Final Cut Pro: How to Adjust Clip Audio Levels and Pan Using Keyframes

Audio is often neglected by beginning filmmakers, yet it is just as important to the audience as the image. In fact, you could have the most amazing thing ever shot on the greatest video format that money could buy and if the audio sounds bad then the audience will reject it as crap. Aside from capturing high quality sound when shooting, your sound design in post production will determine how the audience accepts the audio. A great sound design will subconsciously engulf the audience, allowing them to mentally escape into the story you're telling. One of the things you can do to achieve this is adjust the clip audio levels and pan using keyframes.

Working in the Viewer

The Viewer is the place in final cut where you can apply and edit clips from your timeline. Simply double click the clip that you wish to work with so you can edit it in the Viewer. If your clip was captured with channel 1 and channel 2 stereo then you will see five tabs labeled video, mono 1, mono 2, filters, and motion. For audio editing we are primarily concerned with mono 1 and mono 2.

You will also notice a button with a diamond in it. Clicking on this button adds keyframes to your clips. Keyframes are like cue points. Each one represents either the start or end of a change in the project. In our case it would represent cue marks for volume (audio level) changes and audio pans. You will also notice a sliding bar for audio levels and a sliding bar labeled pan.

Changing Audio Levels

By default, all audio added into Final Cut is given the level of 0 db, even if this was not the case. This way it is easier to know what has bee changed in post production.

Changing our audio levels is easy. If we're changing the levels throughout the clip then we need to add keyframes at each point the levels will change. For example, let's say two characters are talking and one's voice is much lower than the others.

Add Keyframes

We will add a keyframe at the frame before they speak, then the frame when they speak. We will then add a keyframe for when they finish speaking and one at the frame right after they finish talking. We will repeat this for each dialogue exchange the have.

Adjusting the Audio Levels

Because one person's dialogue has fine audio we do not want to alter anything with him. That's what the first and last keyframes are for, they exist to protect the rest of the clip. With the playhead at the second keyframe we will raise the audio level. We then move the playhead to the third keyframe and raise that audio level to the same as the second keyframe. Repeat this process for each line.

When played back the audio levels should sound more "even" between the dialogue exchanges.

Audio Pans

Audio pans are a great way to suck the audience into your story. Let's say you're editing a chase scene and the main character can't see what he is looking for, but he can hear it. A great way to show this is to do an audio pan of the unseen thing, giving the illusion of movement.

Creating Audio Pans

Creating audio pans uses the same keyframe process used for changing audio levels. You set your keyframe marks for where you want the pan to begin and end. Then at the first keyframe, you move the pan all the way to the left. Next, go to the second keyframe and move it all the way to the right.

Final Cut Pro will fill in the space in-between with the pan so when you play it back you will hear the audio panning from right to left.

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