Soundtrack: <I>Ozark</I> scoring mixer Phil McGowan
Issue: September/October 2020

Soundtrack: Ozark scoring mixer Phil McGowan

Emmy-nominated score mixer Phil McGowan has collaborated with Ozark's Emmy-nominated composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans on more than 35 projects over the course of five years. He is given full flexibility to manipulate every single element and plug-in to help make the score sound its best and fit into a sonic palette that also contains the dialogue and sound effects. Recently, McGowan took some time to discuss his work on the Netflix series, which will return for a fourth season.

How did you get involved with the sound/music for Ozark?

“I’ve been working with Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans for five years now and recently counted up our past projects, which now totals 37! The first project we worked together on was The Gift, back in 2015, which coincidentally is also where they connected with Jason Bateman and led them to be hired on Ozark. Since The Gift, I’ve mixed nearly everything they’ve done, except for a few projects where I couldn’t make the scheduling work.”

What are your responsibilities?

“Danny and Saunder only work in stereo; and since I’m typically involved in every film, TV or video game project they do, they also often don’t take the time to stem out their sessions. From a technical standpoint, I bring the score from stereo to surround and organize all of the elements into a consistent set of stems to send on to the dub. Of course, I’m also hired to make the score sound its best, but that being said, I try not to stray too far from the sonic direction that Danny and Saunder have taken each cue in. I like to say that I bring the final 10 percent or so of the sonic polish to each score I mix so that it still communicates what the composer intended but also plays well with dialogue and sound effects.”

What is your process and what tools do you use?

“Danny and Saunder also work in Pro Tools, so once the score is approved, they render any virtual instruments and send over their session for each cue to me to mix. Unlike most composers, Danny and Saunder don’t do a ton of sequencing with VIs, so most of what I receive from them are audio tracks of performances that they recorded. Danny plays all of the string parts, so a lot of the tracks are the various layers of strings that he provides me, which ranges anywhere from just a solo violin up to 50-plus overdubs of violin, viola, cello and bass. In addition to the strings, most of the percussion is recorded and edited audio that has been processed. 

“For Ozark, the processing is on the heavier-handed side, as many elements are distorted and filtered to match the darkness of the show. The great thing about Danny and Saunder working in Pro Tools is that I can see all of their plug-ins and adjust them if necessary, though usually I don’t change their settings all too much. I typically just add my own EQ after their chain of plug-ins for some polish and also have (usually) subtle processing on all of my stem busses. I have a template built with all of my routing and effects in place and import their sessions into mine, where I then route everything into my template and replace many of their stereo reverbs with similar but different reverbs in 5.0. I work with two Pro Tools rigs in my studio that have 128 channels going between them through my Avid MTRX, so all of my stem printing and video playback happens on the second rig. Since pretty much every TV show I work on is locked by the time it gets to me, I print every cue into a single print session, so when I’m done, I’ve already built the whole episode in an A/B roll that I send off to Jason Tregoe Newman, Ozark’s music editor. Every music editor that I work with very much appreciates this workflow as it saves them a lot of time building the music session for the dub.”

What is your delivery timeframe and format?

“I’m lucky enough that Danny and Saunder allow me two days per episode for Ozark, as opposed to the typical single day I get on a lot of other shows. This offers me the luxury to not rush the process to get through all of the music and make sure each and every cue works well against the scene is was scored to. Ozark is dubbed in 5.1, so I mix the score in 5.1. I provide Larry Benjamin, the dialogue and music re-recording mixer, eight 5.1 stems per cue. This gives Larry enough separation to adjust certain major elements when needed, though he tells me that he mostly just groups my stems together and rides the master level of the cue, so that’s always nice to hear!”

How did you begin collaborating with Danny and Saunder? What other composers and projects have you worked on?

“Danny and Saunder have kept me very busy lately. In addition to Ozark, I have also mixed The Outsider, The Devil All The Time, The Rental, NOS4A2, American Gods, Fear The Walking Dead and Tell Me Who I Am for them. Outside of my work with Danny and Saunder, I also recorded and mixed the score for Antebellum, with Nate Wonder and Roman GianArthur, mixed Anthony Willis’ score for Promising Young Woman, mixed Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson’s score for Cobra Kai, and also had the pleasure of mixing Scott Salinas’ score for The Banker.

What’s your take on audio for streamed content?

“I’d love to give Netflix a shoutout for having what I consider to be one of the best, if not the very best streaming platform from an audio perspective. The fact that they are able to stream anywhere from mono to Dolby Atmos home theater without a rude amount of data compression really speaks volumes to how much they care about delivering quality content to their customers. I’ve mixed scores for many Netflix projects and I’m never disappointed with how my mixes translate over the stream. I can’t say the same for a number of other streaming services.”