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JamSync's KK Proffitt

Renaissance surround mixer on Nashville's Music Row By Frank Moldstad

JamSync's headquarters
Eight years ago, a new kind of studio moved onto Nashville's famous Music Row, taking over a 1920s Tudor-style house and transforming it into the city's first surround sound production house. That studio is JamSync, and today its business is booming, while several neighboring studios on that end of the Row have been converted to doctor's and lawyer's offices.

"It's a very different market now than it was five years ago," notes JamSync's Chief Engineer KK Proffitt, who co-founded the facility with partner Joel Silverman. While the traditional record industry has slipped dramatically, 5.1 production has steadily increased, fueled by the film and DVD markets. Proffitt's multichannel mixing expertise is now sought after for a diverse range of projects, from film soundtracks and DVD authoring to "upmixing" stereo tracks into 5.1.
Like many top audio engineers, Proffitt began as a musician, studying guitar performance and arranging at Berklee. But  her interest in audio production developed while she was taking Ph.D. coursework in experimental psychology at the University of Tennessee. She bought one of Roland's first SBX-80 SMPTE machines, and her understanding of SMPTE syncing and related issues led to consulting work on recording projects. Meanwhile, she got a graduate degree in software engineering at Northeastern University, building a foundation of knowledge that would
KK Proffitt
KK Proffitt working in Nuendo on The Royal Academy
serve her well as the audio industry went digital.

Recently, we asked KK Proffitt about her surround mixing techniques, beginning with one of JamSync's most recent projects, a 5.1 soundtrack for director Tony Cane-Honeysett's film The Royal Academy. The original score, penned by Cane-Honeysett, was recorded in stereo, and part of the work involved upmixing it to surround sound. In addition, Proffitt created DVD menu loops for the music.

You recently finished mixing the 5.1 soundtrack and authoring the DVD for The Royal Academy. That looks like it was quite a project! Did you do two separate mixes, 5.1 and 5.0?

Working with Tony Cane-Honeysett was an honor. He's a gifted musician and he hails from the advertising world, so his imagery is wonderfully concise, yet it draws you into a deeper understanding of his mother and the challenges she faces in the art world.

I made a 5.1 track for the movie, but for the trailers, menus and extras, I use 5.0. You can't choose audio selection for menus and if you've chosen stereo for your system, you're faced with downmixing  and then you lose the LFE. Making menus with 5.0 gives you the option of multichannnel, but allows you to compensate for the loss of the LFE in downmixing by routing it back into the mains. Of course, it would be great to be able to set up menus separately and have the extra overhead of an LFE for effects, but the consumer is confused enough already!

How do you start a surround mix? Do you have places you usually put certain elements, and start rough mixing that way?

For film, dialogue is generally in the center and music is usually left and right with surrounds for ambience...but that's the traditional way of doing things. If you have someone walking off camera or the main character is walking through a crowd, things can be mixed a variety of ways. I just usually concentrate on the picture and see how the elements I have (or the ones I can create) will help to tell the story or clarify the emotional content on the screen.

How obligated do you feel by surround conventions, for instance, having effects in the L-R rear channels and dialog in the center?

I'm only obligated to the picture and whoever cuts the check. I do several revisions with the director and we make several revisions of DVDs to see how they work on different systems. Movies are a highly collaborative art. DVDs are no different in that respect.

What's a good way to create emotional response with a surround sound film score mix, as opposed to a stereo mix?

With surround, you more clearly feel the large effects: explosions, thunder, you can shock the viewers and make them jump. Atmospheric conditions have traditionally been used to signify fear, or cleansing (gentle rain), or turmoil (wind). With surround you can envelop the viewer with the atmosphere, and the viewer becomes an ancillary participant in the environment of the movie. 

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Related Keywords:JamSync, KK Proffitt, 5.1, DVD, soundtrack, Music Row, upmixing, Joel Silverman, surround mixing, Tony Cane-Honeysett


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