On the Unification of the Sound Awards
With Oscar rearing his ugly head, and people again becoming obsessed with little gold statues, I thought it might be a good opportunity to start a discussion on a topic that has been floating around the professional sound community for some time.
A few years ago, we began hearing that there was talk within the Academy about the two sound awards, those of Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. Firstly we heard rumors that the Academy as a whole wanted to unify the two awards into one. Secondly we heard that there was growing interest from some of the Academy members to move the two sound awards out of the main awards show, and into the technical awards show.
The basis for moving the awards out of the main awards show was probably due simply to the possibility of swapping sound editors for airtime, speeches for high-priced commercial time. It also showed a well-known lack of respect for what sound people actually do. There were great champions for our cause, trying to educate the public and the members of the Academy, that was we do is not purely technical, any more than a cinematographer or picture editor is a technician, employing technology in their respective jobs.
But what about the other discussion about unifying the sound awards? It’s my opinion, and I know this is shared by some, opposed by others, is that is is a shame that this didn’t happen.
People will tell you that the public, and even most members of the Academy can’t tell the difference the two awards, the difference between what they represent. I’ll go one further. Most sound people couldn’t tell you, with any lucidity, why exactly there are two awards. They couldn’t tell you why sound editing / design is a different enough art from mixing to justify a second award. Forget that the forementioned technology is and will continually blur the lines between mixing and editing anyway It is hurting our cause to have two distinct, yet undefined awards.
Of course there are differences between mixing and editing, between the phases of mixing and editing, between editors and mixers. But ultimately, what we do, when it is at its best, as a whole, is to bring together many elements of our art and our craft towards the common goal of creating a motion picture soundtrack. To justify two separate awards, those two crafts must be significantly different. And I don’t believe that they are. Any good editor is always mixing as they go. And the art of mixing include much editing. We are all just sound people.
As we all know, the last ten years have seen the technology of what we do change quite a bit. With all sound now being edited digitally, mixed digitally, and now even recorded right into a DAW such as ProTools, the ability to both mix and edit is available at nearly every stage, from the first days of cutting through to the final print master. A sound editor can adjust pan, volume, EQ etc. He or she can sum, route, and mix just as easily, maybe easier, than on a console. Arguably, the technology then at least of mixing is available to an editor. Most stages I’ve been on now have a ProTools terminal right now to the mixer, so that he or she can also easily make adjustments, mute, cut sounds, etc. So again, the technology of editing is available, let’s say, to a mixer as well.
So perhaps we need some clarity to what mixing and editing are, beyond their respective technologies. Let’s dumb it down to it’s most basic level. Perhaps we could say that editing is simply the creative placement of sound elements against picture in preparation for a sound mix, and that mixing is the creative combing of those elements using volume, EQ, reverb, panning to create the final soundtrack? While that would certainly be true, it’s certainly much too narrow a definition. Because of course most current editors are also using volume, layering, panning, EQ to accomplish their job. And a good mixer is constantly evaluating placement of sound to accomplish their job too.
See here is the problem. Even as I try, I have a hard time elucidating just what the difference is. And it’s not based on the blurring of the technology. It’s based on the blurring of the art and craft. It’s that every great editor I know is also to some degree a great mixer, simply by what it is that they do. And I would say that even the best mixers I have worked with are also great editors.
A unified sound award would present to the Acamedy and public a unified sound communtiy. It would also reinforce to our own community that while there are differences in what we do, they are all complimentary to each other. Two sound awards presents to the public a divided sound community. It gives them ammunition for the other discussions, like moving our awards to the technical awards. In my opinion it gives them the message that we ourselves aren’t quite sure what it is that we do.
What would a single sound award look like?
The BAFTA is a single award. Until a few years ago, it allowed I believe for up to seven nominations: Four mixers, two supervising sound editors, and one sound sound designer. This seem to me a pretty good representation of the sound crew, and I would love to see the Academy adopt something like this. The award should simply be called Best Sound. If you want to limit the acceptance speech to one person, fine. Let the nominees sort that out amongst themselves. If there are three supervising sound editors, or five mixers, let the producers decide who gets the nomination.
But standing up on stage should be a single representation of the crew as a whole, mixers and editors alike.
I’m sure we haven’t seen the end of this discussion. I highly suspect that in the coming years the two awards will indeed be unified. I think it will become increasingly difficult to convince the Academy, and even ourselves, that the awards are distinct enough to warrant there being two of them.
I would honestly love to hear what other people think.