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Bill's Tech Corner: Normalize it!

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August 29, 2015

So you shot a bunch of footage and you’re mixing in pre-recorded music and some voice-over audio with on-camera interviews and some footage from an outdoor music festival. The audio is all over the place! Some of it is really loud, some is too quiet, the music is drowning out the VO… what’s an editor to do?

Here’s a number to remember: negative twelve decibels (-12dB)

In Adobe Premiere Pro (and Final Cut Pro, and most digital video editors) there are audio level meters. They look like this…


-12dB is where you want your loud stuff peaking at. Loud stuff is anything that you intend to be foreground audio, so a music bed with no talking over it, or a VO track, or the audio from an on-camera interview. It’s okay if once in a while a sound peaks a decibel or two above -12, but you should never let your meters get too close to zero. 0dB is a hard line in the sand in digital audio. When your audio hits 0dB, it “clips” or distorts in an ugly way, making your audio unlistenable. STAY AWAY FROM 0dB!

Once you have all of your loud stuff hovering around -12dB, then you can go in and adjust your quieter stuff. Bring the background music down until it no longer distracts from the VO or interview it’s mixed with (hint: music with lyrics usually needs to be a bit lower than instrumental music for it not to distract).

When you’re done mixing, you should be able to play the whole video without any super loud or super quiet bits. 

Ask the VCAM staff for more info about getting the most out of your audio mix.

Did you miss last month's tech corner? New iMacs and CC2015 at VCAM.