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24-Bit Dailies in a 16-Bit World

Advice for new Sound Mixers

successOn Sunday, Mar 8, 2015 -- K-tek hosted a gathering of almost 100 production sound professionals at their Vista, CA factory & headquarters. During lunch, I was asked by a relative new-comer to the Hollywood scene if I had any advice for someone just starting out in this competitive market.

My first suggestion is to always go out with a boom operator. Working solo means that you will function only as a recordist; not as a Mixer. They will expect you to run around with a recorder and a bunch of wireless mics strapped to your chest, while you precariously balance a boompole with a shotgun mic with one hand. With your other hand, or no hand at all (if you need to seriously try to boom) you are somehow expected to control mic levels and maybe even mix them down to something usable. Not going to happen. The best you will do is mediocre. If the editor is not willing to actually view and mix down every take in the dailies -- the production company will hear too many open tracks and begin to plan for ADR, unless it is reality or docu.

You will be considered to be hard-working and a good juggler, but they will never respect you as a feature quality Production Sound Mixer. You will be pigeon holed as an ENG soundperson, much in the way that a news cameraman never gets thought of as a Director of Photography.

Work with a boom operator, so you can concentrate on mixing and "do it right".

Always go out with a complete sound package. Make sure either you are responsible for supplying the package (even if you have to rent) or at least have the opportunity to check out and approve whatever package the production company claims they will provide you. Make sure you get to play with the production company's gear at least a few days before the shoot, so that you have ample time to reject any sub-standard or broken equipment, and arrange for replacements. Never just show up to a set and hope that the printed list that they gave you is actually complete and in good working order; because it won't be!

Only use good stuff. Your package does not have to be the most expensive toys on the market, but it does need to be sufficient to get the job done, professionally. If they tie you down with cheap mics, and not enough gear to get the job done right -- your soundtrack will suffer for it. And so will your reputation, because there are no excuses printed in the credits. All the rest of the world will only know is that the sound came off as poor, and you were the one who did it. No one will know that the producer may have been cheap, and the equipment package more worthy of a Bar Mitzvah than a professional film.

If you sense that the production company will not let you do it your way, the right way -- than run away. It is not a job worth taking on and ruining your reputation for.

Do not work at a financial loss. Too often, you will be offered work for a low to moderate daily rate, and then expected to help finance the production by providing hundreds of dollars worth of free rental equipment. Make sure that you are paid for your labor and skill, as well as for the hardware.

Be careful about discounting your rates. Do it for one person, and before you know it, every one else in town will expect the same deal. Hold fast. If you absolutely have to reduce your standard fee, then discount your equipment package a little (since that is easier to explain away in the future) rather than cut your salary.

The absolute most important thing in building up your reputation is to always be able to deliver a good soundtrack. That means you will always need a good crew and a good equipment package. Even if you don't always get as much money as you would want for your own toys, bring them along anyway. Good equipment is for your benefit;.

Make sure that if your name is in the credits, the soundtrack will be good. Never be afraid to walk away from a job offer if you think that you may not be able to do the task worthy of your name.

 

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