ADR Mixers correct dialogue and sound that was problematic in the original production. They remove background noise, re-record dialogue with lip-synching and clean up production audio.
ADR Recordist. (This used to be a separate job, but is now under the remit of ADR Mixers.)
How To Become an ADR Mixer
There are a number of reasons for which ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) might be needed in a production, explains Jesse Dodd, veteran ADR Mixer at NBCUniversal. “It could be a poor performance, it could be noise on the set, the lines might have been unintelligible or two Actors may have been talking over one another and they need clean dialogue,” she says.
She goes on to lay out exactly what she does in these cases: “I bring in the Actor(s), run picture and re-record their lines. I make sure the microphone placement is correct and I ensure that what I mix is exactly what you’re seeing on the screen.”
Dodd details the nuances of the technical work involved in matching picture to post-performance dialogue: “If the scene is taking place in a warehouse, I’ll set up mics differently than if it’s happening in a car. We have to get the proximity right — if it’s an outdoor scene, mic placement and indeed choice of mic might be different.”
Dodd explains that most ADR Mixers use the microphones and their different properties (cardioid, condenser) to replicate the actual production in the studio. “There are even some cases where you set up mics in hallways or parking structures to simulate basketball games or larger, crowd gatherings (we call this ‘loop group’) but it is rare. Most ADR, even if the actual production scene is outdoors or wherever, is done in studio.”
Once Dodd is finished with her mix, she sets out the next steps in the workflow: “That’s when the Sound Designer comes in and starts putting things back in like room tone, air, birds, whatever elements they require. That all happens on the dubbing stage when I send over my ADR mix.”
She works in close conjunction with the Sound Supervisor to ensure that her mixes require as little manipulation as possible once they leave her studio. She details the collaborative aspect of ADR Mixing: “The Director is rarely there unless I’m working on a feature or a television pilot, so, normally, the Sound Supervisor acts as de facto Director.
“Saying that, it’s a team effort to find the right alchemy — my job is to ensure it’s all technically sound. I’m in the control room so if I feel we need another take, louder, softer, or if the Actor’s voice sounds different than on production day (for example, if they have a cold), I can step in and advise the Sound Supervisor and the talent accordingly. It’s a group effort.
“Some Supervisors don’t like a lot of input, others check in with me after every take. You learn to read the room.”
Dodds works regularly with about ten Sound Supervisors at Universal and they have a mutual respect for each other’s work. She also enjoys the variety of her days: “Each session is its own entity and needs its own attention and love.
“Normally, I know what show I’m on ahead of time. I’ll come in and get the picture I need to set up my ProTools session. Then a Sound Supervisor will arrive, and the talent will turn up. We then run the picture, cue by cue, and replace whatever lines or efforts that need replacing.”
Interestingly, Dodd has to be an all-rounder in the studio these days. She explains, “It used to be that an ADR Recordist would come in and set up the session, the stage, the mics and take notes during the session, but they have almost entirely eliminated that role for financial reasons; the Mixer does it all. No one at Universal has a Recordist any more.”
The average annual salary for an ADR Mixer is approximately $76,800. The salary range for ADR Mixers runs from $51,000 to $114,000.
Dodd explains that every ADR Mixer has their own arrangement with the employer: “Salaried or unsalaried depends on the deal each individual makes with their employer. However, there are hourly and weekly minimum pay rates that are set by the unions and must be adhered to legally.”
The current rate for a Union Y-1, entry-level Re-recording Mixer starts at around $57.00 per hour. Of course, anyone starting out on their journey will be building experience on non-union jobs, but you can expect decent hourly rates once you graduate into the union.
ADR Mixers keep long hours and working days often run into twelve/fourteen hours. As Dodd puts it: “You have to have the right partner to understand that you will be working long hours. You are never home.”
In fact, Dodd suggests that, like many jobs in the entertainment industry, work/life balance is best expressed when the work itself is not a chore: “I’m happiest when I’m at work, or at home. Those are my happy places. My mother told me if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Dodd does suggest that, despite the workload, it is healthy to find some measure of equilibrium: “I have worked since I was fourteen, but I had to learn later on that you need balance, if at least a ‘work hard, play hard’ balance. I do take space to back out of the job for a minute, normally by taking some time to travel. Find what you love, and do make space for it.”
Dodd majored in Radio, TV and Broadcasting at California State University, Northridge. At first, she wanted to do on-air newscasting or become a Technical Director: “I always knew I wanted to be in entertainment, and I’d done a news show on PBS in high school.”
Dodd then illustrates how her professional trajectory spiked: “I met a Sound Designer who needed his sound effects library put together and I said, ‘Sure!’ That was in the Sound Department at the MGM lot. I worked hard and once the gig was over, I asked him for another job. And he gave me a letter, sent me to the union and started me in the Sound Transfer Department. And I found that I loved it!”
Dodd’s career went from strength to strength after that, always building on hard work and never resting on her laurels: “I went from there to Skywalker Sound, did some ADR Stage Recordist work at Warner Bros., spent six years as an ADR and Foley Mixer at Technicolor, and now I’ve been at Universal for the last ten years.”
Dodd is absolutely clear that anyone looking to advance in the Sound Department needs to work hard: “I’m a workaholic, a worker bee. It runs in the family.”
Nonetheless, Dodd concedes there are other factors at work, factors that almost all people in the entertainment industry seem to share and celebrate: “I was lucky to have people who believed in me. Really. So I hope I’ve done everyone proud.”
In terms of breaking into the ADR Department, Dodd has a very clear message: “Just get a job on the lot. The mailroom, anywhere on that lot. Even a PA position in the Editorial Department in production or post-production.
“Once you’re physically on the lot, ingratiate yourself with the Sound Department. I suggest you start by telling a Sound Supervisor what you want to do and see if there’s anything you can cut for them. It’s still kinda old-school on the lot in the Sound Department.”
Of course, all this advice comes with the same caveat: “Get your ProTools skills up to speed. That’s crucial.” In terms of doing that, Dodd points to the BluWave Audio facility at Universal: “The restoration program might be a good start to get you familiar with the equipment. You can move into the Sound Department from there; once you’re in the slipstream, you can move around.”
In contrast to most departments in entertainment and production, there are no entry-level jobs in the ADR Department. Dodds reassures: “It’s still about getting on the lot and talking to people. Most of the time we’ll say, ‘Come on in. Sit and watch and I’ll show you what I do.’ Once you do that, listen up, be nice and you should earn yourself a seat in the room.”
- Make sure your ProTools skills are excellent. There are plenty of courses out there so you can ensure you’re ready when the time comes.
- Get on the lot! Take any position you can to get yourself physically on the lot.
Experience & Skills
Clearly, ADR Mixers need to be technically on-point, but Dodd is keen to highlight other elements of the job that might not immediately spring to mind: “It’s not just about the technical skills. You’re not entitled to the job just because of excellent technical ability — you have to work on being personable and amenable.”
She has very clear advice for anyone breaking into any position in the Sound Department: “Don’t be a one-trick pony — you need multiple skills. You need to be able to say, ‘I can cut dialogue, I can do some sound design, I can record…’ I know that if Universal wants to move me to the Foley Stage, they can, especially if ADR gets slow. And that is a real blessing.”
In terms of specific jobs or work experience necessary to break into ADR mixing, Dodd stresses that it takes all types from all walks of life. For Dodd, that’s part of the joy of the business: “The nice thing is, everyone has their quirks and neuroses — there really is space for that.”
However, she subverts a commonly-held notion: “Strangely enough, real Engineers tend not to love ADR mixing because they are focused on fixing physical ‘things’ but they often lack the fundamental people-facing side to the Sound Department!”
“There is a type,” confirms Dodd. “Most ADR Mixers are tech geeks to some degree or another.” Again though, while Dodd sees the technical abilities as a must, she reminds any aspiring ADR Mixer that, “It’s a creative business, too — you really need a personality to go along with it. It is still a people-facing role. You must be well rounded, not just proficient with technology.”
Dodd has some practical advice about how best to manage the people-facing elements of the ADR environment: “It helps if you can put people at ease; ultimately, you’re looking to get performances out of them. Honestly, I find the best approach is, ‘Let’s have some fun.’ That tends to work for me!”
Education & Training
Dodd is adamant that technical skills are paramount: “Really, your technical skills should be a given. Avid itself offers courses on ProTools, as well as a few, select courses like Promedia Training. FullSail does a great job teaching ProTools but only for those based in Florida.”
Dodd is a firm believer in taking real-life classes instead of relying entirely on an internet education: “Online courses are all very well, but it really helps if there’s someone there to show you what to do if you get stuck — I always recommend an in-person class.”
She explains, “You do need to put in a certain amount of hours to join and get on the roster, so most of your training will be at non-union places, especially at the smaller facilities. From there, you can move over to the appropriate union.” She recommends checking the websites or even calling the unions to find out the exact criteria you need to fulfill.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“It’s not all glamor and glitz so be ready to dedicate some serious time.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“People come into this industry with stars in their eyes, not really knowing what it’s about. There’s a lot of time, effort and concern that goes into what we do. Sometimes people come in with a certain expectation, aren’t ready to work hard and make a real mess of a spectacular opportunity. Please don’t do that!”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Do you think I should go into ADR? No one has ever asked me that!”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“I’ll cheat with a few words: faith, hard work, and willingness.”
Jesse Dodd has been a professional TV and film Audio Mixer for 25 years. The majority of her career has been concentrated in mixing ADR and Foley. Jesse joined the NBCUniversal StudioPost team in 2009 having worked with many great companies including Skywalker Sound, Warner Bros., and Technicolor.
Jesse has over 250 credits in both television and feature films and she is a member of The Television Academy, CAS, MPSE, IATSE, Motion Picture Editors Guild, and HPA.
Jesse’s constant goal is to produce optimal sound for each project and provide her clients with a tranquil and enjoyable experience throughout the post-production process.
For more about Dodd’s career in audio mixing, check out this profile in CineMontage. Her sound mixing skills on the show Veep were nominated for a Cinema Audio Society award, with the full list of nominees covered by Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Awards Daily.