Sound and Vision

Screen grab of a couple of scenes from a TV pilot I did highlighting audio track structure.
Screen grab of a couple of scenes from a TV pilot I did highlighting audio track structure.

Hi there
This is just a quick post based on a conversation I overheard between 2 video editors just the other day. The conversation was centered on delivering audio to final mix and in particular the question “how many channels of audio should I be sending to the final mix engineer?” was raised. The more experienced editor replied without hesitation, 12. And this got me puzzled. How was this person so sure of the amount of tracks required in an edit, especially with absolute certainty that it was 12. This was no 4 part trilogy to find the ultimate answer this was page 1 line 2 post the slug and action lines.

Now I have experience at this, having spent most of my adult life mixing my own cuts as well as a host of other peoples work and let me tell you that there is no answer to that question other than, as many as is required within reason. Before I continue, I must just let you know that I am anal about audio in my cuts. I have a very structured set of rules that apply to every edit regardless of what the job is.
At the moment I am working on a 208 episode TV series that is 24 minutes long. I am not mixing the final cut as it is being done by a 3rd party provider who I have spent the last 3 years nurturing and developing a very good relationship with. I deliver 34 channels of audio for this program. I recently completed 52 episodes of TV where I was delivering 44 full audio tracks.

It is always the same structure and only the amount of channels differ depending on the amount of coverage.

So a typical breakdown is as follows:-
Trax 1 to 8 are for dialogue. Close ups (1+2) MCU (3+4) Med (5+6) Wides (7+8). New scenes will never start on the same audio channels as the previous one ends. This helps define scenes better and allows the engineer to retweak eq’s etc if needed.
Trax 9+10 are for dialogue that requires FX such as telephone or reverb or EQing for perspective reasons. This can sometimes spill over onto 11+12 depending on the scene.

Then the FX channels take up 11 to 20 (give or take) Usually 11+12 are buzz tracks that flow through the entire scene and the rest of the channels are for spot fx, the incidental sweetener and the like.

21 to 30 are for music. Each piece begins on its own channel and then cycles back to 21 at ad breaks or when it reaches track 30. Again this makes it easier for the engineer to apply different EQs etc to each track and automate changes from ad break to ad break.
31+32 are for music that requires EQing or reverb as if from a radio or tv source.
33+34 are for the common elements to every episode, the music for previously on, the title sequence music, stings, bumpers and end credit music and idents.

I am not delivering M&E for this series so the amount of FX channels is less than in my previous series which did require M&E for dubbing into French for the European and Central African territories.
But again it was structured in exactly the same way. The only difference being that any SFX taken directly from the source footage in the scene was used on tracks 11 to 14. This saved on foley work on many occasions.

Because I have worked with my final mix guy for a while now he knows exactly the layout and structure of my audio tracks. He can immediately create groups and busses and sort his routing out from the get-go. He doesn’t spend any time at all rearranging the track order or moving audio around to accommodate his own template. It also helps bring down cost of hiring the suite, probably saving an hour or more of expensive studio time. It also means that he has a rich audio track to play with and he can get down to the business of finessing without too much fussing about.

So for me more is more. There is certainly room to just have 12 audio channels in a mix but then the engineer may have to spend a lot more time sourcing fx, reordering tracks, probably even sourcing music and buzz trax. But sometimes, just sometimes all that is required is a voice over and music and then you just have 4 trax.

The reason for my analallity and diligence is not only to save time and money, it is a lot more simple than that. I’m cutting picture as I go, it’s really not that hard to add the sound required while you’re doing that. Musch easier to build as you go than having to spend hours afterwards building the audio. My 1st cuts are rich wholesome experiences with very few audio clangers. All my fx, music, buzzes, spots, idents etc are all part of the overall 1st cut experience making approvals less problematic.

12? Hahaha.

Till again we chat. Aterlay.