Home > Uncategorized > Levelling Dialogue in Post Production

Levelling Dialogue in Post Production

There’s a consistent question I come across in the world of post production: how do I level my voice tracks against my music and FX tracks? Now, I’m not going to go into the specifics of levels, there are enough posts and information on that elsewhere. Also, nobody ever really seems to completely agree on what the number are. Instead, I will be discussing my ideas on the theory of levelling audio.

There are many different schools of thought on how to level audio for different scenarios. How one would level audio in a humorous, dialogue heavy scene would differ from how one would level in a scene that is considered heavy drama. So, this leaves the question: where do you start? For editing purposes, I always start by levelling my audio so the music and FX tracks are well below the voice tracks. When the goal is getting your story made, this is always the place to start.

For the most part, after that it becomes just an issue of making sure the music and FX tracks don’t interfere. I make sure my voice is within safe levels, and then bring up the music and FX tracks until it feels natural.

The tricky part is when you have a particularly important piece of dialogue in a scene and you need musical or FX support to give it that extra oomph. We obviously don’t want all our audio sounding like On the Waterfront, so what do you do? I’m a big believer in using your music to slightly drown out your voice. It’s a very finicky process, because you don’t want the audio hard to hear but you want the viewer to have to pay attention to what is being said. If you are able to slightly bury the voice in the music, then the viewer will pay closer attention than they normally will to hear. This forces them to not just hear the dialogue, but to actually listen to it.

By employing this technique at key moments in your film, audiences will gain a better understanding of what’s happening, and are less likely to have to ask someone what’s going on.

It’s not in depth by any means, but it’s my two cents on a simple way to make your dialogue really count.

The scene from On the Waterfront I’m referring to is around the 1:00 mark in the below video.

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