Cleaning Up Audio

The situation: So you just got a dialog track created for the production you’re working and you want to prep it to be used in a cut of the film.

The Question:  What do you do to prepare it?

It’s rather simple and today I’m going to give you a few simple steps in order to prepare the track to go into your mix with a few examples.

However, before you begin I’ve said this before and I will say it again. If your audio sounds horrible then you’re going to have issues. The simplest solution which will save you time is to rerecord it. That’s not always possible, I know, but please know it is an option if the director agrees to it and hopefully the person recording the sound has already caught any major issues and you won’t even have to deal with them.

  1. Listen to the entire thing. I know it seems simple but you’d be surprised how many people try to take shortcuts if you don’t listen to the entire audio track you won’t be able to form a proper game plan for both dealing with the scene as a whole and then dealing with it in the context of the project that you’re editing.
  1. Find the room tone section and isolate it. Room tone is essentially for any editor. What is room tone? Stop and listen to the room that you’re in right now. That’s the room tone. Normally before a scene is shot someone will call out “tone” or “room tone” and there is complete quiet on the set. A recording is made of the room with no extraneous sounds and this can be used by you in order to patch any sections in the track where there may be no sound at all. Amateur productions may miss this so in those cases it’s important for you to find a space in the track where there is “silence” and isolate it.
  2. Listen for anything that would cause an issue with the editing process that needs to be treated on it’s own. For instance, depending on how the person was miced there could be pops in the track. Pops are usually formed by P, C or K sounds. These can cause distortion in the track and they need to be treated.  In Adobe Audition you can use the FFT Filter and then a preset called “Kill the Mic Rumble” to take care of these quite quickly and effectively.
  3. Listen for any clicks in the track. There are two kinds of clicks:

    Clicks caused by the human voice and those ones you kind of have to figure out how to repair by decreasing the volume. In Adobe Audition you can use the declicker, try to decrease that part of the track, patch the section or remove it.

    Clicks caused by things that aren’t from people and aren’t meant to be in the film. Those need to be removed completely if you can’t save the audio. They serve no purpose. They’re essentially an accident.

    Clicks caused by things that are supposed to be in a film and are supposed to be there. As long as it doesn’t cause distortion in the track, leave them in, they’re supposed to be there but be mindful that if they do cause distortion you’re going to have to treat them.

  4. Noise reduction is covered elsewhere in these lessons and honestly, if you don’t have to do it, then don’t. Some scenes are just going to be slightly louder than others especially if they take place outdoors. However, if you can’t hear the dialog then follow the steps in those lessons to take care of that.

This may not be all you have to do to a track in before you finish cutting it together but these are a few of the things you need to do before you even start that process. Now keep in mind, maybe someone has listened to everything before you have but that doesn’t excuse you from doing the job. You may catch something they didn’t and you need to know what’s going on.

Different kinds of audio will generally need different kinds of methods for cleaning them up but what I feel like the biggest issue is how to handle breaths.

Voice Overs for a Documentary or a Narrative film will have all of the breaths removed.

Dialogue won’t necessarily have all of the breaths removed because people are acting and in real life, we breathe. However, if the breaths are extremely loud or interfere with people hearing the dialogue then you need to handle those.

You can edit them out and replace them with room tone or you can fade in and out of them which helps minimize their impact on the presentation of the dialogue.  You can also simply select the dialogue and turn it down.

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