Alexandra Fehrman is a Re-Recording Mixer and Supervising Sound Editor based in Los Angeles. Our Product Specialist, Freddy Vinehill-Cliffe, sat down recently for a chat with Alexandra about how she got started in the industry, and how NUGEN fits into her workflow.
Follow Alexandra on Instagram.
Hi Alexandra. Could you tell me about how you got started in the audio industry, and the route that took you to where you are now?
"As a teenager I was learning guitar, but I was not a natural guitarist. I ended up in the control room of a recording studio, and the engineer thought it was kind of funny that I was interested."
Sure! As a teenager I was learning guitar, but I was not a natural guitarist. I ended up in the control room of a recording studio, and the engineer thought it was kind of funny that I was interested. He asked me to rewire a patchbay he was switching from ¼ inch to TT, and I loved it! So I kept going back there every day, and he taught me about mixing and tracking. After that I moved to LA, and I learned Pro Tools, because that original studio was 100% analog. I worked in recording studios for a while, but I encountered a lot of “oddities”, so I decided to branch out to film and television. I became a stage tech for several years, and during that time I learned about mixing and sound design, until I started getting my own projects as a mixer and sound designer. I have been working in film and television since 2007.
I know you recently worked on The Boys for Amazon. I was looking at your IMDB page, and I saw that one of your earliest credits was for a few episodes of Workaholics.
"It’s easy in some ways, because people can deliver stuff to me, I can open up the session, mix a TV show, spit it out, and send it back."
That show was great to work on! After we mixed the first season, they didn’t air it for like 8 months and we thought it might never see the light of day. But then it did, and everybody loved it! It was so fun, I couldn’t wait for my friends to see it.
So do you tend to focus on television work over and above feature film projects?
I love working on both, I work on a lot of television and try to do at least one feature film a year. I really love working on features, but the schedules are less concrete, so it’s hard to juggle television work with feature work. I think it’s becoming easier to schedule now because a lot of the streaming shows mix in blocks, so you’ll do something like 8 episodes in 8 weeks. I worked on a feature over the summer called The Happiest Season, and just before that I did a film called CODA, which was just at Sundance - it got a lot of attention there!
Are you finding that work is still slow as a result of the pandemic, or is it picking up?
"It’s a little slower than usual, but it’s definitely coming back! I think there will be a big push to get content made early next year."
I wouldn’t say it’s back to normal, but there are a lot of things on the horizon. This time last year I was working 7 days a week, almost every week, but now I’m doing 5 days, sometimes 3 days. I think my colleagues are experiencing the same thing, where it’s a little slower than usual, but it’s definitely coming back! I think there will be a big push to get content made early next year.
I find it hard to take time off, but I think it’s been good to take a break, and to digest what is happening. Those of us who have been lucky enough to keep working through this, we’re kind of putting blinders on and diving into our work, but I think we have to realise collectively that this is such a crazy thing to digest.
I think it will be very jarring when things go back to normal. Do you feel like your workflow has changed a lot? Do you have a home studio of any kind?
I’m actually at my home studio today, it’s a built-out garage. But my workflow hasn’t changed significantly for mixing. We are still going into the studio, double-masked with a limited number of people on the stage. We’re working the same way as before, but most of the producers are listening back remotely. At first I was worried about not knowing what the client is hearing, but in the end it’s actually quite interesting, because you get feedback from somebody wearing consumer grade headphones, and from somebody else in their home theatre, or somebody using TV speakers. You get an interesting perspective, and you can make sure it’s translating to all those formats.
Have you found that you’re using something like Halo Downmix more often?
We aren’t using Halo Downmix for that particular crashdown, but I have been using it here in my home studio. I have done a few 5.1 temp mixes from my room here, and I was shipping those to my clients using Halo Downmix. I really like the way that it folds, I think it sounds really nice! Working on The Happiest Season I did pre-dub at home - I mixed my backgrounds in 5.1, and then I would check them with Halo Downmix to see how they were feeling in stereo. On feature films you don’t have many chances to check the stereo downmix, and a lot of things pop out in stereo! Halo Downmix translated really well.
How do the other NUGEN products fit into your workflow?
"On the stage we are using VisLM, which is amazing! I’m so happy that we have it."
On the stage we are using VisLM, which is amazing! I’m so happy that we have it. One of the hardest things about all these different platforms is that each one has its own spec. What I love about VisLM is that it tracks your mix in real time, so if you’re rolling over the same section it will recalculate the overall cumulative measurement. A lot of the time our shows will have very busy sections, and then some very calm dialog scenes. You want to push the action as hard as you can, but you don’t necessarily know the effect of that without a cumulative measurement. I tend to have a pretty good sense of where my mix is, and I do have quite a lot of confidence in hitting spec, but it’s such a nice feeling to have that added confidence with VisLM. Previously, for us to get the full correct loudness measurement, we would have to print the entire show.
I also love Halo Upmix, I use it on every show, it’s the thing that I use the most from NUGEN. I’ve heard some other upmix plug-ins, especially on score, and there’s a certain hollowness to it, or sometimes weird artefacts and phase issues, and I haven’t experienced that with Halo. I use it on all kinds of tracks, I use it to make a needle drop song sound really nice and full. I love that you can adjust the width of the spread, and that you can adjust the sub - oftentimes I will boost that sub a little bit!. And I love the way that it sounds, especially on tracks that were recorded in the ‘70s. In the past, I would never try to upmix something like that, because the panning choices can be quite… interesting. But with Halo I have less apprehension, because I have so much control over the spread, and I really like the way that it translates. With a combination of Halo and Q3 I can produce a very full sounding 5.1 or 7.1 track, with a stereo track as my source. The Boys has a lot of classic rock, and I love the music choices, I’m so happy that I’m able to mix those into the show.
"I also love Halo Upmix, I use it on every show, it’s the thing that I use the most from NUGEN."
I haven’t watched season 2 of The Boys yet, but I’m really excited to see it! Do you have any advice specifically for women getting started in the audio industry?
"I think it’s important that we match the confidence level of our male counterparts, because women are more likely to downplay their own abilities."
My advice is to keep going, and to quiet the voice inside of you that thinks you don’t belong in a certain environment. I think it’s important that we match the confidence level of our male counterparts, because women are more likely to downplay their own abilities. Sometimes men can sell themselves in a way that a woman naturally wouldn’t do, so I think it’s important that women really own their craft. It’s okay to flaunt your skills.
And are there any organisations or mentoring schemes that you’ve had experience with?
I would love to be a part of more, I am trying to find more ways to help other women in the industry. I really love SoundGirls.org, they’ve been around for a while and I think that they’ve always done great work. I see them at NAMM, and I’ve been part of their Facebook group for quite a while. The more women we see in these jobs, the more women and girls are likely to see themselves as somebody who could do that job. I feel very self-promotional on my mixing Instagram account, but it’s good that it exists, because other young women have reached out to me and asked questions about the industry. And that has been inspirational for me, too! When women see more of this, it seems less unattainable, even though it might seem like a job that has historically been reserved for men. We have to break down those barriers.