BLENDING IT ALL TOGETHER
Bringing order to chaos is the name of the game when mixing the audio of a production. At this point, you have separated the wheat from the chaff. Every audio element serves a purpose and has been cleaned up and made presentable. Now comes the task of blending the many parts into the best whole possible.
The saying goes ‘It takes a village’ and in film it’s more like ‘It takes a country’. There are so many cooks simultaneously at work on various portions of the meal with only secondhand knowledge (director’s thoughts) of what the other cooks are up to. This means that the foley, sound design and music may enhance and tell the story beautifully in isolation but when played together there are places where they muddy and conflict with each other.
In many cases this can be resolved at mixdown by establishing a pecking order and blending them into a cohesive whole on a moment by moment basis. The foley is only likely to conflict in moments where it is ‘going for extra credit’ and jumping out of the background to enhance a scene. This, coupled with its foundational quality, make it a perfect place to start. Identify any places where it conflicts with the sound design and/or music and address them.
Conflicts aren’t just about volume either. The pitch of a phone ring can clash undesirably with the key of the score. The timing of a sound design element can clash undesirably with the rhythm of the score or even be obscured by it. This takes us back to function. Every element that made it this far serves a purpose in our production that we value. Thus, compromise becomes the first option. Conflicts arise when the qualities of one element undermine the function of another, or if the combination of elements creates a new problem that does not exist when the elements are separate. An example of the first would be a situation where the scoring undercuts the impact of a sound design or foley accent. A solution would be to unperceptively fade the volume of the score during the scene as we approach the moment in question. This would have the effect of subtly drawing listeners in and putting them right where you want them when the accent comes. An example of the second would be if the foley, design and music were very midrange heavy in a section. When played together, the midrange buildup could mask the dialog track and thus interfere with the storytelling. A solution could be to EQ some midrange out of some or all of the offending elements as invisibly as possible. In rare cases, a conflict cannot be resolved and an element must be cut or replaced for the betterment of the production.