Job descriptions and industry overviews

TV/film sound mixer: job description

18 Jan 2024, 11:39

Sound mixers are engineers who take charge of the audio-capturing process for TV or film productions.

sound mixing desk

What do TV and film sound mixers do? How much money do sound mixers make? | Who employs sound mixers? | How to become a sound mixer | Key skills

Sound mixers are responsible for the entire sound production crew on a project – working closely with and delegating responsibilities to the boom operator, first assistant sound engineer, sound technician and cable assistant to capture the best quality audio on set.

Depending on the scale and budget of a project, the sound mixer won’t always work with a team of people. Sound mixers working on a small or low-budget production are likely to take on all or most of the responsibilities of an entire sound crew (setting up wires, lapels and operating a boom mic, for example).

Typically, a sound mixer will:

  • meet with the director(s) and producer(s) in the pre-production stage to discuss the best way to capture the audio, while also keeping in line with the director’s style of filming
  • visit shooting locations to identity any potential audio obstacles (perhaps unsurprisingly, areas with passing trains or busy streets are common no-no’s)
  • ensure that high-quality audio has been picked up from the boom pole (the fluffy microphone that hovers over the actors’ heads) and the radio mic (the walkie-talkie looking pack that actors tuck into their clothes) while filming
  • mix and balance the audio that is recorded on set
  • discuss with the director whether a scene needs reshooting for better audio or if it should be corrected in the edit (during post-production)
  • identify and resolve any sound issues that crop up during filming – background noises, echoing, distortion and messed up lines, for instance
  • add sound to the footage in the post-production edit – a lot of speech is often corrected by ADR (automated dialogue replacement).

Long working hours are normal for sound mixers. They will spend a lot of time on set and on location, then in a studio for the post-production edit. Travel is often part and parcel of the job, but how far away and how long for depends on the type of production. A sound mixer working on a Warner Bros. film, for instance, will spend most of their time on set in that studio, whereas sound mixers who are working on a documentary will spend more time travelling to different locations.

How much money do sound mixers in TV and film earn?

Sound mixers often start out as runners (who are paid between £18,000 and £25,000 depending on the location and project), sound assistants (who are paid an average of £27,054 according to Glassdoor) or sound trainees (who are paid around £11 an hour according to Glassdoor), before working their way up to becoming a sound mixer.

According to the job site PayScale, the average base earnings for a sound mixer in the UK are £33,000 per year, but this figure is likely to be higher for those with more experience and who have made a name for themselves within the industry.

Sound mixers tend to work on a freelance basis, so it’s important that you know what your work is worth and what you should be paid. ProductionBase (an online network for film and TV professionals that allows freelancers and companies to showcase their work) reports these industry guidelines for freelance sound mixer rates of pay. Note, though, that these are just the recommended rates of pay as a reference for freelancers looking for work – not official figures of how much sound mixers make.

  • day rate for TV: £250
  • weekly rate for TV: £1250
  • day rate for film: £350
  • weekly rate for film: £1698.

Who employs sound mixers?

As sound mixers are mostly freelancers, they are hired for jobs through a production sound company on a project-to-project basis. When it comes to the companies who need to commission sound mixers, it is usually:

  • film studios
  • TV studios
  • production companies
  • music production companies
  • advertising agencies.

How to become a sound mixer for TV and film

A degree isn’t essential to become a sound mixer, but studying a relevant degree course will give you knowledge and insight into the area of work and can help you to build some useful skills. Relevant degrees include:

  • music production
  • sound engineering
  • sound/sound production
  • audio engineering.

As briefly covered in the salary section, it is common for a sound mixer to start out as a runner and work their way up to sound trainee, sound assistant, and then sound mixer. Sound assistants help out the sound recordist (the person who records all live sound on set) to make sure the whole sound recording process runs smoothly, as well as providing general support to the sound crew. Sound trainees are supervised by the sound mixer and sound assistants – assisting with tasks such as unloading the sound van and checking that all the equipment is prepped.

You could also consider doing an apprenticeship. This way, you can earn money, gain on-the-job experience, study for formal qualifications, and make connections with industry experts – all things that help your chances of finding future work in the field. It can be tricky to find apprenticeship opportunities with production companies. Many only offer temporary, short-term contracts for the duration of a project and so don’t hire people for a whole year (which is an apprenticeship requirement). However, they do exist. The Creative Industries Production Technician in England is just one example.

Whichever route you end up taking, it’s always best to keep building a portfolio of work that you’ve done – this could be paid work but also voluntary work and your own passion projects. Employers love to see evidence of your skills and what you can do, so be sure to document any work you have previously done and work you’re currently doing. A portfolio can take the form of a showreel demonstrating your best work or a website that comprises audio tracks that you have created, for example. In it, you should include things like:

  • recordings of location sound
  • editing and mixing of the results (post-production sound)
  • evidence that you have experience and knowledge of different microphones and recording devices (and how you use them to get the best results)
  • ways of demonstrating that you understand other roles and responsibilities within the sound crew – such as a sound assistant or foley editor (the person who records everyday sounds heard in films and television shows)
  • any projects that showcase your experience in different genres (documentary, sport etc).

Skills needed to become a sound mixer

As obvious as it may seem, sound mixers need a solid hearing ability. Being able to hear precisely and concentrate on sound in environments that may be distracting is essential. Other key skills include:

  • understanding and recognising different sounds (and how sound can be distorted or manipulated)
  • knowledge and experience of different audio equipment
  • knowledge and experience of computer operating systems
  • attention to detail
  • the ability to stay calm
  • communication and collaboration
  • leadership/management
  • creative problem solving
  • resourcefulness
  • the ability to take feedback and criticism on board
  • flexibility and adaptability
  • perfectionism (to a healthy degree!)

More advice on the creative industry

Clue yourself up on off-screen roles in film, TV and video production and for gain a more general overview of different careers in film .

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