Sound Mix Preparation

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SOUND MIX PREP TUTORIAL

CLICK HERE for a playlist Doug Paterson's videos on how to prep your Premiere file for your final sound mix session and creative sound development.

The 2021 update of the audio process is that you will create audio stems and an H264 video reference file. See the "Exporting Stems" section below for more information.

This process is done AFTER a project's sound design has been created. The tutorial shows the proper organization, labeling, timeline and timecode application, creation of the 2-Pop, and creation and export of STEM audio files.

PLEASE READ the following information giving the proper settings and organization for your sound design.

PROJECT EDITORIAL SETTINGS FOR SOUND MIX PREPARATION

  • Your sound design edit can be done in a variety of software types: Pro Tools, Adobe Audition, Premiere, etc
  • SAVE a NEW VERSION for this re-organization process. Don't write over your main editing environment.
  • Audio settings: 48 kHz, 24-bit
  • Video settings: 1920 x 1080, square pixel, 24fps (this will be output at a smaller size at 1280 x 720 and without audio)


Emily Carr Technical Standards 2021 should be cross-referenced.

Audio Asset File Formats

The audio files that make up your sound design should all be of the highest quality possible. The sound file formats considered best to work with are:

  • WAV or AIF
  • 48 kHz, 24-bit (16-bit is acceptable, but aim for 24)
  • never, ever work with MP3 as your audio file. This uses a compression that makes for poor editing and low bit depth (poor quality!)


ORGANIZE THE FOLDERS AND MEDIA ASSETS

Create a clear folder system that will organize all of your assets. Hopefully this has been done PRIOR to importing them into your project and creating your sound design! If this folder organization or re-naming is done after, these files will have to be re-linked to those original clips in your Project Manager in Premiere.

  • Your MAIN AUDIO ASSETS folder has inside:
    • Create media asset folders: DIAL, SFX, MUSIC, BG, ROOM TONE, (and REVERB if any is used)
  • Arrange your sound resources into these folders
  • Name your audio assets something useful and clear
  • These folders are imported into your software project.
  • if re-linking and folder creation is required in your already begun edit, that same folder organization should be done inside Premiere to reflect the source folders.


ORGANIZE AND LABEL THE TRACKS

  • Plan for a few categories of sound, and organize your edit using these.
    • Primary categories include: DIAL (Dialogue), SFX (sound effects), MUSIC, BG, ATMOS (atmosphere) TONOE (room tone)
    • You
  • LABEL YOUR TRACKS. If you have multiple tracks with the same category, numerically increase them
    • example: DIAL1, DIAL2, SFX1, SFX2, SFX3, SFX4, BG1, BG2, MUSIC, TONE
    • MONO and STEREO clips: if you have category sounds that include both MONO and STEREO, create a separation of tracks. When mixing, these need different kinds of attention. Placing stereo clips on their own track, identify them with the label. For example: SFX3_STEREO
  • LABEL YOUR INDIVIDUAL CLIPS if you haven't already.
  • TECHNIQUE NOTES
    • Initially, use as many tracks for each category as you need to create your sound design.
    • Do not mix the categories of sounds on the same tracks
  • FINAL ORGANIZATION and CLEAN-UP
    • After working out your sound design, combine tracks in categories wherever possible, like collapsing 3 DIAL tracks into 2, or 10 SFX into 3. Watch out for clips accidentally over-writing or overlapping each other.
    • You may end up with multiple tracks in each category. That's okay! Just group them together in the track stack so they're easy to see together.
    • Do NOT combine/collapse MONO and STEREO tracks together
  • Apply COLOUR-CODING to your GROUPS of tracks. This will also help visually organize your sound.


TIMECODE ADJUSTMENT


A sound mix involves importing a reference version of your picture edit with timecode. This important step is about creating timecode alignment for all media, and supports the "stem" output method.

  • the edit MUST NOT contain any extra footage before or after the film itself (colour bars, black etc).
  • Check your IN and OUT points carefully. Include the very first frame of the timeline, and the last frame of your film.
  • edits are PICTURE LOCKED with no more editorial changes. This means that no more edits to the length of shots can be made. You can still have draft footage in your cut and update with final footage later.


PROCESS

  • Doug goes over this process in his tutorial video, here. The SYNCH 2-POP process is located at 01:24:00.
  • ADJUST AND BEGIN your editing sequence timeline to START at TC 00:59:00:00
    • (this is a good time to double-check that your sequence setting is at 24 FPS
    • Use the menu at the top left of your editing timeline, and select Start Time and set it to 00:59:00:00


MEDIA ALIGNMENT

  • Move your timeline marker to 01:00:00:00
    • Type into the timecode display 01.00.00.00 to pop your marker to that point
  • Next, move all of your media so it's very first frame starts at 01:00:00:00
    • Select EVERYTHING on your editing tracks
    • Make sure that no layers are locked
    • Slide it ALL over together as one selected grouping so the first frame of media (whether audio or video source) begins at TC 01:00:00:00


SYNCH 2-POP

Create 2-Pop Synch for VIDEO and AUDIO at HEAD and TAIL A 2-Pop is used to check the synch of all tracks of audio and video. Audibly, this is a 1khz tone, and visually it's the "2" from a countdown leader. Each of these last only 1 frame.

  • Head-pop: is exactly at at TC 00:59:58:00, which is 2 seconds before your first frame of picture/sound.
  • Tail-pop: is exactly two seconds AFTER your last frame of picture.


CREATE THE 2-POP

  • In Premiere Project Browser, use the "New Item" icon to select Universal Counting Leader.

Premiere New Item icon.jpg

  • Drag this into the Editing Source Monitor window, just above
  • Set IN and OUT so you are only seeing and hearing the number 2 for only 1 frame.


SET the HEAD 2-POP

  • In your editing timeline, set the TC marker to 00:59:58:00 by typing this number into the timecode display
  • with the edited countdown leader clip selected in the Project Manager window, click on the editing OVERWRITE button (top-left of timeline) to add this.

Overwrite button.jpg

  • Zoom in to make sure it doesn't last more than 1 frame. Adjust it if it does.
  • ADJUST the VOLUME to -10 or -11dB


SET the TAIL 2-POP

  • Place your timeline marker at the very last frame of your picture.
  • Click in your TC display and add 2 seconds to the time.
  • Repeat the overwrite edit process, and adjust to -10 02 -11 dB
  • FLIP THE 2. It's traditional to have the TAIL pop 2 be upside-down.
    • Select the tail's 2 clip on the timeline. Go to Premiere's Source Monitor.
    • Open Effects and Rotation. Adjust it to be 180 degrees.

This part is now complete.

AUDIO LEVEL GUIDELINES

  • AVERAGE levels range between -10 dbfs (loud) to -20 (quiet) dbfs
  • LOUDEST PEAK (sound) no higher than -6 dbfs
  • DIALOGUE averages between -16 dbfs to -20 dbfs, with the average being -18 dbfs, the lowest being -20 dbfs, and momentary peaks no higher than -10 dbfs (yelling, shouting)
  • MUSIC averages between -18db to -22 dbfs. When music is playing at the same time as dialogue, aim for –3db to -9db below your dialogue audio levels as an average goal.
  • SOUND EFFECTS range between -10 dbfs to -20 dbfs. There may be occasional spikes up to -8 dbfs. Momentary, loud sound effects (explosions, gunshots) might peak upwards around -3 dbfs to -2 dbfs.

These settings leave 6 dB of “headroom” in your mix, allowing some breathing room. This way your mix doesn’t sound clipped or harshly levelled off to a given threshold. If you mix beyond these standards, a technician will reduce your overall audio level, which could detrimentally alter the sound of your final output.


MOVIE REFERENCE FILE

EDIT RULES

  • the edited movie file MUST NOT contain any extra footage before or after the film itself (colour bars, black etc). Check your IN and OUT points carefully.
  • edits are PICTURE LOCKED with no more editorial changes. This means that no more edits to the length of shots can be made. You can still have draft footage in your cut and update with final footage later.


EXPORT MEDIA FILE This is a visual video reference only, not a final edit quality. The Sound Mix Engineer will load this so it is visible and in synch while listening to the sound during the mix.

  • H264 format/compression video file
  • 24 fps
  • 1280 x 720
  • This video includes the timecode that you set up earlier
  • There is NO audio included in this video export


DID YOU CREATE 5.1 SURROUND SOUND?
Films created and mixing to 5.1 compatible audio output can accommodate output to DCP (Digital Cinema Protocol) screening format.

  • include folder labelled doe_j_5.1 containing discrete 5.1 channels (L, R, C, LFE, Ls, Rs)
  • each discrete channel must be a mono, 48 kHz, 24 bit uncompressed .wav file
  • each channel must be clearly labelled doe_j_L.wav, doe_j_R.wav etc
  • mix must contain either the minimum 3 channels (L, R, C) or the full 5 (L, R, C, LFE, Ls, Rs)


EXPORTING STEMS

The following instructions are for exporting stems from Premiere and Audition. The process is the same, except Premiere and Audition will use slightly different terms.

If you've been working in Audition, you'll notice that there is no option for export to AAF. The earlier version, OMF is available, but it's a better idea to use this STEM process to prepare for the sound mix.

By following this, you will have

  • 1 (ONE) STEM TRACK FOR EVERY CATEGORY: SFX, Amb, Music, Dial, for a total of 4 (four) stems.
  • If you have applied REVERB EFFECTS on any of your audio files, create a new, 5th stem track just for those. This will prevent the Sound Mix Engineer from inadvertently applying "reverb reduction" adjustments that undo those effects.


1. Organize Audio Tracks

  • Make sure all sound elements (Sound FX, Ambience, Music, Dialogue) are on their own separate audio category tracks in your Premiere project. You do not want different sound elements from different categories sharing the same tracks.
  • Add audio tracks if you need more space to move audio clips around.
  • For better clarity you can color the elements by selecting the clips and adding a color label. (Premiere: right click + label / Audition: right click + clip/group colour...)


2. Export audio stems for sound mixing
"Stems" are stereo recording files, mixed down from a selection of multiple individual tracks. The goal is to put mix all the tracks in one category into 1 (one) exported stem file. For example, the Sound FX stem will typically be a stereo audio file that sounds like all of the Sound FX mixed together.

  • Once you know your project edits are done and the session is “Locked” it’s time to export stems of all the audio elements for mixing.
  • On the audio track header, select the solo “S” button on specific sound element tracks. This will cause the other audio tracks to "mute". For example, if you choose to stem out Sound FX: If there are 4 audio tracks of SFX, select the solo button for all SFX tracks. Then when playing back you should only hear those SFX sounds.
  • If there are tracks with unusual sounds that you think may need specific treatment, output those to their own stem. See naming described below.
  • If there are clips that have a reverb effect applied, you should stem those separately. See naming described below. This prevents those clips from receiving any unwanted treatments.
  • EXPORT THE STEMS
  • Create a folder on your computer with your project name, date, and _Audio_Stems in the title.
    • example: Film-Title_April_22-2021_Audio_Stems
  • In Premiere
  • Make sure that only a single stem category is on SOLO
  • go to File Menu -> Export -> Media or (CTRL + M)/ For Audition: File -> Export -> Multitrack Mixdown -> Entire Session...
  • REPEAT THIS PROCESS FOR EACH STEM CATEGORY


AUDIO MIXDOWN SETTINGS:
Format: WAV files
Sample rate: 48 Khz
Sample Rate: 24 bit

NAMING THE STEM FILES
These are named by the sound element. Please do not leave blank spaces between words, using dashes or underscores instead.
File naming should follow this protocol. Folder name:
“MyFilm_April_2_2021_Audio_Stems”
Enclosed Files,
“DIAL_STEMS_MyFilm_April_2_2021.wav”
“SFX_STEMS_MyFilm_April_2_2021.wav”
“BG_STEMS_MyFilm_April_2_2021.wav”
“MUSIC_STEMS_MyFilm_April_2_2020.wav”
and if needed:
"SFX_REVERB_STEMS_MyFilm_April_2_2020.wav”
"SFX_SPECIAL_STEMS_MyFilm_April_2_2020.wav”

This guide has been adopted from FMSA's stem exporting instructions.

SOUND DESIGN NOTES

  • Apply the volume adjustments necessary to each clip in each category. Refer to the dB levels in this doc and on the Animation Wiki.
  • POOR QUALITY ASSETS?
    • If clips are recorded too quietly, and you cannot effectively increase volume, you may need to replace the clip.
    • If sounds were recorded too loud and they clip and burn, you’ll need to replace the clip.
    • If you’re using a file whose quality is below 44.1 kHz 16-bit you need to replace it with a higher quality clip of 48 kHz, 24-bit.
    • You CANNOT use MP3s in your editing. If you are, you need to replace these clips. You probably are hearing a “popping” sound as the timeline plays…
  • There should be NO BLANK SPACES in your soundtrack. If there is “silence,” then cut in muted atmospheric room tone to buffer your other audio clip edits. (Make sure to not double up the layers of the room atmosphere sound. Use fades at the ends of clips to soften the edits and prevent doubled-up sound.)
  • There should be NO HARD CUTS in your soundtrack, particularly if the sound is ongoing. Make use of simple FADES and CROSS-FADES to soften the head/tail of each clip. Layering in ongoing room tone underneath other clips helps. Layering and overlapping audio clips can also help.
  • Rules on blank spaces and hard cuts can be broken, but only with a really good reason.


This image shows the basics of applied fades to soften the cuts, and layering of tracks.

Mixing graphic.jpg