How To Effectively Layer and Mix Audio

How To 6 min
Audio is a storytelling tool that is just as important as video. Sounds are layered within each shot–if your sound is not layered correctly, your message will be lost because your audience is unable to hear or understand what is happening. They may become frustrated, lose interest or simply stop watching. If that happens, your potential award-winning video fails to even capture the audience. Watch this step-by-step video to learn how to achieve seamless audio so that the message you're trying to convey is not drowned out by badly-layered audio.

Because sounds are layered, editing audio is complex. When editing audio elements within a scene, the sound should match the action and be synchronized with the visuals to maintain perspective. Weaving audio provides a smooth audio transition to ensure seamless sound throughout the project sequence. Expert audio weaving will keep your viewers from becoming confused or distracted and checking out of your story.

Set Up the Timeline

Begin the project by separating audio into two channels: left and right. Do this before moving any audio or video to the timeline. This will help you avoid editing several minutes of video only to have to re-edit to incorporate multiple audio channels.

  1. Navigate to the raw clips or video file bin
  2. Select all files within that bin
  3. Select the Clip tab and click on Modify, or right-click and select Modify
  4. Select Audio Channels
  5. In the number of clips field, type 1; only select two clips if two different microphones were used to record (i.e. a shotgun and a lavalier). If the scene was recorded using only one microphone to capture sound, then only one audio track is needed.
  6. Under Clip Channel Format, select Mono and press OK
  7. It is now safe to insert video/audio files into the timeline
Organizing the tracks will not only help identify areas of concern that need to be adjusted but will also help in situations when there are multiple editors working on the same project. Use color labels in the timeline to help differentiate media in your tracks. Right click on the track, find the label and select a color.
  • Track 1: Interview soundbites
  • Track 2: Contextual sound (nat sound for b-roll or sequences)
  • Track 3: Narrative sound (off-screen commentary or narration)
  • Track 4: Music
Listen carefully to all of the tracks before making any decisions about where to edit. Listen to each track individually without other tracks playing to better isolate sounds.
  • Mute tracks to listen to audio individually; click the M next to the timeline in the audio panel
  • Use the marker tool to quickly mark areas of concern
  • Make as many passes as necessary until you are comfortable with what needs to be done during the editing process
  • Select the cleaner or better of the two channels

    Begin Audio Weaving

    Now that your timeline is set up properly, follow these steps to layer and mix audio.

    Listen to the entire sequence, paying close attention to the audio levels. These numbers are not exact and can be adjusted if needed.

    • Primary audio (dialogue/narration or nat sound): -6 dB to -12 dB
    • Contextual sound (ambient): -12 dB to -24 dB
    • Music: -24 dB to -36 dB (when primary audio is present; can be raised above -24 dB in between dialogue/narration)
    Adding crossfades ensures a smooth-sounding transition from one shot to another. Without them, you can sometimes “hear” the cut happening. This is distracting for a viewer and can take them out of the scene. You may need to lay down a sound bed of room tone if there is a lot of white noise in the interview.

    In the Effects Panel, go to Audio Transitions and drag the Constant Power icon to the edit point that needs adjusting in the timeline.

    Change the length of a transition by dragging its edge in the timeline.

    You must have handles for this to work. If you did not shoot enough handles, there will not be any additional footage for the transition to pull from.

    Listen to the entire sequence again, checking to make sure all edits transition smoothly. A trick for this is to close your eyes and replay the clip to see if you can tell where the cuts are. Then you'll know where to adjust.

    If needed, use keyframes to make adjustments to individual clips. For example, if you recorded a shot of someone closing a door and the audio of the door closing was too loud, use keyframes to bring the volume down in that area only.

    Use keyframe highs and lows within a clip for detail adjustments, but do not get lost in keyframes.

    Adobe product screen shot(s) reprinted with permission from Adobe Inc.

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