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Tutorial: Auto-Ducking Audio in Adobe Premiere Pro CC

This tutorial demonstrates how to use Premiere Pro CC's Essential Sound Panel to automate the audio-ducking process in video projects that combine dialogue with underlying music tracks, speeding the process and potentially smoothing the mix as well.

Identifying Dialogue and Music Tracks

The first step is to tell Premiere Pro which tracks are dialogue tracks and which tracks are music tracks. Here, it helps to have your timeline well-organized so that when different speakers are introduced, their audio appears in the same track. In Figure 1 (below), the dialogue is in Audio Track 1 and the Music is in Audio Track 2.

Figure 1. We’ll be ducking Audio Track 2 (music) under Track 1 (dialogue).

Once you’re sure all of your audio is where it should be for easily automated ducking, navigate click Audio at the top of the Premiere Pro Editing workspace to open the Audio workspace and the Essential Audio panel. You can also go to Window > Workspaces > Audio or use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Shift+3.

With the Audio workspace selected, you’ll see the Essential Sound panel (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2. The Essential Sound panel in Premiere Pro CC

Next, click on an audio clip in Track 1 (or whatever your Dialogue track is), or Shift+Click to select all the clips in that track, and then click Dialogue in the Essential Sound panel to assign the Dialogue Audio Type to your selection (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. Identifying the audio in Track 1 to Premiere Pro as Dialogue. Click the image to see it at full size.

Inside the Dialogue tab of the Essential Sound panel, you have a variety of options for working with the audio, including adjusting the volume, de-humming, and de-essing, and treating it with a selection of presets based on room size, male/female, as well as creative/remedial sound-alteration effects like “From the Telephone” or based on room size or configuration. We’ll stick with the default for this project, since those other sound editing elements aren't what we’re working on here, but you can see some of the presets that you can experiment with in Figure 4 (below).

Figure 4. Dialogue presets in the Essential Sound panel

Click an empty area in the timeline to deselect the clips and do further audio type assignments. Next, click your music clip or shift-click all of the music clips in your music track to select them. Then click Music, just below Dialogue in the Essential Sound panel, to assign the Music Audio Type to the clip(s) in this track. The Music tab opens (Figure 5, below).

Figure 5. The Music tab in the Essential Sound panel

Just below Duration in the Music tab, you’ll see the Ducking check box, which is deselected by default. Click it to select it. There are just a few controls that become active (Figure 6, below), but they’re all important to the ducking process. First is Duck Against. This is, essentially, what stays high when the music track goes low. In this case, the Dialogue icon is selected by default, but you could also choose to duck the Music track against an Ambient track or an unspecified track. Whichever track you choose to duck against, the Music track will duck below it when there’s audio in that track.

Figure 6. Ducking parameters

Next, you’ll click Generate Keyframes to tell Premiere Pro when to duck--that is, to identify automatically when the Dialogue clips start and end and duck the Music against them while anyone is speaking. You can also fine-tune Premiere Pro’s sensitivity to changes in the Dialogue audio, how much the Music track is lowered when ducking against the Dialogue, and how slow or fast to ramp up and down the ducking at the beginning or end of a Dialogue clip so the changes aren’t too abrupt. These parameters are obviously key to effective ducking, and the kind of thing you’d be more painstakingly adjusting without the Essential Sound panel to ease the process, but it probably makes the most sense in terms of workflow to apply the keyframes first, let Premiere Pro work its magic, and adjust the speed and intensity of the ducking once you’ve heard the initial results.

In Figure 7 (below), you can see the keyframes Premiere Pro generated in Audio Track 2 in the timeline. It would have taken quite a bit more time to create these manually, especially in a longer or more complex project with a lot of transitions or breaks in the dialogue.

Figure 7. Ducking keyframes in the timeline

Here is what Premiere Pro came up with, ducking-wise, on this project before tweaking any of these parameters:

If I wanted to bring the music audio down lower in the parts where it’s ducking against the dialogue, I could simply drag the Reduce By slider (shown in Figure 6) to the left to reduce it by a few more dBs. Likewise, I could also make the transitions from ducked to un-ducked more gradual by dragging the fades slider to the right. You can also make additional adjustments in the Audio Clip Mixer. If you do make additional adjustments, be sure to click Generate Keyframes again to make sure they’re applied.

Even with a few more tweaks added to the process, this auto-ducking feature saves time in the repetitive work of making these adjustments manually, and also applies a more sensitive technique to balancing different elements of a mix that might get you closer to the mix you hear in your head than you can get on your own.

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