Creating great sound along with mixing and editing is truly an art form, one that I really have admired for a long time. The sound tools used by creative professionals today have taken audio to a whole new place.
Audiences at all levels want and expect really good audio whether it is in the movie or home theatre. Clear dialogue, background, sound effects, and music all have to be spot on. Boutique studios and full on post facilities know that getting all the elements right matters to the success of the program.
Recording Audio Out There
I absolutely have to have great audio for my shows, but I wouldn’t say that I am the best person ever to edit audio. Mainly because I come from live production. I like to focus on shot selection, and often I get antsy sitting in post, but I do know that one of the best ways to get the best original field audio into post is to do a lot of due diligence prior to the shoot.
Picking the right location, the right microphones and of course, the right music.
That means, I start with asking a lot of annoying but necessary questions in preproduction such as:
- What and why are we capturing for audio in the field?
- What does the space sound like on location?
- Are you going to be near the airport? Remember last time by the airport?
- Do I really need to do the audio myself because we really don’t have a budget?
- Will we need to rerecord dialogue later?
I know you know, but I’ve had some really good show segments trashed because I wasn’t paying close enough attention. It was a tough and expensive lesson for me to learn, but I did. I still apply those lessons to every location shoot I do.
The second and more important point is that if you can you need to hire the absolute best sound person(s) your budget can afford. You can find the best sound pros on our very own ProductionHUB.com. Let them bring their gear and their expertise to the table. You will thank me, and your client will thank you for being so smart.
Normally I would never tell you that you have to do something, but in this rare case I am. Get your field audio pros in contact with your post house (or theirs) ahead of time to figure out the workflow that will be best for everyone. This is another must do, and a real time (and money) saver.
Heading to the Post House
Once you have your material in hand, it’s time start editing or head off to post. There are many excellent audio editing programs. If you, your client, and/or the post house has an audio program or gear they are comfortable with, go with it and the agreed upon workflow. Why make things more complicated than they have to be?
If I have a straightforward edit or limited budget, I am editing in Adobe Premiere Pro.
I find it easy enough to use because even though I want to, I don’t edit every day. I am not a fast editor at all and it does everything that I need it to do. The Adobe Premiere Pro Audio feature I really want to dive into is the Essential Audio Panel.
According to Adobe, Essential Sound is an all-in-one panel that gives you an extensive toolset of mixing techniques and repair options. This feature is useful for common audio mixing tasks. The panel provides simple controls to unify volume levels, repair sound, improve clarity, and add special effects. You can save the applied adjustments as presets for reuse, making them convenient for more audio refinements as needed.
Another interesting audio editing and mixing product is Fairlight in DaVinci Resolve 17.
Fairlight is the world’s first and only audio post production software that’s completely integrated with picture editing. That means you can easily move between sound editing and picture editing with a click of the mouse.
The Fairlight page is designed to be intuitive and easy to learn for new users, as well as powerful and fast for professionals working on projects with over a thousand tracks. There are tools for recording, editing, mixing, dialog replacement, sound clean up and repair, equalization, dynamics processing, and mastering soundtracks in all standard formats from stereo and surround sound up to the latest immersive 3D audio formats.
Take it to the Bridge
One of the awesome benefits of being a technology editor is working with some of the best pros in the business. Curtis Pair, owner of AtoZ Productions in Phoenix, is one of those guys. We had an awesome conversation about all things audio and the path he took along the way. Check it out!
Hey Curtis, Happy New Year! I have always known you were knee deep in video production and playing music. What got you into producing production music?
Curtis Pair: In March of 2021, I subscribed to a service that provides music, stock video and motion graphics to their patrons for a price of $300 per year. I used a piece of music in a production for a paying customer. Originally, that customer used the final product on their YouTube channel. Later, they decided to also post it on their own website. Instead of using a link or embedding the video on their site to the YouTube channel, they decided to place the MP4 file directly into their site. This is where the problem initiated. According to the ‘contract’ with the subscription service, patrons can only use the music on YouTube and Vimeo. By placing that video file on their own website there was a breach of contract, and the subscription service informed my client that they would have to pay a considerable amount of money to continue using the music bed. I realized this was a problem… but how to I eliminate this in the future?
I started speaking with colleagues in different markets to see how they handle this situation. Ironically, one of the field sound mixers I work with on a consistent basis asked me “Why don’t you just make the music yourself?”
At first, I thought that was an absurd suggestion. Sure, I ‘play’ rock guitar, but I’m not a composer! The more I thought about it… the more intrigued I became. I had heard folks talk about ‘sound libraries.’ I didn’t understand what they were talking about, but I would soon learn.
What about all the audio hardware and software? What do you use? Wasn’t it all expensive and hard to learn?
Curtis Pair: I’m an Adobe guy. I use all their software in my daily production work. I edit in Premiere. Do my effects work in After Effects. I work in Audition for my ‘sound design.’ Unfortunately, Audition isn’t considered a “DAW.” (Digital Audio Workstation). Why should anyone care about this status? I know for years, I could have cared less. It boils down to the software’s ability to create music from scratch. Image 4
Years ago, I purchased a guitar signal processor called “Eleven Rack” from Avid. It came with a perpetual copy of ProTools. I’m almost embarrassed to say that even though I had the software for about 6 years, I never really used ProTools until this year. I didn’t feel I needed it. I was happy with the results I was getting with Audition. I could clean up audio quickly and effectively. I could apply effects rapidly. I didn’t have the time to learn ‘new’ software to do (in my mind, at least) the same thing I was already doing.
What I would come to realize is that music producers use “DAWs” that have a concentration of music production, rather than audio production. This allows the producer to use “virtual” instruments. What is a virtual instrument you might ask? (I know I did!) It is a collection of sounds, designed with certain tones in mind to ‘mimic’ an actual instrument. The user does not have to know how to play that instrument. For example, if one wants a ‘cello’ in their music, they only need the sound library that sounds like a cello, instead of learning how to play an actual cello. These virtual instruments are generally controlled by a “keyboard/midi” controller, costing as little as $100! Each note on the keyboard corresponds to a different note on the cello… so by pressing keys on the midi controller, one creates music on a cello!
What about other audio tools in your kit? Where do I start?
Curtis Pair: I know this will seem overwhelming at first. I was a complete beginner. I had to learn each piece of software. I wasn’t sure where to start. I will say there are many free video tutorials on YouTube! I was shocked at how easy ProTools was to use. I watched an hour’s worth of beginning tutorials on the AVID YouTube channel, and I was off and running! No, seriously!
But first one needs a “DAW.” There are several out there. Some are platform or operating system based. I started off with the ProTools that came with Avid Eleven Rack: ProTools 12.
In addition to starting with ProTools… I purchased a software package ($459) from a company called “Toontrack.” In that package, I received four programs: EZ Drummer 2, EZ Bass, EZ Keys, EZ Mix.
EZMix is a ‘mixing’ program, designed to help the user make a final mix quickly and easily. All the programs come with a ‘standard’ package of tones and midi packages, but users can purchase additional expansion packs to get more tones and midi arrangements.
Currently, I have ProTools and Reason. Both are now offered in both a ‘subscription’ based release, or a single purchase. I opted for the subscription model due to price; Both are $199 per year. (Monthly options also available.) You might be asking “why do you have two DAWs? I use ProTools as a DAW. I bought Reason, which is a standalone DAW, and an effects package, to be able to use all its effects and virtual instruments “inside” ProTools. (Specifically, I wanted that “arpeggiator” and their plug in that prevents me from hitting a bad note! Although there is a ton of other great offerings in the package!)
I’ve read that many feel ProTools is difficult to learn and that other DAWS are easier for the beginning music producer. I decided to use ProTools because I had a copy of it. Further, I started my NLE journey with Avid Media Composer. I found the software to be very similar to the NLEs I’m used to using.
Reason 12: https://www.reasonstudios.com/plus
Can you make any money composing and mixing music?
Curtis Pair: I sold eight of my own creations to clients from June to September. I charged my clients $300 per track. I more than made up for the cost of the hardware/software I used to create the compositions. In fact, I’ve sold three of the eight compositions, more than once! The tunes were admittedly simple, but they were music beds, so they didn’t need to be overly complicated. My clients didn’t even realize that I was the one who composed them! I was able to customize each tune to fit the exact length I needed too!
The first track obviously took me longer to create than the latter tracks. The first took about 3 days to complete. The other tracks took a few hours. My plan now is to create a body of work that I can offer not only my customers, but to offer them to the companies that offer music subscriptions!
I do have to admit, I’ve decided to take my music composition to the next level. I have started my journey into the world of “orchestral” scoring. My goal is to create “Hollywood” level musical scores. I may not be as talented as John Williams, but I can at least create music beds that sound similar in scope.
Any final thoughts?
Curtis Pair: This is a perfect time to take your creativity to a completely different level. Production work has been a little slower right now. Production pros might have some time to learn not only something new, but something that just might prove to be lucrative as well!
Iconic Audio and Music Makes the Show
Great audio and music make the show don’t they? Think for a minute. If the audio or music wasn’t there, it just wouldn’t be the same.
Here are some of the most recognizable television and movie examples that will be stuck in your head the rest of the day:
- Star Wars
- Law and Order
- Twilight Zone
- 60 Minutes
- Forest Gump
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- And of course my all time favorites?
- The Jetsons and Road Runner