Sound Editing vs. Sound Mixing: What’s the Difference?


Sound editing and mixing are wildly different professions, and each plays a crucial role in post-production. Let’s see the key differences between the two and how they are closely related.

To the naked eye (or ear), the distinction between sound mixing and editing might seem arbitrary. However, the two each have specific roles that largely play in creating an enjoyable cinematic experience. So let’s uncover the main differences.

Sound Editing

Sound Editing vs. Sound Mixing: What's the Difference? - Mad Max

Image via Warner Bros.

Sound editors are responsible for handling the dialogue, sound effects, ADR, foley effects, and music. Simply put, the sound editor decides what you hear in the movies. They aren’t concerned with how they should sound but only what they would like on their own. This process happens before the post-production stage of audio mixing.

Sound editing requires more than one person, depending on the scale of the project. One person may be dedicated to finding sounds from libraries. One might be in charge of recording certain sounds. The lead sound editor is in charge of the sound design for the film, and they assign roles as necessary.

The Oscars Best Sound category was won by Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune. The Sound Editing team led by Mark Mangini produced a breathtaking sci-fi sound experience.

This documentary video on the sound world of Dune features interviews from the director and the sound editing team on how they came to create the sonic environment for this movie.

Theo Green talks of going to Death Valley to stand upon a sand dune and physically feel that atmosphere. He wanted to know what the sand sounded like when walking through it. The singing-like nature of the sand dunes is a unique “audio phenomenon,” a sound carried through Dune.

Mark Mangini talks of the recording process of the desert. The team went to Death Valley and buried microphones in the sand, experimenting with several movements to get a library of sounds.

These sounds are then brought back to the studio are then edited. This could be done by removing noise, using an equalizer, or compressor, or adding overdrive. This is to result in making an audio product.

Sound Mixing

Sound Editing vs. Sound Mixing: What's the Difference? - Sound Mixing

Image via Disney.

The sound mixer is responsible for taking all the individual tracks and mixing them to be balanced. The mixing process can be a little tedious depending on the size of the library, but all the little tweaks made benefit the overall sound picture.

You’re listening to the sound mixer’s work when you hear a bullet whiz by the main character’s ear followed by a gasp (and subtle music in the background).

While they were making the awards-circuit rounds, Mad Max: Fury Road and Bridge of Spies sound editors and mixers stopped by BAFTA Guru to discuss their challenges. Their efforts are often collaborations between the sound department, the director, and the cinematographer to get microphones where they need to be for every shot.

Another example is looking at James Mangold‘s Ford vs. Ferrari, Don Slyvester and David Giammarco explain the differences between editing and mixing.

They break down the sound and its subsections. The sound mixer then joins all these components to “control the flavors of these sounds.” The music may be louder in parts, or the sound effects take the forefront; this is all down to the mixer to carry out.

They show an example of a scene, and we see the functions of a Dolby Atmos monitor. This allows a more three-dimensional sound design and more flexibility in accurately placing sounds.

Also, the breakdown of the recording Vintage GT 40 engine sound was on a vast scale. They placed microphones in the engine compartment, the cockpit, and the transaxles.

The sound team covers all bases in addition to placing microphones on the track. The sound mixer has complete control over all the sounds and puts them spatially within a scene.

The mixing process for music works similarly. They need to consider the placement of instruments within a space to create more depth. Without doing this and keeping everything in the center of the stereo field can sound flat. The sound mixer needs to ensure all these components work with one another.

While the two roles do share many qualities, the overall difference is that the sound editors find the sound sources, and the sound mixers “mix” them all together. What movies have captured your ears with their mesmerizing sound world?

For more on audio, check out the following.


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