MY FAVOURITE PART OF THE production process has always been the edit. It’s where you take all the ingredients you’ve assembled over the course of the project, pop them into your pot, stir them all together and then finally cook up a final project. This is the time where you shape the vision of your client and get one step closer to delivery.
It’s somewhat difficult to be entirely generic when it comes to talking about video and audio post-production work. That’s because there are now so many options available by way of apps, plugins, and all manner of clever widgets, that come with the ability to make things that used to take hours happen in a matter of seconds.
I’m not a fan of tech speak so I’m going to try and explain the process in a non-techie, easy-to-digest way to get you up and running and finalising your lovely video and audio work with the minimum of stress. It’s also handy at this point perhaps to note that you may well just want to edit audio. Perhaps you’ve recorded a podcast and simply want to chop it all up, trim it down and then export it for the masses to enjoy.
All video editing software will feature competent audio tools. The big hitters like Final Cut, Premiere and Resolve all deal with audio with particular panache and, if you do want to export to a dedicated audio app, then you’ll find that they all offer a way of getting it into an audio edit and then back again with minimal fuss. This is known as ‘roundtripping’ by the way, for obvious reasons.
Even basic editors like iMovie and those designed to work with smartphones should have some decent audio manipulation built in, so hopefully you won’t be at a loss once you’re ready to create your final mix.
Whilst we’re not dipping into video editing in this particular feature, it’s still important to follow the same ground rules for your audio. Video edits usually fall into five stages, namely Organise; Assemble/Review; Rough cut; Final cut/finesse and Publish. These sections are clear, but organisation from start to finish will be the key to getting everything
working and playing well together.
Once you’re ready to crack on, grab those headphones from your audio kit. If you’re taking audio seriously, you’ll need some decent ones now. As we’ve said throughout this entire series, your ears are ultimately the best judge of how your audio is coming together. Ideally you should also have a decent set of desktop speakers but, failing this, use a pair of professional headphones like the Sennheiser HD25s that you should have already in your sound bag.
If you’ve been out recording audio separately from your main camera(s) then make sure you have all the media clearly marked and organised. All my external recorders can title the file, with information that can include the date/time of recording, which really helps. As a top tip, make sure that all your devices are set to roughly the same time/date. I always forget to set one of the cameras or mixers when the clocks move forward or back, and then can’t understand why my shots are all out of time sequence. It’s not the end of the world, but it really helps when trying to match the audio with video, and some apps /systems will use the date/time in the clips as one of the things required to get them all synced up.
I usually organise my audio by type. This will mean that I’ll have my ‘main’ audio, which is from my recorder, then I’ll have separate folders, or events – or whatever your edit software likes to call them – for my sound effects, with perhaps another for different sections such as vox pops, studio interviews etc. Keeping them all organised will help massively when the times comes to pull everything into the main timeline.
It’s now time to put all the components together. Working with audio is like building a layer cake, with each audio element being another slice of texture. You need to start at the bottom and then work your way up.
This doesn’t have to be especially complicated. With video tracks – especially if you’re working with more than one camera – you usually start with camera one, then above it camera two and so on, and then you need to sync them all up. However, while with most non-linear videoing editing apps, the layer above takes precedent over the one below, with audio editors this isn’t the case.
In audio editing there isn’t really a hierarchy as such, so audio placed above another piece of audio in a mix won’t make a difference in any way other than what’s defined by where the volume level might be set. It won’t ‘overwrite’ the sound below, unless it’s so loud that you simply won’t hear the track(s) playing under it.
If you’ve recorded your audio on an external recorder, it’s now time to have a listen and to break down the individual tracks from the device. When you drag the audio to your timeline you’ll notice that it will still appear as one audio track. If you’ve recorded it as a .WAV file, however, then you should now be able to see all the separate tracks within that single file. Usually the audio inspector will show you each track and, if you’ve named it in your recorder in the way that we’ve discussed, the name should appear alongside it here.
The WAV file has to be recorded as a ‘poly’ type, which is essentially a container for all the individual tracks in your audio file. If you’ve recorded three mics into your recorder, for example, they will all be available now as separate tracks. Alongside your isolated tracks you’re also likely to have a left and right mix, which is what you would have heard coming through your headphones when you were making your original recording.
This mix is the sum of all the separate tracks in your WAV file, and I usually deselect this now and work on the individual channels. Even if you’ve only been working with a single microphone, you’ll likely see one mic channel and the left and right mix channel. The beauty of all this switching between the individual channels is the level of control that you’ll have over separate inputs. What this means is that if a guest on channel 1 happens to be slightly quieter you can bring their level up and balance it with guests you might have on the other channels.
We’ve mentioned 32-bit float recording in previous parts of this series and now is where you really get to see how magic it is. If you’ve under-recorded something then it’s really easy and painless to add some oompf back into the track, and the quality loss will be minimal. Likewise, if you’ve over-recorded something there is a very good chance you can pull this back to something approaching normal if you’ve recorded in float. No tech gobbledegook here – just accept that it’s audio magic and it’s able to save files that would have ordinarily have been unusable.
Get your dialogue sorted and take your time. Here’s where you’ll be grateful you listened to me a while back and recorded some ‘wild-track’ in the room where you did your interview. Once you start cutting into someone’s speech you’ll notice that you might get a little pop and crackle when you remove perhaps an ‘umm’ and ‘err,’ or chop someone in mid-sentence. I tend to add a very small fade out and in on the adjoining audio clips of around 1 or 2 frames. It’s imperceptible to hear, but it softens the edit.
Over the gap between the clips, I’d now lay some of the room atmosphere you recorded. Even if you think it’s ‘nothing,’ you’re pasting the room ambience like a Band-Aid over the edit, so the audience doesn’t hear the cut.
With speech I tend to have it peaking at about -6 on the meters you should have bouncing away. Remember, with audio and using it on an edit suite, it’s digital, and adding more layers will increase the volume and make the whole project incrementally louder.
If the dialogue sounds good to you then you can move on to add some effects, perhaps those lovely sounds you recorded on location. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong here with using library sound effects if you need to, but it’s good practice to record your own, least of all because then you’ll own them, but also because they’ll almost certainly sound more genuine than something generic.
If I’m carrying out aerial filming, I use a lot of effects that I’ve recorded myself. I’ll try to make the same journey the drone will have made on land afterwards, and I’ll record the sounds it would have heard had it been a person. If I fly over a bridge, for example, then I’ll record the sound of that bridge. Adding in these noises holds everything together. Sound design in your videos is really important. You don’t want the audience to go ‘oh there’s some water flowing’ but then not be able to see it or for it to sound awful. Like we’ve said so many times before in this series, your audience will notice bad sound – or where there should be sound – way quicker then something like a slightly blurry visual.
Building up audio layers, especially using the natural sounds you’ve recorded, will make all the difference in the final edit and will influence how your work is appreciated. It will absolutely set you apart from the folks who don’t do this. It might be that your clients don’t acknowledge your audio skills, but that’s actually great. Sound is not meant to be a ‘hey look at me’ or ‘listen to this!’ kind of feature, rather it should be something that blends seamlessly into the final product.
Make sure that the separate audio blocks of effects play nicely and monitor the sound carefully, and then use the levels to make it all balance. If your shot is close to water and we see water in the frame then you’d expect the sound of water to be louder in proportion to something in the background. Play with the soundscape and enjoy experimenting. Sometimes less is more, so adding the subtlety of birds tweeting, or a boat sailing by is all adding to that layering and ultimately it will help to build the textures.
GET AN AUDIO DEMO
If you’re new to audio and want to receive a high level of impartial and practical advice regarding what kit to buy, or might be looking to book a demo with a Technical Consultant at CVP’s London Fitzrovia showroom, then speak to the CVP Care Team via webchat, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SENNHEISER MICS Sennheiser produces a wide range of pro-spec audio products to fit a variety of price points, so
head for en-uk.sennheiser.com/microphones to check out the range.
Finalising audio is an important skill to learn, and it’s something you should be refining throughout your entire filmmaking career. Start the process by capturing great audio and it will make your life a lot easier in the edit. As you become more proficient there are amazing things you can do with sound which will help you to produce more immersive, engaging and, hopefully, profit-filled videos. You just need to keep persevering and your audio skills will ultimately be as natural to you as the shooting of your visuals.
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