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One of Danny's latest endeavors has been handling mixing duties for the score to The Green Knight. We recently sat down for a chat with the Dallas native to talk about his work on the film, his thoughts on mixing an album compared to soundtracks and the gear at his studio, Good Danny's.
How did you get involved with The Green Knight?
I’ve mixed a number of scores for the composer, Daniel Hart. Daniel is an old friend, we toured in a band called Other Lives together. We’ve shared the best and worst of times (and hundreds of hotel rooms), on the road. We’ve also worked together on records for his band, Dark Rooms, and he has arranged and played strings on records I’ve produced. We’re basically brothers at this point.
How do you feel about the process of mixing scores versus mixing records?
Well, whether it’s a record mix or film score mix, you’re ultimately just trying to create a balance that will translate and be engaging for the listener. I use a lot of the same tools on a score mix as I do on records. All the basic good engineering practices apply to both. I’m using reference material (even if it’s other scores I’ve mixed), and I’m constantly needle dropping from earlier cues to later cues to make sure they feel consistent and are coming from the same place, just like an album mix.
The running time on this film is on the longer side. There are 67 music cues totaling nearly two hours of music. Keeping the same level of drive and focus throughout the mixing process requires a lot of diligence on a big film score mix. The 67th cue you mix has to get the same attention and level of detail as the first mix. That exists when you’re mixing albums too, just on a smaller scale.
One big difference of mixing in the film world is that you can’t really mix analog on a score mix. I learned that the hard way on one of the first scores I mixed for Daniel actually. I mean technically, you can, but printing dozens of stems one at a time, in real time, just doesn't make sense for the workflow. I’d be here for weeks printing. Also, as often is the case with film, a scene might get recut and a cue that you’ve already delivered has to be confirmed to work with the new edit which would require printing an entire new batch of stems. It paints you into a corner. Since we’re mostly in-the-box for film score mixes, I can easily make edits and offline bounce 20 something stems simultaneously for a cue.
Even with the outboard, both on the front end and the mix side, I have go-to chains that I love that we leave normalled in the patchbay. All my outboard effects are normalled to Pro Tools I/O, so it’s no different than using a plug-in. I definitely prefer having instruments and a palette of sounds readily available over the traditional “big empty room, big console” thing.
I want people to have fun and feel like their creativity is being fully realized while squeezing as much efficiency out of the time as possible. Being a lifelong tape head and committed to an analog workflow, I’ve had to learn how to keep things as speedy as possible.
What gear was integral to your mix process on The Green Knight?
Well, the big things for me are monitors. That’s kind of the most essential part for me. For The Green Knight, I mixed on Dynaudios BM-15As and Amphion Two18s, which are a really nice complementary pair for me. The Dynaudios give you that big club, studio monitor sound with all of the detail, and then the Amphions are very much real world, mid-focused monitors. They translate well.
My first move when I get into a new space is to understand what’s coming out of the monitors, check it against reference material. Really, that guides every choice you make, rather than just going “It’s all about this rack of compressors that I travel with.” That’s great, but you don’t really know what’s right in this room.
I’m pretty much glued to mixing on a summing amp for record mixes, going through a heavy analog two buss chain before printing to tape or back in the box. I have a really hard time getting the RMS level that I’m used to if I’m mixing records in the box. I’m used to having the tubes and transformers from certain pieces of outboard gear shape things for me. Working on a summing mixer is the best version of being console-less while still being able to integrate all of my analog gear into the mix.
I’m really into the new Rupert Neve Designs 5057 Orbit. It’s perfect for me with the way I work and it sounds incredible, especially when you drive it. I also always mix through the Rupert Neve Designs Master Buss Processor. I love the Silk saturation and I really love the stereo width control on that MBP. There’s just a sound with the RND stuff that feels like the records I grew up with. I think Rupert’s name and legacy speaks for itself.
What are some of your main focuses when mixing a score?
One of the great things with the film score mix world is that I have tons of headroom. It's pretty different from the Hulk smash, trash compactor approach on a record mix with all the buss compression, limiting and clipping. I’m not laying down waveform bricks on a score mix! It leaves me more room to be expressive, since we’re not trying to hammer the mix into the levels we work at on a music release. It’s really fun to have the freedom to make something soar 8-10 dB, which is not a luxury we typically have on a traditional record mix. It allows you to work more with contrast and negative space.
The main thing when I’m mixing a score is that my focus is on the story. With a record, the story is often coming from the narrative of the vocalist or whatever the lead character is, so to speak. In a film, the music is only one component of many elements that are combined to create the world and the environment of the story. My approach is much more story focused with a film score mix. We’ve got visuals we’re trying to highlight and cue off of, while bringing out the emotion and energy of the scene. The story guides everything.
I noticed your studio’s gear collection features a lot of great vintage pieces. What do you look for when expanding your arsenal?
Well, sometimes the work dictates it. If I’ve got a record coming up where I know it’d be special to have a certain piece, that can guide me. Most of the gear I’ve amassed over the last 30 years was one guitar pedal or one drum machine at a time. Other times, I keep hitting a wall on something and I feel like I need a new tool, so I’ll dig and research and find something that kind of does that “thing” I’m looking for. I’ll try a bunch of stuff in those scenarios. The workflow often informs the gear choices, though. In general for me, the older the better though. I’m going back in time! We still regularly work on tape and use a ton of old RCA, Gates and Collins tube gear here. I used my 1950s EMT 140 plate heavily on The Green Knight score.
It’s the same with records – references give you some general guide posts on things like low end, sub, vocal tone and level, or how far to push the RMS across a mix. That said, context is everything and it’s all about figuring out what’s right for each project. I use references more for guiding the general mix shape and frequency contour. We’ve all done that thing where you mix and mix and mix and think it sounds amazing, and then put on Radiohead (or pretty much any Nigel mix for that matter), and go “Oh god, I’m way off.” It’s all about having that reality check aspect — listening to real world stuff that you know works. At the end of the day, I want my mixes to sound great on every playback system imaginable. Is that so much to ask?
Photo Credits (In Order of Appearance): Letitia Smith, Daniel Di Domenico and Barbara FG Photo.
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