Adam Miller on engineering & mixing One Day’s score: “It's not too melodramatic, which would be quite easy to fall into”

AIR Studios engineer Adam Miller opens up about his work as score engineer and mixer on one of the biggest Netflix shows of 2024 so far, One Day. The limited series that had everyone ugly crying tells the decades-spanning love story of Dex and Em as they reunite on the same day every year. Miller explains how it’s all about dynamics…

One Day received critical acclaim and was the most-watched series globally during the week of 12 February, with 9.9 million views. Did you have a feeling when you were working on it that it would be a big hit?

I hoped it would! You never really know with these things. Unless you're sitting next to Christopher Nolan or someone, you never know if it's gonna be a huge smash hit or not. But the omens were good. You can tell when you're watching something if it's been crafted with love and care, so we were all hoping that it would land pretty positively, and it did. It's quite gratifying when so many people see something that you've worked on.

Tell us about your role on One Day as score engineer and mixer. What goes into a project like this?

It’s two easy stages: there's the recording and there's the mix. For One Day, we recorded quite a small ensemble in AIR’s Studio One in July last year. So it had been in the works for a while. We had two scoring days with 11 strings and one harp player that we recorded live. If you've watched the series, it is quite a small, intimate thing. 

Most of it is just the two characters on screen and their relationship to each other, so it didn't demand huge amounts of music and this huge scale. We mixed for about a week in total – there's a lot of music to the series. 

Obviously it moves through the years and there’s a lot of needle drop music that's in there from the time period. What was particularly nice about this project is that they also used a lot of music from Jess Jones and Tim Morrish, so there are a lot of pre-existing tracks that we used quite early on in the process. The sequences were built around those, so it was quite a nice melding together of the score with these pre existing tracks that the composer's had worked on and music of the period.

You never know if it's gonna be a huge smash hit or not. But the omens were good.

Did you collaborate with the composers (Anne Nikitin, Jess Jones and Tim Morrish) at all when working on the engineering and mixing?

It's pretty collaborative. Obviously, they're in the scoring session giving notes as things go, but scoring sessions are pretty fast paced – you get through a lot of music in not very much time. We're super fortunate in London to have amazing players who almost read the stuff as it goes down. Probably most of what you hear in the final mixes is take three or four – it's quite something. 

So we're all together in the control room and they're listening to stuff as it goes down, and the very talented Tom Kell was on the conducting podium – who also orchestrated the music. In those moments I'm normally listening to the more technical stuff, or the more basic stuff: is it too loud or too quiet? Does that sound out of tune? Is it in time? Rather than picking out specific notes that may be changing or finessing. 

The way these things work is that the notes are 98% there by the time you get to the scoring stage. You don't really have the time to sit in and rewrite things or adjust things a huge amount. In many ways, it's an unspoken collaboration. What the composer presents to you is the roadmap for what you need to try and do. The ‘demo’ dictates where you go with the engineering, so you generally don't have to do too much interpretation, you can listen to what they've done as a precursor.

It's about making a sympathetic sound world that matches what's on screen.

The series features regular time jumps. Did this affect your role as score engineer and mixer?

A lot of my role is letting the composers do the hard work and then I come in at the end and sort of tidy up what they've done. I suppose it's more presented by genre changes and mood changes than time jumps. With the score, we're not specifically trying to make anything sound like it was from the ‘90s, or more modern, or anything in between – you go off of what the cue was doing emotionally and stylistically. You take it and run with it, basically.

It’s a very emotional watch. How did you make sure the score mix was right and not encroaching on the drama on screen?

It's dictated by what the composers have done, but you try to be sympathetic to what they're doing and to what's going on the screen. Sometimes when you record things live, there can be a bit of a disconnect between the two and it's not until the cold light of day that you say, ‘Maybe we should have played it a bit quieter,’ or, ‘This moment should have been bigger,’ or whatever. 

There's sometimes a bit of massaging where the live material and the dramatic expectations deviate a bit. Often the recording sessions go by so fast that you don't really have the full context of the cue – it's a couple of pages on a score and a tempo map, you hit go, and you have to get it down as quickly as possible. Beyond that, it's about making a sympathetic sound world that matches what's on screen, so you pay attention to the dialogue. 

Of course, you watch it as you mix it and try to match what's going on in the scene. It's quite a lot of paying attention to dynamics; what passes in a piece of music as a standalone piece by itself doesn't always play well with picture; the picture can draw your attention to things or distract you from things that you thought were very obvious in the music, or maybe things need to be buried more than if it was just a standalone piece of music, where you might have it more in the front of the mix. A lot of little small decisions like that add up and make the finished score.

It's not too melodramatic, which would be quite easy to fall into. The music is very sparse and sensitive.

Were you one of those 9.9 million people watching it?

Yes I was, and not just because I worked on it! But because it was genuinely something that I wanted to watch.

Were you also traumatised by the ending?

Yes. It was a little bit traumatising! Although I didn't know what was coming.

What was your favourite scene in One Day in terms of use of score that you thought worked particularly well when you watched it back?

The whole thing is really well made, but it's possibly the devastation that I thought played best on screen. In the final episode, if you've listened to the soundtrack album, there are a couple of cues on there called Ghosts and As If She Was Still Here, which play over these very sad scenes, but it's incredibly well done. 

In the final episode, the editing in particular was really good; I hadn't quite appreciated how good it was until I sat down and saw it all through from start to finish. Those two cues over the final episode I thought worked particularly well. They're really sad, but it really does the moment justice and it's not too melodramatic, which would be quite easy to fall into. The music is very sparse and sensitive. It sounds relatively simple, but in a way that just fits perfectly.

The Neve desk sounds amazing and hasn't really been surpassed since.

When did you start at AIR Studios?

I started at AIR in 2008. I was a staff runner, then assistant Pro Tools engineer for 11 years and then I went freelance in 2019. But I'm still managed by the AIR management department.

AIR is home to various unique Neve consoles. You use the AIR Custom Neve A7971, which is the second of three custom consoles designed by Rupert Neve, George Martin and Geoff Emerick. The first console was created for AIR’s facility on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat. What is it that you like about using this legendary console and how does it enhance your workflow?

It's an old desk – the clue is in the name! – but I think 1979 is when it was built. They were recording to 24 track tape, so what they had compared to what we have nowadays was so limited. But for those days, it was a pretty modern desk – it's been retrofitted with fader automation and that kind of stuff.

I hadn't quite appreciated how good it was until I sat down and saw it all through from start to finish.

Fast forward to nowadays and the selling point of the desk is the sound. The sound is really good. It's incredibly clean, low distortion, and the frequency response is amazing. There's been a few modifications and different ways of working over the years which made it more suitable for scoring work in the 21st century where you need track counts, lots of mics and you need to be able to simultaneously generate a few different mixes as you're recording. 

A lot of the time nowadays, the clients are on the end of a remote link, and you need to be able to make additional mixes for them to listen to – all of which you can do on the desk. The reason it's still in AIR’s studio one is because it sounds amazing and it's a great thing to work on. It is pretty simple too: you've got a mic, you have a channel; the mic goes in, the mic gets recorded to Pro Tools, comes back out, you listen to it, dial in a bit of reverb and dial in some headphones. The benefit of the desk is that it sounds amazing and hasn't really been surpassed since.

Unlike its modern counterpart, the Neve 88RS, the Air A7971 console was not specifically designed for scoring. However, modern additions such as expanding the channels from 56 to 72 made this workflow possible. How did this benefit you while working on One Day?

More is more! Sometimes you try to economise, but you always end up filling the desk with stuff, so that's how that is possible. Another great benefit of the desk and how it's originally designed is it has remote preamps, So the actual amplification stage is in the live room with musicians, which has benefits in terms of noise floor and cable lengths and that kind of stuff. 

But it also means that we can tap straight out of the mic preamp and take that straight to Pro Tools – it doesn't have to go via the actual desk component via the faders and everything else, so you get a really clean signal path.

It's quite an easy modification. I say ‘easy’ as someone who obviously didn't have to do that modification and get the soldering iron out! [laughs]. That works really well and you basically free up the whole 72-channel desk just to listen to things on the way back from Pro Tools. 

That gives you even more flexibility in terms of number of mics and sub mixes, like reverb units and all that good stuff that makes your scoring session run a bit more smoothly. It's an incredibly reliable thing – you can throw whatever you need to do at it, and it will handle it.

One Day photo credits: Ludovic Robert/Netflix-

Adam Miller: AIR management Ltd

AIR studio sessions: Photography © Tim Shipston / DNA Music Limited 2024