Over this past Black Cyber Friday Through Monday, I was repeatedly tweeting about crazy deals being offered by Waves Audio. Those deals are still available now, but “ending soon.” Plus, they offer trials on almost every plugin, so you can try before you buy.
I’m not employed by Waves; in fact, I have no relationship with the company other than as a normal user (though they did tweet at me, which was nice of them). But I’ve been a user of their products for over 14 years, use them in almost every audio project I do, and consistently find their stuff to be excellent. So I figured I’d combine two of my favorite things: promoting products I personally value, and raising awareness among video editors of simple audio processing.
In the past 10 years, video production has both expanded and contracted. While there are way more people producing video nowadays, these people are generally expected to perform a wider variety of duties. And in the case of editors, that usually means taking on sound mixing duties.
It’s with that in mind that I’m writing this; if you want an in-depth explanation of how a compressor works, you need to look elsewhere. The goal here is instead to present some tools for handling common and fairly basic sound problems encountered by many video editors – @dougdaulton in particular helped me come up with this list.
But let’s get this out of the way first: the best audio plugin is one used by an experienced sound person. There are some editors who are also excellent audio people (Walter Murch comes to mind), but for the most part editors are editors by trade and sound mixers by unfortunate necessity. You’re first question on any project should always be “Can I hire a professional sound person?”
If the answer is no, read on…
1. Noise Removal
This is incredibly common. You’ve got a great take, but in the background there’s an air conditioner humming away. Or there’s a hum on the line because somebody ran a power cable next to the mic cable. While we should never rely on fixing these things in post, sometimes we have to.
Luckily, there’s a ton of noise suppression plugins out there – some even tailored to things like hum or clicks. My favorite are the adaptive ones: basically you let the plugin “listen” to a snippet of the offending noise, which it learns from and uses to process out the noise throughout the whole clip.
However, it’s all about tweaking the settings and listening. With noise reduction, it’s really easy to make your actors sound like robots – so use it sparingly.
2. Sweetening Sound with an Equalizer
There’s always something that needs to sound better. Sometimes it’s dramatic, like dialogue recorded on a bad mic that sounds like it’s through a telephone. And sometimes it’s subtle, like an actress whose S’s are just a bit too sharp.
The most useful plugin for sound work is a good EQ. Basically what it does is allow you to adjust specific frequencies of the sound – you can make it deeper, sharper, punchier, all kinds of stuff. Really you need to just start messing with one and you’ll get it.
What I Use: Waves Q10
Everybody wantss things to be louder. But when you make the soft parts louder, the loud parts clip. What to do?!?
Compression, that’s what.
A compressor basically reduces the dynamic range of a sound – the difference between the soft parts and the loud parts is lessened. The end result is the ability to make a track louder without clipping. Notice how rock music is all loud, all the time? That’s compression.
However, compression can be complicated, and I don’t want to scare the editors. So I’m limited my scope to compressors that work well and have very simple controls.
What I Use:
Waves OneKnob Louder – for simply and easily making things louder
Waves Renaissance Vox – for a bit more control, plus noise gate (to automatically mute the track when it gets below a certain level)
5. Crazy Effects
Sometimes, things just have to sound crazy. Robot voice, garbled transmission, whatever. Usually it takes a real sound designer to create these kinds of effects, but some things (like robot voice) you can do pretty easily with the right plugin.
What I Use:
For making weird voices, I use Waves Morphoder. Super-simple explanation is it combines your voice with other sounds to create strange results. For example: the Cylon voice at the end of this video was done in Morphoder.
For other weird stuff, I’d say use guitar effects. I use outboard stuff from Line6 – they make a plugin version of my hardware, but I haven’t personally used it. And don’t be afraid to run your speaker output into guitar pedals or whatever and then record that – after all, you’re in pursuit of crazy.
Obviously these are just a few use-cases, but these are probably the most common for video editors looking for simple audio solutions. Most things beyond this should really be handed to an audio person – unless, of course, you’re Walter Murch.
In which case…do you want to be on a podcast?