When creating a commercial, the layers of sound can separate a great spot from a good one. But you don't need to have 48 tracks to have an effective mix-it's how much importance is given to each layer.
A recent example was a furniture commercial I posted entirely on an Avid MC-Xpress, using only five channels at the mix. A young professional business woman in her mid-20s was having a miserable day. The spot opens with a close-up of papers sitting on a desk. She reaches for her coffee, knocks it over; the copy machine jams and her report is shredded; she has a flat tire in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the pouring rain (with no umbrella)...you get the idea. She finally relaxes in her favorite overstuffed sofa. The camera pulls back to reveal that the sofa is on the beach. As the waves crash and the seagulls screech, she knows she has some quiet time.
Basically, it's a silly spot. All of the opening elements establish that the actress is having a bad day. The audio is there to reinforce and to enhance. So let's break down the tracks:
Tracks 1 and 2, the natural sounds: This was pretty straightforward. A pair of Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphones captured audio for each camera shot, recorded directly onto channels 1 and 2 of the Betacam SP tape. The level was recorded hot; it could always be lowered in the mix.
The material shot on the original Betacam SP tape (with the original ef- fects) was dubbed to another continuous loop Beta SP tape. Armed again with two Sennheiser 416s, the Foley work (coffee spilling, paper shred-ding, additional traffic noises, rain effects, and lock tumblers turning) was recorded using the audio dub mode on a Sony BVW-35 deck.
All of the beach sounds were re-created in the editing room. A stereo mix of beach sound effects was obtained from a CD library. To this mix, random seagull sounds were added. The 2-channel Foley footage was digitized into the Avid and added to the two channels of natural sound. These four channels were mixed into two channels, each effect having its Foley counterpart. These two mixed tracks were edited into a chronological sequence on the timeline: video track and audio channels 1 and 2 (stereo).
Track 3, the voices in her head: In order to make the voices sound as if they actually were "in her head," reverb was needed. All the complaints were recorded to Beta SP with the same Sennheiser mic in a narration booth. The reverb delay was created by staggering the sound by three frames. Channels 3 and 4 of the Avid were used for this voice-over, with channel 3 being three frames ahead of channel 4. Channels 3 and 4 were then redigitized and placed on channel 3 on the time-line.
Tracks 4 and 5, the music: This was a stereo mix taken from the Aircraft CD music library. As the mood of the spot changed from stressful to relaxed, the music dissolved into the same.
With all of the audio tracks in place, the most important thing to determine is which track or tracks are most important to your story; simply put, in the commercial world, these tracks will be the loudest. In this case, tracks 1 and 2, the natural sounds, were the most important. The enhanced sounds of the spilling liquid, the tearing paper and the traffic noise make the viewer feel as unsettled as the actress. once the actress is at the beach, these sounds disappear and are replaced with waves and seagulls. The music needed to be subtle enough to be heard but not call attention to itself. The -20 level gave the music an almost subliminal quality; you felt it rather than heard it.
With five audio tracks in the Avid, another mix had to occur to reduce the number of tracks to two for the stereo videotape master. These tracks were mixed onto the left and right channels of the videotape keeping the stereo elements (the music and sound effects) panned so they would remain in stereo for broadcast.