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Dear All,

I have a question about trailer mixing that hopefully some of you have an answer to:

When mixing a trailer, or any mixing for that matter, what's your preferred method for popping out dialogue and narration and other important things through the music and effects?

I sometimes have trouble when the music is blaring in a trailer or action scene, and dialogue must be heard through it.

Do you carve out a pocket in the music with an overall EQ on it? Or do you make space by cleverly feathering in the music between lines with volume? Or do you drastically EQ the voice only and leave the music untouched? Do you crush the dialogue with compression?

If you do use only volume, how do you not lose the energy of the music if you have to duck it down under dialogue or narration? Do you only duck some of the mid-range heavy stems and leave possibly the percussion stem up full blast so as to not lose the energy?

Thanks beforehand - Ryan

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My method is what you have described but I incorporate heavy automation.

Like you said, I will use EQ's but I'll scoop out the fighting frequencies (through automation) in the music and reduce in volume when dialog is being played. Think about what's most important throughout each section and try to make that most apparent to the listener. The last thing you want to do is make it hard for the listener to understand what is being said and for a trailer that's most important. I doubt the music ducking will be that big of an issue to the listener if the dialog is loud enough and your volume automation is smooth.

Here's a new trailer for the movie Salt with Angelina Jolie. You can hear the music dipping slightly during key SFX and dialog.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWfodI3y3N8

  • Thanks for responding Mike! Now I know what another pro does. I listened to the trailer. Sometimes my mixes get disapproved because music volume rides are noticeable but that trailer is way more noticeable than anything I have ever done... – Utopia Jul 22 '10 at 22:43
  • Funnily enough, that was the first trailer I grabbed/could think of and I hadn't listened to it prior. Sure enough it turned out to be a great example. – MikeQuell Jul 22 '10 at 22:53
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Definitely volume automation, but be careful you don't over do it in between close lines. If the gap is too short it will just sound like the track is "pumping," and you don't want that.

Mike's correct about accomadating the listener. Dialogue is for people like a raw steak is for dogs; they're going to be drawn right to it. They'll get distracted and frustrated if they can't make it out. EQ automation is a great way to handle an overly energetic music track, but don't EQ the dialogue unless it needs it as a tonal improvement. You're not going to beat the music using EQ on the vocals.

I almost always use a little compression on trailers, commercials and television programming. So, yes, you can definitely use that to help you along. I also will EQ the music subtly to make space for the dialogue if necessary.

The holy grail of this issue is having access to the composer, and being able to get stems for the music instead of a mixed track. Unfortunately, that's not always possible.

  • Thanks Shaun! Yeah - the last mix I did had 24 stems. That was down from 96 music tracks (this included a down-mixed choir of about 20 tracks). It helped a lot. – Utopia Jul 22 '10 at 22:44
  • +1 I experienced this dialogue mix issue with Inception... it took me 4 viewings at the theater to make out what Ken Watanabe was saying. – Stavrosound Aug 9 '11 at 7:31
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As a general note for my mixing is that I always level off the dialogue, then bring in the music and sound. This gives me a) a consistent volume throughout and b) a benchmark to work under. I think EQ can help punch dialogue through, I did the Main Titles for a show recently and had a sci-fi whoosh at the same time as a letter 'S', pushing the 2K really helped put the Dialogue up front. That said you really don't want to over do EQing dialogue.

I'll also agree with Shaun. Sometimes drawing those little dots can help in moments where your fingers on a fader are simply too slow.

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