Best Practices: Mix audio faster
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The Essential Sound panel gets you professional results as much as 20 x faster than manual audio editing. It may be the best kept secret in Premiere Pro. Here’s how to use it.
There’s an old joke in film schools: When people watch film with great audio and poor visuals, they call it an interesting experimental film. When they watch a film with great visuals and poor audio, they say it’s an interesting student film.
Although they don’t always realize it, viewers are more sensitive to audio quality than the imagery. But audio mixing is a demanding and time-consuming process. Delivery standards are exacting. A good mix should clear, support the story, and the levels, especially for broadcast, should not exceed the internationally adopted Loudness limits.
The Essential Sound panel in Premiere Pro greatly simplifies and accelerates audio mixing. Changes can be applied to multiple clips in a single step. In our tests we found that, compared with manual audio mixing, the Essential Sound tools you can give you professional results as much as 20x faster. Even better, adjustments adhere to broadcast delivery levels, so you can count on producing a mix that is not flagged or rejected during QC.
The ability to deliver great audio is a critical component of the editing skill set. This Best Practices guide walks you through the process of mixing audio in Essential Sound panel, compares it with the “traditional” audio mixing tools in Premiere Pro, and shows how you can use both to get to great audio faster.
An overview of the audio workflow
While the details of different audio workflows vary, they all have the same key elements:
- Correct and match Loudness levels for the various types of audio (vocals, music, spot audio effects, ambient sound).
- Optimize the mix, adjusting relative levels to ensure key elements, like dialog, are clearly audible.
- Ensure that the levels are broadcast legal.
- Time permitting, apply creative adjustments for a more impactful and pleasing mix.
Traditional audio mixing is a manual process and involves a lot of checking and rechecking the results. You can accomplish all of core audio work faster and with fewer clicks in the Essential Sound panel.
As with all creative content, there is always more you can do to refine your sound, but the Essential Sound panel gets you professional results quickly, giving you more time for the creative aspect of audio mixing.
Using the Essential Sound panel to create a mix
The Essential Sound panel works with presets based on different types of audio. It is possible to customize the audio settings in the Essential Sound panel, but – unless you have a specific recipe for your sound – you may not have to change anything.
After you have opened the Essential Sound panel (or the Audio Workspace), the first step is to assign an audio type to each of your audio clips. You do this by selecting audio clips in your sequence and clicking the button for the appropriate type in the Essential Sound panel.
If you have setup your audio tracks in advance, for example using a project template to make the process is even more efficient.
Assign Dialogue as the audio type and apply an auto-level adjustment in the Essential Sound panel. This applies levels based on the International Broadcast Loudness scale for dialogue.
Assign the Music audio type and apply an auto-level adjustment in the Essential Sound panel. The Essential Sound panel sets music levels for foreground audio, which may be louder than you want. To lower the music levels, use the Clip Volume control in the Essential Sound panel.
Assign the Ambient audio type to ambient audio, such as background sounds that create a sense of place. Like with music, you may have to lower the ambient levels, which you can do with the Clip Volume control.
Use the SFX audio type and apply an auto-level adjustment. Use the Clip Volume control if needed. With sound effects, you may also want to manually adjust some of the audio to create the right impact.
Select the music clips in the sequences and enable Ducking. Choose Settings and click Generate Keyframes. Auto Ducking intelligently applies audio keyframes that lower the music level during spoken passages, so that the music rises and falls naturally around the dialog. You can also use Auto Ducking in the same way with ambient audio.
The beauty of working with the Essential Sound panel is that you can apply these adjustments to any number of clips in the Timeline panel in a single step. Because adjustments are made intelligently, there’s less chance of error and you find that you have a complete mix, ready to review.
The Essential Sound tools target appropriate Loudness levels, so it is often unnecessary to check levels before output, which takes time. If you do have to check Loudness, add the Loudness Radar effect to the Master track, using the Audio Track Mixer. Play the sequence while viewing the Loudness Radar effect to monitor the levels. Playback can be performed at 4x normal speed.
Fine-tuning the mix
The steps described above give you a good mix and sometimes that may be all you need. But there’s more you can do in the Essential Sound panel:
Using the Parametric Equalizer effect, you can apply precise adjustments to audio level at specific frequency. This allows you to add weight to a vocal performance, adjust the emphasis in the music track, or tune spot audio effects.
Amplify audio level while also applying a limiter that prevents overriding. The result is that the whole mix gets louder, and Premiere Pro allows you to do this at specific frequencies. This is a common effect to apply to vocals, boosting frequencies that add impact to speech without amplifying high or low frequencies that might include unwanted background noise.
Capturing clean on-location audio is one of the great media production challenges. The Essential Sound panel has powerful integrated audio clean-up tools, which you can use to make further precise adjustments.
Full review and detailed adjustments
Ultimately, nothing measures audio like your ears. Provided your levels hit broadcast levels, the rest is the careful, step-by-step tuning of the various parts of the mix. This is the journey from a melody to a symphony, and it can take hours or days.
How did we calculate the Essential Sound panel time savings?
We tested audio workflows on four different projects, counting the number of clicks and measuring the time required to complete the same steps using manual audio adjustments versus the Essential Sound panel.
The results consistently showed a 20x speed increase, which means you can simplify AND speed up audio editing with the Essential Sound panel. You don’t have to be an audio engineer to achieve good results with the Essential Sound panel – the levels are automatically correct, and fully user adjustable.
About these Best Practice guides
Adobe helps you get to the finish line faster. See our Best Practice guides for video editing and production.
- Maxim Jago is a Paris-based filmmaker, master trainer, and author of Premiere Pro Classroom in a Book.
- Jeff Greenberg is a consultant, master trainer, and author of Adobe Premiere Pro Studio Techniques
- Jarle Leirpoll is a filmmaker, editor, and Master trainer based in Norway. He's also the author of The Cool Stuff in Premiere Pro.
- Alex Macleod is a production professional, broadcasting consultant, and owner of Media City Training in the UK.
- Joe Newcombe is head of sales and marketing at Support Partners, a system integrator for broadcasters and post-production facilities. He’s based in the UK.
- Ian Robson is a broadcast motion designer, and regular Adobe MAX trainer. Ian is based in Silverthorne, Colorado