The first thing I do after shooting a video is check how the audio turned out. Whether it be a short film, testimonial video, podcast or Youtube video, the quality of audio will almost always dictate the entire quality of the video.
You can remember in the best films you’ve watched, how crisp and clean the audio sounded. I remember being in theaters for the film A Late Quartet and being completely entranced by the foley in the opening scenes. All anyone could hear is the shuffling around of papers and instruments, and by the quality of the sounds, we could tell the film was going to be great.
We all want this effect as filmmakers and content creators. So I made this video to show you my process of how I achieve this in my videos.
In this article I break down what I do in the mixing and mastering process of my audio for any video. Of course the fine tuning of each plugin changes from project to project, but the process is all the same.
The Mixing Process
Here is a breakdown of the mixing process I use on every one of my video projects. I use this process to create the desired audio output.
1. Gain Staging
Plugins Used: Gain by Logic
Description: To be able to properly work on any audio file, it needs to be gain staged. This involves taking the gain of an audio file to a desirable decibel level. This depends on different plugins, but I prefer to start working on an audio file when it’s set to -12 db. This way I have plenty of headroom to push the audio with other coloring plugins such as additive eq’s and compressors.
In logic you’ll want to be sure you have pre fade input monitoring on, which you can access in the advanced settings.
How to: To gain stage an audio file, I find it simplest to just add the gain plugin at the top of the mixing chain and adjust accordingly. I’ll look at the pre fade monitor and dial in my audio until it’s peaking at -12db.
2. Noise Removal
Plugins Used: Z Noise by Wave, NS1 by Wave and WNS by Wave
This noise removal process has been a complete life saver for me. I’m aware the best way to attain quality audio is by creating a fantastic sound from the source, but things happen and stuff goes wrong. Sometimes your audio doesn’t come out the way you planned.
I had a shoot once where I was filming a testimonial and I broke the cardinal rule of audio and I forgot my headphones. I had to monitor the audio on some apple earbuds and while the audio sounded clean through there, I couldn’t really hear the low rumble that was piercing through the bottom of the interviewee’s voice. It all but ruined the audio.
Fortunately I was recording with a good mic and great pre amps, so there was plenty of sound to work with. With this noise removal process I was able to salvage a seemingly ruined audio clip into something workable.
How to: I start with Z Noise by Wave. If you’re audio is impeccable, you can probably skip this step, but I have seldom had takes where there is no noise at all. I use this plugin on almost all of my audio.
What Z Noise does is analyzes and learns the noise that’s in your audio and allows you do dial down how much you’d like to extract it. As a videographer, I had been searching for this plugin for a long time.
Once I have Z Noise configured I couple it with NS1 by Wave. NS1 is a blanket noise suppressor plugin that uses a more rudimentary technology to analyze the noise and with one button you can take it up and down. But what the NS1 plugin does that I think is very valuable is that it rounds out the edges of the Z Noise plugin and it takes away some of the digital artifacts that the Z Noise plugin leaves behind.
Lastly, I’ll use Wave’s WNS (Wind Noise Suppressor) plugin for any lasting details of the noise. This is really only necessary on seriously messed up pieces of audio, but hey, we’ve all been there.
3. Eqing and Compressing
Plugins Used: Channel EQ by Logic, FG-N by Slate or Console EQ by logic and FG-116 by Slate or Compressor by Logic
This is what people love to rush into. They like to alter, tamper and prod at the vocals to try and make something out of nothing. I can tell you, I’ve done this many times. And I’ve worked tirelessly on an audio file’s eq and compression only to find out that I’ve somehow made things much much worse. It’s a demoralizing feeling.
In this particular process it’s critical to know what the purpose is. First, you want to eliminate all undesirable qualities in a surgical way. This doesn’t mean to try and change the quality of the audio. There’s two things you can’t fix in audio and that’s reverb and poor audio file capture, such as a bad mic or bad pre-amps. What you can fix is boomy low end frequencies, certain hissing sounds in the high ends, muddy mids. This is what we want to look for in the eq process to eliminate. After this, we color our audio files with additive eq.
It’s very important to find additive eq’s you enjoy working with. It will change your mixing life. Once you become accustomed to the shine and glimmer that a certain hardware emulated plugin will give you, it’s not easy to work any other way.
Lastly, you’ll want to compress the audio. However, when you’re working with vocals for video, I would take this process really lightly. You’ll want to keep much of the dynamics of the voice and you don’t want to raise the room noise. So it’s much better to leave a lot of the compressing to the mastering process.
How to: With vocals for video, it’s good practice to start with the channel eq plugin and take out any unwanted frequencies. Again, it’s important to note that you’re not going to want to boost any frequencies with the channel eq plugin. You’ll want to leave that to the next plugin, which is the Vintage Console Eq plugin by Logic or the FG-N by Slate.
Both of these plugins are modeled after the famous Neve console and they both sound fantastic. This is where you’ll want to push your frequencies and add the natural color and harmonics that these plugins emulate.
Next you’ll want to add a light compressor like the platinum compressor by Logic or the FG-116 by Slate. Both plugins try to recreate the classic sound of Universal Audio’s 1176 compressor.
The Mastering Process
Coming very soon…
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