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Sound Mixer


Description

With their impeccable ability to scrutinize sounds and adjust, create or re-create them, good sound mixers are a valued commodity in the recording industry. Sound mixers make their living by the ability to create, scrutinize, critique, modify, shape, control, enjoy and rejoice in the details and sound quality of music and audio sound. They operate equipment to mix and edit sound, music and videotape to produce soundtrack for motion pictures, television and radio programs, videos, music recordings and live events.

Sound mixers are involved in the process of re-recording multiple reels of track to produce one final soundtrack, which includes all dialog, looped dialog (ADR), music, sound effects, and narration for each reel of picture. During this process, the sound mixer can adjust the volume and equalization of the sound units on the individual reels in relation to each other, as well as produce effects such as fade-ins, fade-outs, and crossfades.

Sound mixers may operate equipment designed to produce special effects, such as the illusions of a bolt of lightning or a police siren. Accordingly, they can add echoes, delays, speed up or slow down tempos and fine-tune voices. In so many words, it is the sound engineer who manipulates sound to fulfill their client's desires. On a film set, a car crash may be enhanced by a loud bang sound added in during the post-production period. This process used to insert sounds is called dubbing. The goal is to both enhance sound and direct listeners to focus on specific areas of dialog. Entry-level mixers may not have any creative control whereas more experienced sound mixers will make suggestions to their client as to how the sound quality can be improved and where fades should take place.

Most sound recordings are produced using digital audio recording systems enabling them to record hundreds of tracks for sessions or on hard disc based computers and samplers. For example, when recording an album for a band, multi-track recorders tape each instrument and voice separately. The sound mixer then takes each of these separate recordings and mixes them together to form a polished sound. The same happens in film during the post-production stage. Sound mixers work closely with producers, directors, arrangers and performers to achieve the desired sound for these different audio and musical recording mediums.

Sound mixers must keep updated with new technological and digital advances. In recording studios, radio stations and some post-production studios, traditional analog recording is still used, but most recordings nowadays use SMPTE or Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) time codes for synchronization. Recording techniques are increasingly computerized and digitized, which allows allow sound mixers to work at a faster and more efficient pace.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$18,540
 
Median Salary:
$36,970
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$82,510

  Interests and Skills  
Sound mixers must be patient, understanding and flexible because they will spend long hours in the studio. They must have good ear for musical sound, pitch and tone and have the ability to pay close attention to details. Good communication skills and an outgoing personality are necessary to clarify what particular sounds are desired, and they must constantly make suggestions and accept criticism.

Sound mixers need to have an open mind when it comes to a variety of musical styles and work as part of a team. They are quick thinking individuals and have solid decision-making abilities to solve problems as they arise. They should also enjoy using electronic equipment to perform tasks requiring precision, and trouble-shooting problems. Finally, they must not only love music, but also be able to understand it, including reading music and possibly playing an instrument.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Operate audio equipment to record and edit music, dialog and sound effects for films, videos, radio and television programs and recordings
  • Mix and edit sound effects in the studio
  • Use control board to coordinate and balance pre-recorded sound effects with movies or TV shows
  • Make copies of original sound recordings
  • Use console board to adjust volume and sound quality during recording sessions
  • Set up, test, adjust and repair recording equipment
  • Keep a log of outgoing broadcast signals and recording sessions
  • Work with varied and sensitive performing artists to help create the desired product
  • Think of creative ways to mix sound or coordinate camera feeds
  • Handle sound boards, microphones, sound effects, antennas and other recording equipment
  • Implement ideas for mixing pre-recorded sound into new recordings
  • Repair and maintain mechanical equipment
  • Do audio post-production mixing and editing for film and video work
  • Create MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) programs for music projects, commercials or film post-production
  • Sound mixers may be required to work extremely long hours in a studio or on a film set to meet project deadlines, however hours will vary depending on the field. They work indoors in soundproof, windowless studios. Since studio time is expensive, bands will play and play until they get their perfect recording.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Sound mixers work for sound recording firms, film and video production and post-production houses, multi-media companies, sound recording companies, television and radio stations, advertising agencies, clubs, bands and musicians, theater and dance companies, recording studios and on film sets. Some freelance sound mixers set up their own "basement," "project" or "boutique" recording studios.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What is the long term potential for sound mixers? At the beginning of their career, they may start out as a gofer or assistant mixer, and work their way up. In this industry, it is important to be willing to work for little money to gain practical experience and establish a reputation for good work. Experienced studio sound mixers may advance to producer positions.

Other career possibilities are becoming a music composer, sound designer, concert promoter or sound effects producer. Therefore, sound mixers should keep updated on technological advances within their field.
 

  Educational Paths  
It can be extremely difficult to break into the sound mixing and engineering business. Experience working at a co-op placement through a school training program or as a volunteer at a cable television station is an asset. Beginning in radio commercial production is another option.

Although a related postsecondary degree, certificate or diploma is an asset when seeking employment as a sound mixer, there are no formal education requirements. Yet mixers will learn the technical skills needed in postsecondary programs. Most sound mixers acquire a working knowledge of today's computer-based recording technologies, such as digital mixing and random access editing, and adapt quickly to many different recording formats and devices by learning on the job or taking related training courses.

A real understanding of music theory and harmony is an asset for those who work on music projects. Formal training is very specialized and relatively few schools offer such programs. Occasionally, colleges, technical institutes and electronic music stores offer evening courses or short seminars in sound recording. Aspiring sound mixers should discuss their career plans with people and employers in the industry before enrolling in any training program.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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