In the previous post, I had mentioned about how I start off on the mix. This time, I want to mention about the Rides specifically. It is very important to understand that anything when left static will bring what I feel is an auditory blind spot. This means that if for example, you step out to the street from the office. If it is a peak hour, you will immediately notice the traffic sounds, the voices, the horns, chatter etc. But, if you are talking to someone, the brain will ignore these sounds. Yet, when someone calls out your name from the crowd, the noise will come back. This observation is very critical when riding faders in a mix.
The Music Ride
Real Life has no score to accompany. This is why music in a film mix is a very subjective decision. Why? My emotional value or level of a score will be very different from someone else. But as a mix engineer, there are times you have to become the majority of someone else. Yet, you know what you are building to. This means you do have an upperhand in letting the levels of the score remain a certain way. Contrast is a very important technique I use to focus the audience into the mix. During the climax scene of Gangs of Wasseypur 2, just before the final shootout, the whole intro of the song is underplayed. In fact I not only underplayed it, I also mixed that as mono. I had the whole scope to bring the footsteps of the characters, their subtle shuffles, the movements, ambience etc and still play a dubstep way under all that. Why? If you heard the sequence, what happens is that would put us in a restless state. This is also what heightens the plot. This is the calm before the storm. Once the shots are unleashed, the score rises to full glory and also embraces all channels. So, contrast both in levels and channel spread helps a lot.
How would music rides be with dialogues? This was a question that haunted me for a very long time in the initial stages of my career. If the only thing we as mixers resort to is to lower music for dialogues and raise it in between, isnt that much more easily accomplished using a side chain compression? It took me very long to understand the dip-ride. (As I call it!). But once you understand, its very very easy. What takes really long is to try and figure the reason and philosophy of such a ride. There is always 2 things to focus in such a ride. The key or center of attraction, may it be dialogues or effects. The second is the build up or underplay. If it is a dialogue, then that has to be heard. One of the primary differences between our language and the english is that we need to hear all the words in a sentence to understand the right message and emotional undertone to its delivery. For example. the sentence “Why did you come here?” in english can be “Tum kyun aaye ho” or “Kyun aaye ho”. Both sentences in our context have different projections. The first can be subtle, while the second can mean anger. These are very important facts. So, at this point, unless it is really intentional, I will make sure that the dialogues are heard and legible.
To do this, there are some tricks that i use. My primary way is to ride the fader. But sometimes, the dialogue positioning in a piece of music will not always be in tempo. So, dropping levels of a very busy score in an off beat will be noticeable. I have two choices. Either I drop the levels on a downbeat so as to make the change musical. Or I mask my ride. Since our concentration would be on the dialogue first, I can cover the dip with any cut in ambience or like a car pass or something like that. Not necessarily that but this is the idea. In Agneepath, one of the sequence during a riot had a very busy score and was intercut with Dialogues. To get the dialogues across without really making the score feel as if its being pushed around, what I did was to dip really drastically on the beat very very close to the dialogues. This would mask the dip. In one portion, I couldnt achieve that. This was covered by a passing vehicle to mask the dip.
There are also instances where the score has to gradually build us into the scene with the dialogues. One thing that I do is not just ride the score, but also vary the ambience level. What this helps achieve is very similar to the traffic concept I mentioned at the start. It helps maintain focus and build the scene.
Compression and EQ
I do use side chain compressions on the score and effects. Sometimes, I let it be very subtle, but in busy sections I make sure the compression happens is not over-ridden by the fader movement. This is because the ride that you have in mind may be different from what the compressor will give because it reacts to the input signal. Yet, there are some times where this is really useful. I also eq the sidechain send to the compressor sometimes. Is is to avoid unwanted frequencies like low end etc to cause compression. I also compress the reverbs sometimes. It brings out a very distinct character. This sometimes helps me with external reverbs especially if i want to create air absorption or so in sparse scenes. One of my favourite reverb plugin for exteriors is Revibe from Avid. It has really good natural spaces. In fact, like I mentioned earlier, most reverbs that are really good for music arent good for dialogues. But this is an exception. One of the primary reason that musical reverbs are different from natural spaces is because of the pre-delay. In natural spaces, the pre-delay is not uniform and coherent. It can be very dirty and messy. This isnt really suited for music but works extremely well for dialogues and foley. I do use overall compression just a little bit but tend to avoid this as much as I can.
At the end, it is really important to never mix looking at the waveforms or values. If you have an EQ or a fader ride, try not to look at the DAW while doing that. Remember, you need to create something that SOUNDS right not LOOKS right. So, sometimes moving the EQ in increments of 2 dB may not be useful at all in a film mix, although this makes radical differences in a music score. The same way, dont look at the fader movements. Look at the screen. At the movie. Make sure that you are creating something that sounds right and good and most importantly dynamic. The reason people go to theaters is to get the experience. That comes ranging from the subtle sounds of leaves falling to the huge gun shots and explosions. People need to be transported to be a part of the story. As a mixer, you have a huge plus. The audience is extremely suggestible. And they will believe a well made story as long as sound remains invisible, yet subliminally influential. You can take the audience on a ride. Uphill or downhill is a choice you make.