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PapaJohn's Newsletter #2 - Audio/Narration

Topic - Audio/Narration
"As regards topics - maybe something on audio and, in particular narration. I find it difficult to achieve a consistent level on my various narration clips throughout a video; less of a problem with music clips."

Special Notices
I was thinking about the 'adopt a highway' program, where people volunteer to keep a mile of it clean. It reminded me of my 'adopt a web page' program, something you probably don't know about and an item I haven't mentioned lately. I only have one adopted page... the Importing Source Files > Prelinger Movies page, maintained by someone who goes by the handle of "The Criticians", and who I'm sworn to secrecy about his real name. His particular interest is in using Prelinger Archives movies in MM2 projects. When his personal website is up and running, we'll drop the page and point to his site. Until then, as far as I'm concerned, the page is his.

I'd like to see more pages like that.

Pick any of my current website pages and there's lots of people who know much more about the topic than I do. Not all of them have an interest in sharing their knowledge or in maintaining info on a website. But, if you are interested, pick a page and let me know. If you don't have a website, but have a strong interest in any aspect of MM2, it might be a good place to practice... adopt a page. Or if there's no page you want to adopt, but have an idea for another one, I'll roll that one out with you. I'm easy to work with, especially if you offer to do most of the work.

Here's how I usually handle audio in Movie Maker 2.... I'll whip up a sample project to illustrate it, and walk you through it.
I picked an unsplit clip from my library, from camcorder footage of a recent trip to Seattle. I added a tune I ripped from an iTunes preview using the narration feature of MM2 (getting it directly from the music playing in iTunes with the Stereo Mix option in the narration window). Then I filled the first part of it with a voice narration which I did by talking at my laptop from about 1-1/2 feet away, while previewing this sample project.
With the clips on the timeline, I like to look at the audio close-up. Zoom into the timeline and make the timeline tracks high enough so you can see the audio wave patterns well. The other thing I do is listen to it.... earbuds work for me for editing. I don't use an expensive headset.
Here's what the audio patterns look like before I make any changes. The video clip is a view out the window of the airplane's wing as it's flying toward Chicago. The heavy (read heavy as louder) steady noise is from the engine right outside my window. It sure is overpowering the narration clip playing with it in the Audio/Music track... I can hear the engine well during preview, but hardly the voice narration. You can see that in the patterns even before pressing the play button.
The sudden drop in level in the audio at the 16+ second point is when the video changes to an internal shot of the airport terminal in Chicago with normal background noise. The next drop in that clip's audio is a 3rd scene that starts at 28+ seconds, a snow scene taken from inside my car, with no desired audio to record during it. Note that my video clip hadn't been split into scenes before putting it on the timeline for this sample project.
My goal is to adjust the audio of the airplane engine and the narration files so I can hear the voice over the engine, and to get rid of the audio (even though it's at a low level) during the snow scene, as there wasn't supposed to be any meaningful ambient noise (but there always is.... even if it's just the motors of the camcorder).
My goal is to adjust the audio of the airplane engine and the narration files so I can hear the voice over the engine
I split the video clip on the timeline so I could handle the audio of each sub-clip. Then I made a couple adjustments. You can see how much I lowered the volume of the engine. And by splitting the clip you can now see the O'Hare airport terminal and the snow scene thumbnails in the video track. For the snow scene clip, I muted the audio totally. You don't see much change in the track because it was so low to start with. And whatever there was isn't standing up at all to the level of Billy Joel. But it's easy to mute it and appropriate.
Then I raised the level of the narration clip.... yup, it sounds fine now even with the jet engine in the background.
Then I raised the level of the narration clip.... yup, it sounds fine now even with the jet engine in the background
That's it..... sounds fine. I used the visual feedback from the audio track patterns.... with some rules of thumb being:
  • Look at and listen to the clip's audio relative to the other clips in the project.... there are no numbers or meters to go by.... kind of feel your way through it.
  • Use the audio patterns... they provide easy, great, and appropriate feedback.... between them and what you hear, you have enough to work with.
  • Don't go too high... see the Billy Joel recording, a professional track that shows you how high or loud audio should be... don't have peaks going off the top/bottom of the track. See how my voice narration clip now aligns with Billy.
  • Mute any audio that isn't meaningful, like car engine or camcorder motor noises in a totally quiet scene.
  • Don't eliminate normal background ambient noises like in the airplane and the airport.... total silence there is unreal.... stay realistic.
  • Overlap audio/music clips to nicely mix the sounds of each.... unlike video clips that fade into and out of each other, audio all plays at whatever level you see.
  • But, do use the Fade-in and Fade-out options, especially when abruptly starting or ending audio clips.

I look forward to any discussion items at the forums, and whatever the next topic will be.
I have a request in for sources of royalty free video clips/files. That's a short topic as I don't know very many places, so I'll probably not devote a whole newsletter to it.... unless you tell me where such items are available.
About John 'PapaJohn' Buechler from
John 'PapaJohn' Buechler John "PapaJohn" Buechler, of Kalamazoo, Mich., goes by PapaJohn online. An avid user of Movie Maker since its first release, and a regular supporter of the community of Movie Maker users, John received a 2003 MVP award from Microsoft for that support. In March 2003, he started a comprehensive website about Movie Maker 2 at He maintains the website, writes books and articles, teaches, and provides support services - all for the community of Movie Maker 2 users. An engineer by formal education, John is a computer database and multimedia expert by business and personal experience. He co-authored the first book about Movie Maker 2 and is actively working on a second one. You can find his advice in the Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup and in the Windows Movie Makers Forums.

This newsletter is republished with permission of John "PapaJohn" Buechler. Please note that this is an archive of newsletters and some information may become outdated. PapaJohn, and the webmaster of this site, provides this information "AS IS" with no warranties.



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