Audio can be great. You know what makes audio even better? When you can hear it! I know, duh, right? And for now, I’m not talking about when our sounds get muted. That is a whole other problem. Today, I’m going to talk about the times the audio gets lost behind… even more audio.
Recently, I played all the way through a game, and the mix was great. I listened to this game for hours and hours as I found each point marked on the map, did each side mission, and played my way through the main story. The music they chose was engaging, the voice over work was on point, and the sound effects were well done; they all made sense. Imagine my disappointment when I got to the final scene, where a long monologue took place that wrapped up the whole game… and I couldn’t hear it! The audio settings, which had been perfect the whole game were failing me in these last moments I got to spend with these characters. The music was turned up to 10 to make it punch. The sound effects were turned up to 10 to let us know that there was tension. And the big bad guy was wrapping up the whole story in his dramatic monologue. And the result was an unintelligible wall of sound. I had to go into settings at the last minute, turn the SFX and music down by half, and turn on the subtitles just in case. It took me out of what should have been a great moment in the story.
This does not have to happen.
I repeat, this does not have to happen, yet it is an all too common occurrence. The tension is high, and putting the volume to the max seems like the best way to express that. But don’t let your sound get in the way of your audio mix.
Try building up the SFX and music leading into your big moment, and then, as focus shifts to the monologue, drop them to almost nothing. Let tensions build from that drop in volume.
Using that sudden break in sound to make the audience pay attention, to wonder what is about to happen, can really make your mix.
Don’t think this sounds realistic? Think about a time you may have been in danger or had a reason to be hyper-alert. Remember how everything that was not important seemed to drift away and for a moment you were superhuman, able to focus on what mattered most. Use that sensation in your mix.
Bring that hyper-awareness to your character, and let your audience enjoy what they should be hearing, and not a wall of sounds that will only pull them out of the amazing experience you are making for them.
You have created a brilliant soundscape. Take the time to mix it so that the audience can enjoy all of the great sounds you created.