The impact of audio in video

When starting out on the road to video editing, it's easy to go overboard with special effects. Invariably, most new users forget that the whole point of a video project is to tell a story, not show your audience that you know where the 3D page turn button is on your video editing program.

As users become more experienced with editing their own videos, and they witness the positive and negative reactions to their work, they quickly become aware that less creativity is usually more effective. When a video editor realises that the most powerful transition is a simple cut from one scene to another, they are well on their way to telling an effective story on video.

Unfortunately, audio aspects of video editing often suffer from a lack of creativity when making a video project. George Lucas, universally acknowledged as a fair director (disregarding "The Phantom Menace"), has stated that audio is at least as important as video when assessing the impact of a movie on an audience. However, most people starting out in video barely acknowledge the existence of the audio track, let alone make any effort to use audio as an intricate part of the video making process. Many users simply use the audio taken with the video when editing and forget that existing audio can be cleaned up or additional audio tracks added.

It's also important to remember that consideration of audio in the making of a video must be present when taking video, not just at the editing stage. While it is reasonably easy to concentrate on the video aspect of taking footage - the lens simply records what you want to capture - audio is a completely different story. The microphone on your camcorder normally will not have the intelligence to know which audio you deem to be important and which audio you want discarded; it simply records the sounds of its immediate environment.

Try to take stock of your audio environment and shoot accordingly. If traffic sounds are an issue, try to move away from the offending sounds as far as possible. Likewise, if you are shooting video indoors and sounds such as a loud clock or a washing machine are intruding, remove the problem before you start filming. A little effort at this stage will make the editing side of the project a lot more satisfying.


An external microphone may be a good idea if you want even more control over your environment; for example, zoom mics are available that attempt to zoom in on a subject when you go in close. The mic simply attaches to your flash/accessory shoe and connects to the mic input on your camcorder. A boom mic would be even more effective in some circumstances, allowing you to focus on the best placement of the mic without having to be physically connected to the camcorder. However, you need an extra set of hands and a bigger budget for this to work.

Also, if you really want to make sure that the audio you are getting is satisfactory, use headphones when using the camcorder. You can't guess whether a mic is capturing more of the surrounding dialogue than you think or determine if a technical hitch means you're not recording sound at all. A pair of isolating headphones driven by the camera can be a very useful tool when working in the field.

Precise editing

If you want to take your editing seriously, you should also consider getting an audio editing program to complement your video-editing package. The latter is good for simple audio cuts and fades; however, when you work with video, a frame is generally the smallest editing measure, whereas in audio a full frame is often too much time to accurately cut a sung word or match up a sound.

Programs such as Sound Forge 6.0 from Sonic Foundry allow you to match your audio more accurately than you could normally do in a standard video editing package. Make sure you have a backup of any original footage before you start working with your audio, particularly if you take your audio off your video track.

If you are working with only one camcorder, you may have little control over the quality of the audio, especially if you are not using an external microphone. This is where you may want to consider more aggressive use of a background soundtrack to set the mood of the project.

Finally, remember the copyright issues when choosing audio content to use in your next video. Just because you have bought the CD, that doesn't mean that you can use the music in any project you see fit.

There is a vast array of royalty free music, such as Acid Loops (, to set virtually any mood.

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Denis Gallagher

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