Tips and Tricks: Audio Mixing Music and Speaking

Music plays such a key role in any movie or video. Whether you shoot weddings and events, documentaries, or corporate videos, chances are at some point you will have two (or more) layers of audio to deal with: one music, the other somebody talking. A surefire sign of an amateur editor is when the audio level of the music remains the same throughout, even when we hear the people speaking. This naturally makes it hard to hear what is being said over the music. I’ve seen videos where to account for this, the video author just kept the music low for the entire video, which isn’t good either. So, what should you do?

KEY FRAMES IS THE TYPICAL ANSWER

The answer to the question, which apparently isn’t always that obvious, is to lower the music during the times when people are talking. But how? Well, assuming you’re using a pro non-linear editing system (also called an NLE) your inclination may be to use key frames. What are key frames you ask? Key frames represent start and stop points for changes to your video. That’s about as simple as I can explain it. Key frames can be used for both visual elements and well as audio ones. (Key framing is what you use to create the “Ken Burns” effect with photos in a video. But, I’ll probably blog about that later.)

To use key frames in the aforementioned example, you would need to set four key frames. In Final Cut Pro, you use the Pen Tool. Just hit the letter “p” on your keyboard, and that will bring up the Pen tool. (Check the manual or “Help” menu of your NLE to figure out how you add key frames for your program.) Using the Pen Tool, you then click on the audio key frame overlay to set where you want key frames to go. (In FCP, make sure your Sequence settings are set so that you can see “Key Frame Overlays.” From the menu select Sequence -> Settings… The click on the “Timeline Options”. See figure below.) Key frame overlays are those reddish-pick horizontal lines you see running through the video and audio clips on a video timeline.

seqsetting_kfoverlays

Now, set the first key frame right where you want the music to start to dip. Set the second key frame where where the music reaches it’s lowest level. This will most likely only be about 1/2 second from the first key frame. The third key frame would be set where you want the music to start going up again. And the fourth key frame would be where you want the music to return to its normal level. Then, hit the “A” key on your keyboard to revert back to the “Selection” tool. Grab the key frame overlay located between key frames 2 and 3, then pull it down, thereby lowering the audio for that section of the music. See figure below.

keyframed_audio-transitions

That is how you would normally set key frames to adjust the audio level of music during speaking. But, as you can see, this can take a while. And if you have a lot of points in your video where music will be dipping, that will be a total pain having to set all those key frames. Luckily, there’s a faster way.

KEY FRAMES ARE NOT THE KEY

So, here’s a trick I learned way back in the very beginning of my career in this biz. I think even the first month I started my company. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the guy who taught us the trick, or I’d gladly give him props.

Instead of using key frames, do this:

  1. Cut the music track at the points where you want the music to dip and rise. Use the blade tool to make the cuts. (Hit the “b” on your keyboard for FCP users). When the blade is activated, just click on the music track where you want the cut.
  2. Add a cross fade transition at the points where the cut is made (you’ll see two red arrows pointing to each other at the cut line). You can easily add a cross fade by hovering your mouse right over the cut line until the pointer changes to that icon of two small arrows pointing away from each other with a slim double line down between them. Then control-click to bring up the contextual menu, then select “Add transition Cross Fade”
  3. Lower the music between the cross fades. Again switching to the selection tool, grab that key frame overlay for the music clip between the two cross fades. Drag the audio down to the desired level.

cross-fade_transitions

That’s it. See how much easier that is than using those cumbersome key frames. Once you get adept at using your keyboard commands and the mouse in your editing, you’ll be able to quickly adjust multiple points in a song in the same amount of time you used to adjust just one point using key frames.

Please comment and let me know if you found this article helpful and if you’d like to see more articles like this.

9 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks: Audio Mixing Music and Speaking

  1. Great post. In my business, I have to get videos out really quickly and this is the technique I use. An even faster way to adjust the audio levels is to use ctrl+(+or-). It will only drop the audio in whole increments, but works well when you're in a rush.

  2. Yep, single click on the audio track you want to adjust, it doesn't need to be in the preview window or anything. After the track is selected just ctrl+/- to adjust it.

  3. Awesome! I have to get out multiple videos every day, and I've been keyframing… and it's a pain in the @#$@#. Can't wait to try this as it looks much faster!

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  5. Web casting, or broadcasting over the internet, is a media file (audio-video mostly) distributed over the internet using streaming media technology. Streaming implies media played as a continuous stream and received real time by the browser (end user). Streaming technology enables a single content source to be distributed to many simultaneous viewers. Streaming video bandwidth is typically calculated in gigabytes of data transferred. It is important to estimate how many viewers you can reach, for example in a live webcast, given your bandwidth constraints or conversely, if you are expecting a certain audience size, what bandwidth resources you need to deploy.

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