Music plays such an important part in Prime Video‘s Daisy Jones and the Six, based on the novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, it made sense that one of the nine Emmy nominations it received would be for “Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie,” a nomination shared between Re-Recording Mixers Lindsey Alvarez CAS and Mathew Waters CAS, Music Mixer Mike Poole, and Production Sound Mixer Chris Welcker.
The 10-episode limited series stars Riley Keough as Daisy Jones and Sam Claflin as Billy Dunne, the singers in a ’70s rock band whose tumultuous relationship leads to the band’s meteoric rise to come crashing down just as quickly.
This is Alvarez and Waters’ second year in a row at the Emmys, having won in the mixing for a half-hour drama series last year for “The Boy from 6B” episode of Only Murders in the Building. They decided to keep working together, and Below the Line spoke with them about mixing a show that ended up being even more fun than they expected. (Note that we spoke with Alvarez and Waters before speaking with Music Supervisor Frankie Pine, an interview you can read here.)
Below the Line: Looking over your resumés, you both seem to bounce between films and television. While you previously won Emmys for your work on Game of Thrones, Matt, you also mixed Lord of the Rings, Lindsey, so was the episode of Only Murders you won an Emmy for the first time you two worked together?
Mathew Waters: Only Murders was the first time we worked together, I think, and it worked out really well. It was fun. Now we try and work more together.
BTL: Do you happen to just be working together on these same shows, or are you literally mixing everything together?
Waters: It just depends on schedule and what we’re working on, to be honest. Lindsey is a tremendous talent, and we work very well together, so I always try and get her on stuff when I can and then she’s either busy or not busy, and we work together. It’s all schedule-based, to be honest with you, but working with Lindsey, being a talent and just a wonderful person, is always desired.
BTL: Did you both come up through doing sound for picture for film and television to get to where you are now?
Waters: I did, for sure.
Lindsey Alvarez: My start was in commercials, actually, and then it got into film and television, thankfully. I’m happier here.
BTL: You guys worked up your way up to being re-recording mixers? You were doing other things in the sound departments before that?
Alvarez: I definitely started assisting and then doing sound editorial. I cut sound effects, I cut dialogue, but eventually, even just a couple years ago, it’s been mainly mixing for me.
Waters: For me, I started as an intern, and then I was in the transfer room. You just work your way up, and you end up loving what you do, so you always hang out. And everybody’s really nice, and they help you. You become a quick study, hopefully, and you get your opportunities. Then I went into sound editorial, then sound supervision, and then went into mixing. That’s the way I did it.
BTL: Do you generally have your own studios, or do you have those and then go wherever the client is mixing the show?
Alvarez: Usually, I go where they’re mixing. I don’t have a studio. I did for the pandemic in this room, converted it to a little TV mix room. Which is perfect, because it’s a small little room, but no, I go to different stages.
Waters: I have a design studio at home and I can mix in there, but it gets loud. You can do all this stuff at home, but when you have all the support of mix techs, engineers, and also client services, it’s a big deal. It matters. We work long hours, and we’re in a dark room with no clocks and no windows and it’s nice to see someone and go, “Oh, hello, how are you?” It’s awesome.
Alvarez: Even if it’s on your way to the bathroom. [laughs]
BTL: How did each of you get involved with mixing Daisy Jones? Lindsey, you were already doing Lord of the Rings for Amazon, but can you talk about coming onto this show?
Alvarez: I actually got connected through Jackie Jones, who’s one of the exec executive producers at Formosa. She called me and told me about it. As soon as I heard about it, and watched the pilot, I was loving it. I was like, “Okay, what I really want for the show is to just make it sound like it’s all there,” because it’s a blend of live, pre-record, everything. I was like, “Alright, this is my task for this show. And I really want to do it and put it in all these different spaces. It’s gonna be a challenge for sure.” But when she told me about it, I was stoked, and then I heard Matt was also gonna be on it.
Waters: Get the team back together.
BTL: Had you mixed the pilot, and you were already involved with it, Matt?
Waters: No, I had read the book, and I thought the book was really cool. Of course, being of my age, that music that is my generation, if you will, so I was super excited to be working on it and couldn’t wait to hear what they did with the music tracks. And then, of course, giving it to us, and then putting it all together to make it sound real and part of the environment. It was super fun, and challenging, like Lindsey said, but that’s the fun of it. We don’t want to go in, and it just be paint-by-numbers, if you will.
BTL: When you got booked on this, are you generally working on the same episodes or separate episodes? How are your duties divided?
Waters: I mix all the sound effects and the backgrounds and the Foley, and then Lindsey takes care of all the music and the dialogue. We do it together. Basically, the dialogue is always the base of where I need to sit, so it sounds real. I actually don’t like working by myself or separately. I love hearing what Lindsey is doing, and then, being able to match that.
Alvarez: Yeah, it was great. You try something and then he does something and I’m like, “I like that feeling that he’s putting in it. Let me see if I can go on.” We definitely bounce ideas off each other and collaborate in that way.
BTL: Are you working on episodes simultaneously, or are you working dialogue and he is working on effects, and then eventually it comes together? And then, you’re both at the final mix?
Waters: We start [with] the final mix on this one. [laughs] Basically, we’ve done this for quite some time, so the sound designer gives us all these tracks, and we just start at the beginning and hit go.
Alvarez: We receive the elements that have been given, so even on the production side, Mark Relyea was our supervising sound editor for this show, did a great job. We have so many pieces to work with. So we have production, and they were able to capture certain recordings from the set, or from wherever they’re playing. We also have pre-record tracks that have been mixed by Mike Poole, that I then put into the space. We have all the backgrounds and crowds and everything else that Matt is mixing. It’s just like, “Okay, let’s see what we have and balance it out.” But yeah, we’re there working together the entire time.
BTL: Is Mike Poole giving you a mix of the music rather than just stems?
Alvarez: He is giving me stems, so I was getting drums — and this is not including score, but just the songs, I would get drums, bass, multiple guitars, organ, vocals, and I think that was it. He’s done some work so it’s not like we’re starting from square one when it comes to the stage. It’s a huge help to have him, and when you talk to Frankie, it was just amazing to hear the journey they had to becoming a band. It’s amazing with Riley, I don’t think she had ever played guitar before. They had a whole band camp to where they could learn together and become a band. It’s pretty cool how it all came together.
BTL: You mentioned score, which is interesting, because watching the show, I don’t really think so much of it being the score other than the band playing together, and then the songs used to set the mood or the time period. I guess there’s score that’s a little more minimal in there, as well?
Alvarez: It’s a balance, because with the scoring, we’re definitely not heavy-handed with it, because we don’t want to run into music fatigue with this kind of show, especially. It’s all just a nice undertone, and when it needs to be more, it definitely helps with the emotional moments as well. There is score, these songs, a lot of source cues from the restaurant or car radios, so it was a lot of fun on the music side, specially.
BTL: Matt, there’s obviously a lot of live performances with audiences, so do you generally have a library of those sound effects you can pull from or do you still have to go out and record stuff for this show in particular?
Waters: I always try and go out and record stuff, regardless of existing elements. It’s kind of like making a custom cabinet, if you will. A lot of times you can find jewels. Mark Relyea was the sound supervisor, and him and his staff gave me a plethora of different layers of crowd that I could mix with. You’d have close-up crowd, you’d have a humongous crowd.
One of the challenges on these episodes is that the band started out playing to 20 people, sometimes two people, and then they go to a festival in Hawaii, and that was a lot of people but it wasn’t humongous. I was telling Lindsey I watched that one on-air and that was really fun to hear all the stuff she did with the music and making it feel outside but really just the festival flavor, also the crowd, you can hear some of the group people poke out and scream, but you’ve got a bed with it.
That’s where the work goes in. What are you trying to say emotionally? And also, this is a realistic show. You want to get to the end of this show saying, “This was a band, can I get their album? Are they gonna come back?” It couldn’t be silly with 20 people but 3,000 people screaming; that’s just not right. It was a fine balance and a fine line.
BTL: You mentioned mixing as you go along, which is just the nature of doing so much in the computer, where you can build a mix while you’re laying things in. Is there a final mix where the two of you are with the showrunners or directors to get the final mix for air?
Alvarez: What we’ve tried to do for this was we jam through with our passes. I don’t know if we were able to have a pass on our own before we played it for the showrunners and producers? I think we were. We were able to adjust and present what we thought was our best before it got to them.
Waters: We were able to get it into a real good place, and then, they come in and… look, mix stages are fun. Once they realize they have control over practically every single element there, they really start to have a great time. We tried to make sure they had as much time as possible to noodle and play for sure. When you give those people in there, and everybody has an opinion, you generally get to the best spot by the end.
Alvarez: It was a fun room, because we had the showrunners, we had Frankie there, we had the other producers, but we would also send it out to Mike Poole, who did have an original pass at these tracks and see what he thought in his room. It was great to get all this feedback from everyone.
BTL: At least you didn’t have the band in there with the bass player wanting to make the bass louder, which is why I like working with the guy I’m working now, since he’s essentially a one-man band. But I did have a lot of that when I was mixing bands in the ’90s.
Waters: We did have a little bit of that every now and then for sure. [laughs] One thing that was nice actually about sending it out to Mike Poole, everybody was listening to it in a different format or a different place. It’s like the old days when you do a record, and then, you go to your car and listen to it, make sure it works on those speakers. I don’t know what [Lindsey was] mixing, but I called her up and I said, “Hey, listening to this on air and it sounded really good. It’s translating well.”
BTL: What’s your schedule for getting through this? Are you mixing episodes while they’re shooting others, or are you doing it all after they’ve finished production?
Waters: We do it all afterwards. They’ll shoot it all first.
Alvarez: It was stacked basically; once we were finished with one episode, we’re moving on to the next one.
Waters: By saying that, though, then the music department has to get all the recordings down, and Mike Poole has to do his thing. It was still a scramble at the end. Just because they shot the scenes doesn’t mean that everybody didn’t have to rush to try and get everything accomplished.
Alvarez: So true. I know they even were hindered by the pandemic. I think they had originally started, then they had to stop shooting and then they all came back together again when it was safe. It was one of the pandemic shows.
BTL: What would you consider a general amount of time for mixing one episode of a show like this?
Waters: We had about five days, if I remember correctly.
Alvarez: Yeah, this one we had five days per episode. That helped us get through it for ourselves. Mandy Price put her ears on it, she was our post supervisor, and then everybody come together. We had some good playbacks. It was a lot of fun.
BTL: When you’re doing that final mix in the room with everyone is that after you’ve done all your work separately on all ten episodes, and then you have two weeks in the studio for the final mixes, or are you doing each episode start to end, finish it, and then move on?
Waters: Generally, one episode, and it all depends on their schedule, too. Sometimes, we’d do maybe two or three episodes without them coming in, because they’re on to other things, or they’re doing whatever they need to do, so they’re not available. We don’t want to do five or six episodes, and then they come in and see Episode One, and they have a whole different concept. That would be very expensive.
Alvarez: Those first playbacks on a show, or that first episode, is very important, because you get everybody’s aesthetic of “How do we want this show to sound? You really figure that out, hopefully by the first two episodes.
Waters: Hopefully, if you’re doing it, right.
BTL: You mentioned earlier there was a pilot, so who mixed that pilot, and did you still have to do some work on that pilot so that it fits in with the rest of the series?
Alvarez: The pilot that I saw was a rough cut from the edit room, so it had not been mixed. So I’m like, “I’m hearing a pre-record of the songs right now. I can’t wait to put it in the space and see how I can play with it,” when I watched the pilot. When we started mixing, we actually started on Episode Five. We sort of mixed out of order for this show, which was kind of fun, because Episode Five was when they first record in the studio for that “Let Me Down Easy” song. So for that one, we were like, “Here we go, we’re jumping in.” We had a recording studio, and that was a lot of fun. I’m super happy with how that came together, just knowing that was our first step.
BTL: Since you both jump between television and movies, is there a lot of overlap on the different shows you’re working on?
Waters: You generally have to finish one thing before you’re on to the next, especially as mixers. It’s different if you’re a sound supervisor or editor, but as mixers, generally they’ll be there while you’re there. They pay for the mix stages. It’s like paying for studio time to do a record, and they want to be there when the band’s there, if you will. Similarly, when they book us, we can’t do it from home or anything like that. We’re at a facility, and they can come in, so you can’t really overlap. What we try and do in this industry in these times is, “Can we take two days off of the TV show, because we have to do this for the film?” Generally, people are pretty cool with it. Would you not agree, Lindsey?
Alvarez: Yeah, I agree, especially if you’re working on a TV show where you only get a couple days of the week. If there’s a temp for a movie that somebody calls you for, which is maybe just like three days, you’re like, “Yeah, I can fit that in,” so then you’re bouncing between two projects.
BTL: It’s been an absolute delight talking about this show, which I truly love, and I’m still saving the very end for when I’m in the right emotional state.
Waters: It’s really fun to talk about, because [there are] so many layers, especially when you watch the end of [Episode] 10, between score and live music and dialogue and crowd. You get to decide how to pick what’s the best emotion, so I’m glad it’s working.
All 10 episodes of Daisy Jones and the Six can be viewed via streaming via Prime Video.