I "grew up" under the wing of a Music Mixer, and got my start doing music related audio work, and I am very familiar in the mastering techniques for Music albums and the like.

I am now working almost exclusively in ADR, Dialogue, VO and Final Mixing for films.

I am curious if you do any mastering to your films. Do you add compression? Do you do overall EQ? By stems? Overall 5.1 bus?

And how about for DVD? Does it get mastered and tightened before being released on DVD?

I get to watch "for your consideration" DVDs from the Academy and these always sound better and more dynamic than a DVD. I suppose it's been mastered for the DVD release?

In all the mixing I have done I have not used compression or EQ on my final mix. But, am I doing something wrong?

I'm very curious about this point.

5 Answers 5


I would say, that as long as you and the client are pleased with the sound, then you're not doing anything wrong.

I do mostly television mixes, and networks typically have stricter regulations regarding the overall levels of a program. There is a much smaller dynamic range allowed. But even there, the most I ever do to the mix as a whole is to place a limiter on the master bus to prevent transients from peaking over -10db full scale. This is just a final backup for anything I may have missed. I try to control most of those elements within the mix itself. Compressions, EQs and the like I try to restrict to individual tracks where it is needed. If I have to do something more on my main output bus than that limiter I mentioned, then chances are I've screwed up something in the mix. Putting those processes on the back end is the lazy way out as far as I'm concerned; and will probably only muddy it up further.

As for DVDs, the commercial released copies you buy in the store have frequently been remixed in a different room that more closely resembles a consumer's listening environment. I believe that a number of Academy "for your consideration" DVDs utilize the original theatrical mix.

  • Thanks for answering! This was my hunch about the industry. You prove it!
    – Utopia
    Commented Jul 15, 2010 at 0:29
  • I have no experience of this sort of thing but was just wondering, Shaun, why you don't allow your levels to exceed -10 DB in the final mix? Commented Jul 21, 2010 at 12:47
  • @JustinMacleod This is a standards thing for most television networks around the world. I've heard that this was because of equipment in the broadcast distribution chain. Anything hotter than -10dB full scale would cause all kinds of havoc in the equipment and mess up the signal. I don't have confirmation of that, but I've heard it as hearsay from enough sources that it's probably accurate (or at least close). I don't know how that's now affected with digital transmissions, but all networks I know of still adhere to that spec. Commented Jul 21, 2010 at 13:56

Films are mixed at a standardized gain level, whereas music is all over the place. If you tried the usual mastering tricks (add compression and final EQ) at the end, you would probably just mess up the dynamics between dialog, music, and effects. I suppose it might work out OK if you were doing subtle touch up work to the individual stems.

In music recording you typically have the person doing the mix, and then you send it off to a mastering engineer with better equipment and a different perspective as sort of a professional second opinion.

In film post production, you have a dialog editor, ADR editor, foley editor, music mixer, and a supervising sound editor to do the final mix. Even if it's a smaller film, in addition to the person doing the post production sound mix, you still have the director approving the final product.

Additionally, if it sounds good in one THX theater, it will probably sound good in all theaters due to the industry having some standards for playback. With music, your mix may be played back on $60,000 hi-fi speakers or iPod earbuds.

  • "Additionally, if it sounds good in one THX theater, it will probably sound good in all theaters due to the industry having some standards for playback." I understand that music playback is less controlled, but I can tell you from experience that many theaters have horrible playback (unproperly calibrated rooms, wrong playback level, surround speakers that are in the theater but not turned on etc.)...a frustration with many in the film sound business (myself included).
    – Justin P
    Commented Jul 15, 2010 at 16:13
  • Wow, tell me about it. I was in one theater to watch Knight and Day and the right speaker must have been down 5 dB because it was left heavy and the opening "test tone" logo sounded like the right speaker was blown out.
    – Utopia
    Commented Jul 15, 2010 at 20:12

On a feature film mix YOU are supposed to be the authority on the levels. I never put anything across the mix buss other than a limiter to keep transients from clipping. Any other EQ or dynamics control I do per track or sound effect. No one compression setting, EQ setting, etc would be appropriate for the entire show. Not to mention that if it is compressed more than about 1.2:1 for the duration of the movie it will become very fatiguing to the listener.

  • 1
    Matthew - thanks for answering. I totally agree with you and that's exactly what I do - I never compress over a bus when doing film mixes. Too true on the fatigue. I guess that's why no-one sits down for 2 hours and listens to an album anymore.
    – Utopia
    Commented Jul 16, 2010 at 2:19

I agree with Shaun, network TV usually tops out at -10dBFS. I know soome primetime dramas top out at -6dB with a brickwall (at least as far as their final DVCAM output goes).

For a regular theatrical mix, I don't do any 'mastering' beyond what global plugin's I have on each of my submaster feeds to the stems. Even then, the only submaster I have plugnis on are MX (EQ, reverb) and FX (limiter, global EQ as a fail-safe if I need it).

For a DVD/web mix, Shaun is also correct. It is indeed a remix of the theatrical stems so it turns that whole advertisement of "hear it on BluRay like exactly how it was mixed" to complete hogwash. If consumers heard a theatrical printmaster play back on their home theater they'd be pissed off likely because the levels are 'too low' and the dynamic range too wide. It's hard to find much info about this process, it seems to be hidden behind closed doors. The most I've ever heard is that Sony has some internal manual or guidelines for DVD remixing but alas I';ve never seen it. After a lot of digging a few years ago I did find one solid bit of information:

The rule of thumb that I've heard and have used for a few years now, which seems to yield appropriate results for both DVD playback and internet playback robustness, is to take your theatrical stems and bump them +6 dB, and then brickwall them near the top with something like Maxim or the Massey L2007 since they are both transparent and can take a lot of abuse (whereas something like the L1 is a joke in my opinion because it does a poor job at brickwall limiting and adds a lot of color to the material). Depending on how busy the material is in the stems, you may need to ride the levels an/or very gently use sidechain compression to weave the stems together at the reduced dynamic range but retain the clarity of the theatrical. Again, this is only what I've heard and seems to have worked for me, so that's my 2 cents.


I Agree 120% with Matthew's comment. Even though there are other reasons for people not listening to complete albums anymore (like "owning" simple tracks), I do consider that one of the hidden reasons is the fact that too much compressed audio causes fatigue to the listener..therefore the hearing experience turns into an unpleasing one. As well it happens on TV broadcasting on Argentina (where I'm from).

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