It is easy to end up with many layers of audio, such as background sounds, voiceovers, and music, in a typical iMovie project. iMovie includes several tools for letting you control these audio tracks and adjust the volume and position of each.



Video Transcript (Click to Expand)
Hi this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today’s episode let’s talk about using multiple layers of audio in iMovie.

So it has been a while since I’ve talked about this and a lot of people have been asking me questions lately. What happens when you have multiple layers of audio in iMovie? How do you manage them, tell which one is going to be the loudest. Maybe which one will be quiet for a little while. Let’s look at how to do it.

Here I’ve got a simple project in iMovie. I’ve got a piece of video. The same piece of video I’ve laid in here. It is video of a babbling brook. You can hear clearly in the audio the sound of the water, in fact it is quite loud. So that is my first layer of audio. My second layer of audio I use the microphone icon here and I’ve recorded a little voice over. Some words over this that are spoken. So I’ve got two layers now. I’ve got my voice and I’ve got the sound of the water.

Now I’m going to add a third layer of audio. This I’m going to get by going into the music section here, going into Jingles in the iLife sounds and just taking this newborn musical composition here and dragging it in. Now it is important to realize that there are two ways to add this sound to iMovie.

One is if you just drag it in here you can see that it highlights the entire thing green like that. That is the background for the entire movie. I don’t ever see any reason to do that. I mean it is quick and dirty if you just want to throw something together fast. But otherwise you want to specify exactly where it begins and to have complete control over it. So what you want to do is you want to go here to the clip and drop it onto the clip. You want to drop it on at the very beginning in this case since it is going to start at the very beginning, and it will add itself as another track.

So you see now I’ve got three tracks. I’ve got the track, the video track here which has audio, and I’ve got the two audio tracks below that; the voice over recording and this music. Now if I play the video I get all three layers of sound at once.

Now let’s say we want to make some adjustments to these three tracks. Say first we don’t want to have them all start at the same time. Maybe we want the music to come in later. So that is why it is important that we added the music here as a track rather than as the background for the entire thing. Now we can adjust the starting time. I will take a little away from the end there, dragging the end, and now I will be able to drag the entire thing to the right. So now the audio comes in a little later.

So let’s say instead maybe this is some ambience here instead of being music and I just wanted it to fade in gradually rather than start later. So a quick way to do that is to select it. I’m going to hit A to bring up the Inspector right to the Audio inspector and then I can go and say let’s create a Fade In and I can set it to be say one and a half seconds and now it will fade in over one and a half seconds even though the music starts here it won’t reach its full volume until about right here. You can do the same thing as you saw there with a Fade Out as well.

But I can also manually control the volume by simply expanding the audio there. Then you can see here I can see all three of the audio tracks. One that is part of the video and I can see this one expanded with the waveform and this one expanded with the waveform. You can see here the fade that I just added. Let’s reset that all the way to the beginning there. I can simply select blocks here, just click and it gives me a block, and I can drag the ends of this block and select a larger portion. Inside that portion here I can lower the volume to a certain level.

So say I wanted to start quietly and then at some dramatic part in the vocal narration I wanted it to raise up and then perhaps then in another part here lower back down. So I can do that if I want.

Now the same is also true for the audio inside here. If I wanted to have the audio for the brook be a little quieter there is a lot of things I can do. For instance I can go to the Audio inspector here by pressing A and that can reduce the overall volume of the clip and you can see it lowers that line there. I can also drag that line as well. I can also add equalizer effects and things like that.

Also the normalize clip volume is kind of useful. It will look at the entire clip and basically say, is it very quiet. If it is very quiet it is going to make it louder. Is it very loud then it is going to make it softer. What it should do is basically bring different things like this voice over recording, the music, and the background sound to about the same level. Now that may not be what you want in this case but it sometimes comes in useful.

So here I’ve lowered the volume but I still can go and click inside here and say towards the end of the video I want the sound to actually raise up a bit and then so you can hear the brook a little bit louder there.

Now also with video you have the option to do something called Detach Audio. Now it doesn’t really get you much in here but a lot of people like to do that for neatness. So if I go into Clip here and select Detach Audio you can see what it basically does is it removes the audio track there. You can see it is not there anymore. It puts it in its own sound area here so you now have three layers of sound and they are all in their own track rather than one being attached to the video. It can be useful sometimes because you can actually move this separately from this here.

The last thing I want to show you really doesn’t apply to this video but I’m going to force it into it. I’m going to drag and drop another clip into here and I’m going to say let’s do a cutaway. Of course I can do a cutaway because in iMove Preferences I’ve turned on the Advanced Tools right there. So now I have that set and that has its own sound say. So what is going to happen is that sound will then mix and there is a fourth soundtrack. One of the things that you can do with any of this stuff is if you select soundtrack and you bring up the inspector by hitting A you can turn on Ducking which basically tells you that when this sound is playing reduce other tracks.

So let’s select the cutaway here. I can turn on Ducking. What will happen is when this clip starts other track volume goes down to 15% of the normal level and it picks back up to 100% when it is over. So it is kind of a way to not only do a cutaway for the video but a cutaway for the audio as well while not completely eliminating the other audio. So it is something to be aware of if you want to use it. Some people actually turn it on and don’t realize that they have and have trouble figuring out how to turn that effect off. So that is how you turn on and off Ducking for a cutaway or picture in picture.

So there is a basic look at how to handle multiple tracks of audio in iMovie. Now if it is something you plan to use in your videos what I encourage you to do is play around with it. Make some sample video, get some music, record some audio on your own and play around with the different effects so you understand how they work and you try out some techniques so by the time you want to make something with it you’ve got some experience.

Hope you found this useful. Until next time this is Gary with MacMost Now.


7 Responses to “MacMost Now 824: Handling Multiple Layers Of Audio In iMovie 11”

  1. John Dingler, artist says:

    Learned about cutaway. Thanks. *S*

  2. Wim Broerse says:

    Thanks for your tutorials. Learned a lot of it!
    Greetings from The Netherlands.

  3. Rajesh Singh says:

    Hi Gary,
    How do u keep multiple video organized when u shoot a scene with 2 or more Camera’s?

  4. Joe S. says:

    Is it possible to position the audio on the right channel, left channel, or moving dynamically between channels in iMovie?

    • Not in iMovie. But you can do it in GarageBand. Finish the video and then bring it into a GarageBand project and edit the audio there.

  5. Vimala says:

    Thanks a million Gary, This and many of your other videos have been incredibly useful to me. Much more useful than the trainings I did at the Apple Store.

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