Becoming an Audio Mixer in the Film Industry
Advice from Isabelle Lussier
Audio mixing is a crucial discipline in the film industry, aimed at finalizing an immersive and captivating soundtrack for viewers. We turn to Isabelle Lussier, a graduate of Musitechnic, who talks to us about her exciting profession. Isabelle is now a cinema mixer at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal. In this interview, she shares her experience and valuable advice for students who wish to pursue sound mixing for film. This article focuses on five key points that we can draw from the transcription of her interview to become a successful audio mixer.
Gathering all sound categories
The role of audio mixing is to merge all the sound categories that have been created for the film. These categories include different types of sounds such as dialogue, ambiance, sound effects, and music.
“In the mixing room, we are the person responsible for harmonizing these different elements to produce a balanced, immersive and suitable soundtrack for listening in a cinema.” This requires in-depth knowledge of audio technique and the ability to skillfully manipulate sound to achieve the desired goal.
The person in charge of sound mixing must be able to understand the essence of the film, the director’s vision, and the emotion they want to convey to the audience. This role goes beyond simple technical skills; it requires artistic sensitivity and an attentive ear to create an immersive and emotional sound experience.
The technical role of the audio mixer
The audio mixer plays a crucial technical role in the film’s post-production process. One of her first tasks is to analyze raw sound recordings to check their integrity and plan the processing necessary to obtain a balanced and intelligible mix that supports the narration.
While sound designers generally work upstream to create sound elements, the mixer must take this material and optimize it in the context of the project. This means not only cleaning and balancing the recordings but also bringing a creative touch to make them more impactful while ensuring that each element remains in its ideal place in the context of the film.
The sound mixer is also responsible for ensuring good volume, tonal, and dynamic balances. By using different tools and techniques such as equalization or compression, among others, the sound mixer can sublimate key elements by their relationship with the other elements, thereby contributing to better support the overall narrative of the film.
Creativity in mixing
Despite the technical dimension of mixing, it is essential to recognize its creative aspect.
As the person responsible for sound mixing, it is necessary to find ingenious solutions to solve problems and bring a unique touch to each project. Isabelle Lussier emphasizes that mixing requires innovation and a creative approach to bring the director’s vision to life.
Mixing is about creating a realistic sound experience that captivates the audience while leaving aside technical aspects. The spectator must be totally immersed in the story without being distracted by sound problems or inappropriate elements. This requires the ability to listen carefully and make informed decisions concerning the balance between the different sound elements: “you have to learn to hear everything at the same time and ask yourself if there is harmony in all these layers? Ultimately, it will bring people’s focus to the right place.”
The ultimate goal is to create an emotional experience for the audience by using sound in a subtle but powerful way. By harmonizing dialogue, music, and sound effects, good mixing supports, and even sublimates, the key moments of the film, thereby conveying the desired emotion.
Essential qualities for success as a sound mixer
To succeed as a sound mixer in the film industry, Isabelle Lussier emphasizes the importance of certain essential personal qualities. First and foremost, it is essential to be curious and passionate about one’s profession. Mixing is a discipline that is constantly evolving, and those in charge of mixing must remain open to continuous learning to preserve their relevance and stay up-to-date within the industry.
It is also beneficial to have a mentor to guide and support the beginnings in this complex profession. A mentor can bring valuable experience, share tips, and give practical advice to face the challenges of the job. Listening carefully to films, studying the work of other mixers, and immersing oneself in cinematic sound culture are ways to develop one’s own style and expand one’s skills.
Diplomacy and patience are essential qualities for working collaboratively with other film professionals, such as sound designers, directors, and musicians. Every person involved in a film project has their vision and ego. The mixer must be able to remain open to the opinions and suggestions of others while defending their artistic vision: “you have to be mature. We can’t fight for our idea either. I’ve seen a lot of people do that. I’ve seen mixers do that too, fight because they think they’re right, and in the end, it’s not our film. We didn’t make that movie, it’s not ours.” It is then essential to remember that the film does not belong to the mixer, but that this person is an essential contributor to the overall film project. The sound mixer must know how to set aside their ego and strive to create the best soundtrack possible to enrich the audience’s experience.
The importance of sound level balance
One of the fundamental aspects of mixing is sound level balance, which involves highlighting certain sound elements over others by adjusting their volume. The mixer must master techniques such as audio equalization and compression to achieve a relevant and harmonious result.
Good level balancing is essential to create a captivating cinematic sound experience, directing the audience’s attention to the most important sound elements at each moment of the film. This means balancing the characters’ voices with the music and sound effects to create a realistic and immersive atmosphere.
The cinema offers a unique environment for the mixer, as it allows them to fully use the sound installation’s dynamics, creating powerful and memorable sound moments. This mastery of audio processing and mixing techniques allows the mixer to bring the director’s vision to life.
The profession of audio mixer in the film industry is both technical and creative, requiring mastery of advanced audio skills and artistic sensitivity. Isabelle Lussier’s advice, an accomplished cinema mixer, highlights the key elements to succeed in this demanding profession.
By gathering all sound categories to create a coherent soundtrack, bringing a creative touch to make the cinematic experience immersive and emotional, mastering balancing techniques, and developing essential personal qualities such as curiosity, patience, and compassion, aspiring audio mixers can prepare to meet the challenges of this constantly evolving industry.
Becoming an accomplished sound mixer requires a passionate commitment to the art of sound, as well as a willingness to learn and continuously grow. By following Isabelle Lussier’s advice and developing their technical and artistic skills, each aspiring mixer can contribute significantly to creating captivating and memorable cinematic experiences for viewers worldwide.