Pro Mixing: Music Composers for TV and Film Look to System 5 and Pro Tools to Deliver Compelling Scores

By in Music Creation, Pro Mixing

When you stop to think about what one of the coolest jobs in the world would be, being a film and TV composer has to be high on the list. But they really do have very challenging gigs and I’ve seen it first hand on many big movies that I’ve freelanced on over the years (including The Spirit, Collateral, Star Trek Nemesis and Solaris). Composers have to write, record and mix a ton of cues each with dozens (if not hundreds) of tracks in a compressed timeframe, compressed budget and still find a way to be creative. They are on the hook to deliver great sounding cues that match the film and most importantly, what the director is looking for. To do this, they need reliable, repeatable and efficient workflows. Their studios often contain a writing room and a separate mixing room to work in parallel – (for instance, the composer could be writing cues for reels 5 & 6 of the show while his crew is mixing to deliver cues for reels 1 & 2).

“Almost every major film and TV composer who has their own studio and is delivering big wide (stem) mixes… they’ve all got the S5. And there’s a reason…it’s got incredible amount of adaptability.”

Chris Lennertz composing on Cubase and Pro Tools

“It does what people in our position need it to do, which is: work fast, work steady and then give options to quickly spit out wide mixes. There’s no other piece of gear that does it better than S5.”

—Christopher Lennertz

Chris in his mix room with System 5

Workflow That Sounds Great

Whatever the composers choice of composing MIDI Digital Audio Workstation that they write on: Logic Pro, Cubase, Digital Performer or Pro Tools, there will be many ‘pre-record’ sounds (synths, samples, etc) and tracks that are generated on that rig that will live all the way to the final mix. They can stay fluid as MIDI and virtual instruments in the host application or (more likely) get printed off as audio files for Pro Tools playback on the scoring stage where a real orchestra will replace the ‘mock-up’ strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, choir, piano, etc. Those real instrument recordings are recorded (usually at high sample rates) into a Pro Tools | HDX rig and then brought back to the studio, cleaned up (alongside the pre-records) and prepped for mix.

That's me at Fox Scoring

My Pro Tools scoring rig at Fox Studios

So any one cue will be likely made up of hundreds of tracks and sounds, often completely changing from moment to moment within the same cue and will likely have incredible dynamic range from quiet to loud, all playing from multiple DAW systems, (unlike a traditional pop/rock song mix). Having a console that can handle these multiple systems, offer integrated DAW control (through EUCON), as well as great DSP mixing, summing and automation, offer a ton of headroom, a great set of EQ’s and Dynamics, easy digital patching, intuitive surround panning, flexible monitoring and being able to quickly deliver wide stems for options in the final film mix is critical.  Why do composers have to deliver wide stems? This allows the filmmaker and dubbing mixers to have the most control in the final mix to blend the music parts with the rest of the soundtrack. All of this is why many of the world’s top composers choose Avid System 5 as their console of choice. It becomes a critical centerpiece in their mission to deliver a great sounding music score.

What Do Composers Think of System 5?

Hear what composer Christopher Lennertz (Supernatural, Revolution, Horrible Bosses) says about his path to becoming a successful composer and how his System 5 console plays an important role in his success in this video interview we recorded at his Los Angeles based studio.

Across town is a colleague who also came from Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control camp of successful young composers: Trevor Morris (Immortals, Olympus Has Fallen, Vikings) and he also relies on Pro Tools HD systems with a System 5 console.

“The S5 handles everything we’ve thrown at it. It’s comfortable too… big enough, but not too big. It’s all centralized and easy to work with the layers in the center of the board and my mixers really love the format.”

—Trevor Morris

Trevor Morris at his composing rig

Trevor mixes on his System 5 console

Trevor says: “I had experience with the System 5 in the past working with other composers before I owned one and there’s a certain intangible magic to it. Film music is a very three-dimensional thing, it has height and width and depth, more so than stereo pop music. To hear what the S5 does with that – there’s a clarity to it, it just opens up – it’s undeniably the best sounding digital or analogue console for me, for what I do with the language of Film and TV music. I can’t even describe how it makes me so happy to hear the returns on what I’ve worked so hard writing, come together and go to the next level. It never gets old – I love mixing!”

“And the S5 handles our massive track counts really well. With a big feature film we have a whole Pro Tools rig for just the orchestra, a second Pro Tools rig for pre-records like synths, percussion and guitars and then a third Pro Tools rig for printing stems and video playback and the S5 handles everything we’ve thrown at it. It’s comfortable too… big enough, but not too big. Gone are the days of the 100 plus channel big ‘wheel your chair down to the first channel’ analogue desk. It’s all centralized and easy to work with the layers in the center of the board and my mixers really love the format.”

A Scoring Mixers Point Of View

Alan Meyerson is a leading scoring engineer who has been using System 5 consoles to mix and control multiple music tracks from multiple Pro Tools|HDX systems for many years. “I work in Hybrid mode, with some tracks controlled by the System 5 DSP and others within Pro Tools using EUCON. I prefer to use the ‘hardware’ channels [controlling the System 5 DSP engine] for trimming my overall balances and stem levels, and the DAW channels for the component orchestral and other tracks.”

Scoring Mixer Alan Meyerson

System 5 at Hans Zimmer's Remote Control Studios

Recent film-scoring projects for this busy music engineer include Man of Steel (with composer Hans Zimmer at Remote Control studios), Despicable Me II (with composer Heitor Pereira), Pacific Rim (with composer Ramin Djawadi), White House Down, and The Smurfs II.

“I like the familiar sound of the System 5’s DSP engine for orchestral balances—the EQ and dynamics sections within the System 5 are great sounding—using channel returns from 200 to 300 tracks replaying back from one of my several Pro Tools|HDX rigs. That DSP/DAW hybrid approach also leaves more core power for all the Pro Tools plug-ins I like to use on component elements. I also prefer to keep my prerecords very wide with multiple passes of orchestral tracks, so that I have plenty of options during the final 5.1- or 7.1-channel mix of the score I’m working on.”

Marketing manager for Avid Post Audio and Pro Mixing, I am also a veteran engineer/recordist/editor. I've worked on music scores for dozens of feature films, including Ice Age, Collateral, and The Spirit.