A sound mixer records and balances audio for film and television projects. They are the most senior member of the sound team. Their technical work makes films and television programs engaging, authentic, and enjoyable.
There are two types of sound mixers:
- Production sound mixers: These sound mixers work during pre-production and production. They are also called location sound mixers, location sound recordists, and location sound engineers. Projects typically employ a single production sound mixer.
- Re-recording sound mixers: These sound mixers take over sound duties in post-production. They typically work in teams of two or three.
Sound Editing vs Sound Mixing: What’s the Difference?
Sound editing is the collection, creation, and recording of sounds. Foley and automated dialogue replacement (ADR) are both part of sound editing. Once sound editing ends, sound mixing can begin. This process makes sure all the different sounds work together seamlessly. Sound mixing makes sure sounds are clear and in balance with one another.
What Does a Sound Mixer Do?
Sound mixers perform a variety of sound-related jobs during pre-production, production, and post-production. Take a closer look at their common duties.
Image via ProductionBeast
Production sound mixers start working on a new project during the pre-production phase. During this preparation period, their common tasks include:
- Choosing and sourcing the right audio equipment
- Visiting filming locations to assess potential sound challenges
- Collaborating with director and producer on the project’s sound concept
- Hiring the sound team, including boom operators, sound assistants, and sound trainees
Production sound mixers’ work continues through the production period. While films and TV shows shoot, the production sound mixer’s common duties include:
- Setting up sound equipment before the day’s shooting begins
- Recording all sound on set, including dialogue and location sounds
- Mixing audio on set and balancing volume and sound quality to ensure captured sounds are usable
- Assessing sound quality and requesting retakes if required
- Packing up sound equipment at the end of the day
The re-recording sound mixer starts their duties in post-production. During this phase, they combine and balance the project’s dialogue with sound effects and music. While the production sound engineer works on short soundbites, re-recording sound mixers work on the entire project at once. They also work in a studio rather than on a set.
What Skills Do Sound Mixers Need?
As the most senior members of a production’s sound team, sound mixers draw on a variety of skills on the job:
- Comprehensive understanding of sound theory and film production
- Confidence setting up and operating sound equipment
- Leadership for managing the sound team
- Verbal communication skills for giving team instructions
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What Qualities Do Sound Mixers Have?
Sound mixers often have similar personality traits that make them well-suited to their roles. Some of the common qualities of sound mixers include:
- Excellent hearing, even in distracting and noisy environments
- Attention to detail
- Willingness to compromise
- Confidence to speak up about sound concerns
How Do People Become Working Sound Mixers?
People can become sound mixers in several ways. However, the following tips can give aspiring sound mixers an edge:
- Get a formal education. Sound engineers do not need degrees or diplomas. However, a formal film or audio engineering school education is beneficial. These schools teach the fundamentals of working with sound and help students connect with industry professionals.
- Spend time on sets. Onset experience can help graduates understand the filmmaking process better. Working as a production assistant gives aspiring sound mixers the chance to talk to people working in all departments, including sound.
- Join the sound crew. After working as a production assistant, aspiring sound mixers often transition to junior sound crew roles. Working as a boom mic operator or a utility sound technician deepens their understanding of sound and lets them see a sound mixer in action.
- Search for sound mixer jobs. After gaining some on-set experience, aspiring sound mixers start scouring job sites for their dream roles. Their first job may be unpaid, but even volunteer work can really boost their resumes.
- Form a crew. Sound mixers often work the same crew of sound experts they know and trust. Having a list of potential crew members on speed dial is a great way to prepare for any job opportunities.
What’s a Sound Mixer’s Salary?
The average earnings for a production sound mixer are $50,000 per year. However, sound mixers get paid by the production, rather than receiving an annual salary. The sound mixers who receive the most regular work typically make the most money. Experience also plays a key role in determining pay. Union members can rely on a certain guaranteed pay, although they can negotiate higher salaries. Non-union sound mixers rely entirely on their negotiation skills.
Sound mixers should study the script and look for sound difficulties before negotiating their rates. If they feel the work will be challenging, they might ask for a higher rate than usual. Examining the pay rates of other sound technicians is another good way to determine an appropriate rate of pay.
What Is the Job Outlook for Sound Mixers?
Should I Join the Union?
The leading union for sound mixers is IATSE Local 695. Joining is beneficial, as union members receive several benefits, including:
- Representation in pay negotiations
- Basic Minimum Agreement pay
- Access to health care plans and pension funds
Union members must show they’ve worked at least 100 days in their role within the last three years. Membership fees apply.
What Equipment Should Sound Mixers Have?
Sound mixers usually provide their own equipment. The following items should be a part of every sound mixer’s kit:
- A sound recorder
- A sound mixer
- A shotgun mic
- A boom pole
- Wireless lavalier microphones
- A smart slate
- Shock mounts
- Quality headphones
- A harness
- A battery kit
More About Sound Mixers
Sound mixers mix, balance, and combine different sound signals. They are sometimes called audio mixers or mixing consoles. Aside from their use on sets and in film and television studios, sound mixers are also used in music studios and concert venues.
Sound mixers can work with collected sounds and add new sounds or effects. Once sound mixers modify sound signals, they can send the sounds to the output and transmit them via a sound system.
There are three kinds of sound mixers:
- Analog mixers can receive and process analog signals
- Digital mixers can receive and process digital and common analog signals
- Software mixers use digital recording software via computers
It is a good idea for sound mixers to become comfortable with all these different types of equipment.
Sound mixers have various numbers of channel strips. The number of channel strips they have impacts their mixing capacity. For example, a 16×8 sound mixer has 16 input channels and eight output channels. This sound mixer could potentially blend 16 different sound signals for recording a multi-track.
Experts recommend sound mixers choose one of the following sound mixers, depending on their budget:
- Under $500: Allen & Heath ZED-12FX
- Under $200: Mackie ProFX6v3
- Under $100: Behringer XENYX Q1202USBm
If you have a keen ear for audio and a passion for the entertainment industry, working as a sound mixer may be your dream job. If you’re interested in learning more about being a sound mixer, apply to Nashville Film Institute to gain professional qualifications as a filmmaker.