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Audio Tools for Video Editors (9/2004)
by Douglas Dixon
If you are happy with your video editing software, why would you want or need a separate audio editing tool? After all, video editing tools like Adobe Premiere Pro already provide multi-track audio mixing and editing, with features including subframe editing down to individual samples, clip- and track-based effects, live recording, real-time mixing, and support for multi-channel surround sound.
Video editors are designed for working with existing audio clips, mixing and enhancing (also called "sweetening") different elements into your production, such as voice-overs, soundtracks, and sound effects. But if you want to create your own soundtrack clips, or need to restore and enhance individual audio clips, then it's time to turn to a dedicated audio editing tool.
The good news is that you do not have to be a musician, or an audio technology expert, to enhance clips or even create new music for your productions. In this article, we'll look at three different audio software products that demonstrate a wide range of capabilities that are available today at relatively modest prices:
- MAGIX Music Maker provides a cornucopia of options for having fun with music creation, mixing, and editing ($59.99 list).
- Or you can step up to Adobe Audition 1.5 for professional mixing and editing, with amazing automated tools for common problems like hiss and pop elimination ($299).
- SmartSound Sonicfire Pro solves a more specific problem, automatically creating music soundtracks in a variety of styles that are custom-fit to your clips ($299).
MAGIX Music Maker provides a plethora of tools for experimenting and playing with audio (www.magix.com). MAGIX has been expanding rapidly in North America, now with more than eighty products, including professional music software and inexpensive consumer photo music, photo, and video software. Music Maker 2005 Deluxe was released May 2004.
Music Maker is built around the main multi-track editing window. You can start by using the File Manager tab in the bottom Mediapool panel to open one of the supplied demo mixes, with clips spread in the Arranger panel across multiple tracks. You can add new clips by dragging Wave files from the File Manager, drag them over the tracks to position them, split and group them, and drag the bottom side to extend and repeat loops across multiple beats. You can adjust volume or panning for each clip, or use the 8-track Mixer control to set volume, pan, and effects.
But that's just the beginning: behind the covers are an astounding variety of additional tools and features to experiment with, so many that naming and distinguishing them becomes difficult. The drop-down menu from each clip lists an astounding 28 options, some of which expand to additional nested options (one is even named just "More"). These include the Audio Effects Rack, Audio Effects, the 3D Audio Editor, and the Loop Finder and Remix Agent to analyze new clips for use in your mix.
Music Maker displays its audio tools as virtual stereo system components, complete with familiar buttons, dials, and sliders. The Audio FX Rack components include a 10-band graphic Equalizer, Reverb / Echo processor, Compressor dynamics processor, Time processor for stretching, pitch shifting, and resampling, plus a Distortion sound warper with distortion and filter presets. The Audio FX Rack also includes non-realtime effects such as normalize and surround, as well as access to any available DirectX plugins.
Music Maker - audio effects
And don't stop now: there's a Vocalizer to punch up a singing voice and apply pitch treatments along with a multi-voice harmonizer, and Vocoder to modulate one sound (or voice) on another carrier. Or you can use the simpler Amp Simulation with Amp Model presets with volume, distortion, and equalizer controls.
Plus you can apply predefined effects to clips from the Audio FX section of the Audio & Video Effects panel. These include presets for reverb, echo, compressor, and EQ. And there are 3D Audio effects as well.
But that's just audio clips. Music Maker also includes an integrated Synthesizer section with an array of software synthesizers, from concert piano to turntable scratchbox to drum 'n bass to voice. Plus the new Robota four-instrument virtual analog drum computer, complete with a variety of drum and beat templates.
Another way to make music is to use the Live Mode Arranger, in which you map audio clips to the number key row and numeric keypad on your keyboard, and then "play" the keys like an instrument to arrange a recording in real time.
Beyond audio, Music Maker includes additional library tabs to access a Title Editor with animated effects, and also allows you to add video clips to your project, and then apply pre-defined Video Effects to them, and layer them with Video Mix Effects. Or under the Effects menu you can access the Video Controller / Realtime Visual FX Editor with controls for speed, zoom, position, optical effects, color, rotation, and mixing. And you can add Visuals, pre-defined graphical animations that respond dynamically to the sound playing in the other tracks.
And there's more: the Music Maker product also includes the MAGIX Music Editor for editing individual audio files, the MAGIX Media Manager silver version for organizing, viewing, and editing images, music and video, plus two more CDs with sample sounds and videos.
MAGIX Music Editor
At $59.99, MAGIX Music Maker 2005 Deluxe provides a great starting point for experimenting with music creation and editing, with loop editing to MIDI, mixing and effects, export to files or directly to web sites. You can download a demo of the 2004 version from the web site to try out.
However, understand that Music Maker is designed for audio enthusiasts, not for beginners, as the profusion of tools and features can be overwhelming (I could not even list all the highlights here), and the documentation really does not explain why and how you might want to use them. It's also a consumer application, with limited undo, sometimes sluggish response, and the sample clips licensed for non-commercial use. It's also difficult to use Music Maker for complex projects when you can lose track of how you have applied effects and options to the various clips.
Adobe Audition is a professional audio editing tool, combining audio mixing, wave editing, and effects processing (www.adobe.com/audition). Yet while it has a profusion of options for detailed work, Audition also includes convenient automated tools, presets, and favorites that allow even non-experts to perform amazing feats of audio restoration and enhancement.
Audition is the former Cool Edit Pro application from Syntrillium Software, acquired by Adobe in May 2003. It also available as part of the Adobe Video Collection suite. Version 2.5 of the Video Collection was released in May 2004, and includes Premiere Pro 1.5 for video editing, After Effects 6.5 Standard for video effects, Encore DVD 1.5 for DVD authoring, and Audition 1.5 for audio editing. (The Professional edition also includes After Effects 6.5 Professional and Adobe Photoshop CS.)
Audition has two basic working modes: Multitrack View and Edit View. In the Multitrack view you work with a track layout to create multitrack mix sessions from clips and loops, apply effects, and then mixdown and export the result, i.e., as a track to import into Adobe Premiere. In the Edit view you edit the waveform of an individual audio clip (i.e., Wave file), repairing problems and applying effects down to individual samples.
Multitrack mixing is non-destructive: Audition creates a Session file to manage the mix, previews the mixed tracks and applied effects in real time, but does not change the original audio files. Wave editing is destructive, since it modifies the samples in the clip, which you can then save to the same or a new audio file.
While Audition's Multitrack mixer is great for musicians to use to mix their own recordings, you also can use it to create your own soundtrack mixes by taking advantage of the 5,000 or so royalty-free music loops provided with Audition (yes, that's five thousand). Yes, this is more work than just picking a pre-created soundtrack in a tool like SmartSound Sonicfire Pro, but the tradeoff is that you get much more control over customizing the result. You even can start with one of the twenty sample sessions, and then enhance and modify them for your needs. Or build you own mix, perhaps a rock beat with one or two guitars, a bass guitar, a drum beat, and some kick cymbal action. Just choose a loop file, conveniently organized by style and instrument, place it on a track, and then drag to extend it across multiple bars.
Of course, mixing can be much more than just laying out tracks. You can adjust the volume and stereo pan of each track, or edit keyframed envelopes within the track. You also can change the tempo of a single clip, or of the entire waveform, simply by specifying a new beats per minute. Or you can change the global key of the session without changing the tempo.
Similarly, Audition can solve a common problem when an audio clip such as a voice-over does not exactly match the timing of the corresponding video sequence. You can load the video in the timeline to preview the sequence, and then just drag the edge of the clip to match the video. Audition will adjust the length without changing the pitch.
To finish the mix before exporting it, you can add effects to each track, such as Equalization or Reverb. While Audition provides plenty of parameters to experiment with, you also can just choose one of the built-in presets, such as reverb in a cathedral, outdoors, or a vocal chamber.
The Wave Editing mode in Audition then lets you edit, restore, and enhance individual clips. You can view the waveform down to individual samples, and cut and paste, but more often you will be applying effects and filters to repair problems and sweeten (enhance) the audio.
Use the Noise Reduction effects to remove noise such as background hiss, and clicks and pops (as in vinyl records). Audition provides both automated effects to find and remove common problems, as well as more advanced filters. For example, you can select a portion of the clip, sample the background noise into a profile, and then remove that noise profile from the rest of the clip with precise control over the precision and smoothing. Even more amazing is the Clip Restoration filter that finds the "flat tops" in the waveform where a recording has been clipped, and then repairs them by interpolating the original full waveform.
Use the Delay effects to add echoes, reverb, and even chorus effects with multiple voices. Use the Time/Pitch effects to stretch and bend pitch for interesting effects. Audition also includes the almost magic Pitch Correction effect to find and correct notes that are off-pitch. You can use the automated options to fold to specific key and scale (i.e., C Major), or use the manual options to adjust a few notes that a vocalist has sung off-key.
Use the Amplitude effects to amplify and fade the audio, normalize, and adjust the dynamics to compress or expand the volume, especially to make the clip sound louder without clipping or distortion. Or roll out the Hard Limiter to punch the volume for an "in your face" radio sound with everything loud.
To dig deeper into your audio, Audition provides analysis tools with frequency statistics and histograms, plus dynamic phase and frequency analysis views to help visualize your clips as they play. You also can use them to view a specific time, or a selection within the waveform. Then use the audio filters and equalizers to make more precise adjustments. Another piece of magic in Audition is the Channel Extractor, which can isolate any portion of sound within the stereo mix to remove, isolate, or enhance only that segment. You can remove or lower the center channel vocals for a Karaoke mix, or punch them up, or tweak specific effects at any phase, pan, or delay location between the left and right channels.
Beyond all this, the most amazing feature in Audition 1.5 is the Spectral view. Instead of working with waveforms and samples, you can view your audio in frequency space, so you can visually isolate specific elements such as the vocals, different instruments, drum beats, and cymbals. And instead of just admiring the spectral view, Audition actually allows you to edit directly in frequency space.
You can use a marquee selection to isolate rectangular regions of frequency across a duration of time, and then cut and paste, for example to repeat or move drum beats. And you can apply most of the filters in the spectral view as well, again isolating in on specific frequencies of your sounds. In this way, you can eliminate transient problems such as coughs caught on a performance tape. Instead of trying to cut and paste in that part of the waveform view, you can use the spectral view to select just the frequencies that contain the cough, and then apply the click/pop eliminator to repair the transient without affecting any other elements of the sound.
Audition is obvious a deep application, combining audio mixing, loop-based creation, and waveform editing with professional filters and effects. It's also part of the Adobe Video Collection, integrating cleanly with the other Adobe digital media tools. So, for example, if you choose Edit Original on a clip in Premiere Pro, it will automatically open not just that clip, but the original multi-track Audition session from which it was mixed down. For even the most video-centric editor, Audition opens wonderful possibilities for creating loop-based custom soundtracks with different styles and instruments, and provides amazing automated tools for cleaning and enhancing audio clips.
The new Audition version 1.5 added both more depth and more automated support, with features like the automatic click-pop eliminator, channel extractor to boost or remove the vocals, pitch correction to correct flat or sharp notes, and spectral view editing. Not bad for a $299 application (or $999 for the entire Video Collection). You also can download the tryout version from the web site, along with the other components.
If you're a fan of Adobe Audition, but find it clumsy to record music by trying to play an instrument while simultaneously typing at a computer keyboard, then you should definitely check out the ADS Tech RedRover audio remote controller (www.adstech.com).
The RedRover is small red device (of course), approximately 10 by 9 inches and 3 1/8 inches thick. It includes a small LCD screen to monitor current session and track information as well as an eight-step level meter. To control your session for playback and recording, first use the knobs to select the active track, and set master and track volume. Then use the large transport control buttons to shuttle, play, and record to the selected track. The RedRover also brings out buttons for the common operations of Mute, Solo, and Record, and for Cue and Metronome.
ADS Tech RedRover
Hooking up the RedRover is very easy: it connects easily to your computer by USB, with a long cord to reach up to 10 feet away. And it even includes a foot pedal to stop and start recording.
The RedRover device was actually designed at Syntrillium Software, the original developers of Cool Edit Pro before it was acquired by Adobe to become Audition. Since Adobe is not in the hardware business, it licensed RedRover to ADS Tech, which has been bundling the Adobe products with an array of hardware products. The RedRover is available for $199 (hardware only), or $399 bundled with Audition.
SmartSound Sonicfire Pro is a music soundtrack creation tool, and not an audio clip editor or mixing tool (www.smartsound.com). Instead, Sonicfire Pro creates entire soundtracks that are custom-fit to your videos. You can score your movie by just picking a music style, auditioning some sample soundtracks, and Sonicfire Pro does all the rest; you don't have to compose, or record, or work with loops, or mix together individual instruments. Even better, you do not have to chop a piece of music to fit it to your video clip. Sonicfire Pro actually adjusts the composition of the piece to fit your time frame, complete with a beginning, orchestrated theme, and professional ending.
The SmartSound process couldn't be easier. You first import the movie file for which you want to create a soundtrack. Since your soundtrack can have several sections to match different scenes in the movie, Sonicfire Pro lays the video out on a timeline so you can play through it and add markers for each scene. Then, you fire up the SmartSound Maestro to audition and select your music from the SmartSound libraries of royalty-free music.
The Maestro provides several ways to search for music, by Style (blues and classical to techno and world, Intensity (calm to very energetic), Instrument (accordion and big band to steel drum and vibraphone), and Keyword (over 80 presets, including action, edgy, heartwarming, mysterious, regal, and uplifting). As you refine your search, the Maestro displays matching clips, lists their attributes and tempo, and even provides handy one-sentence descriptions.
After you preview the clips and find a good match for your video, the Maestro will then add it to the soundtrack, re-orchestrated to fit the current marked section, or any length that you want. You then can tweak the music further, choosing from several stylistic variations, adjusting the beginning or ending, and even trimming.
This is the SmartSound magic: Sonicfire Pro creates complete, finished compositions, with multiple layers of instruments. You aren't mixing multiple tracks by hand, you're creating the entire soundtrack. SmartSound does this by breaking each library selection into blocks that can be adjusted to fit different lengths. For more detailed work, you even can display the Block Window and edit these directly.
A diverse collection of SmartSound music library CDs are available starting at $49 (22k sampling rate) and $99 (44k), or 3-packs for $249. You can audition the clips online, or, even better, search and preview the entire collection directly from the SmartSound Maestro.
SmartSound Sonicfire Pro is a unique tool for creating soundtracks to enhance your videos by adding depth and mood. Version 3.2, released in April 2004, is available for Windows and Macintosh ($299 including two library CDs). Related SmartSound products include the QuickTracks plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro and other video editors ($99) and MovieMaestro for home computer users and educators ($49). To learn more, check the web site for a guided tour, on-line tutorial, and to download a trial version.
Audio often gets lost in the excitement of shooting and editing video. Yet a noisy or damaged audio track can ruin a video production, and a compelling soundtrack can add powerful emotional strength. Video editors are designed for mixing tracks, and provide some effects for sweetening audio, but at best you can try to mask problems so they are not too noticeable. And who has the talent (or funding) to compose an original movie score from scratch?
These applications provide useful answers for video editors, whether or not you are an audio expert.
You can use SmartSound Sonicfire Pro to create a soundtrack timed to the scenes in your production, and based on your preferences for style, intensity, and instruments. This can be particularly useful for adding emotional and thematic backing to your videos.
If you are enthusiastic for experimenting with audio creation and editing, then try out MAGIX Music Maker. Its cornucopia of clips, tools, effects, and synthesizers will keep you enthralled as you record, mix, and edit music. It even includes video clips, effects, and animations. You can share your creations on CD, over the Internet, or directly to web pages.
And for more professional audio mixing, editing, and effects, move up to Adobe Audition, especially if you are already comfortable with other Adobe tools. While Audition provides powerful and deep audio processing options, its convenient presets and automated functions mean that operations like hiss reduction and click / pop elimination can be performed quickly and easily.
Adobe - Audition 1.5
ADS Tech - Red Rover
MAGIX - Music Maker 2005 Deluxe
SmartSound - Sonicfire Pro