Mixing audio correctly is a true art form, as well as a necessary skill to have in your video production toolbox. After all, sound is half the experience of a video production.
I have a confession: I love to watch infomercials. Now, before you laugh too hard, infomercials can be very educational and entertaining too. Not only can you laugh about the latest unnecessary kitchen gadget, but infomercials are also a virtual school of video and audio techniques — both good and bad. At 2AM it’s easy to find poorly produced samples with the announcer so far back in the mix, you can barely hear him. Or what about the productions where the voices blast you into the next room? Your productions don’t have to suffer this fate. With a little time and effort, your video sound mixes can easily trounce the competition on the advertising channel
Back to Basics
Let’s review the essentials of audio production in the video world. First is the audio delivery format. In the old days, we had to produce separate mono and stereo mixes, depending on the production’s audience. Today, stereo soundtracks are the norm, but surround mixes are becoming popular — especially for projects delivered on DVD. A stereo mix provides a nice balance between the extremes, so we’ll focus on that. Stereo provides a wonderful sense of space and allow you to place audio building blocks across the width of the scene. Next, there are the actual elements. For advertising, product and training videos, a narrator or voice-over is essential to get your message across. Recorded under controlled circumstances, an authoritative voice-over helps guide the viewer to your proposed conclusion. In dramatic videos, much like movies or television, the voice-over is replaced by the dialog track. Simply put, dialog is your talent talking, and many video forms include both a dialog track and a voice-over. Natural sound is another critical component. Recorded either with the video or separately, natural sound gives your viewer a sense of the events onscreen. The third element is music — specifically stereo music. Whether you record it yourself or use a buy-out library, stereo music is the glue that holds your production together. Finally, there are sound effects; whooshes, bangs, clunks and dings that command attention and punctuate special parts of your production.
But Wait, There’s More!
The next step is to combine all the audio elements, blending them into a nice soundtrack. Mixing is more art than science and this simple fact confounds many video producers. We can outline the science here, but you’ll have to supply the art. While some videos are edited to the soundtrack, others are assembled first and audio elements are added later. Regardless, the voice is always your first priority.
Whether dialog or voice-over, vocals are the element that tells your audience what you want them to hear. Always prominent, the vocals are placed front-and-center in your mix. For a stereo mix this means making sure you’ve kept your vocals mixed equally between left and right. If the vocal volume fluctuates, this makes it difficult to hear. There are a couple of ways to tame a difficult vocal track. The first method is to correct major problems on the timeline of your NLE. Using keyframes, you can quickly raise and lower volume for different talent, entire sections of dialog or just a word here and there. If the track still has some problems, apply a compressor plug-in. Applied to the entire vocal track; a compressor reduces the difference between loud and soft. It takes some experimentation but, properly set, a compressor plug-in will tame the peaks and gently raise the volume of quieter passages.
For an example of mixing natural sound, study the soundtrack of your favorite movie. It should stand out when it’s necessary and fade into the back ground at other times. To do this, simply use the vocal track and on-screen action as a guide, set keyframes where you need to emphasize the natural sound and raise the volume in those locations. Natural sound is often audible when the action is visible, but should only be prominent in places without vocals.
Stereo music is a powerful element in any production. After choosing an appropriate piece, most producers just set it and forget it. But volume changes within the production enhance the power of music. Ducking is the technique of lowering music volume during vocal passages and then raising it in voice-free sections. This quickly and easily gives your productions a more professional sound. At key moments in your video a swell in the musical elements will emphasize content and fuel your big finish.
Sound effects are the spice of audio production, but don’t go crazy with them. Volume is critical to place the FX perfectly in your mix. And don’t forget to play your productions on several different audio systems, evaluating your mix decisions and correcting oversights before the project goes out the door. Consider grabbing a cruddy speaker from an old TV set to hear your mix from the perspective of the least common denominator.
You’ve seen how to transform raw audio components into a sparkling soundtrack. You’ve learned many of the insider secrets, once known only to an elite few, which can revolutionize your audio mixes. The Mix-Right Audio Method is perfect for all video producers, from beginners to veterans. So order right now! And if you’re one of the first 127 callers, you’ll receive, absolutely free, a second copy of the Mix-Right Audio Method, perfect for producer friends or holiday gift giving. Don’t miss this incredible offer, call toll-free today!
Contributing Editor Hal Robertson has produced audio for almost everything, including infomercials.
[Sidebar: Hidden Bonus]
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