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New Techniques Enable Creation of Great TV Sound for Screens of All Sizes

Unlike cinemagoers, TV viewers don’t usually have the luxury of multiple speakers and surround sound. They might even be watching on an iPad or iPhone. So how do sound mixers and editors create sound for the small screen? What tricks do they use to envelop viewers with an encompassing auditory experience?

Often, the first rule is, don’t treat the project like it’s just a TV show, says Benjamin Cook, supervising sound editor/sound designer on Starz’s “Black Sails.” “Think in terms of multiple channels and sound space regardless of your final delivery. Dynamics and movement are the keys of the kingdom.”

“We mix it in a similar fashion from big to small,” says re-recording mixer Mathew Waters. “The more movement I can give the tracks, the better they will play going from Atmos down to 7.1, 5.1, and stereo.”

On Netflix’s “Bloodline,” re-recording mixers Jon Wakeham and Ryan Collins aim to provide all viewers with “as close to the same experience as possible,” says Collins. “We even take the mix offline and listen on earbuds.” Adds Wakeman, “The mix must translate. A strong central image, good separation and phase coherence will do this.”

They add that ADL’S Penteo plug-in was used to create the 5.1 music from a stereo source. Robert Getty, supervising sound editor, says: “We really don’t limit ourselves by trying to edit sounds that will play on all formats. We try to pick the best sounds to support the story.”

On Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle,” re-recording mixers Andy D’Addario and Gary Gegan also aim for a theatrical experience with “many more delicately designed tracks of information than is typical for a television mix,” says D’Addario. Adds Gegan, “Creating a compelling sound track is all about directing the audience’s attention and shaping their experience by identifying key sounds and using them to manipulate thoughts and emotions.”

As with most TV series, “Mozart” is mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. “For viewers with high-end home theater systems, our mixes will definitely have a three-dimensional feel,” says Peter Carlstedt, co-supervising sound editor/ADR supervisor Brad North, sound supervisor on Starz’s “American Gods,” reports that the team mixes on a large 7.1 dub stage, “but we also have a living room setup in a different room to monitor the show in stereo. We listen to the two-track to make sure everything plays well in stereo.”

Adds lead mixer Joe DeAngelis, “We focus on making sure the music and environments are constantly in motion. It’s about trusting the way the mix sounds on the dub stage. If the balance is right in the 7.1, the mix will translate to a home environment, whether it’s a theater system, TV, computer, or even a handheld device.”

On Showtime’s “Homeland,” sound supervisor Craig Dellinger prepares elements for 5.1, “as most people at least have stereo, but you just can’t add as much as if it was a movie.”

Re-recording mixer Nello Torri says: “Not everyone has a big home theater system, so the mix must translate to both 5.1 and stereo, and sometimes be a little less aggressive with the surrounds. But the biggest thing is the bass management. With a home theater set-up you can add a lot to the subs, but all that disappears with a stereo mix, and then we feed a lot of the bass into the other speakers.”

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