Video is everywhere. It’s how we entertain and inform ourselves, It’s also how we socialize. And thanks to our mobile devices — on which we now watch three-quarters of videos — we’re watching all the time, for better or worse.
But video isn’t just a watching experience, it’s also a listening experience. Whether you’re shooting for YouTube or the big screen, your dialogue is the heart of your story, and soundtrack is its backbone. Here’s why audio matters, and how to get it right in post-production.
The importance of sound in a video
Video and audio go hand in hand: The moving image draws us to the screen, but sound is what keeps us glued to it. Editing video audio — or mixing, as it’s referred to in video production — is a critical part of video editing. In fact, sound is just as important as the visual footage is in a video (and for some, perhaps more important).
“People will watch something with poor video quality if the audio quality is good, but they won’t watch something with good video quality if the audio quality is poor,” says my colleague Tiffani Bauer, a video producer at Descript. “This is something to keep in mind both in the edit, and before you even begin to shoot video or capture audio for your project.”
Here are reasons why sound matters so much:
- Sound is immersive. Visuals alone usually don’t tell the whole story. Balanced, synchronized, and well-trimmed audio tracks underpin your images and deepen your viewers’ experience with them. For example, human voice, like voiceover narration, can shape a story by providing context to the events on screen. Sound effects can make actions more impactful.
- Sound is emotional. Think of how music infuses a scene with a certain feeling or sensation. It can make an uplifting sequence feel brighter, or a sad one feel more somber. “It can help make things more intense or slow things down,” says Tiff. Sound also helps evoke memories. The structure in your brain that processes sound is also responsible for storing your memories.
- Silence speaks volumes. The absence of sound sends a powerful message. It can add suspense or drama to a scene by drawing your viewers’ attention to the screen. Used properly — i.e. sparingly — silence can sharpen your storytelling.
In the interest of your project’s overall quality, don’t slack on sound. It’s one of the most overlooked steps in the process and a poor audio mix — overbearing background music, muted voices, or unwanted noise — can distract your viewers’ attention and make your pretty footage unwatchable.
5 sound editing best practices for video
Once you have a rough edit of your video in your editing software of choice (which we think should be Descript, of course), it’s time to start thinking about the sound. Regardless of your project, there are a few basic steps involved in editing sound. “Everyone has a different workflow,” Tiff says, but generally you start by organizing and assembling, “and then you can finesse the timing a little bit, add music and add flourish.” Here are five best practices for editing sound in your video.
1. Add clips and organize your timeline
Start by adding clips to your timeline and putting it in order. Place audio and video clips where they need to be before moving on to making finer audio edits. A disorganized timeline can cause problems and waste time later on in the process.
Be sure to think about timing so that right sounds come in at the right moment. Try to synchronize image and sound. If you add audio effects, for example, make sure they line up with the actions on screen.
You can learn how to use the timeline toolbar here.
2. Add music and/or voiceover
Now that the timing of your sequence is right, add music, voiceover, or both. Find songs that suit your project’s pacing, and make sure the music doesn’t overpower the video’s other audio elements, like narration. Be sure you have the rights to the music track before publishing your video or to give proper credit to the artist.
For a synchronized voiceover, record directly into your editing timeline while playing your video. This way your audio clips end up more or less where they’re intended, and there’s no need to import audio files.
To add music in Descript:
- Simply drag audio into your script where you want it to play, and then fine-tune with the Timeline Editor.
- Or, to make a music intro, click and drag the word tags in your Script Track to make space at the start of your sequence. Then drag and drop your music into your Pinned Track, i.e. the dark gray timeline above the Script Track meant for sound effects or additional audio
To add voiceover in Descript:
- Open a new composition or place the cursor in the script where you would like the new recording to go. Next click the Microphone button at the top of the application window.
- To select your input device, click on the gear icon and then choose from the list of available options in the selection dropdown.
- If you would not like Descript to automatically transcribe your audio, uncheck the Automatically transcribe recording box. But you really shouldn’t do this in most cases, as editing in the script is one of the most useful and powerful reasons to use Descript.
- Next add your speaker label and, if applicable, the input channel of your microphone/input device.
- Once you’re ready, click the Record button and your recording should immediately begin.
3. Adjust volume levels
Audio mixing is about balance. The goal isn’t to bring all of your audio tracks to the exact same level; it’s to edit the audio tracks so they sound balanced relative to one another. This balance depends on the nature of your audio. For example, some mics or voices are more resonant than others. Using headphones, close your eyes, listen, and adjust based on what you’re hearing.
Consider each audio clip independently to fine-tune different aspects of your soundtrack, like making dialogue stand out from background music, so it ducks down when someone’s speaking, and comes back up when they’re finished. Adjusting your levels can also help reduce background noise (although it’s always best to try to reduce noise during the recording phase). Or use Descript’s Studio Sound feature to cut out noise with a couple clicks.
There are several ways to adjust levels in Descript: You can change the volume of individual clips in the Timeline. You can change the volume of tracks in the script. Or you can add volume automation. Finally, you can boost the levels of an entire file using volume normalization.
4. Trim your clips
Now that your audio clips are where they need to be and your volume levels are right, you can start editing your soundtrack’s finer aspects. You may want to trim down longer clips, like music tracks, or cut out certain sounds in a clip. Try not to leave noticeable gaps in your audio. Unless the silence is intentional, the listener should always be hearing something.
You can use the Trim Tool to trim your clips in Descript.
5. Smooth out your transitions
Audio transitions make sound flow seamlessly from one clip to the next. One way to do this is to apply fades and crossfades to your tracks to avoid abrupt changes in the audio.
You may also need to adjust audio levels in specific places within a clip, such as where it overlaps with a music or voiceover track. For this, apply keyframes to the clip. A keyframe marks the beginning or the end of a transition—i.e. where the volume starts to increase or fade.
Descript allows you to apply audio transitions to your video, adjust the volume levels with keyframes, and adjust levels using ducking.
The last step is to watch and rewatch (and rewatch) your video edit, making as many minor adjustments as are necessary until your soundtrack hits right. The more you familiarize yourself with these steps, the easier the process gets over time.
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