Hearing is believing.
Separate audio tracks give you total control.
The first thing to remember about film sound is that almost everything you hear in the theater was created off camera. Filmmakers do some field recording of audio on set to create a scratch track, which they use as a guide for what needs to be rerecorded in post-production. But the real sounds are created as their own audio recordings and layered one by one on separate audio tracks.
Bernstein explains, “The whole principle here is that we want to control the sounds independently. We record things sometimes on the day of the film shoot, but we record them separately. And then to enhance the sound, we add more later in post-production.”
Start with clean dialogue.
Capture background sound.
Record the empty space.
Finally, before everybody arrives or after everyone leaves the room you’re shooting in, record a minute or so of room tone, which is the sound of the room when it’s completely empty. This will pick up the hum of lights and other ambient, real-life sounds unique to that room, which will also be useful to your sound mix.
The idea is to have a separate sound track for every different element of the scene’s audio. As Bernstein says, “We control the relationship of the individual volume, the foreground to the background. So if we increase the volume of the foreground, the background doesn’t go up, it stays low. And let’s say outside we want some traffic noises. Well, to make it sound more realistic, we can record traffic separately, bring that into yet another channel, and control the volume of that.”
Unleash your inner Foley artist.
Listen to the music.
A little background music can add a lot of life to a scene, whether it’s something we can see the characters are listening to (known as diegetic sound) or something only the audience can hear on the soundtrack (non-diegetic sound). Licensing popular music to use in your film can be expensive and time consuming, but some editing programs like Premiere Pro come with libraries of inexpensive stock music that you can search, download, and license straight from the app.
Mix and layer your sound effects.
Sound design is the process that brings together every kind of sound in your film, including the dialogue you recorded on set, ambient noise like your atmos track and room tone, and all of the sound effects that you found or created. When all is said and done, you’ll have a lot of audio files to work with.
“You might have 30 tracks, 40 tracks, 50 tracks, each with a different sound on a different volume control,” Bernstein says. “It’s this idea of individually controlling each sound that is essential to understanding why we have post-production sound effects.”
One of the most important things to remember about sound design is that it’s about layering sounds on top of sounds until they all blend together. At that point, the qualities of each individual track become less relevant than the overall effect of all of the sounds together. As Bernstein explains, “When we provide too much data to the audience and force them to pick out what’s significant, it replicates their experience in the world and makes the cinematic experience more powerful.”
No matter how big or small your filmmaking project is, a properly designed and edited sound mix can go a long way toward making it feel like a professional Hollywood production. Learn more about how Premiere Pro can help make your masterpiece sound superb.