For those trying to break into the pro audio industry, working at the world famous Abbey Road Studios is the ultimate dream. For score mixer, producer and recording engineer, Gareth Cousins, it’s reality. With a career spanning more than 30 years, Cousins’ credits include mixing the scores to Gravity, Fury, The Hunt and most recently on the score, audio and soundtrack for the DC Comic action-thriller, Suicide Squad. Providing the creativity needed to tackle big film score productions to pop hits, Cousins relies on Avid Pro Tools.
“I mix exclusively using Pro Tools | HDX and recently expanded my current mix rig to HDX3 to meet the demands of working on Suicide Squad. I find I can configure Pro Tools to do everything I used to do using a large console or faders, and a whole lot more, due to the seemingly limitless routing potential built in to the software.”
For Cousins, the release of Pro Tools 12 was another step forward for Avid, in addition to the extra power provided by a third HDX card. To some, having the option to utilise 768 audio tracks seems extreme, but on Hollywood-scale productions it’s become more of a necessity as audiences’ expectations of an impressive movie soundtrack have increased.
“Over the years, the audience have developed very sophisticated ears when appreciating a movie score and soundtrack. Music producers – in this context, it would be the composer and score mix engineer and team – need to create immersive, original music of the highest standard. This can’t all be done ‘in the box’, so Pro Tools becomes our interface to the real world, where we record the live musicians, and complete the external processing, edit and collate all that material in one place.”
Cousins went on to explain that it’s not just modern audiences that are expecting more, but his clients too: “They rightly expect the very highest standards, but also need a huge amount of flexibility, in terms of delivery options, which of course have to be maintained over many music cues, each probably being delivered multiple times as the film evolves or is edited.”
Thinking about the big challenges facing him as a score mixer today, Cousins said: “Flexibility and speed are paramount. As a basic starting point, the technology I use needs to work flawlessly, sound fantastic and not place any limits on my imagination. But beyond that I need to be able to make very quick changes to mixes and instantly recall any session with the whole mix intact, make the adjustments, and bounce those off and send to my client. I need to trust a system that will work seamlessly every time, and Pro Tools never fails to deliver.”
Having worked in the industry for three decades, Cousins has seen Pro Tools evolve throughout his career: “What has changed most is the ability to work quickly, between multiple cues and even across multiple projects. With each generation of the software the processing power and functionality has increased, to the point where the only real limit is the user’s ability to think up original new ideas and processes.”
As one of the mostly highly-anticipated films of 2016, it’s unsurprising that Suicide Squad has climbed into the top 50 all-time domestic box office rankings since its release earlier this year, with the accompanying soundtrack debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 in the US. Having crafted audio for film many times across his career, Cousins was in his natural environment, using years of Pro Tools experience to play the role of score mixer for the DC Comic live-action hit.
“The final score for Suicide Squad was mixed entirely within the box. However, in order to get to that position a lot of pre-mixing was completed in advance – this involved processing sounds outside of Pro Tools using an array of gear I had gathered over the years, some old, some new, which all helped create a really unique sound.”
The music programming of the score was an element that Cousins was particularly proud of: “The composer, Steve Price, had been experimenting with a lot of interesting sounds in the score and at some point he and I talked about using a music box. I found an old Victorian music box, took it completely to bits and recorded everything I could think of and put it back together as a new playable virtual instrument.”
He continued: “We then used a lot of analog processing on the resultant instrument and ended up with something that gave the film shedloads of character. I found it incredibly evocative and expressive, and loved the writing Steve did with the music box. To me that sound will always remind me of the Suicide Squad score.”
With Suicide Squad scoring great success at the global box office, Cousins had time to reflect on the industry into which he made his first steps back in 1986: “We are in the most exciting time for media creation since I started my career in music. The possibilities for creating and manipulating music and sound are endless.”
“We have over 100 years’ worth of electronic instruments, recording devices and processors that we may be lucky enough to re-discover and utilise. And above all, music for film is the one place where all these instruments, techniques and equipment can be brought together with the only limit being the imagination of the creator.”