Once upon a time…you, as a company, would have a short film made once every couple of years. A corporate video you called it back then. Quite a bit of budget went towards each one, 20, 30k… easily. For the same money you’d now see a whole YouTube channel filled with great content.
With so many films you need to be a bit more careful with your budget. No one books a catering truck, fewer locations, voice-overs that record from their own studio and, when the footage is finished, the video editor is often asked to mix the audio themself. This last one is where things often go a bit wrong.
What do you need to watch out for when you’re mixing audio?
For this blog, let’s take as our example a webvideo of about one and half minutes in length. A voice-over explains, the images are supported with sound effects and to conjure up the right atmosphere you use catchy and melodramatic music. Just to be clear, using the tips below still won’t make you a sound director, for that you will need a technician, but these will help point you in the right direction.
Fail #1: Dirty audio
First off, make sure that the audio has been ‘cleaned’, only then can you start with the mix. That means that you take all the little ‘clicks’ and breathing noises out of the voice-over audio. Be careful not to make your audio too clean! Some breathing noises can add to the voice-over and if they were sitting just a little too far from the microphone, then there is the possibility that you will hear the background noise if you edit the breathing out. A light echo in other words, so that you only notice it if you create silence in the audio. In these instances you’re better off reducing the volume of the breathing than cutting it out altogether. It’s also possible that you’re going to hear the cuts in the form of a ‘click’. In which case use, per section of audio, a little fade in/fade out.
Fail #2: What did he say?!
No matter how cool the music is that you’ve chosen, conveying your message has to stay top priority. It should never be an effort (no matter how small) to hear what someone is saying. That’s why the music should never be set too loud. A handy trick to determine whether or not you’ve got a good level, is to set the volume of your speakers very soft, but still just audible. Only then will you hear if you’ve done a good job with the different audio levels and whether the voice-over can still be understood. Be careful of the level of sound effects too. If there’s a dripping tap in shot, you mustn’t get the feeling that you’ve ended up in a cave with water dripping from the ceiling.
Fail #3: Just a shame about the music…
You have found a fantastic, catchy little number full of drama and emotion. You’ve taken Fail #2 into account (keeping the voice-over audible) but because of that you have had to keep the music very quiet. Consequence: the cool track is now just playing in the background and sounds more like lift music from the 80’s. This is because the frequency of the music gets in the way of the audibility of the voice. These frequencies are usually in the 1 – 4 Khz range. It is always a question of fine tuning, but if you gently tune these frequencies out with your equalizer, then the music can be mixed louder under the voice. In the fragment below we have imitated the effect. In fragment 1 you can hear a sample of unmixed audio and in fragment 2 the same sample but then with equalizer.
Fail #4: Don’t over-egg the pudding
The number of audio plug-ins available for audio re/mixing, is overwhelming. Like a kid in a sweet shop you’ll want to try them all. However, at the end of the day they’re all there to serve but one purpose. The message. Lovely to put a big echo under a voice – just a bit too loud, niiiice – but we’re not djs at a pirate radio station. Yes, with a bit of echo a voice can sound better and make you pay more attention, but the plug-in is only well adjusted when you don’t really notice it.
Fail #5: Mix for crappy speakers
This you’ll recognise from radio and tv. During the adverts you need to adjust your volume so you can hear ad A properly. Only to be blown off the sofa when advert B comes on with a completely different sound level. Too often the sound elements are just stuffed in under the video (normally too softly). Let’s assume that you have a bit more passion for the trade and you’re listening via decent headphones and a good set of speakers. Then you hear everything. Every detail. That’s why at the end of the mix you should have another listen via the crappy speakers in your laptop or your smartphone. That’s where your video is going to be watched in the end. There’s a big chance that you will want to do a few more little tweaks. Good luck!
Questions prompted by this blog? Drop me a line at: jente @ voicebooking.com.