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Premiere Pro: Working with Audio Tracks and the Audio Mixer

The mixer is an important tool for getting professional sounding audio, but it can be confusing to beginners. Here’s how to use the mixer in Premiere Pro

The audio mixer is a very under-utilized tool by video editors, and understanding how it works can save hours of mixing work and enable more professional sounding mixes. The mixer, named in Premiere as the Audio Track Mixer, works by processing audio on a track level instead of on a clip-by-clip basis.

Mixer Basics

Loading the Audio Track Mixer

The Audio Track Mixer is hidden by default in most Premiere workspaces. It can be loaded by switching to the Audio workspace or clicking Window → Audio Track Mixer.
If you want the mixer to always be readily available, create your own workspace preset by clicking Window → Workspaces → Save as New Workspace.

How It Works

The Audio Track Mixer can look a bit daunting at first. For video editors accustomed to a horizontally based timeline, the vertically stacked tracks can be unfamiliar enough to just ignore the mixer altogether. 

Luckily, the mixer isn’t that complex. It’s just formatted differently. The most important part of the mixer to understand is its relationship to the timeline. Each vertical column, as seen in the image above, is labeled A1, A2, A3, and so on. These are the same exact audio tracks that exist in the normal editing timeline, as pictured below.

The Audio Track Mixer makes it easy to do widespread adjustments and apply effects to entire tracks at once. For example, maybe you have a voiceover on the A1 track and music on A2, and the music is too loud and drowns out the voiceover. Just grab the fader on the A2 track in the mixer and lower it as desired. Keeping similar audio types on dedicated tracks allows for quickly achieving a rough mix.

Some editors may find it helpful to rename their audio tracks at the bottom of the mixer to stay organized.

Premiere’s Audio Track Mixer shouldn’t be confused with the Audio Clip Mixer, which is a separate panel for clip-based editing. The Audio Clip Mixer is useful for panning and volume automation on specific clips, rather than adjusting an entire track at once.

Channel Functions

Each different audio track, or channel, has a multitude of settings and controls that achieve different results.

Mute, Solo, and Record
The most fundamental and often used tools are the Mute, Solo, and Record buttons. These are abbreviated to M, S, and R.

Toggling the Mute or Solo buttons are easy ways to focus on different audio elements, disable tracks, and prepare stems. The Record button allows you to record from a microphone directly into Premiere, which is useful mainly for doing a voiceover. Configure the audio hardware to select your microphone as the input by clicking Preferences → Audio Hardware.

The M, S, and R buttons are exactly the same as the ones that appear in the timeline and can be used interchangeably. The only difference is that a microphone symbol is used in the timeline rather than the letter R.

Panning
Panning audio means to direct a sound signal to a different part of the stereo field. More simply, panning allows you to move audio more to the left (L) or right (R) side rather than playing equally from both channels.

In music production, instruments are panned to achieve a balanced and pleasing mix. In video post-production, panning is commonly used to help match sound design to a scene. For example, if a door slams in the very left of a scene, panning that sound effect to the left creates a more realistic sensory experience for the viewer.

In the Audio Track Mixer, the panning dial is always centered (0.0) by default. Remember that changing panning settings here will affect the entire audio track. Use the Audio Clip Mixer to pan a specific clip at a time.

Automation
Automation refers to having parameters, such as volume or effects knobs, adjust themselves over a determined length of time. Using the Pen Tool to draw volume curves is an example of automation in action. Each channel in the Audio Track Mixer has its own automation mode, which is set to Read by default. 

Different automation modes can be used to quickly adjust parameters along an entire track. While each mode is different, experiment first by just using the Read and Write modes. Set a track to Write, and then adjust the volume fader while playing your timeline. Your live adjustments will be recorded as automation data.
Remember to switch back to Read when you are done making changes. The Latch and Touch modes are intended to make adjustments to existing automation data, rather than starting over.

Track Effects
One of the most powerful aspects of the mixer is well-hidden in Premiere. Twirl down the tiny arrow in the upper left corner of the mixer to access the effects rack. This allows you to apply and combine audio effects like EQ, reverb, and compression to entire tracks.

Using the Master Channel

The master channel appears on the far right in the mixer. Unless you deliberately change audio signal routing to use submixes, every individual audio track feeds directly into the master channel. This master channel is what gets exported with the video, and can’t be muted or soloed.

If the master channel shows a red color at any point while playing your sequence, that means audio is clipping. This essentially means that the waveform, which is the sum of all of the audio tracks, is too large. Clipping can cause audible distortion and quality loss and should always be avoided.

While the master channel fader can be adjusted to affect the entire mix uniformly, a good preliminary step to avoid clipping is to make sure that no individual track is too loud. In the example above, both A1 and the master channel are clipping. In this case, adjusting A1 to no longer clip will likely fix the issue on the master.

Tools such as compressors and limiters can be used on any audio track, including the master, to sweeten mixes and help prevent clipping.

March 09, 2020
Jason Brandel

Jason Brandel is a freelance video editor, filmmaker, and instructor of The Complete Audio Guide for Video Editors. Editing portfolio & contact info available at jasonbrandel.com.

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