Storytelling may start with an idea and a script. Along the way, it may garner tons of attention and praise for its directing and star-studded cast. But what can sound do for a story? Sound design involves much more than level dialogue and explosions. It’s highly technical, but requires an enormous amount of creativity. If done well, it can tell a truly powerful story. For the typical movie-goer, sound editing vs sound mixing can sometimes be confused with each other, but they are different. The two serve completely different purposes, and both are necessary for a truly cinematic experience.
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What’s the DIfference?
Sound editing vs sound mixing
What you hear on a movie's soundtrack is multilayered. Dialogue, ADR, sound effects, Foley, music — it's all part of the overall sound design. Putting it all together is a massive job and it's handled by multiple teams with different taks. So, that brings us to the question of the hour: what is the difference between sound editing vs sound mixing?
Catch a few scenes from iconic movies that delineate between editing and mixing, below.
Unlock the Secrets to Sound Editing and Mixing
When you’re on set, capturing quality sound is critical. But the majority of the sounds you hear in the movies are rarely ever captured this way. Often, the main focus on set, is the blocking and staging of the actors, and perfecting the execution of their lines.
Many of the sounds are added in later. The collection and creation of these sounds is sound editing. We’ll get more into the ways artists collect these sounds soon. Once these sounds are added in, then sound mixing can begin. The main goal in mixing is to make sure that all of the sounds, including recorded dialogue, are as seamless as possible.
Let’s dive a little deeper into both sound editing and mixing.
What is sound editing?
Sound editing is the creation, recording, or re-recording of sounds.
Walter Murch, is an Oscar-winning sound editor, iconic video editor, and sound mixer. Not only does Murch have quite fascinating theories about video editing, like his Rule of Six, but he's equally as poetic about sound.
Here he is talking through some of the choices he made while sound editing classics like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He speaks of sound editing as putting together a kind of mosaic and how the most unexpected sounds can be used to further the storytelling.
Walter Murch on Sound Editing
Now, how do we collect the sounds we need?
For sounds like footsteps, the breaking of glass, slamming or squeaking doors, or even sounds that don’t exist in the real world (think lightsabers), someone needs to record it. This is called Foley sound.
Foley is the recreation or creation of sounds unavailable to execute on set. Foley studios have viewing screens, props, and recording equipment for the Foley artist to capture the sounds as they watch each scene.
Here's an example of how they work on a film like A Quiet Place where sound editing is paramount.
Sound Effects in A Quiet Place
It’s commonplace to see Foley artists recreate footsteps, or other sound effects that demand studio recording. But those aren’t the only elements we need to hear in the film.
Many times, the dialogue on set must be re-recorded. There could be a slew of reasons for this. The sound wasn’t captured correctly or precisely enough and must be re-recorded for quality, or voice overs might need to be added in.
Sometimes, actors like to re-record their dialogue because it’s an artistic choice. This re-recording of dialogue is called ADR, which stands for Automated Dialogue Replacement. It is the process of re-recording audio in a more controlled setting, by the original actor after filming. You can see Hugh Jackman doing ADR for his role in Logan.
Hugh Jackman's ADR in Logan
Now it’s time to meld this dialogue with all of the other sounds that have been created or re-recorded. With all of the audio created, collected and re-recorded, it's time to enter sound mixing.
Sound Mixing Definition
What is sound mixing?
We all know when something sounds “off” in a movie. It can throw off the entire scene, and may even make us question the quality of the film itself. That’s why sound mixing is so important.
Sound mixing is the process of matching audio levels of all of the sound in a film ⏤ from dialogue, to Foley, to the musical score. A sound mixer must tweak every single audio file in the movie in order to make it sound clear, crisp, and seamless. This isn’t easy, even for professionals. It can be an arduous and tedious process, not to mention extraordinarily difficult when there are a ton of sounds happening at once.
Let’s revisit Walter Murch as he speaks on the mixing process for Apocalypse Now, and some of the issues the sound design team faced.
Sound Mixing in Apocalypse Now
Matching the levels isn’t only for quality either, there are also plenty of artistic choices that take place in the sound mixing process.
What’s most interesting to me is the use of sound to engage the audience. And I’m not talking about obvious sound choices, like explosions, or like we saw above, bones breaking (yikes). Some sounds are designed to create a more visceral experience.
In the video above, Murch discusses the motivation in regards to a scene in Jarhead. We hear sand hit Anthony’s face while everything else goes quiet. Because we hear it, it’s as if we can feel it. Sound connects the audience to the main character.
This is a huge piece in storytelling, and interestingly enough, it’s a piece that comes much later in Post-Production during the mix.
Oscar Winners in Sound Mixing
Now that you know the difference between sound editing and mixing, let’s look at the best of the best. And of course, the best aren’t always the winners. The next post will look at those who took home the statue, and those that maybe should’ve for Best Sound Mixing.
Up Next: Sound mixing gold →
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