The Wild World of Post Production

In the wild world of post-production, adhering strictly to content delivery requirements is not an option — it’s essential. Gary Tole is a freelance engineer/mixer who understands this all too well. Along with loads of TV mixing credits, he’s worked with the likes of Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, and Nile Rodgers.

I recently caught up with him at Gizmo Studios in New York, where we both happen to do a lot of our work and Tole shared some of his experiences with getting big sounds out of small speakers.

What level do you have to deliver TV promos at? And why?
Gary Tole: The Food Network QC [quality control] requests a level of –10dB with peaks of no more than –8dB.

If we deliver anything hotter than that it’ll get kicked back and we’ll then have to readjust levels. I find if I go hotter than –10dB the broadcast limiters really do a number on the mix by making it sound one dimensional without dynamics — the overall level is perceived as lower on air compared to the commercials around it. By mixing with dynamic peaks no more than –8dB and then adding my own limiting resulting in –10dB, I get the best results. Everything seems to pop dynamically and the overall level is as loud as the commercials around it.

But when you hear spots you’ve mixed on TV, what do you notice compared to how they sounded in the studio?
GT: When I first started mixing for television it took me quite awhile to get used to how things sounded on air. I found my mixes always sounded more squashed and one-dimensional thanks to the limiters at the networks. I started to experiment with different master levels and dynamics until coming up with a combination that works for me. I was then able to achieve what I hear in the studio.

OK. So, tips or tricks to get your mixes to punch through a TV set?
GT: I find having several different monitors to reference to gives me a good perspective on the mix. I’ll usually monitor in stereo and go back and forth between mono. If I’m mixing 5.1 I will usually stay in that mode and listen to the stereo down-mix, as I get closer to see if there are any adjustments needed. At Gizmo when I’m mixing promos or long format I will also monitor through a TV monitor and strap a brick wall limiter across the mix — which let’s me check a faux broadcast curve. I find the Sony Inflator very useful for this as it retains most of the dynamics but adds punch. After using it on several records, I ended up using it in post-production mixing for shows and various promos for the Food Network, HGTV, and TV commercials I work on. It basically assures my clients and me that the broadcast limiters will have little influence on the outcome over the air. I struggled for years with broadcast limiters ruining mixes but now it makes it a no-brainer for me.

So what’s your typical signal path for TV, in terms of EQ? Compression? Consoles?
GT: Nowadays, for TV I’m pretty much mixing in the box [Pro Tools]. I find it more expedient, and in many cases the plug-ins I use are better for notching and repairing bad location tracks than analog equipment. Processing tasks are varied depending on the work at hand. In the case of promos there isn’t a whole lot of sound design — it’s more fixing and mixing. A typical promo will usually consist of the VO [Voice Over], Music, SOT [Sound on Tape; location audio], and effects. I usually put a little compression and EQ on the VO channel, and then fix any of the location audio with AudioSuite plug-ins so I can make the most out of the processing. Next I’ll add any ‘verb’s, delays, or sound design elements as needed. As far as overall mix processing goes, the only thing I use is the aforementioned Sony Inflator, or sometimes the Waves L1. I almost never use overall EQ, as it would have already been taken care of on the individual channels. However, when I work on albums I still prefer running things through a good analog desk with outboard compressors and EQs!