may 0 dB Otherwise, the sound goes into digital overdrive and the sine waves are practically cut off at the amplitude maxima (highest, loudest rashes). This creates the digital scratching, which is sure to be known to many.

Not to be confused with the so-called tape saturation, which dates back to the time of the magnetic tapes.

At that time – and luckily today again – tape saturation was a kind of natural compression that sounds far warmer and fuller than what is possible with software today.

Usually, film music is used, which has already been mixed for immediate use and possibly mastered – that is, the soundtrack as if it was “right” made already in the maximum volume and can basically without further adjustment in the film sound mix be driven without having to expect to clip. The prerequisite for this, of course, is that no further plugins for artificial inflation etc. are inserted (inserted) in your master channel (sum) and the individual channels.

Music from different sources

If you set your movie to music, you may use music from various sources. This means that you have soundtracks from different studios and composers, which should have a clean level, but can still be extremely loud. Then there is the loudness, so the perceived volume.

Unfortunately, today there are many producers who use the so-called loudness-war, so pump up your music technically so that you only hear a shallow shriek, according to the motto: the louder the better.

This is a common means in advertising because the human ear perceives “louder” music as “better”.

So it is compressed and pumped up until nothing works to differentiate itself from others. However, the reality is as follows: the louder, the more broken! Modern music, so most mainstream stuff on the radio, etc. has almost no dynamics, it’s just loud and annoying. See also the topic Loudness-War under About us
Film music supports the film, not the other way around

See your film as a whole, based on dramaturgy or tension curves.

That’s probably true in most cases, unless you have a purely technical video. The goal now is that the music supports the dramaturgy of the images. If your movie begins quietly, that should also do the music. If there is an increase in tension soon, the music can and should also be involved. Here comes the point of volume and loudness to fruition.

See your movie as a kind of wave that depicts the voltage curve.

This wave, no matter what training and shape it has, should also influence the music.

So be sure to use emotionally appropriate music and pay particular attention to the volume and loudness of each track.

Do not start with ultra-cool Hollywood sound when your video shows a kitten and do not use soft piano music while your cat falls from the 10th floor.

These are the principles – exceptions, of course, are possible and often deliberate to create irony.

Lastly, make sure that you adopt the various pieces of music to the overall work and the scenes according to the technical and perceived volume.

Do not just leave everything as it is, but make sure to create a homogenous audio ratio by lowering too loud pieces from the level and lifting too soft pieces depending on genre and type.

Raise only if the maximum level of the piece clearly falls below zero dB!

Hope the topic which we have discussed today has been an informative one and useful for you. More topics will be discussed in the second part of this blog post.

Do share your perspective about the topic as comments below and as always Happy Sound Engineering !!!

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