Web Exclusive: Surround Mixing

Production Tips From Marc Blanes

The March issue of Electronic Musician features a Master Class feature on mixing in surround. Here, we share bonus tips from engineer Marc Blanes.

Marc Blanes

Blanes, who also works under his full name, Marc Blanas Matas, is a successful scoring engineer and mixer for film and television, with credits that include Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Impossible, Mama, Hemigway & Gellhorn and many others. He graciously answered a few questions by email, even though English is not his native tongue.

What was the most important thing you had to learn—or adjustment you had to make— when you first moved from stereo mixing to surround mixing?
Beyond the fact that the rear channels give us a new dimension in terms of space, what I found most difficult at the beginning was moving back from 5.1 to stereo. It took a while to mix things that could translate well in both [formats], as I had started putting things in places which worked in surround but not in the stereo. So it always felt like a compromise between both spaces.

Do you have a home studio in which you can do surround mixes? If so, what are the key pieces of equipment?
Yes, I have my own studio. For 5.1, I use ATC SCM50 and SCM20 monitors, which I am very confident with. I also would not start a mix without my Lexicon 960 and Bricasti [reverbs]. Once you start mixing with them, you use them almost every day. I also have some Manley EQs and compressors and, of course, Avid Pro Tools HD.

Do you do most of your surround mixing in the box, or do you prefer conventional mixing consoles?
I love the sound of analog consoles, which I try to use when tracking. But from the moment that you are sending several versions of a total of 50 score cues every day, you have to turn to the digital computer domain to mix.

Have you worked on audio-only surround projects, or just audio-for-film?
I’ve done live rock concerts, operas and remixes of albums for DVD audio, but what I do most at the moment is scoring for films.

Has your approach to mixing in surround changed through the years? Are there things you emphasize more in the rear speakers than you used to? Do you put different things in the center?
I am a bit obsessed about mics and players’ positions while recording orchestras. That will determine the sound picture of your recording. I normally put a bit of the center Decca Tree mic in the center channel, just to avoid a big gap in big cinemas, but always leaving the headroom for dialog in the center.