Video makers often get scared off by the idea of editing their audio track, and end up ignoring it completely. But a few simple audio tweaks will make your videos sound much better and will definitely be appreciated by your viewers.
To help on this guide, we spoke to Ernie Schaeffer, a fifteen-year media industry veteran, and a trainer with all4DVD.com. Final Cut Pro students often stress out at the idea of learning audio adjustments, Schaeffer said, and a lot of people actively working in video don't understand audio, but it isn't all that difficult.
Know the Frequency
Before you can work with audio, you need to understand a few key ideas. The first is frequency. The frequencies in your recordings will range from about 20 hertz (abbreviated "Hz") to 20,000 hertz (20 kHz). Frequencies from about 80 Hz down are felt and not heard, which is important to know since most viewers now have subwoofers.
Your editing center should definitely contain a subwoofer, said Schaeffer, so that you get the full effect of the audio. Never edit audio while relying on headphones, because they won't give you the same response.
You'll also work with decibels: 0 decibels (dB) is distortion and -6dB is the maximum for broadcast video.
The First Filter
Start by turning off any sound effects or music; you want to work on just your video's audio track. Your first step in cleaning the audio is normalizing the sound so that it's all at a workable level. In Final Cut Pro, select Audio, choose the Modify menu, and apply the Normalization Gain filter. When you normalize a track, you adjust the peak audio output to your preferred level, then raise or lower all the rest of the audio by the same amount. For this filter, set the normalization between -8db and 0, depending on the initial level of the audio, and review the results by playing back the audio on the timeline. Adjust the level to get your audio as close as possible to the broadcast maximum of -6db.
The Second Filter
Your next step is to apply Final Cut Pro's Three-Band Equalizer, which lets you adjust the low, midrange, and high sections of your audio.
In the filter's settings, first remove any audio below around 100 to 200 Hz. Since this is felt audio, removing it will clean up the sound. Experiment with the level: you want to find the point where you just begin to loose the lower part of the vocals, then remove what's under that level.
The mid-range of approximately 500 Hz to 1 kHz is the most pronounced range for human ears. Give vocals in this range a boost. In the filter's settings, increase this area from between 1 and 4dB.
The high-end of your audio, from about 10 kHz to 20 kHz, is an area that humans don't hear well, although children hear it better. If you're getting audio hiss, lower this area, Schaeffer said.
Add In Sounds
After you've made your first adjustments, place your sound effects and the music track. Midrange instruments in your music can conflict with the audio track, so adjust their levels to remove any conflict. By lowering the frequencies in the music that conflict with the audio track, you carve out room for the vocals, Schaeffer said, so that both tracks fit together. You also avoid lowering the volume of the entire music track, so that you can still keep it at a higher level.
Visit part 2 of this series to learn how to use audio panning and how to get the most from Apple Soundtrack Pro.
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