June 1, 2014

EQ Tips & Tricks: How to Tackle Several Audio Issues in Your Film

The art of manipulating sound is an occult practice, mysterious and daunting to outsiders, though in reality, like almost everything, a little education goes a long way and the information is out there if you look for it; since many filmmakers, though, are taught from the beginning (at least I was), to shoot MOS and concentrate solely on the visual, with sound a distant second, it can be a blind spot in their skill set, but a vital skill. And with the concomitant proliferation of audio technology (specifically DAWs, or Digital Audio Workstations), there's no excuse for an indie filmmaker not to educate themselves in the art of noise. Click through for five tips on EQing sound, for filmmakers!

Okay, so, you have your location sound. You got your room tone. All of your levels are good, nothing is peaking or clipping (sounding terrible) and you are working on your edit on your NLE of choice. For many filmmakers, sound is something to be turned over to, and handled by a professional, and this is definitely the best bet if you can afford it, but if you can't (and even if you can), it still pays to know a little about how to manipulate the soundtrack of your film, because as an indie filmmaker you should be a jack of all trades, and sound is a big trade in the picture show business.

One of the most important steps you can take is, while shooting, to be sure that you capture quality sound. To paraphrase the always edifying Vashi Nedomansky, in his excellent post on the subject, "garbage in, garbage out," i.e., what you get on location is what you have to work with in post, therefore, there is only so much "fixing it in the edit" that you can actually get away with. And, as he so wisely puts it:

Great visuals with crappy sound screams -- “I am an amateur!” Conversely, lots of blurry, handheld, whip-panned footage with pristine dialog and a full soundscape can be completely acceptable. It will be perceived as the Director’s “artistic choice” even though shots are out of focus and flaying around. The audio is the glue that holds it together and sells it as a professional production. Embrace the Audio.

Okay, so, roughly, there are a narrow band of frequencies audible to the human ear. These run from very low "rumble" sounds at about 31hz, all the way to 16khz, or the sound of, as the graphic below puts it, "air." (The chart comes via Warbeats, which is a site primarily for electronic music production, but an excellent general resource.) They primarily concentrate on FL, or as it is more commonly known, Fruity Loops, as their DAW of choice, but the rules are the same from program to program, since Vashi, and we, are only going to be concentrating on a few small hacks you can apply to your audio. These hacks involve the parametric EQ and the 30 band equalizer, which are two basic features found on every NLE and Digital Audio Workstation (n.b., the number of bands on your equalizer may vary.) And now, without further ado, a few of Vashi's tips on EQing:

audio-for-video-2

Cut the Top and Bottom

At the bottom end, roll off frequencies below 100hz to remove rumbles, wind, and other low end noises that can muddy up your dialogue. You can do this using a "high pass" filter, like so (yours may look different, this is from FL Studio 11, but the end result is the same). At the other end, apply the same technique to get rid of sizzles, squeaks and high-pitched noise. (below, a "high pass filter")

high pass

Saving Dull and Distant Dialog

Says Vashi:

Often the mic will be too far from an actor and you will hear boomy, reverie dialog -- First apply a Parametric EQ at 300Hz with -4db and a Q=2. This can remove some of the “room boominess”. The second Parametric EQ at 4kHz with +6db and a Q=.25 will brighten up the dialog. Even a slight improvement will make the entire mix sound better. Also -- I like to EQ dialog while the music, background sound and room tone is playing. If you solo the dialog and EQ in a vacuum -- you won’t hear how it’s interacting with the environment and the mix.

music-video-audio

Sound Tricks

When all else fails, there's always a few a general rules and hacks that will usually help to produce acceptable quality audio. According to Vashi, a few of his favorite are:

  • Add Male Power = Parametric EQ at 160Hz with +2db and Q=1
  • Nasally Dialog = EQ reduction between 2kHZ to 4kHz by several db
  • Add Female Thickness= EQ boost at 150hz by several db
  • Add Vocal Presence = EQ boost at 5kHz by several db
  • Female Sibilance Reduction = EQ reduction at 6kHz to 8kHz (find it)
  • Male Sibilance Reduction= EQ reduction at 4kHz to 6kHz (find it)
  • General Dialog Boost = EQ boost at 2.5kHz by 3db

If all of this sounds completely ridiculous and abstruse to you right now, it's kind of supposed to. It would be weird if it was totally intuitive to you. (But awesome. Good for you!) That said, this is all fairly straightforward stuff, and I taught myself rudimentary audio engineering (mostly via YouTube tutorials and sites like Warbeats) in a few months.

Finally, here are a few more golden rules from Warbeats:

EQ Rules

Links:

[Lead image via Wikimedia courtesy Andyzweb]

Your Comment

38 Comments

Thanks for this. Been meaning to learn more about post sound.

Way too many people overlook sound even thought it's so important... As Video footage straight out of the camera comes alive with grading, so does sound straight out of the recorder with editing.

Proper sound really takes projects to the next level.

June 1, 2014 at 9:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Reggie

Cool man, happy to help. There's so much free info out there, I taught myself a DAW and basic audio in about two months, and it's well worth knowing.

June 1, 2014 at 9:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

4
Reply
avatar
Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

Justin, thanks for this post. Any leads to your favorite tutorial sources?

June 3, 2014 at 7:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Logan

Hey Logan,

Warbeats.com is great, that's where I learned a lot, they are more music based, my advice would be to think of any issue you wanted to learn about and just put it in youtube, e.g., mixing in cubase or whatever DAW or NLE you are using. There will be playlists a plenty. That's how I learned anything about audio and I know very little, as this comment thread will attest. Hope this helps! Basically, everything is a google search away. I don't know of any film centric sites but i think you'll have a lot to work with.

June 5, 2014 at 9:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
avatar
Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

Great info. Definitely needed this. Do you think it would be better to activate a low cut filter on the mic/recording device or is that something to be left for post?

June 1, 2014 at 10:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
von

You want your audio from location to be as clean as possible, so no, I wouldn't run any filters or effects until after you had it in your DAW of NLE. Otherwise you'll be limiting your options in post.

June 1, 2014 at 4:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

8
Reply
avatar
Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

Logically you are right but your answer is wrong.

Bass frequencies take up a huge amount of the audio spectrum. Enabling a 50Hz or 100Hz low cut allows the AD convertors in your recording device more bits (i.e: 16 or 24) to capture the audio you want resulting in better quality sound. I wouldn't cut higher than 100HZ, to be honest, then you really are impacting on the signal and should address the issue some other way; such as feed the interns, wait for the wind to die down or find a spot without so much background traffic noise.

Low cut on the mic when necessary. Not all the time.

It's the same as using ND filters to get the best out of a sensor. Don't shy away from audio filters 'because you can do it in post'.

June 4, 2014 at 2:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Dan Findlay

Good question Von. Personally, I like to capture the fullest and widest range of audio on set with no filters at that moment. Just like when capturing video, the more information you can capture initially...the more options you will have later down the post production pipeline. This is especially important when you do noise reduction after recording. The more information you have, the more accurate the noise reduction will be.
I can always take away audio frequencies later...I can't put them back in. Works for me!

June 1, 2014 at 4:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

If it's windy the high pass filter on the mic is your friend. If there's on board dynamics on your recorder the low frequencies can trigger the compressor/limiter before you would need it otherwise adding in unwanted limiting. It can also prevent over modulation in frequencies you don't really need for dialogue anyway.

June 1, 2014 at 8:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Tim

@Justin- Awesome article, audio is one area I'm really weak in and need to educate myself!

@Von- it seems to me that for dialog in most situations, there's not really a compelling reason to leave it till post. The *only* stuff in that range is stuff you don't want, and cutting it on the mic will give you more room to work with (i.e. to avoid unnecessary peaking) and less unwanted noise later.

Music, singers, nat sound, etc. or maybe even dialog in a perfectly controlled environment are different things entirely and it might be better to leave those till post, to have that extra bit of natural timbre and ability to finesse it.

I think the easiest way to think of this in a non-studio dialog situation is not in comparison to video frames but more like in comparison to a shooting script. There's nothing exactly wrong about shooting unnecessary coverage or scenes that you absolutely know won't be in the final sequence, but it makes things more expensive and annoying to deal with later and requires a bit of extra attention to make sure it doesn't affect what you do want. It's not so much a question of, "why not record it", but rather, "why yes record it", when it's 100% going to the trashbin later anyway.

Thanks for asking this question- I had the same one and needed to do some homework.

June 2, 2014 at 2:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

I think you can compare this to the question: should I be recording flat, raw video or compressed video with a picture profile. The answer is: it depends!

If you don't have a lot of time and money for post production, then shoot compressed video with a nice picture profile, and also use the low cut filter on your microphone. Then if you're lucky, it won't need any post production at all.

If you have a lot of time and money for post production, then shoot raw and don't use the low cut on your microphone. This way you can get the best out of everything in post production. However you definitely need a good post production in this scenario!

June 7, 2014 at 8:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Heiko

Awesome! More like this please!

June 1, 2014 at 2:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Andrew

agree, this is great!

June 1, 2014 at 2:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Fab

Really useful, thanks very much.

June 1, 2014 at 4:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

14
Reply
Rob

Cool. Thanks, guys!

June 1, 2014 at 4:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

3
Reply
avatar
Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

Nice! Now if you would do the same for sound levels? :)

June 1, 2014 at 6:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Jeff G

Let the meters peak at -6db and your good.

June 6, 2014 at 3:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

9
Reply
Ikarus

Peak at -6db seriously? Wouldn't it be -12db too low and we have to crank everything up adding noise

June 7, 2014 at 9:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Carter

The problem with recording below -24 is that you won’t get the best signal-to-noise performance out of your recording device. The problem with recording above -12 is that you run the risk of overdriving and distorting. Digital distortion sounds terrible, so it must always be avoided.

The sound guys at my T.V Station send a tone to my camera and set the peaks at -6db, thats a good middle ground. You want that because clipped/distorted sound is shit, but a little noise is manageable.

June 7, 2014 at 10:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Ivar Kristjan I...

why not just have Vashi repost his article from two weeks ago here? http://vashivisuals.com/5-eq-audio-for-video-tips-for-filmmakers/

June 2, 2014 at 4:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

3
Reply
Zak Forsman

Good article, though I worry about the phrase "several db" because it probably shouldn't mean more than a couple of db or so not, you know, twenty. The thing about eq is a little goes a long way. You need to be careful not to end up with nasty sounding and unsalvageable sounding tracks and dialogue because you went too far when you were printing it. Also have noticed the best engineers are generally into subtractive eq rather than additive. Also might put a bit more emphasis on what a room SOUNDS like when scouting locations. A lot of rooms look beautiful and sound terrible.

June 2, 2014 at 6:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

1
Reply
Billy Barber

Exactly, there's a reason why so many movies do ADR(automated dialog replacement). Pro sound engineers rarely do more then a 6db cut/boost.

P.S. The rule of 3 in db's for loudness perceived. You won't hear a difference with 1db or 2db boost in volume/gain, it starts at 3db.

June 6, 2014 at 3:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

2
Reply
Ivar Kristjan I...

I was just wondering about how to remove sounds from a single mic recording. I did a testimonial video at a semi-pro basketball game, and unfortunately, I only had the camera mic to work with. The dialogue sounds pretty good, but I can't get rid of the music, which overpowers the interview segments. Is there any way to isolate the dialogue from the music?

June 2, 2014 at 12:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

1
Reply
Alan

June 6, 2014 at 3:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

3
Reply
Ivar Kristjan I...

I especially love how you reprinted the tables lifted straight from Bobby Owsinski's book and warbeats w/o the appropriate credits like in the original article.

June 3, 2014 at 6:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
J

Hi J,

Well, I am a huge fan of Warbeats and what they do and at no point did I ever insinuate that these came from anywhere else. There are numerous links to Vashi's post, as well as a link to the pertinent Warbeats article as a source at the bottom, as well as information disclosing that charts come from Warbeats, with more links. The whole reason I know anything about anything is mostly from them. I believe the attribution was fair enough, but point taken. Everyone should go to warbeats.com and check out their audio tutorials they are free and excellent and useful for music production as well as general applied audio knowledge. No subscription fee, no bs, just really well done, easy to understand videos.

June 5, 2014 at 7:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
avatar
Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

Great article. Sound, in my opinion, is 50% of any given film production, but rarely is it given that level of attention! I made a tutorial a little while back discussing subtractive EQ and noise reduction for dialogue tracks. Worth a watch if you're doing testimonial work, corporate or docos.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXGuyWenEx8

June 3, 2014 at 11:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Caleb

Some people actually say that sound makes up to 70% of a film experience, and I think they might be right!

June 7, 2014 at 8:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Heiko

Royalty free music for any project..download stock music today from https://www.beatorchard.com/royalty-free-stock-music.php

June 5, 2014 at 12:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

Great to see more content on sound for film! Keep it coming!

June 6, 2014 at 3:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

Good article, Should have a warning - do not attempt this if using headphones or your laptops onboard speakers!! Like video monitors for colour grading, good audio monitoring is essential to do this type of work.

My tips would be, always cut rather than boost, and if mixing dialogue over music, use eq to cut the bass middle and treble in order to thin out the music and maintain presence for the dialogue.

Oh and if using a lapel type microphone, try putting a gentle dip in the eq in the mid frequencies, those little mics have abit of a peak in their responsiveness and doing this can make someone's voice sound a lot more natural and less 'mic'.

June 7, 2014 at 3:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
Chris K Jones

You might have mentioned that a "high pass" filter might also be called a "low cut" filter. This is often confusing for beginners, but they're different names for the same filter. Because cutting the low frequencies or passing the high frequencies is the same thing.

It's nice to have rules of thumbs with the frequencies you present here, but most often you will have to search for these frequencies yourself.

That means if you hear something is not right in your recording, take your eq, set it to q3 or q4 at +12dB and slowly shuttle through all the frequencies while playing the recording. At some frequency it is going to sound extra terrible - this is the frequncy you were looking for! Now slowly take it out, mostly -3dB to -6dB will help a lot.

You will have to do this most of the time, because no two rooms are equal, and 300Hz is not going to be the worst frequency in all rooms. I regularly record a presentation in a small tv studio where 550Hz has a really nasty reflection. I take it out with -5dB and q3.

Oh and also don't forget the room you're editing in: good audio monitors are a start, but your room needs some treatment, too. Usually you want to have a "dead end - live end" situation, where the side of the room that you are facing is damped ("dead") and the other side of the room behind you has diffusion ("live").
This on the other hand is a science of its own - but an important one! Because if your editing room doesn't sound neutral, the best audio equipment will not sound right!

June 7, 2014 at 8:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

3
Reply
Heiko

Thanks for the wonderful post.Just needed this!

July 3, 2014 at 1:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

1
Reply
TJL

Thanks for this post. I'm sure it's gonna help me a lot

July 4, 2014 at 3:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

As an audio engineer and soundtrack composer that follows nofilmschool I am happy to see this post come alive.
I own a video production company here in Brazil and audio is unfortunately the most underestimated and overlooked asset of a motion picture. Be it a feature film or a homemade production, audio is simply not given its importance.
Personally I think that the most important tool of all is a quality studio monitor. And if your room is too "echoy" or reverberates a lot, you can always get a good monitoring Headphone (even though it's not the ideal thing to listen to).
Anyway, great post! Keep up the good work =)
Cheers

July 4, 2014 at 11:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

My brother suggested I might like this web site. He used to
be entirely right. This post truly made my day.
You cann't consider simply how so much time I had spent for this
info! Thank you!

July 16, 2014 at 4:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

2
Reply

Nice one! This is really handy. Cheers guys!

April 3, 2015 at 12:53PM

0
Reply
avatar
Sean Breathnach
Writer\Director\Editor
168

Extraordinarily useful. Thanks for this!

April 3, 2017 at 8:26AM

0
Reply