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What is a good example of great dialogue mixing I can set as a foundation that I can judge my own work against?

I have been told time and time again:

"It sounds a bit dull."

"It's too sharp."

"It's too bright."

"Just a little muffled."

I don't think there's been one mix where the dialogue was "perfect" in the ears of the producer/director.

Yet, none of those producers/supervisors can point me to a source of what is proper in terms of a good voice mix.

Has anyone else had this problem and how do you handle it? Maybe I'm just horrible at dialogue mixing and I should throw in my fader and quit.

What is a good example of a mix where the dialogue is perfect that I can hold as a standard to strive for?

I've been told Pleasantville is a good example.

Also, Titanic and Lord of the Rings. However, LOTR was 98% ADR...

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4 Answers 4

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Well, as far as awesome dialogue goes, Inception was 98% production audio, as was The Dark Knight.

I don't think there really is a "perfect" place for dialogue to sit. At the very least it should most definitely sound natural, in most cases, and should sound appropriate to the physical setting.

Apart from that, I think it's really to taste. If you take a listen to the TV series House M.D., the dialogue is a lot more natural, more rounded. Then if you go listen to the TV series Lost (at least the stuff that David Yaffe did), it's a lot more crisp (they used 416s and 816s on Lost) So, it's really up to you how to mix it, and of course the ATL crew, what goes. A lot of it is really subjective.

I like a crispier mix. I'm often struggling to hear some of the softer lines in House, but then again, my center channel is 10 years old...

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Thanks Colin. I'll have to watch House MD - never seen it unfortunately. I agree on Lost. Boy, subjective is right. –  Utopia Jul 28 '10 at 5:48
    
Do you have a reference track you play when you're in a foreign mix room and you want to get a bearing on how the system sounds? –  Utopia Jul 28 '10 at 5:49
    
I honestly don't mix on many different systems. There's the stage at work, which, if I get asked to mix, I'm only doing backgrounds at this point. Usually doing editing or design work. I do most Dx work at home. When I am cutting Dx, I do like to listen to my fav flicks over my studio monitors to kind of set my ears up to dialogue goodness before a session, or when I need a break –  Colin Hart Jul 28 '10 at 5:51

Here in TV Land I prefer to edge on the side of crisp bright dialogue. That's 100% a media issue as my mixes will be heard on top quality home cinema system and a crappy mono TV. I also need to make sure that the dialogue will cut through the washing machine, screaming kids etc etc.

Colin - I think getting used to a room and it's monitors is really important, so is listening elsewhere. Once you get both in your head then I think it makes life so much better. You can then pre-empt things and ensure your mixes sound good everywhere.

Ryan - what are you monitoring on? If it's Genelecs and people complain it's too bright then that may be the root of your problem, Genelecs are great but are bright.

Also, do you move around between different rooms or are you in the same one all the time? This might be a problem too.

For good TV dialogue, try Doctor Who (especially the new series). I know the guys who did the sound, a lot of production sound with a smattering of ADR. It's really well done and sounds crisp and clear but there's also some weight behind it too.

Ian

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I've got PMCs - wall and near-fields. –  Utopia Jul 28 '10 at 20:45

I read somewhere (Post Magazine I believe) that Quentin Tarantino does everything he can to get clean sounding dialogue on set and to avoid ADR. Watch Inglorious Bastards- It won a Golden Reel award for Best Dialogue and ADR in a Feature Film.

You can find lists of films/ television shows that have won awards on wikipedia and other sites. If you're really interested make a list of works that have been acknowledged for dialogue (or sound in general), watch them and decide which one you think is best.

Most importantly don't quit!

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Thanks Dan! I'll check out Inglorious Basterds and research what has won awards - great idea. –  Utopia Jul 28 '10 at 20:31

I'll second Ian's Dr. Who suggestion... Taff and company do a great job on it! (Watch it on DVD, broadcast quality varies greatly from channel to channel).

As far as getting it right, don't throw in the fader -it's about experience. When I started I got a lot of the same sort of comments that you did... I spent a long time looking for that elusive "best sound" myself, and then spent a lot of time trying to make everything conform to what I THOUGHT it should sound like. Every time the director/producer would come back with a comment.

What I learned is that there is NO ONE RIGHT SOUND. Each show/movie is it's own beast, and needs to be treated as such. What might be great tonally for one show, isn't for another. In each of the examples you stated, the dialog, while well done, is very different. The director/producer preferences, the production audio, and the story itself will all help shape the tonality of the dialog (not to mention FX, BG's and Score...)

A good producer/director will be able to tell you what they're looking for, but that's the exception, not the norm. Asking questions about the production sound can help flesh out the "vision" if you will.

Do you like the production sound? What to do you like? What don't you like? What do you want it to sound like? (be prepared for some strange answers here...)

And of course, the final delivery medium has a certain amount to do with it. I tend to mix TV much brighter than I would a film, just because I know how much damage it'll take between my room and broadcast.

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Great answer! You're totally right.. every project is different. Glad you guys have gotten the same comments and I'm not alone! - –  Utopia Jul 28 '10 at 20:34

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