Lessons Learned: First Impressions for New Sound Mixers

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

I'd like to take a couple of minutes to run down a few tips for new location sound mixers. These are observations learned in over more than 30 years in both broadcast and location sound, but they are not technical tips. Rather, they are lessons that I've received that made me a more professional, team-oriented and in-demand mixer.

Seek out and learn from the best person in your field.  

It's one thing to be book smart and watch YouTube videos about gear and techniques, but until you have a bag strapped to your shoulders and a boom in your hand, you can't really know what it means to be a professional mixer.  Find someone who is in high demand and beg them to let you shadow them on several shoots.  Watch how they operate and interact with other crew members to learn set etiquette.  See how they deal with adversity and challenges.  This will allow you to get a feel for the pace, pressure and demands of the job.

Be a true team player. 

If you think that you're just there to do sound, you're wrong.  These days, crews are getting leaner and smaller.  People need to help each other if needed.  That doesn't mean that you try to do a grip's job for him/her.  But if you can help out by coiling power cables or lugging sandbags and C-stands back to the grip truck, you'll be seen as part of the team.  That will pay dividends when it's time for you to ask for a favor.

Keep your mouth shut and your cell phone in your pocket. 

Nothing angers a director more than seeing a sound person slumped in a chair scrolling through their Twitter feed or checking emails on a hot set.  There will be a few times during the day where you can step away during a re-light or set change, but it's best to wait for a meal break.  Also, try not to be that person that loves to spout their opinions on just about anything and everything going on on set.  It's oftentimes more beneficial to listen than to try to be a know it all.

Try to glean information about possible challenges on set and have a plan for solving them. 

Try to have conversations with line producers, production assistants or location managers BEFORE the shoot so that you have an idea of what you'll be up against on shoot day. Always try to be present for any location site surveys or ask for pictures if you can't be there.  Your eyes will see challenges that the DP will not be thinking of or caring about.  It's always that one extra piece of gear that you bring to help solve a problem that will make your job easier and possibly make you look like a hero.

Once you think you know everything there is to know, you're dead. 

Always challenge yourself to stay ahead of the curve in terms of knowledge of techniques, new equipment and new areas of audio.  Know how to do live sound and work with audio consoles and PA systems so that you can do conferences for corporate clients.  Have a basic knowledge of different types of microphones and mic placement in case someone needs to record a grand piano, a harmonica player or a scorching guitar solo. 

Finally, don't be a miser with your knowledge. 

It's the circle of life, kids.  Someone helped you once, so help the next newbie when it's your turn to mentor.  If you see sharing intel with other mixers as a threat to yourself and your business, that's on you and your own insecurity.  That just means you stopped growing yourself (see previous paragraph).

Enjoy, be safe and be good to each other!

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About the Author

John Lance
John Lance is the owner of Sonic Boom Audio in Houston, Texas. He began his journey in audio in broadcast news, mixing over 15,000 newscasts, special events and commercials. He has won multiple regional Emmy Awards for Post Production work. He decided to go freelance in 2008 and has worked with corporate clients such as ExxonMobil and Chevron, broadcast networks CBS and NBC and numerous commercials.

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