Tech Talk

Sonic Rescue

Although “videographer” is a job classification I’ve never put on my resume, in the new age where anyone can broadcast to the world, I’ve found myself cutting a lot of video. 9/03/2015 6:30 PM

Although “videographer” is a job classification I’ve never put on my resume, in the new age where anyone can broadcast to the world, I’ve found myself cutting a lot of video. Projects have ranged from creating presentations for hosted Mix webcasts, to promotional videos featuring interviews with a variety of recording artists and audio pros. Wanting to keep things simple, I started off using iMovie, which was free and easy to wrap my head around. The first versions were targeted at people exactly like me: non-pros who wanted to put a slicker spin on their vids for YouTube, Vimeo or other platforms of choice.

Although the picture part worked great, I found the audio tools to be lacking in sophistication. Then came Final Cut Pro X. Reviled among video pros, it was seen as 10 steps back from Apple’s earlier versions of the software. Even Conan O’Brien took a comedic jab at it on his show. I loved it. Of course, Apple was doing as they do, playing to the larger and growing audience of everyday users longing to be pro. On the audio side, they did the same with Logic, lowering the price while stripping out the high-end features, but that’s another story.

FCPX let me do more of the advanced audio sweetening I needed. There were compound clips where I could increase audio gain, rudimentary restoration tools that worked to a degree, more sophisticated EQ, and other tools. These worked great as long as the audio was in good shape, but I was now getting raw footage where the audio was more problematic. In particular, there were celebrity interviews done backstage in noisy environments where cooling fans, talking, footsteps, and other ambient noise was sometimes louder than the content. I had to take a number of these interviews, cut them together with other supporting video and match them to a pro voiceover track recorded in a studio.

There’s nothing more revealing than putting something ugly next to something great—it always makes the dirt “dirtier.” At first I tried to use FCPX alone to make it right. I used the 10-band EQ to play down the noisier areas, then used the Background Noise and Hum Removal tools to try weeding out the bad stuff. The challenge was the playback venue and gear—the end product was going to be shown in a large venue, on a huge video screen, over a professional P.A., which is great if your source is rockin’, but not when you have problems. The feedback from the field was that the first draft was unusable, so back to Frame 1.

Right around the time I was wrestling with this, I traveled to AES and sat down with Sony Creative Software’s Mike Scheibinger to get a demo of SpectraLayers Pro 3. Like a lot of high-end restoration software, it is amazing. I was familiar with the visual approach to audio manipulation using Adobe Audition’s Frequency Space Editor so I was used to the concepts. Mike’s demo was slick. He took a stereo EDM track and deconstructed it. He saved each part into separate layers, including the kick drum, horn hits and other parts, which then allowed him to remix it from the layers. I thought it would be perfect for my audio-for-video fixes. I downloaded the trial software, separated my video out of FCPX and imported it into SpectraLayers Pro 3. I watched a few training videos online to get to know the tools and jumped in.

Like the slicer/dicer at the state fair, of course, the operator who’s done 1,000 demos is way better than a novice. I was overusing it at first, which made the voice sound odd and phasey.. After testing the limits, I was able to tastefully remove a lot of ambient noise, even when it was sandwiched on top of the voiceover. Once I cleaned up the audio, I exported it into Pro Tools and compressed and EQ’d the track using the Waves L3 and FabFilter Pro Q 2 plug-ins. I was now able to compress the track, which didn’t bring up the noise as much because it was no longer there. The EQ let me match each fixed clip’s voiceover to the pro narration track, making them more alike in quality, and it all sat nicely on top of the bed music.

Coming back to FCPX presented some problems. The track didn’t line up exactly with the video even though the sample rate was the same across all applications. It wasn’t so bad on the shorter clips, but you could definitely see the drift in lip synching on the longer ones. I ended up cutting out a few frames between words, adding video crossfades, and the audio once again was coming off the lips of the speaker in a believable way. The great thing about all this is the tools. FCPX is $299 and SpectraLayers Pro 3 is $399. So for $700 you can cut video and sweeten audio like a video pro, even if you’re not.

All this gave me a great respect for the post-production pros who do this all the time. If you’d like to interface with that level of professional, there’s no better place than at Mix’s Sound for Film event coming up on September 26 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. I hope to see you there.