What Does an ADR Mixer Do?

ADR Mixer working at a computer

Are you considering a career in film and sound design? Interested in learning more about what an ADR mixer does? While not everyone understands the magic that goes into a fully mastered mix, most people know the difference when they hear it. It’s easy to hear the difference between a Hollywood blockbuster and a grainy unedited YouTube video sound track. Depending on the type of movie or video, sound quality can be just as important as picture quality, and without the right equipment, and an ADR mixer to do the job right, it’s likely that both will suffer.

Simply put, an ADR mixer manages all of the re-recorded audio that is necessary for a clean and clear final product. There are a variety of conditions that can render a film crew unable to cleanly record lines of dialogue or musical accompaniment. Background noise such as crowds, city sounds, or the weather are generally outside of the control of even the most audacious directors.

If you’ve ever wondered how dialogue in big crowd scenes can come out crystal clear, as opposed to YouTube videos where the audio is grating and you can barely hear what the main speakers are saying, it’s enlightening to know all the work that goes on behind the scenes in professional film production. Thanks to the amazing job of the ADR mixers, the audience can’t even tell that the protagonist’s impassioned lines shouted while fighting against a noisy crowd of people, is actually a highly curated cocktail of sounds that are recorded, mixed, and mastered in post.

Of course, all it takes is watching an old musical to see how ADR can go terribly wrong. With the advances in recording and audio-visual technology, an ADR mixer’s ability to sync the dialogue recorded in post with the movement of the lips on the screen has become technologically advanced.

ADR Mixer: Getting the Perfect Take

While some actors would like to believe they are perfect and have the ability to deliver flawless performances each and every time, directors and producers can attest to the contrary. When producing any type of audio-visual media at a professional level, it takes a combination of excellent performances and skilled editing and mixing. Without both, the end product always suffers.

There are often situations in filming for TV or movies where neither the actors, writers, nor even the director knows exactly how they want a certain line delivered. Because of the nature of filmmaking, it takes a substantial amount of time and resources to make the leap from the pages of the script onto the big screen. Thus, for visionaries who need to see their creation in action before they can start to fine-tune it or make certain artistic decisions, ADR is inevitably going to be the solution.

Finding the Right Voice

Sometimes, in order to sculpt the perfect performance, it means taking elements from multiple performers. It might be surprising to hear that the voices delivering the lines in some classic movies might not correspond to the person seen on the screen. As some say, it takes a village to raise a child, sometimes it takes two or more actors to bring a character to life.

It becomes the role of the ADR mixer to make sure the voice actor the audience will hear and the physical actor they will see can plausibly match up. Sometimes, an audience can just tell that a certain type of voice didn’t come from a certain type of person. The ability to recognize when an acceptable performance has been captured, as well as when there is still some fine-tuning to do, are all essential for the ADR mixer to be successful at their job.

Cleaning up the Mix

In particularly busy scenes in TV and movies, keeping an eye on the overall mix is highly important. It’s very easy for key lines to get lost in the mix, or for certain sounds to be buried by less important background noises. ADR mixers are always thinking about what the overall sound of the scene is.

It’s very easy to get carried away with background sounds when an ADR mixer isn’t thinking primarily from this overhead perspective. When a director, producer, and other crew members have read, listened to, rehearsed and even rewritten a scene over and over, it’s very difficult to have the same perspective that the audience will have upon initial impact. Someone watching the scene for the first time might have a completely different view because of the way the information is presented.

For that reason, it’s important for ADR mixers to keep as fresh an ear on the sound as possible every time a new change has been made to the mix, no matter how minute it may seem. Sometimes, it’s even considered impossible for the same person to hear the mix in a fresh way, and that is when a test audience is called in. Once the mix can be heard by a fresh set of ears, everyone involved in the picture can feel comfortable that they are delivering the dialogue and sound in the clearest and most effective way.

Line Changes

Although actors, directors, and everyone else on the set may hate it, line changes are a fact of life. Without minor, or sometimes quite major, adjustments to dialogue, the finished product might be less impactful or have noticeable flaws or inconsistencies. No matter what the reason, line changes are another big reason why the ADR mixer is necessary.

Sometimes, a line change might be due to an inconsistency in the story. Once a story has been changed around enough, facts within the inner logic of the fictional universe might be called into question. With the right line change, the director can shape a performance so that it clearly communicates the new information in the updated script.

Other times, a line change might occur simply because it is more dramatic to have it said in a certain way. There are numerous occasions in filmmaking when the words on a page are not effective when they are spoken out loud. When that isn’t discovered until after the fact, ADR mixers can get the job done without having to reshoot the entire scene.

Of course, sometimes reshoots are necessary, particularly for scenes where the actor is facing the camera and its obvious what words they’re saying by the way their lips are moving. However, if they happen to have their back turned, it can be an excellent opportunity for the ADR mixer to change the line.

ADR Mixer Professional Training

Like most elements of professional filmmaking and producing, without proper training, it’s impossible to understand the precise details that go into the work. There are countless digital tools and advanced technological equipment that make the sophisticated work of the modern ADR mixer possible. The technology has grown more advanced, and so too have the skills necessary to operate it. This is where attending a film and sound design program can help.

Understanding industry standards is a must for anyone hoping to work as an ADR mixer. There are certain terms that engineers and other crew members might use, and if the person in this role isn’t intimately familiar with all the jargon, there are bound to be issues in carrying out the job on a day-to-day basis. Many up-and-coming producers and mixers are tempted to take the easy route and try to learn everything by surfing the internet, but this method of learning can often yield dubious results. It’s often a sink-or-swim environment in the fast-paced professional studio world, and if you haven’t studied the field front to back, it’s going to be tough to succeed.

For that reason, attending a film and sound design program is the most recommended route for those hoping to enter into this field. Learning all of the background information directly from those who are fully accredited and certified is always the best way to learn about professional ADR mixing.

Film and Sound Design Program

The Film and Sound Design program offers an occupational degree that immerses college students in the world and industry of film and sound design. IPR’s condensed program allows students to earn a multi-skill, multi-functional Occupational Associate of Applied Science Degree in as little as two years.  Students learn hands-on, entry-level skills in every aspect of the film business: recording, post-production, and design. Work as a part of a team to produce your own film- from concept and storyboard, to production and editing – you’ll graduate with a portfolio of work to showcase your creativity and launch your career in the exciting Film Industry.

If you are interested in a career in audio production and engineering, you should tour our Minneapolis creative arts college, see the labs and meet our staff. Call 1-612-351-0631 or contact admissions to make arrangements.