Womack's Theorem


"I have notes."

There are words that can be "music to our ears" but these words aren't among them. In the milieu of the last year, work that used to demand that producer and engineer be together in the control room to befinalized is now regularly handled completely remotely. We are talking about mixing here. I execute most of my mixing sessions solo now. My composers and producers quite often start off with a description of what they are looking for. The good ones point me to an example or two I can listen to on YouTube or Spotify for inspiration. I mix the music and send them a copy via FTP or WeTransfer for review. They get back to me with "notes." "Please drop the kick drum beat at 1:20 a couple of db." "Can the piano and bass hammer the beat at 2:57, please?" I read the notes, make the changes, and export another mix. They send me more "notes." You get used to it, especially in the theatrical movie/broadcast world with a hierarchy of music composers, music contractors, show directors, show producers, show executive producers, etc., all eager to generate "notes."

However, since my work begins its life in either a movie or broadcast, the technical side gets a little more complicated than that. For each round I export one full mix at -24lufs, 16 bit in case they accept it. Then I export a full mix "premaster" at -24lufts, 24bit/48k in preparation for a quasi-mastering job. There are associated instrument-only mixes and vocals only mixes that must be generated so that the music can be translated and remixed in other languages. Then I open a mastering session, import my "premaster," peak normalize it, and then set levels and use a look-ahead limiter to knock down the peaks enough so that it can be exported as a -12lufs CD-level copy at 16 bit/48k. Then I send the -24lufs 16 bit/48k and -12lufs 16 bit/48k copies to either composer or producer as the new round. That round needs to be clearly labelled so that everyone knows which revision number it is.

Why all the blather? The -24lufs copy is ready to insert into the program, as is. Once you let that copy out of your grasp you'd better make sure it is ready to air because members of the production team may just grab hold and throw it into the program without coming back to you. The -12 copy is so that listening copies can be distributed that will show up in the production team's iPods, iPhones, etc. at about the same level as the rest of their commercial music. No matter how much you warn the production team not to worry about low levels someone doesn't get the memo, hears a -24lufs copy, and gets alarmed that it is TOO QUIET!!! That fire requires a round of checking and emails to put out as well.

That brings us to mathematics, and "Womack's Theorem."

Womack's Theorem: Crew morale varies inversely with version number.
As the version number goes up, crew morale goes down.
It's quite reliable and applicable to everyday life. Managers take note.

So you see, the actual business of changing the mix to please someone far away and twice removed isn't that bad, it is all the collateral business of versions numbers, leveled copies, and transfer, that makes it a headache. That, and the fact that the "notes" usually show up at quitting time, and especially on Fridays.

Have a good weekend, everyone.