The Arctic Sound Replacement - Final Mixing and Mastering
Once I had the edited dialogue in the main session with the rest of the Foley it was time to start doing a rough mix so I could begin working out the music tracks. Having a rough mix of these elements would make my job easier when introducing music into the session because I will have a better understanding of how everything will interact with each other allowing me to make better choices. Getting music to fit into the trailer was a challenging process, I was supplied with a few music tracks but I didn't feel like any of them fitted the overall aesthetic I was going for. I used a couple of them and did some time stretching to make them sound a bit darker which worked well but I then later decided that it still wasn't working as well as what I would have liked. This lead me on a very lengthy search for royalty free music that was more inline with my creative intent. I managed to settle upon two music tracks, one was a sad cinematic track and the other was dramatic action track, both of which I time stretched as well.
This is a very simple track with not much going on, it predominantly consists of piano and strings. When slowed down it has a much darker and ominous feel which is what I wanted for the beginning and very end of the trailer.
This track is a bit faster and has more of a driving pulse to it which is what I wanted for the more intense middle/end section of the trailer. I didn't slow this one down as much as the sad track just enough to fit the scene a become a little darker. You can compare these tracks to my final trailer at the end of this blog.
I also kept one of the very first tracks that I was supplied because when slowed down it acted as a great low frequency pad which I quite liked. After I had the music in place in was onto the final mixing.
When I started this process I was finding it difficult to level and EQ each individual clip to fit into the environment seeing as I had condensed multiple tracks down to just a couple so I decided to go back to how I had the session before with each separate sound on their own track. Once I did this using EQ, panning and levelling was a lot easier and luckily my computer it didn't struggle running multiple plugins which was my main concern in the first place. Looking back now I could have recorded down the multiple clips in the different sections with the processing on them to make the session more manageable but it all seemed to work out in the end. I'm not going to go through the processing I did for all of the tracks but they all mostly follow the same principle, reductive EQ, and sometimes compression, and reverb on the dialogue. Below is an example of the processing for a few of the different Foley sounds.
To get certain sounds to fit into the world better I used the subtractive EQ to shape the tone and filter out high and low frequencies in different amounts depending on where they are in the environment. This is done because the Foley sounds are recorded so cleanly that to make them sound like they are coming from the objects in the trailer frequencies need to be reduced depending on where they are and how far away the thing is from the audience. I used fast attack compression on certain hit sounds for the same process of dulling the sound and making it appear like the thing is further away. The amount I did this was worked out with a bit of trial and error, sweeping frequencies and changing threshold and ratio settings until the sound fitted in a way that I wanted. Listening back there are a few sounds I could low pass filter some more but I guess I was a little worried about completely destroying the sound with too much EQ, this is where truly listening to what the EQ is doing is crucial and not getting held up on what the EQ curves appearance is even if you have removed a lot of frequency information.
Now that the balance for the Foley sounds was better I could start mixing in the dialogue. Like the Foley sounds the dialogue was recorded very cleanly so I also used some subtractive EQ to make the voice fit the scenes better and a DeEsser to remove some of the harsh sibilance that was picked up in the recording process. Using the EQ and DeEsser really helps to make the dialogue lines feel more natural and appear like they are coming from the actors and not recorded in the studio. Most of the time there is no Foley when the dialogue is happening which makes mixing easier was it doesn't have to compete with any other sounds, apart from music which is mixing lower than the dialogue anyway. I mixing the dialogue a little lower than the Foley sounds but its still relatively loud and audible in the mix.
After that I mixed in the music and certain FX sounds like the wind and transition to fill up the space between dialogue and Foley. I did the wind first to set the atmosphere for when it was needed then brought up the music to a point where it wasn't taking away from any of the sounds that were already present. Listening back again I think it would be better having the music track in the middle/end section boosted some more and have the Foley and FX a little quieter as I feel like the emotion that I wanted to get across from the track at this point was somewhat lost. To transition between the different musical sections I used long fade ins and outs to produce a smooth crossover so the music has a feeling of rising and falling, see image below. Another thing I would change up is making the first music track start a little bit later and try to draw more attention to the Foley and Wind FX at the beginning then start to introduce some more emotion with the music track after.
Now that everything was balanced and processed it was time to master the session and make everything nice and loud.
As this trailer is going to be uploaded to YouTube I have some guidelines I need to stick with whilst mastering this session, for this platform I need to make sure the average loudness is around -13LUFS ( Loudness Unit Full Scale). What exactly are LUFS though, they are "the unit of measurement used in the process of quantifying a piece of music’s perceived loudness by analysing the average level over time" (Anderton, 2018). The good thing about LUFS is that it's a standardised measurement for loudness so as long as you have a piece of software that tells you what the LUFS are for your audio everyone who uploads something to YouTube or similar platforms will have their audio played back at the same level. On the other had if you don't adhere to the standards then those platforms will normalise your audio by either boosting or reducing the average loudness so it falls into inline with their standards. Seeing as I don't want another source messing with my audio it really is best for me if I can try and reach -13LUFS in the mastering stage so I can be sure that when my trailer is being played on YouTube it sounds exactly how I wanted it to.
The actual process I used for mastering was relatively simple, one compressor then a stereo limiter and that's it. I put these plugins on the master track that I had inside of my mixing session so I could go back and easily change the mix if anything started to not work so well when I began limiting. How I usually set up my session is that I send all of the audio tracks to a master AUX track which then gets sent to a audio print track, I like having things setup this way because I don't particularly like the bounce to disk function inside of Pro Tools but that's a discussion for another day.
For the actual processing I used a small amount of compression just shaving off 1 to 2dB when some of the impact sounds happen then I just brought down the threshold on the limiter until I was registering -13LUFS on my metering software, see images below.
I had to go back and change a couple of things in the mix like some of the Foley sounds in the beginning were a little loud and the helicopter effect was slightly clipping but apart from that everything was balanced relatively OK. Watch the finished trailer below.
Anderton, C. (2018). What Is LUFS, and Why Should I Care?. Retrieved from https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/what-is-lufs-and-why-should-i-care/
Mastering audio for Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify and Youtube. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.masteringthemix.com/blogs/learn/76296773-mastering-audio-for-soundcloud-itunes-spotify-and-youtube