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Fixing and Enhancing Audio with Soundtrack Pro

Superb audio quality greatly influences the quality of your digital media production. While stunning visual images make an excellent movie, impressive audio effects are equally important. You’ve worked hard on your project, now you’ll need the best software to make sure that the audio you have captured on camera will be faithfully transcribed into your movie. Apple’s Soundtrack Pro helps you do exactly that. The Apple Soundtrack Pro is a media application that is part of the Final cut Studio Suite and is a great tool to use for any video or audio production. The Apple Sountrack Pro software allows you to clean up noise, edit and process sounds for your final mix.

The Interface

Let’s start with getting familiar with the Soundtrack Pro’s user interface. Upon opening the program, you will see the default view for a Multitrack Project. Since we are using an individual audio file for this particular tutorial, we should open and switch to the Audio File Project view. Click on the File tab, select New and then Audio file.

Once the audio file is open, you will see a timeline that contains your sound file’s audio waveforms. Right above the timeline is a narrow window that tells you where you are in the timeline. Underneath it is a play button and a couple of control buttons. To the right of the screen, an audio level meter can also be found.

To the left of the Soundtrack Pro interface, you will see various tabs that will be of great help to you when you start doing the sound editing process. At the top left is a timer-counter tab which contains seconds, minutes and timecodes for your audio file. If you are working with a video file, you will also find a thumbnail of the video you are working on the top left corner. But if you are just editing a sound file, this top left window can be set to display a more in-depth audio meter. Below the video thumbnail or audio meter is a list of Actions which keep track of the edits or processes that you make on the sound file. Below it is a multi-tab window which contains a file browser, a search function and some shortcuts that you can customize according to your sound editing needs. Soundtrack Pro also comes with a wide array of useful sound effects that you can use for your digital or rich media projects.

Also of great use and worth learning more about is the Browser. The Browser makes it easier for you to access all of your sound files in one location. You can also create shortcuts for certain folders or files by selecting it and adding it to the “Add Favorite” button.

Loading and Playing Files

To load or play a file, you have to double click on the filename in the Browser. After double-clicking the file, a prompt will appear. It will ask you to either edit the file or create an audio file project. Choosing to edit the file permanently makes changes on your file, while creating an Audio File project, lets you edit without having to make the changes permanent. You can work in mono or stereo mode and you can also set the sample rate.

For this tutorial, we will use the Audio File Project mode. All changes will be recorded in the Actions list. If you wish to undo any of the changes simply uncheck the tick box right next to the action. In order to listen to your edited sound file, click the play button or press the space bar. Pressing the play button or space bar also works to stop playback. Audio files play on loop by default but you may opt to disable looping by clicking on the Cycle button which can be found to the right of the Play and Go to End buttons.

Audio Editing Basics

For starters, let’s try to illustrate how to edit a simple interview recording. Usually upon start of the recording, one hears a loud click and some extra space before the voices start rolling in. You have the option to delete this empty space by using the Delete key. The remaining audio then moves to fill in whatever had been deleted.You can also select a section of the audio if you need to. Simply click and then hold on the waveform where you’d like the selection to start and then drag to where you would like it to end.

When you need to cut, copy, paste or delete a selection, it is best to zoom into the file you are working on. To zoom in, type Command - Shift - =, and to zoom out, type Command - - key. You can also drag the Zoom cursor to zoom in or out. You also have the option to drag the right and left edges of the slider bar found below the timeline. Yet another handy tool is the little magnifying glass icon that you can also use to zoom in and out without having to move the timeline.

Making Audio Flow

Once you have edited your sound file, it is important that your audio file flows freely and naturally. To ensure this, playback the whole file and listen to it. You will need good quality speakers or headphones for this. If the bulk of your audio file contains human speech, make sure that words flow as naturally as possible. Breaths and pauses should be given emphasis in the speech. You may also consider lowering the Amplitude to soften the sound or if you want to add a bit of emphasis to the breath or pause, you may do so by inserting a second or more of empty space.

Adjusting Levels

Sometimes sound bytes on your sound file can have varying degrees of loudness. If you wish to adjust the volume level of your audio file, you can use the Normalize function. The Normalize function first analyzes the volume levels and then calculates where to adjust the volume. Using the Normalize function helps ensure that your audio file’s volume levels are as equalized as possible. To access the Normalize function, simply locate it in the Process menu. You may opt to decrease or increase sound gain by moving the Normalization Level slider. The default volume level in Soundtrack Pro is a at 0dB. But sometimes it is best to set it at -2dB especially if the audio file you are working at will be mixed in with other sounds.

Decreasing Sibilance

Sometimes recorded audio files usually have a lot of sibilance. Sibilance refers to the prominent s or t sounds that may get recorded while someone is peaking. In order to make the s or t sounds less sharp, you can use the de-esser option in Soundtrack Pro. To use it, just go to the Effects tab. The Effects tab can be found right above the Browser. Once in the Effects tab, you are given sound effects to choose from. Double Click on the De-Esser then click on the Advanced button that appears in the Parameter column below it. An interface for the De-Esser pops up. Try clicking on Show Presets and it will give you a number of options. Once you’ve selected your Show Preset, you have to take one more step under the Process menu. Once there, click on the Bounce Realtime to Action option. The effect will now be incorporated into your Actions list.

You can also experiment with effects like EQ, compression and noise gates to see if these can improve the sound quality of your audio file.

Reducing Noise

Keeping noise at tolerable levels is a must for all audio recordings. Every good digital artist should ensure that no unnecessary noise takes any attention away from the sound recording. One way to reduce noise is to select some ambient room sound that may have been picked up in the audio file. Highlight the selection, go to the Process menu and select Set Noise Print. After that select the entire audio file, go back to the Process menu and select Reduce Noise. A dialog box will prompt you to adjust sound frequencies to the desired rates.

There are more ways to reduce noise and Soundtrack pro provides you with a number of options to do so. Choices include reducing clicks, pops and power line hums. All these settings are easily accessible in the Analysis button above the Actions list.

However, it is still best to do as little sound processing as possible for audio files. It is advisable that you adjust sound levels and reduce unwanted sounds using less extreme settings first.

The Final Edit

Once you’re done with all the editing, it is now time to listen to your final file. If you were editing nondestructively using Audio File Project, you can still adjust and rearrange the edits that you have previously made in order to make the final recording sound even better. This is also the time when you can time-stretch or time-compress audio by using the Pencil tool. You can use this tool to set markers or jump between audio sequences.

Other than the ones mentioned in this tutorial, there are also numerous options for processing your sound files in Soundtrack Pro. You can access all these in Soundtrack Pro’s built-in effects library. You can choose from a variety of instrument sounds, musical phrases and sound effects that you can add to enhance your audio.