It’s safe to say, anxiety helped win Bob Bronow an Emmy Award. The Los Angeles-based sound designer and re-recording mixer, who’s won three Emmys and been nominated for 11 more, characterizes his approach as “mixing until it makes me feel something.” And when he was tabbed in 2005 to mix the Discovery Channel’s new reality show Deadliest Catch, what he felt was anxiety.
“When I mixed the first episode, I found myself getting very nervous watching those guys doing what they were doing,” Bronow explains. Deadliest Catch, now in its 17th season, follows the dangerous, real-life adventures of crab fishermen working in the Bering Sea.
“I basically created the soundtrack based on what made me feel anxious,” says Bronow. “I knew if I could convey this to people watching, it would be pretty cool, because it’s ridiculous what these guys do on-deck, covered with ice and 30-foot waves all over the place.”
To make viewers feel as anxious as he felt watching the show’s stars haul heavy crab pots onto rocking boats, Bronow took his cue from the horror-movie genre. He created a portentous tone — a rumble sound, he calls it. Coming in around 5- to 10Hz and barely perceivable, the rumble could be felt with the right speakers.
“It just vibrates your energy,” he explains, “and it certainly makes you feel uncomfortable. There were times when things were going smoothly on the boat, but I knew a wave was coming, so I’d let the tone creep in very slowly to create that ominous feeling. If I was successful, viewers would feel uncomfortable, too, and not really know why.”
Then — boom! The wave hits, chaos ensues, and Bronow is being recognized multiple times for being among the best at what he does.
You think people are going to watch that?
In addition to his multiple Emmy Awards and nominations, Bob Bronow has won four Cinema Audio Society Awards (14 total nominations) and two Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) Golden Reel Awards (along with five nominations). He says his road to success was what you’d expect of a kid growing up in LA, where the entertainment industry was like the automobile industry in Detroit — all around.
Bronow says he wanted to be a rock star. He found himself in a recording studio at 16 (“I thought I could spend all day and night there”); programmed radio in college; mixed front of house at a club called the Music Machine (“In the 80s, most of that was telling guitarists to turn it down”); and eventually got into radio production with a college friend, who’d previously hooked him up with the 11pm to 3am radio slot.
“That’s when I took my first deep dive into mixing,” Bronow says. “We did radio spots, primarily for film releases. We produced, wrote, cast, did all the recording. It was great! We were also early adopters of digital technology.”
At the time, a little company in Van Nuys, CA, called Digidesign had just released Pro Tools software, including ProDeck and ProEdit. Bronow enrolled in what was then called Pro School to learn all he could from the company, then began calling around to studios and offering his unique digital skills as a Pro Tools editor.
His first major gig was with now-defunct WoodHolly Productions, working on a Lexicon Opus, one of the first nonlinear digital audio workstations.
“Their Opus operator was leaving, and they asked if I could do the work,” he recalls. “I took home this really thick manual and plowed through it over the weekend. By the next Tuesday, I had my first client, which was NBC. It was a bit of a trial by fire.”
After nine years with WoodHolly, Bronow went into business for himself, quickly coming into the orbit of Thom Beers’ Original Productions, which was churning out a new brand of reality programming for Discovery. Bronow mixed shows like Monster Garage and Monster House before Beers popped over to tell him his next assignment would be “to mix that crab show.”
“My wife, who grew up in Alaska, looked at me and said, ‘Really? You think people are going to watch that?’”
They did for the 14 years that Bronow mixed Deadliest Catch, and they still watch today.
Taking the room out of the mix
Over the years, Bronow developed a wealth of skills, from new techniques in noise reduction to salvaging audio captured in austere conditions. He was an early adopter of iZotope RX audio repair software.
“I use it every day. There isn’t a mix of any kind — reality or scripted — that doesn’t require some noise reduction.”
In his own studio, Bronow recently discovered Dirac Live (www.dirac.com), software that minimizes the room’s impact on the mixer’s desired sound. Dirac’s room-correction technology improves studio acoustics and enhances sound accuracy through patented impulse response correction and frequency response correction algorithms.
“I’d been called to do a Netflix show in 5.1,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of stereo work and had some room-correction software for that, but I was having a hell of a time finding anything to do 5.1 and tune all my speakers properly.”
After reading a review on Pro Tools Expert of a miniDSP processor running Dirac Live, Bronow says he found a solution.
“Not being a professional acoustician, I reached out to Dirac for help setting it up, and they were amazing,” he explains. “As I got it working, I realized what I was hearing was definition. I wasn't hearing all this smearing and bouncing around. I was really able to pinpoint where things were in the mix. It was like a window that allowed me to look into the mix as a three-dimensional thing.”
In addition, Bronow appreciates that by using Dirac Live, his mixes can sound the same wherever he takes them, giving him greater confidence in his work.
“We mix all over the place and in a lot of different rooms, but when you bring something from your home studio, you don't want to be sitting there in front of a client and have them say, ‘This sounds awful, what's going on?’ It just makes everybody look bad.”
Most of his colleagues work in some surround-sound format, and Bronow often recommends they explore using Dirac Live. Even though they might have extensive acoustic treatments in their studios, the mix needs to sound the same wherever it goes.
“There's an old adage, if you can't take the room out of the mix, you can't take the mix out of the room,” Bronow says. “Ultimately, I want any software I use to be smarter than me and work in the background. That way, I can focus on what I do.”