Hello everyone,

I am a soon to be graduate from BA Film.

For my final year I have decided to work as a sound designer (my second year I did this as I have a musical background and seen the opportunity to blend these together).

So one film I am sound designing for I am coming to quite tense moments with my director (evidently they have the final say).

I have been mixing in a calibrated room - sitting dialogue between -24db to -20db with peaks around -16db.

I then built my design of sound effects and atmos etc around this foundation.

To be honest, I am very happy with the mix. But my director says it is too quiet.

After much discussion (including me telling them to turn up their speakers) - I did a louder mix with dialogue hitting -12db average - peaks at -6db.. leaving anything above for sound effects that were louder, such as a gun shot.

They are still very unhappy.

At this point I must vouch that all my other projects have gone swimmingly - hence my confusion.

I have attempted to explain dynamics and translation to theatrical releases and music mixing being different - as they seem to want it all near the red. Which I know I am still learning, but I know the red is not the place to be.

Am I completely off target or is my director just not with it and I'm losing a battle?!

Please help, kind regards to any responses.

5 Answers 5


Heh. Welcome to the rest of your career. :) I fall more into the "client is always right" camp. I think it's my job to speak up when I disagree and educate the clients just as you have done but at the end of the day, they're the ones who have sweat blood over this film for months, if not years on end, and the director always always gets the last word. "No" is not in my vocabulary. Do a "save as", do a vanity mix for your reel and then let the clients destroy all your hard work. Other sound engineers will judge you on the quality of your work but clients will judge you on the quality of their experience with you and the relationship you have developed. Now, this all assumes that a louder, less dynamic mix will make them happy. It sounds like your mix should be plenty loud and I wonder if there's something happening between your system and the clients home system. Who is doing the layback to DVD? Have you played back the DVD on another system yourself, referencing against other DVDs? Have you checked your finished and bounced mix in reference to other mixes? Of course it could be that your clients are just temporarily insane. That happens too. I once had a client tell me they couldn't hear a certain line at all. I turned it up 2 db and gave it back to him and he was happy. Seriously, 2db made the difference between "I can't hear this at all!" and "perfect! That's great!". Another time I was playing the 'louder louder' game with clients and finally realized that the video editors mix was clipping and distorted and that's what they equated with loudness. Clients. Stay profesional and do your best to figure out what they want. It's a tricky thing to have pride in your work and also be unattached but that's what you have to do. I always think about the Tibetan monks who make those incredible sand paintings then destroy them as soon as they're done. Anyway, definitely investigate the layback stage. If you say they're happy with the mix in your studio and then have to crank their home system twice as loud as normal then something is amiss. Best of luck!

  • Hi, thanks for the reply. Apparently the mix is great now, much to my dissatisfaction. She was burning the DVD's and was also watching in FCP - looking at the level meter. This is where it started as she told me everything needs to be near the red in film sound... I completely concur with the "client is always right". For the exact same reasons as you've described. Hoping eventually I'll have familiar clients that I'll work with regularly as we're on the same wave length. One can dream. Thanks for all the comments everyone!
    – user5985
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 1:16
  • Yikes. I wonder where she got that idea. Well, Glad to hear it's resolved and they're happy.
    – Brendan
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 3:12
  • 1
    Tibetan monks and the mandala is a great analogy, may use that some time! Check out 'Samsara' for a great visual experience that includes a mandala being created. Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 9:12

How does it sound? Is there no reason how it could actually be "too quiet"? If everything is audible and the play with dynamics sounds good and is reasonable, then I don't see a problem.

How about asking them to specify, what exactly is too quiet. Everything or specific parts? I find that that's the only way to understand what they're really hearing. It also helps to know what they're comparing to (because something is always quiet relative to something else, which is louder), so you can hear how it really is.

Of course there's no need to leave digital headroom unused, at the peak points that is.

  • To add to this, it'll be beneficial to watch/listen to it through together so that the director can point out which parts they're not happy with as it goes a long, and you could then explain why you believe that particular part is mixed to the appropriate level, etc.
    – Skarik
    Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 9:04
  • Thank you for the response. I am told when the film is burnt to DVD and watched on the home set up of the director, everything has to be boosted from 30/35 on their speaker dial to around 60. The specific is everything, as we've sat together a couple days when adding sound effects etc and they are really happy with it here, but when I send them the same version - then it becomes too quiet. The digital headroom is definitely being used dynamically, with peaks left for the loudest parts in the film - there is a gun shot and door kicking down both I let hit -3db or slightly above.
    – user5985
    Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 12:22
  • It's a tough position to be put in alright. You'll have to make your case as best you can, then weigh up your options as to how to proceed. If they still demand that you make it louder, you can either oblige or refuse. There's arguments for both paths e.g. 'the customer is always right', but then there's also 'you're only as good as your last gig'. They're comparing apples with oranges. A mix for home release is going to be louder than a theatre release. Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 16:05
  • I'd read through: gearslutz.com/board/post-production-forum/… and prep my argument for why the levels are where they are. Best of luck. Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 16:05

What format are you mixing for? e.g. A Hollywood theatrical release is going to be louder than an indie DVD release.

I'd try and get my hands on a similar level of film release and compare. If the levels are similar then use it as evidence that you are working to a suitable level.

  • Thanks for the response. Initially I was aiming to create a theatrical release, as this film was to be screened at our end of year show in a cinema. I compared my dialogue mix to 2001: A Space Odyssey - with the mentality if it works for Kubrick then fine by me - which the levels matched. Still too quiet. Now I am aiming for different requirements and mixing it for the web. I have compared to Vimeo videos that specifically focus on sound and dialogue and they seem to be perfect - but the director says it is still too quiet.
    – user5985
    Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 12:26
  • ... The mix is now so loud, that there is almost no dynamic range, I am waiting to hear the next reply - if it is too quiet, then I am literally lost for words - if it is perfect - have I been mixing wrong all this time?
    – user5985
    Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 12:28
  • @chromasy If all they're asking for is loudness, then don't listen to them, unless you have a reason to believe that what you're doing is correct. That's like the typical scenario for the loudness war, someone else (e.g. your client) telling you to make it louder, regardless of what making it louder will actually do to the mix (typically it makes it worse). But really, listen to it yourself and compare it to something else and hear whether it's too quiet or not. Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 12:56
  • Thanks - I'll definitely take this onboard. As students we have to write a reflective essay about each project after the submission, so this will all be included. Yes, the loudness battle is a crisis that I do not want to be involved in. Thank again.
    – user5985
    Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 12:57
  • And yeah, if it's "as loud as" 2001 and that kind of mix fits to what you're doing, then it should be fine? Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 12:59

I've had a few happy surprises where clients use laptop speakers to monitor their sound. Even when the system volume is turned all the way up you can barely hear what's being said. In such cases, there may not be much room for dynamics.

It shouldn't hurt too much to ask what monitoring setup they are at, right? Could it be that the setup your client uses is unable to deliver any power from their speakers? It's important to know and discuss where the sound shall be presented and compare it with what's currently being used to present it.


If the client happens to be approving the mix via web or on his laptop....master it for this media really quickly and save the full dynamic session to your hard drive for the final print master of the film. Often times the client is approving the mix via laptop after listening to hulu or another "mastered for internet" format. While there will be more limiting of your master for internet approval, you will retain the ratio of elements and this could get you an approval.

BTW, when I mix features I typical sit my dialogue around -27 LKFS. I would think -24 LKFS would be plenty loud. Are you talking LKFS?

Ask him about a movie he thinks sounds good or one that inspired this film. Worst comes to worse you can mirror that mix. Good luck. The client is always right.

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