We featured an 87 minute free video tutorial by Sreejesh Nair on Surround Mixing With Pro Tools And Dolby Atmos. Sreejesh has an ethos that knowledge should be shared otherwise nobody grows. On his blog one of the many articles he has written is about 10 Clichés to avoid in a film mix, and with his permission we reproduce it here. Over to you Sreejesh....
This time, I thought I would write about 10 things that are over used and done with in a film mix. Dont get me wrong, there is nothing that one shouldn’t do and I have used all of these cliches myself too. Its just that these are the ones of mixes in the late 2000s and now we should try and move ahead from these ideas and not stick there (unless we are really crunched for time and there is no inspiration!). Are there replacements for the ones below or are these things that one shouldn’t do? No. Just that these are a bit overused in my opinion.
1. Background Rides Between Short Dialogues
This has been a very common thing that has been happening over the past few years. It made a lot of sense in the Mono world when there was a lot of noise. But no so in todays mixes. Also, the issue here is the whole music stem is raised or lowered. This causes a noticeable movement that can be unrhythmic sometimes. One way to clear this if it needs to be done at all is to follow a rhythm and find the closest notes to change it on. Or even doing it on a quarter beat or so will help this and make the movement musical while still getting the achieved effect.
2. High Frequency Ring On Explosions
Lets be honest. Ever since Saving Private Ryan, this has been very overused and kind of shown off as a mark of “Design”. If at all it needs to be used, I would definitely try suggesting not using the signal generator as is and setting it to 1k. Try using higher frequencies or creating beat frequencies based on the closer notes. This helps with the positioning of the tones in the different channels to give it a better response and “feel”.
3. Low Pass Filtering After An Explosion
This point was a bit hard to state but I must. The reason is not the low pass itself, but the way it has been used. Cutting it off is good for some ear relief in noisy sections and for getting loudness levels less. But, rather than just cutting off the highs, doing a filter pass and opening it in between rather than just leaving it static will be much better and not sound a very often used technique.
4. Long Reverbs For Transitions and “Stylised Mix”
Honestly, we need to grow out of this. Every new person who mixes will make use of this. Using reverbs to “emphasise” screams or transitions over scene cuts. This is something that I have done too but have now stopped as I feel it is a very common technique that is over used. One thing that can be done is to have different kind of reverbs and playing with predelays on such scenes or having modulated reverbs in case. But there are places where darker reverbs are very useful and work magically in these cases.
5. Fear Of Rhythm In Surround Channels
Years back when I started mixing, there was almost a law or rule against using any rhythm in the surrounds. That was valid except it was not taken in the right sense. The idea is having coherent (same) signals in the front and surrounds will cause flanging in the theater. That is right too. But that almost always happens only for high frequency or quick percussive ones like a tambourine for instance. But not all rhythm falls in that category. Toms, low drums, cymbals, all are very beautiful in surrounds. They make the mix sound bigger without pushing levels. But yes, still, tabalas in the surrounds are a big No No! On that note, I would also like to restate that usage of center channel for rhythm is not present in most of our mixes. This causes the rhythm to be dependent on the phantom center. The issues with that have already been written before on the blog.
6. Panning Things On The Extreme Edges And Not Within The Space
Ambience, Strings, Pads, Reverbs all suffer from this. Our pans are usually on the outer edge of the pan box. Try experimenting with pans inside the space too. They work wonders.
7. Using the LFE Channel Whenever There Is A Kick Or Bass Track
Not too clichéd but something that can be avoided. It sometimes makes a lot of sense to add the LFE in the very end of a mix only if it is needed. That is a support channel and not something that HAS to be used for every track that has a low frequency.
8. VO On All Channels
Sometimes for getting that sense of God, we pan the Voice Over over all the channels by using Divergence. This is another overused technique. Personally, not only does it sound like one big Mono, the fold down has its own issues that is another topic!
9. Panning Sustained Strings To The Surround Channels
This is not a common cliché but if you’ve been mixing for sometime, this is something that you would be tempted to do. As the string plays a long note, pan the ending notes towards the surrounds. This while sounding good is over used in many songs. This has now become a common technique and I think it is more of a gimmick rather than aiding the song / score.
10. Using Delay Of 600ms With 30% Feedback In Valleys!
Need I say more? Any dialogue over the valley has had this. It sounded great in the 80’s but now? Not really! (The Value was something I have heard used for the longest period!)
While these are some of it, I am sure you would come up with more. The reason I state this is to break down conventions, and also exercise a better way and approach to mixes. Mixes are more than just leveling the fader and panning. They are an approach to story telling. That is a very responsible task and very enjoyable if one gets immersed in it.
More On Sreejesh Nair
Sreejesh is a film mixing engineer with more than a decade of experience mixing films and music, almost exclusively in the Surround Sound format crossing more than 250 films in his career. He has mixed all the way from mono, to 5,1, 6.1, 7.1 and Atmos.