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Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels

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MarkofCainTheory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 8, 2006 at 12:33:44 pm

I'm a self taught newbie (10 months on Adobe Video Collection) and would like some input from those with more experience and or specific training on the use of audio levels on a music bed.

The type of video work I do mainly is personal testimony videos that are 6 to 12 minutes in length. I usually lay a music bed beneath the voice over to set the mood. As I get further into this type of work, I have unanswered questions about the use of the music bed.

1) AT what volume level should the music bed be played? (I think I recall that for live events the dB of the person on stage should be 24 dB above the dB of the floor noise). Is there a "rule" like that for music beds?

2) Should the music bed volume levels rise and fall or remain constant? What is your practice?

3) If there is a period of silence, should the music bed volume level be pushed up at that point?

4) If yes to 3) how long does the silence need to be before the volume levels of the music bed get pushed up? I mean, if someone on the video takes a deep breath and pauses to think for a moment (and that needs to be included in the video to show emotion/mood), should the level go up then? or only on 5 or 6 second pauses like for transitions?

Thanks for your help. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated and considered.

Mark Cain
Sarasota, FL USA

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Mark RaudonisRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 8, 2006 at 1:49:59 pm


I don't think you can make a general statement about this, like "music should be "X" dB below dialogue. There are many, many factors which can affect this equation. For example, the "intensity" of the music or the "tonal range" of the instrumentation makes a huge difference in how it will interact with dialogue. You can often reduce the "conflict" between music and dialogue by changing the eq of the music and Not changing the volume.

So, my best advice is just listen. If you find your attention split between music and dialogue, then decide which one is important and any given time and favor it. Yes, that means "riding" the volume to fill in the spaces of your dialogue track... but be careful. You don't want the music track "pumping" whenever there's a short gap.

Good luck.


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Matt SowderRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 8, 2006 at 4:49:22 pm

Another thought would be to export out the edited dialog and mix in Audition. I never worked like that until this current job. Just concentrating on the audio/editing/mixing part is so much easier outside of the program. Dropping in FX and such can be done with small QT or visual aid to help after you do the music mix but that initial marriage of music and dialog can happen all alone...

The mixes at this place are so much sharper than anything I've done before... But it's more of an actual post scoring than a DIY mixdown. But with the Adobe suite you can DIY. I'd be interested to see if this work flow "works" for you...

Matt Sowder
Fiddler's Ridge Productions

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Charlie KingRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 8, 2006 at 10:44:10 pm

Some people say I mix too hot. Othjers love my mixes. I believe if there is music it should set a tone, and therefore I mix the music up preferably at the highest point it doesn't cover any of the dialogue, that is a tough line and easily crossed to where the music conflicts, don't go that high. I personally hate hearing music that has been ridden up and down, it should in my opinion be constant unless there is a large gap adn it needs to come up for effect.

Not much help I'm sure too many variables.

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MarkofCainRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 8, 2006 at 11:09:28 pm

Actually that is my work flow for the most part.

I work with the timeline, some transistions and final video in Premiere, alpha channel text overs and some transistions in After Effects, and then export the audio from Premiere to a .wav. I then pull the wav into Audition to clean up the noise, tweak the EQ, lay down the music bed and add any sound effects, ambience, etc. Then export and lay that under the video in Premiere. Then render it out.

It is a very workable flow for me and allows me to focus on each aspect of the video. Thanks for the suggestion. If I weren't alreday doing it, I'd try it :-)

Mark Cain
Sarasota, FL USA

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FischTaleRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 8, 2006 at 11:54:26 pm

A good editor can ride the levels and make it sound like nothing changes. It's basically manual compression. If you bring your audio up during a pause in dialouge make sure you ramp it up and make it flow in and out of the dialouge so you don't hear the level raise. Sometimes it's easy and sometimes it's almost impossible, but when you get it right it sounds perfect. When you get it wrong it sounds like AGC.

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Chaz ShukatRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 9, 2006 at 9:06:24 pm

Use your ears. Make the music as loud as you can without it fighting the dialogue or distracting your attention from the dialog. It's there for mood and to be heard on an almost subliminal level. But don't put it so low that you can hardly hear it or else why put it in at all? During a pause, if it feels like there's a hole there, fill it with music up, if not, let it ride. For a pause in someone talking, I say, let it ride. For a transition, pump it up. Make all transitions smooth, just use your ears. If it doesn't sound right, it isn't. Forget dBs and formulas, just don't red-line it (or peg the meters as we used to say in the stone age).

You can find more newbie guidance by visiting and
email me about ordering a pre-publication version of my e-book "EDITING REALITY".

Chaz S.

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grinnerRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 11, 2006 at 5:59:22 am

let the vibe guide you.
that said, I now highly rely on numeric levels to tell me where I'm at.
Strange thing. Few years ago, I'm sitting, editing and grinning. My ear itches so I stick my lil finger in there and wiggle it around. Fixed it so I pulled it out and POP
daaang. Doctor said it was a ruptured blood vessel. A few surgeries later, I'm freakin deaf in one ear and I can't mix a show fer nuthin. Luckily, I had memorixed numeric audio levels in the audio mixer. 14 is up full, 28 is bed level under sot, and I always peak it between key phrases or chapter changes, if you will.
I have my left monitor 3 feel from my head aimed directly at my ear. My right monitor faces the room about 10 feet away. Closest I can get to stereo. Sometimes I can't here the music while somone is talking, I'll crank it up where it sounds fine, recheck my numeric levels and they'll be at like 20. Works for some music under some people some of the time but is hard to listen to over an extended period of time.
I guess thats the thing. If you hear it, did you want to? If ya didn't were you trying to stay below the radar?
What I do is lay the content down on a timeline. I go from the time subtractivly, ditchin' stuff I don't want. This gives me a real good sense of the vibe of the piece. I know where mood changes are happening and rearange content to the order I like.
I then hit it again from the top, cleaning stuff up on the content I am now keeping fer sure.
Again from the top, now with music. By now I have laid in filler where my swells will be and I simply backtime intros, outros, swells and transitions. Goes quick.
Then I do broll from the top, sometimes plopping in key shots when I do the audio pass.
One more time from the top with layers of lovew, graphics, sweetening and effects.
Thats not a template. It's a method of attack. There are no templates when it comes to any kind of editing.
Hopefully, the content will scream what it needs and wants and we'll all respond accordingly.

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mark harveyRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Sep 11, 2006 at 10:54:05 am

I use the levels to set a basic mix, from there I go work.

I work in sports promos, so music really drives our spots. I like to have as much music as possible. I like to create a hole in the music to allow space for the voice. I will remove a portion of the music using the EQ, then will add a little to that same frequency of the voice. This allows me to really drive the tunes. Usually the EQ frequency is around 1.5 khz (give or take).

As other have said, there is no exact rule to follow. Get yourself some good mixing speaker (nice and flat), and get a crappy speaker (tv speaker will do fine) your mix through both....chances are that the crappy speaker will let you know if there is too much or not enough music.


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alan smitheeRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Oct 6, 2006 at 4:07:03 pm

i read your post on using eq to lower the music and bring up the dialogue track. it sounds intriguing but i'm not sure i understand. what's the difference between lowering the music on the music track in the trad way and using your method? can you explain exactly how you apply your method? really interested to find out as sports promo style footage is driving lots of what i do. thanks.

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Tom MeeganRe: Theory and Practice of Music Bed Volume Levels
by on Nov 7, 2006 at 5:00:46 am

Hi Alan,

I believe what Mark is refering to is pulling down just some of the frequencies of the music, and then pushing up those same frequencies in the voice track. When I do this, I find it helpful to figure out what frequencies are strongest in the voice and then work with those frequencies.

Because most voices are in the mid range, this allows the base and treble of the music to be "louder" without interfering with the intelligibility of the voice. Thus, in the case of a sports bumper, the base drum, base guitar, and cymbal hits can really drive the spot without making it impossible to understand.

One other mixing idea I did not see above

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