Thursday, 10 December 2015

How to Generate Consistent Audio Levels in Record Time

Do you like having consistent audio levels in your voice tracks? Of course, you do. Nobody wants their viewers to be constantly adjusting their volume while they watch your videos. It’s exhausting, annoying, and worse of all, it pulls their attention from your content. The good news is that this is easily avoidable!

First of all, let me tell you what not do. Don’t go through your Premiere timeline and manually adjust each clip and key-frame peaks. Although this method works okay for music tracks and sound effects, when it comes to dialogue, interviews or narration, it is incredibly tedious, time-consuming and, frankly, unnecessary. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to go through and normalize clips that are significantly lower (like -12db lower) than everything else. But don’t spend more than a couple minutes on it.

The method that I do recommend is in no way, shape or form the only way or necessarily the best way to achieve consistent levels. It is, however, the way that I’ve found to produce great results in a very quick and non-destructive manner.

Step One: Send your sequence from Premiere to Audition

In the Project Panel, find the sequence you wish to level out. Right click, hover over “Edit in Adobe Audition” and select “Sequence.”

In the new window, you will be prompted to create a name for your Audition project (by default, it will be assigned the same name as your sequence) and choose the location for the project folder (by default, it will be saved in the same location as your Premiere project folder, which tends to work well for me). Leave everything else the same and click “OK”.

Step Two: Solo your Vocal Tracks

At this point, your sequence has automatically opened up in Adobe Audition. Here, you will find your audio tracks laid out exactly how you had them in Premiere. What you’re going to do here is apply leveling and limiting effects to your master mix and export it back to Premiere.

Within the Editor Panel, go to the left column and Solo each vocal track you wish to include in the mix by clicking the “S” button. Alternatively, you may mute any tracks you do not wish to include by clicking “M”.

Step Three: Apply a Speech Volume Leveler to the Master Mix

The first effect we are applying will boost our vocal levels up. This step is imperative especially if the volume is varying drastically between clips or fluctuating within clips.

Select the track labeled “Master”. Towards the left of the project, you will find a panel labeled “Effects Rack”. If it’s not visible, go to “Window” and make sure “Effects Rack” is checked.

With “Track Effects” selected, go to the first effect holder in the rack and click the triangle on the far right to bring up Audition’s effects. Hover over “Amplitude and Compression” and select “Speech Volume Leveler”.

Our goal here is to get the levels consistently up, ideally above -12db, without anything clipping at 0. This effect is real time so we can playback the audio by clicking in the Editor panel and hitting the spacebar (just like in Premiere) and listen to the results as we toggle the sliders.

The first slider is labeled “Target Volume Level”. This is where we set the level where we wish the audio levels to aim for (Get it? Target?).  

The second slider is labeled “Leveling Amount”. Here, we can decrease the amount of fluctuation in our volume. Typically, you want this high enough to decrease the range of your peaks but low enough that you still get some dynamics, making the audio still sound natural.

The third slider is labeled “Target Dynamic Range”. This is where you define the lowest level of audio that you want the effect to include in it’s leveling. By raising this up, you reduce any unwanted low-level noise being included in the leveling process.

At this point, your volume is likely peaking between -10 and -3 db. Now we have plenty to work with when we begin the compression process.

Close the Speech Volume Leveler window. As you can see, the effect is now placed at the top of the effects rack. Here, you can toggle the effect on or off by selecting the power button or adjust the effect settings by double clicking on its label.

Step Four: Apply a Dynamics Process

Proceed to the second shelf in the effects rack. Open the effects list, hover over “Amplitude and Compression” and select “Dynamics Processing”.

Find the two points on the far right of the curve and bring them down to about -12 db. This effect is also real time so we can playback the audio as we adjust.

What we have here are essentially two effects working together to reduce the range of the volume and target it to the traditional voice level. Be careful that your levels don’t appear to be hitting a brick wall or display little to no dynamics. If either occurs, go back to your Speech Volume Leveler and bring the leveling amount down a bit. Remember, a little bit of fluctuation is perfectly normal and expected.

Step Five: Export the Master Mix and Import it into Premiere

This part is simple. Go to File->Export->Multitrack Mixdown->Entire Session

Enter a name and choose the location of your export. By default, only the master track will be exported, which is what we want. If you do wish to export a different track, simply click “Change” next to “Mixdown Options”.

All you have to do now is import the track into Premiere and place it into your timeline. Remember, since we created the Audition project straight from Premiere, you will need to place the track at the very beginning of your sequence and not where the voices start. (This spooked me out when I first did this and felt like an idiot when I figured it out. Don’t be like me.) Once it’s positioned, mute all of the original vocal tracks, playback your sequence, adjust the track volume to mix as needed, and enjoy your consistent levels.

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