Its been a while since I posted. We were completely held up with work and it became difficult to find some time to write this. We were working almost 16 hours a day now without a break! Anyways, since I did manage something, this time it is about the music mix for the movie.
The Score was done by Amit Trivedi and is mixed by Justin. So, what I am writing is all Justin’s work and techniques that he was very happy to share. All credit in this post is his.
The movie is well connected with songs and score. The whole music was recorded on 96kHz and our sessions are running at 32 bit float. The reason for this I will mention soon. But the decision that Justin took and we discussed at the start of the mix was that the Score wont have an LFE track. Yes, the whole Background score of Bombay Velvet is mixed without using the LFE. This was a difficult move, but Justin has cracked this. The concept is that the stage speakers are full range and if used right, we can get the score to sound really good, thereby leaving a lot of space for the FX tracks when they need the energy. A lot of emotion is reliant on the score which both of us felt that should be achievable even without the extended bass.
The approach to the score was to keep it minimal when we need to ride it. But that being said, we made sure there was space for everything to fit. Amit has done a fabulous score and so we had to do full justice to it. The first thing was to split the score into the components so that we record the 7.1 beds separately. So, we ended up recording the Rhythm, Instruments, Horn, Strings and the Reverbs separately. And anything we had for objects were kept on a separate track. We had to do this because we were losing out on Voices in the master session with all the Dialogue, Music and the FX section Passthrough. Also, because we were on 32bit Float, we would never clip in an internal recording. Pro Tools has got a 64bit summing engine which means the head room is petty good. And if in case we clip, that is a signal indication. The file being a 32bit float file will have the capability to restore that just by gain reduction. But with this score, we didnt clip and we didnt use a limiter. Both of us arent fans of using that in the score. It is important to let the score breathe its natural movement.
One thing to realise is that it is very important to mix to the visual. What does the screen tell you? That will give you the reason for certain instruments balance that can be changed. For example, very close shots dont require a very lush mix because the shot defines the character there. Also, the pans are very important to be placed properly. But on this movie, we had a lot of ideas that were only possible because of Spanner. Sometimes the score is emotional, sometimes it is a filler, sometimes it is part of the location and very often it can morph between all of this very quickly in a single part. This is very tricky to achieve if you have already eq’d the track a lot. That is where the approach is important.
Many times, we all, put in EQs because we want to shape the tone or the sound. This time, we didnt at all. What is important to realise is that the score has come to us after a music engineer has balanced this. This means that the overall balance works when it is in stereo. What is done different as a film mix engineer then? Two things.
1. The Pans and placement
2. The dialogues and effects
Both the above will affect the rides that happen on a score. For example, there may be scenes where the ambience is taken off as a ride based on the dialogues and the expression of the scene. In such cases, the score becomes quite prominent. How then can we make the score seem part of the movie? By making sure the score has tonality that matches the ambience. Like, no over compression, or High Frequency etc. But remember, like all things this too changes. Many times for example if there is an open hat played for a scene link and between two pieces, I have the tendency to drop the score to maintain the tiptoe feel we are aiming for. At that time, yes I may raise the extreme highs a bit for that shimmer to sustain, but then if there are night crickets, then it will be a different call. So, how can this be done before hand? Simple, it cant be. There WILL be changes and corrections and that is the fun of it. And the rides on the score too are tried to be as musical as possible by following the tempo. But sometimes that may not be possible due to an effect or a dialog on screen. In such cases, the ride will need to be covered up with something. That something can be a car pass, an ambience ride, a shot change etc. There is a lot of misdirection that can be done in a film. It is like Magic. The audience’s attention is taken up by screen. This can be effectively used to cover the rides as long as the surrounds dont drop drastically. This is what will cause the move to be noticed. Those surrounds are covered by ambience.
This is exactly how Justin and I work. After he has done the mixes, I sit on the score to understand what is there and what are the elements. This is because I need to know how to blend my effects around the score and at which portions the score goes around the effects and dialogue. Once I understand this, I can anticipate his rides and move my Faders based on that. It will not be perfect the first time, but both of us get a sense of the space and the area we need to cover and also very importantly what works for the movie. I am not hell bent on my effects being heard or Justin on the score. We have to compliment each other. The other big advantage is that both of us see the movie in a new perspective. Me with score and him with effects.
Placement of Instruments
The placement of the instruments within the score was planned based on an initial discussion on how we wanted the mix to grow. The scenes define how much they open up and how much is in the front and how much is in the surrounds. As we progress, the usage of objects in Atmos also changes and helps define the whole mix. This will be talked about more in a later note on the mix. But in general the instruments had different placements based on the genre of the score. If it went from Jazz to a synth, the element placements would move from a lush sound to a more modern tone. To create a warmer and comfortable score mix, we avoided placing elements with higher frequency in the surrounds. So Strings, Horns, Pads, Reverbs all had the leak and sometimes placement in the surrounds. We also avoided the Wall Mix (where the panner in Pro Tools is on the border) and brought a lot of the instruments into the space. This also was done keeping in mind that the film uses this space a lot. It is a very effective way of transforming the audience from being a spectator of events to being in the events. We didnt follow a pattern but this was the general idea.
Because I am not at a liberty to talk about the scenes or the songs in particular, I can tell you this. The Songs were mixed to the space it was in. This was an approach we hadnt taken before but came during the mix. And Justin’s work on this is fab. The reason was that once we realised this, the positioning of the elements and the reverbs changed. We mixed songs that go through multiple locations and scenes and placements. For this, the balance was very carefully done to the stereo mix, then changed slightly in order to fit the dialogue and ambience texture and an additional reverb and movement was created for the space of the song and its context. Little things like this take a lot of time but thats the fun! Once we get a good result, then we have a responsibility of making the audience feel the same as we did! Kunal, Justin and I truly believe we managed to do this, but there are days ahead, more work ahead and we may change if change is needed. But all for the good of the film.
Next up, Dialogues. Till then, Have fun!