Thinking In Sound: Adding Sweeteners to the Mix with Brad Engleking
Thinking In Sound: Adding Sweeteners to the Mix with Brad Engleking
TBD Post’s sound director and re-recording mixer chats with Little Black Book on adding authenticity, dabbling with drums and recapturing our attention with sound
LBB> When you’re working on a new brief or project, what’s your typical starting point? How do you break it down and how do you like to generate your ideas or response?
Brad> Ideally, I discuss the scope and direction with the creative team well before photography begins. If it’s a narrative project, I like to read the script prior to this discussion. For documentary projects, I like to incorporate a lot of location recordings for authenticity. If I’m not going to be doing that recording, I work with the director to ensure they have what they need to capture it.
LBB> Music and sound are in some ways the most collaborative and interactive forms of creativity – what are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer to work solo or with a gang – and what are some of your most memorable professional collaborations?
Brad> Audio is exciting because it adds subtext to the pictures, which tend to be more objective. I can influence the emotional reaction to the pictures you’re seeing in various ways, using the music, the sound, or the way I play the two together. On longform projects and the more challenging short form projects, I regularly work with a team of sound editors, designers, and foley artists. I have a shorthand with the guys that I work with and generally they know how I’ll want a scene to play. Often I add my own sweeteners to that during the mix. It’s always ideal to work hand in hand with the composer as you want to have an idea of what each other is doing so the music and sound can work together.
LBB> What’s the most satisfying part of your job and why?
Brad> The most satisfying thing for me is always the first time that I playback the mix when the clients are coming in cold. Clients can become emotional as often they have worked for years to get to this day and have been watching on repeat in the editing room. When it plays back in the mixing theatre with a polished mix that completes the cinematic experience it can be overwhelming. Getting to share the moment they realise that all of the struggle and hard work has come to fruition, is one of the greatest thrills I can imagine.
LBB> As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it?
Brad> I find that as folks are wanting to get more creative and cinematic in their spots and that those spots are being played in so many different mediums, there is more opportunity to be creative with sound and music alike. Often when traditional TV spots air, eyes drop down to a phone. We have the opportunity to recapture that attention with sound.
LBB> And when it comes to your particular field, whether sound design or composing, are there any particular ideas or pioneers that you go back to frequently or who really influence your thinking about the work you do?
Brad> I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the very best directors, producers and mixers on the planet. While mixing Alita Battle Angel with Craig Henigan and Andy Nelson, Andy always asked what’s pushing the story from scene to scene. It’s really easy to get caught up in how cool something sounds and lose sight of the story that we’re trying to tell. It was awesome having a guy with a ton of statues who’s mixed some of my favourite sounding movies driving this point home over and over again.
LBB> When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music (lets say going through client briefs or answering emails) – are you the sort of person who needs music and noise in the background or is that completely distracting to you? What are your thoughts on ‘background’ sound and music as you work?
Brad> Rarely do I listen to music while working on anything that’s not sound related. Sometimes I’ll play music softly while waiting for notes but generally I’ll try to go outside and walk around for a bit if those opportunities present themselves. When you’re in a dark loud room all day, a little outdoors and perspective can help quite a bit.
LBB> I guess the quality of the listening experience and the context that audiences listen to music/sound in has changed over the years. There’s the switch from analogue to digital and now we seem to be divided between bad-ass surround-sound immersive experiences and on-the-go, low quality sound (often the audio is competing with a million other distractions) – how does that factor into how you approach your work?
Brad> With Dolby Atmos becoming the standard for all the major streaming providers, it’s just a matter of time before this format becomes ubiquitous. Apple+ and Netflix now playback the immersive mixes via headphones that are perfect for mobile devices and do a great job recreating the surround elements of the mix. I tend to do the work at the highest fidelity playback and then check the mix on a TV with a cheap soundbar and/or headphones depending on the deliverables.
LBB> On a typical day, what does your ‘listening diet’ look like?
Brad> There’s really no typical day.
LBB> Do you have a collection of music/sounds and what shape does it take (are you a vinyl nerd, do you have hard drives full of random bird sounds, are you a hyper-organised spotify-er…)?
Brad> I have a pretty big collection of SFX that I’ve collected and recorded over the last 20+ years. I really like surround recordings and try to implement them into everything that I do. If I’m listening or watching for pleasure, I don’t need the highest quality playback. I have a tendency to sing along so the worse the playback the better I’ll match.
LBB> Outside of the music and sound world, what sort of art or topics really excite you and do you ever relate that back to music (e.g. history buffs who love music that can help you travel through time, gamers who love interactive sound design… I mean it really could be anything!!)
Brad> I really enjoy just about anything space related from bad sci-fi to pictures from the James Webb telescope. I have a thick textbook on building dobsonian telescopes that I’ve read a couple times now. I’ve been daring myself to start that project for a while…
LBB> As we age, our ears change physically and our tastes evolve too, and life changes mean we don’t get to engage in our passions in the same intensity as in our youth – how has your relationship with sound and music changed over the years?
Brad> I started out working in music with the intention of playing drums and producing bands. When I made the transition to sound for picture, I was working so much that I really wanted quiet after a long, loud day. Recently, I’ve rediscovered my love of playing music and have resumed playing the piano and dabbling with drums.