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Do We Still Need a Production Sound Mix Track when Multi-Track Recordings Are Requested?

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I am putting together material for a training seminar, and I am at the point of discussing projects demanding full multi-track (iso) audio recordings from production. In this scenario, how relevant is a production mix track? Even when post isn't asking for it?

 

Thoughts?

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I think this may be somewhat tiered based on budgets. I'm mostly reality tv now, but when I do low budget indie films, I know they pretty much use my mix. They only dig into the ISOs if they really want a take with an anomaly like somebody hit a lav. Indie films don't always have a post person hired by the time we start filming, but from talking to producers, I know they just don't have the budget to remix the whole film. I would guess that a lot of episodic work doesn't have the time to remix everything from scratch (and maybe not the budget?). Hearing what people say the turnaround time is, having a good dialog track seems pretty important. Even if there is always the ability to ADR a few things here and there. 

 

With reality TV it really depends on the company. The last few years I mostly worked for companies that told us they will dig into the ISOs, so we pretty much mix for IFB so producers know what's happening (and reference to cameras). Other reality mixers have said their companies don't want to use the ISOs and expect to use their field mix. No idea what the percentage split is like that. 

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We have the machines ( in my case, yours) to provide the ISO tracks and a mix...I always do both.... Other than space...why not...It gives edit the tools they will need to do what they need to. If they don't need the ISOs..they don't have to use them... It' s that simple...

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Without good mix track, producers and directors won't be able to hear the whole scene as it really sounds before the stage of audio postproduction. That's after shooting, first viewing and editing.

 

With your mix track, they can judge the scenic work by audio from the beginning on, even by listening on set.

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Without good mix track, producers and directors won't be able to hear the whole scene as it really sounds before the stage of audio postproduction. That's after shooting, first viewing and editing.

 

With your mix track, they can judge the scenic work by audio from the beginning on, even by listening on set.

Although there is a slight difference in quality needs between a "real" mix track and a "comtek/dailies" mix track.

 

There was a thread by Henchman not long ago about the use of isos in fast-paced post workflows. The Gist: not all fast-turnaround post uses the location mix, but at least some prefer to use the boom iso until they find a problem, and then use lav isos.

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It is a rare workflow, certainly for any dramatic, scripted narrative, that a mix track would not be needed. Think about it: at the absolute very least, a mix (even if it were only a monitor mix) is needed during production --- the director, the script supervisor, dialog coach, 1st Assistant Director cueing a scene, any Producer on set, will not want to be listening to 7 or 8 isos all at unity gain "mixed" together in their headphones. Consider also if the job has Video Assist recording the scene --- do we want this recording when played back on the set to be the sound of multiple isos all combined? Now, if this mix is being done to expedite monitoring on set, why wouldn't we record it? The next recipient of our daily work will be the picture editor. Will the picture editor in the absence of a mix track have to do their own mix, from all the isos we have turned in, before they can even start to edit? It is true that sound editors, more and more these days, are having to go straight to the isos to do their mix, but this is sort of a chicken and egg thing. There are multiple reasons why the mix track that sound editors are getting these days are not very useful, but sadly one of the factors is that too many younger sound mixers (who may have come into the industry after multi-track became the norm)  never really had the chance to learn how to mix. Then there is the style of shooting which has changed so dramatically with multiple cameras, no rehearsals, long takes where there is no chance to solve problems (while camera is re-loading film for example in the old days).

 

The art and skill of mixing in production is definitely waning but this does not mean that a production mix is not needed. The other factor to consider is the perception production will have for you as a Production Sound Mixer --- if you are the first PSM to not deliver a mix, the last guy they worked with did a great mix, what are they going to think about you when they are listening to an awful iso combine of everything?

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Mentioning what Henchman had said in another thread: "There was a thread by Henchman not long ago about the use of isos in fast-paced post workflows. The Gist: not all fast-turnaround post uses the location mix, but at least some prefer to use the boom iso until they find a problem, and then use lav isos." Many of us took great exception that procedure also because it indicates that there is a lot of confusion as to what "the boom" is doing in a scene and what "the lavs" are doing in relation to the "mix" track we are turning in. I'm not going to resurrect that discussion to add to the answers to this question, but the discussion is far from over.

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Jeff has pretty much elucidated the opinion of the majority of posters I've read on this board.  I think it important for Jon T's students to understand how important the production mix is to a show even if it is not used at all in the final mix.  I think most of us feel that it is important that there be a full mix recorded somewhere (even on a camera), what post does or doesn't do with the mix and the rest of our tracks is their call.

 

philp

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Adding to what Philip has said, I have always felt that if I can't mix the scene on the day, from whatever sources I am using (that are going to their isos) then maybe something is being done wrong and no one is going to be able to mix it properly later. My mix should be very good and the if re-mixed later from the isos in post it should only get better.

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I'm sure Jon T doesn't follow all the endless great debates that go on here @jwsound, otherwise he would recognize that his question has been asked and that it generated a vast amount of posts every time it has been brought up. From the current replies Jeff, Philip, and AFMY's are the consensus of past debates.   

As for the need of a mix for "Reality TV", I have no idea.

CrewC

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For my world (bag work, but not reality) with usually no more than four sources, a mix is still key and expected. For some jobs, just so transcription, logging, and editing can get moving along before digging into isos.

 

For other (well, often the same) jobs, the mix is the primary audio (usually b/c claims of budget and time constraints) with isos used just to fix problems or try alternatives when needed. Isos are increasingly requested/demanded, but they're secondary to the mix track.

 

I may have gotten your question backwards (and just repeated what other have said), but there you go. Seems like at all levels of the game, mix and isos are both expected.

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Although there is a slight difference in quality needs between a "real" mix track and a "comtek/dailies" mix track.

Is there? How so? Sounds almost like you're trying to say that you mix a little less well when it's "only" for comteks. I'm sure you're not saying that.

To me, in a way, the comtek and dailies audience is the most important one, because it's for the director and its his/her show. They need to approve. It's of less importance for the post production, because they'll do whatever anyway. But the director and next, in dailies, the producers are the primary recipients of the "comtek" mix so I think it should be as good as possible

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Adding to what Philip has said, I have always felt that if I can't mix the scene on the day, from whatever sources I am using (that are going to their isos) then maybe something is being done wrong and no one is going to be able to mix it properly later. My mix should be very good and the if re-mixed later from the isos in post it should only get better.

That's a very good point.  If the mix is problematic in the field, then the field is the place to make some changes in how the recording is being done (esp re: mic position, lav noise, BG noise, performance issues as they affect sound, wind, boom noise etc etc) if possible.  The re-recording mixer will not have any ability to affect any of those things, ISOs or no.   Even a rough monitor mix on an all-iso show will show up where some of the problems the RRM's will have are, while there is still the possibility of fixing those problems at the source.  

 

philp

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I realize that I possibly did not read Jon's post completely, moving immediately to the question (which we have talked about a lot here) "how important is the mix track?"

 

So, quoting Jon: "I am putting together material for a training seminar, and I am at the point of discussing projects demanding full multi-track (iso) audio recordings from production."

 

What I should have said to the above statement is that most projects EXPECT, not demand, multi-track recording, except for those jobs where they are only requiring an audio feed to cameras (where the camera is the recorder). Even the least experienced producer or director knows that the majority of recorders in use are multi-track capable. With this expectation, amongst the tracks recorded on the multi-track recorder, one of them (typically track 1) will be a mix track.

 

"In this scenario, how relevant is a production mix track? Even when post isn't asking for it?"

 

For many jobs, post is not involved at all even up to the last minute before you start shooting. Post, or at the very least a representative post supervisor, will have given the production some basic specs for recording such as "wave files, 24-bit, 48K, 23.976 TC" etc. Without post "asking" for anything other than these baseline recording specs, this is where the assumptions and expectations come in on both sides, from production and from post. I have seen people in production actually get fired (or never re-hired) for having assumptions that are counter to the assumptions held by the producer or the post people. "How was I supposed to know they wanted a mix?" and from post, "what did he think he was doing just handing in all these isos?".

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It's funny that in about 15 years we have gone from "We don't need iso tracks" to "Do we really need a mix track?". Hard to believe now, but it even took several years for everyone to embrace the idea that iso tracks should be prefader. Though it was a long time in coming, thankfully prefader iso tracks are now expected like it was never any other way. But just like many were wrong about the need for iso tracks, and then the need for the iso tracks to be prefader, many are wrong in thinking the mix track is not needed.

 

Yes, we need a mix track, for multiple reasons. Many of those reasons can vary in need and importance depending on the production, but yes, we still need a mix track for nearly all productions.

 

For many productions the mix track is what will be used much, most, or all of the time as at least part of the final mix. For nearly all productions -- even those who claim to not benefit from a mix track -- the production mix is what will be monitored on the set by the director, script, writers, producers, etc, and is usually what is wanted when they ask to hear playback. Most boom operators listen to the mix, which helps them know when they are needed for which lines, etc. The mix track is what will nearly always be synced to dailies so the brass can listen while they watch the next morning.

 

What we generally DON'T need is a TWO-track mix when using a recorder with plenty of iso tracks. The dwindling practice of putting booms on track 1 and lavs on track 2, or recording the mix on a second track a few dB lower, only continues because of the legacy from the days of wondering how to take advantage of the two tracks on a stereo Nagra and BetaCam (and later DAT). There is no need to group booms and radios separately when they are all on their own prefader tracks. The perceived benefit of recording a second mix a few dB lower as a option to an overloaded mix track in invalid because it requires that the mixer gain structure be set too low most of the time in order to have additional clip-free headroom for the second track on a rare moment. So, we don't generally need to record a 2-track production mix, but we do need to record a production mix.

 

Multitrack recorders that allow us to isolate all of the sources are incredibly useful tools, and one reason is that we can now mix the way we think we should at the moment, without fear, because the iso tracks are available for remixing. So, our mixes should now be better than ever, except by those who lack expertise due to being new to the craft or because they have been convinced that mix tracks are not needed. There are other reasons, but to keep from publishing a book on JWSound, I'll just leave it as: Yes, generally speaking, for the vast majority of film/video productions, we need to record a production mix track.

 

Glen Trew

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So, we don't generally need to record a 2-track production mix, but we do need to record a production mix.

 

In my lower-end boom+bag world, two-track production mix is still common and expected...and usually sent right to camera.

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To put the "do I?" or "don't I?" dilemma in real world perspective, ask and answer four questions:

Question #1: What are the ramifications if you record a mix track and they don't want one? Answer: They don't use it.

Question #2: What are the ramifications if you record ISOs and they don't want them? Answer: They don't use them.

Question #3: What are the ramifications if you don't record a mix track and they want one? Answer: They don't use YOU again.

Question #4: What are the ramifications if you don't record ISOs and they want them? Answer: They don't use YOU again.

Hmmm, the "do I?" or "don't I?" question is one of the few things that is actually pretty simple.

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In my lower-end boom+bag world, two-track production mix is still common and expected...and usually sent right to camera.

For me too, it's just expected in a big chunk of the market, even if all it is is a split meant to be summed later (or not).   I've been told by Glen T. and others for years and years that this was an unnecessary practice, but the people who sign my checks still say otherwise, sorry.   Only now, unlike DATworld, they want isos too.   The irony is that if I give the editor the split boom/lav mix they ask for, they are much more likely to use my "mix" (ie the sum of the two or some variation of that) than they are the isos.  If I gave them a mono mix of everything then they'd probably go to the isos right away and not bother with the mono mix.  I understand this is a different MO than on big dramatic projects, but it is way common on docs and a lot of everything else.  When this changes I'll adjust to what they are asking for at that time.

 

philp

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I am putting together material for a training seminar, and I am at the point of discussing projects demanding full multi-track (iso) audio recordings from production. In this scenario, how relevant is a production mix track? Even when post isn't asking for it?

 

I agree with all the very good advice above. I would also add: get the specs from post prior to production -- in writing -- and discuss with them the need for at least a mono mix track. Generally at least the day before a shoot, I'll send the editor or assistant editor (or post sup if there is one) a quick spec list saying, "OK, I'm told we're at this frame rate, I'm going to assign the channels as follows, you'll a mono scratch track on camera, and I'll furnish you with polyphonic WAV files with isos at the end of each day." That way, I figure there's absolutely no confusion and there's a record of what was agreed-upon.

 

I have yet to encounter anybody who says, "oh, don't bother -- just give us only the isos and don't do a mix track." The mix track is absolutely necessary for dailies and viewing copies at the very least, and I'd expect the editor would use it as much as possible except in cases where they needed to (rarely) dig into the isos for a problem scene.

 

I had just one case a few years ago where the director showed me a rough cut of a film, and I hit the roof on the sound and told him, "no WAY is it supposed to sound like that." It turned out the editor misunderstood the instructions and left all the tracks on during certain scenes. Once that was fixed, everybody understood, "ah -- that sounds much better." The dialogue editor straightened it all out and the final mix was fine. But those rough cuts... yikes.

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I agree with all the very good advice above. I would also add: get the specs from post prior to production -- in writing -- and discuss with them the need for at least a mono mix track. Generally at least the day before a shoot, I'll send the editor or assistant editor (or post sup if there is one) a quick spec list saying, "OK, I'm told we're at this frame rate, I'm going to assign the channels as follows, you'll a mono scratch track on camera, and I'll furnish you with polyphonic WAV files with isos at the end of each day." That way, I figure there's absolutely no confusion and there's a record of what was agreed-upon.

 

I have yet to encounter anybody who says, "oh, don't bother -- just give us only the isos and don't do a mix track." The mix track is absolutely necessary for dailies and viewing copies at the very least, and I'd expect the editor would use it as much as possible except in cases where they needed to (rarely) dig into the isos for a problem scene.

+1, to the point that I don't really ask anymore, I just do all of it.  They can decide not to download from my cards if they want, but that has happened maybe once.

 

phil p

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I'm sure Jon has gotten enough to go on, answers to his original question, but I can't restrain myself from continuing this discussion a little longer. Remembering the other thread (which I might call the "Henchman says don't worry about your mix just make sure your isos are clean" thread), I am still baffled how anyone could work without doing a mix, whether anyone else wants the track or not. If you have more than one source that is contributing to the scene, if you're not mixing what are you doing? Do you just keep flipping the PFL whenever that person is talking? Do you just monitor with every source (microphone) open so you know you've got something? Answering Henchman I said that the way I know my individual sources are working properly or clean (whether it is a boom mic, a lav or a plant) is when I bring that source into my mix, because I need it, and it sounds good! 

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In my reality tv sound editing days I REALLY liked having a mix track when cutting dialogue. I'd dip into the iso's if I had to, but with tight deadlines in that world a solid mix was my go-to track.

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I think it's worth mentioning that often ISO's never come into play until it hits audio post after a finished reel or picture locked cut is complete using an EDL to place it in the pro tools timeline. So no mix track would mean no track to edit too and a big mess of tracks for the picture editors to deal with and summed ISO's that will sound like a phasey mess. However thinkng your mix track is going to be used in the final audio post mix is simply a lack of understanding of that final mix process. Technically the production mix is nothing more then a live mix of the ISO's themselves and with a proper dialogue editor and then a non real time post mix in a controlled and tuned studio environment the production sound teams work as a whole really shines at its best.

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