Sounds Good to Us – Getting the Best from Sound

Archie Fiddes
Marketing
 

Often overlooked and underappreciated, the sound behind a video adds much more than many tend to appreciate. After all, it does make up half of the media being played. There are so many miniscule nuances to the art of working in audio that most wouldn’t realise were there until they were gone. The rise and fall in volume synchronised with the visuals on screen. Subtle sound effects that instil all the right emotions. A soundtrack that matches mood and branding in equal measure. It’s an underappreciated skill for those outside the industry and getting the best from sound makes all the difference.

A skillset used in multiple videography disciplines, the list of industries that rely on sound is extensive. Filmmaking, television production, theatre, sound recording and reproduction, live performance, sound art, post-production and video game software development make up just a few of the industries where great audio content is critical.

Sound adjustment in the studio

It goes beyond choosing the right sounds and synchronising it with the visual element being played. From the subtlest sound effects to the volume of the music to the voices of those on screen, everything has to be perfect.

Sound is important to consider in every stage of the film making process. It is essential to bear in mind when creating your video content strategy. It must be monitored throughout a shoot day in order to get the most out of it. And it is critical to consider in the editing process and a key point of consideration for the Director of Photography (more on that later). Sound is an element of video production that can affect the quality of your content drastically. That is why it is so important to get it right.

Here are our tips for getting the best possible results from sound in video production:

Cleaning up dialogue

A key part of the mastering stage, cleaning up dialogue in a video’s sound ensures that the voices of those on screen are crisp and clear. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a million-dollar studio or working from your own home sound system, this is the final seal of approval on the audio element of a visual piece. Well executed, it gives a video consistency and balance. Poorly executed, it can make it sound disjointed or out of sync.

There is a difference between mastering and mixing. Mixing is typically associated with music. It is a case of getting all the audio elements to work well together. For example, in the world of music this is where the sound team get the instrumental sounds and vocals to co-ordinate. Mastering is the process of making the final touches that add a sleekness to your content. A good metaphor to use is comparing sound adjustment to a car. Mixing is fitting the components together; mastering is getting a deep clean at the car wash.

It is during the mastering process where dialogue is spruced up.

There are various, very technical, means of achieving this. Plus, the specifics of sound alteration take years to teach and even longer to master. But here are some of the key components to mastering that are typically used to perfect a track:

Audio Restoration

The professional fixes and alterations on the original mix, smoothing out any unwanted irregularities. This includes the removal of any undesired noises, clicks pops or hiccups. It also helps spruce up the audio that is wanted on the final edition, correcting mistakes that would otherwise be noticed when the un-mastered mix becomes amplified.

Close up of a microphone

Stereo Enhancement

An enhancement that remedies the spatial balance of the audio content. When executed correctly, it allow audio teams to widen the mix, ultimately making the sound bigger and better. The stereo enhancement also helps tighten the centre image through focusing the low-end. It is what gives the sound side of video content a real oomph when it comes to the final product.

Equalization (EQ)

Equalization (also known as EQing) oversees the spectral imbalances of a sound recording and enhances all the features that are supposed to stand out once the final sound mix is complete. Ideally, a finely mastered sound recording is perfectly balanced, meaning no one frequency range stands out. Well-executed equalization will see the sound of your video stand out on every possible platform or system.

Compression

This part of audio adaptation makes all the right bits stand out at the right times. By optimising the dynamic range of a mix, audio professionals can keep loud signals stable whilst making significant quieter moments stand out. It brings uniformity to the sound element of video media and highlights all the moments that you want to be highlighted.

Loudness

The final step in the process of mastering a piece of audio. The title of the process almost speaks for itself. Using a limiter (a special type of compressor), sound professionals set appropriate levels of overall loudness and create a peak ceiling. This in turn prevents clipping which can lead to unwanted distortion.

This is the most basic summary of the intricate and extensive work required on each and every piece of audio. The level of expertise and amount of training that goes into the process is immense. But however teams opt to clean up the dialogue, they all have the same final goal – a sleek, synchronised audio element to match the video content. This is difficult to achieve when dialogue can’t be heard properly.

The whole idea behind the sound team’s post-production process is to create the perfect environment for the story that is being told through the accompanying moving images. Cleaning up the dialogue is essential for creating the foundations for this environment. If you can’t hear what is being said or pick up on the emotions being conveyed, then your footage will fall short of the quality that it could potentially fulfil.

Sound effects

The subtle touches and sounds that can make a piece of video footage really stand out. Sound effects are a feature of the sound editing that can be added and tweaked as each sequence of moving images is taken care of. How this step works varies drastically depending on the nature of your content. However, the same advice holds true throughout all audio pieces. Sound effects add an extra level of depth to the audio side of your video content and help smooth out every cut.

As with every element of an effective video campaign, the sound effects that you use will depend on the director. As the orchestrator of the overall content strategy of the video, the director dictates what sort of moods should be evoked by a video. The sound effects should adhere to this mood and fit in with the overall plan. Complementing the footage without becoming too obvious. This is what makes it such a nuanced job.

Teams typically have a bank of sound effects to choose from when enhancing footage through sound. This can range from a quiet background subtlety to an attention-grabbing explosion of audio effects. The library of sound effects can change your video from a decent piece of footage to something that will seize the attention of your audience from start to finish. There is also the option of going a step above and creating a fresh sound that fits just right.

Soundtrack

The music that accompanies the video footage, soundtracks can be the most potent means of creating an emotional connection with an audience. A buoyant, bouncy theme can instil happiness in the watcher, just as drab, sombre tones promote sadness. Not all videos are combined with a soundtrack, but they can be a useful tool. After all, creating an impression of empathy and connecting with your audience can be one of the more vital features of a successful video marketing campaign.

Classic LP player

If including a soundtrack in your video content, it is traditionally added after the cut has been finished. The final addition of sound of your video campaign. To select a soundtrack prior to fine-tuning your footage has every chance of rendering it inappropriate. The wrong music playing behind the right footage will undo any brilliance mustered by the visual side of the video.

A lot of thought goes into selecting the right soundtrack. Soundtracks can be subtle or attention-grabbing. They can play throughout or act like bookends, existing only at the start and end of your video footage. Audio teams must also consider what genre is most befitting of both the brand and the tone of the video itself. Finding this balance can be a demanding job in itself.

Then there is the question of where you source your music from. Those with small budgets will likely use songs with a creative commons license, using search tools like Bedtracks. As your budget grows, so do your opportunities to use more renowned music or even have a soundtrack composed specifically for your video content.

Working with the rest of the team

No matter what style of video content you are creating audio effects for, it is vital that you work closely with the rest of the team. This is particularly true of the director. As the team’s orchestrator, everything must go through him in order to ensure that the final product adheres to the content plan. As with all teams, there are sure to be disputes over how a piece of creative should look and sound. The director is key to the video and audio teams meeting in the middle.

As in all other aspects of design, early meetings between directors and their creative teams can help avoid potential hiccups further down the line. If everyone has a clear idea of the vision from the word go it is sure to make for plain sailing.

It must also be acknowledged that each person is a specialist in their field for a reason. For example, sound designers have a huge array of technical skillsets, from a well-developed sense of hearing to an in-depth knowledge of music history. They must be given the trust and freedom to utilise their abilities without being restricted by those who are less knowledgeable, regardless of superiority.

Conclusion

Getting the best from sound is no mean feat. The long hours of work that go into fine-tuning a video’s sound requires an in-depth technical knowledge almost beyond compare. It is what makes everything sound crisp and clear, grabbing the attention of the audience, often without them even noticing. This in itself is an art. Plus, there are more factors in creating effective sound content than most might think.

From mastering and EQing to adding nuanced sound effects and finding the right soundtrack. These are the factors that may go unnoticed to the untrained ear. But, without them videos wouldn’t even come close to reaching their full potential. By mastering everything above, your video campaign will become clearer and more striking. Through this we can see the vital importance of using the right
audio in sync with the right video when it comes to creating great video content.