Sound effects are an important part of video and film production.
As a general rule, sound effects should be set at a volume level of between -12dB and -18dB in most video editing software. Although the volume level of sound effects will vary, they should never impede your main narration or exceed 0dB.
What Should My Audio Levels Be?
Setting audio levels in your videos and mixing the right audio levels for sound effects can be tricky. This is a learned skill that you will get better at with practice.
As a general rule, your overall mix level should be between -10dB & -20dB, with main dialogue in the -6dB to -12dB region, background music in the -18dB to -20dB region and sound effects in the -12dB to the -18dB region.
|Audio Type||Guide Audio Level|
|Overall Audio Mix Level||-10dB to -20dB|
|Dialogue Level||-6dB to -12dB|
|Background Music Levels||-18dB to -20dB|
|Sound Effect Levels||-12dB to -18dB|
Sound effects, in particular, can be tricky as every sound effect is different. For example, a loud “explosive sound” must be handled differently from a quiet door knock.
When mixing sound effects as part of a larger soundtrack, it is often best to treat each sound effect independently, or if the quality of sound effects is very large, to lump similar sound effects or sounds with a similar dB level together.
To learn more about setting audio levels for background music, I have covered this in greater depth in this article, How Loud Should Background Music Be?
What Do Negative Numbers On The Decibel Scale Mean?
If you work with video editors and mix audio, you will notice that on such systems, we deal with audio in the negative decibel region.
The golden rule when mixing audio for video, including sound effects, is to ensure that the audio levels never exceed 0dB. If the audio levels go above 0dBs when recording or producing, we will get distortion.
Yet, if we talk about environmental sounds that we hear in our daily lives, for example, a jet engine, this has a decibel level of around 150dB.
Therefore, decibels and the unit measurement of volume can get really confusing!
To understand decibels, it is important to point out that the decibel is not an absolute measurement of sound, but is a comparison with a reference value.
A good comparison is the Celsius temperature scale where we can have hot and cold temperatures, with 0 Celsius representing the freezing point.
With the decibel (dB) system, 0dB is the lowest sound the human ear can hear.
But, when we change the context of the decibel to working with audio technology, 0dBs is the loudest value before distortion begins. When mixing audio in the video, we must never go above zero.
Therefore, whether decibels are negative or not depends on context, and in the context of audio technology and audio mixing, 0dBs is a ceiling, above which distortion happens.
What Is The Ideal Audio Level For YouTube Videos?
Mixing audio levels for YouTube can be tricky at first as there is a lot of different recording advice online.
As a general rule, YouTube normalises its audio output at -14LUFS. As a result, ensuring your audio is between -11LUFS and -13LUFS is a good range for video production volume levels for YouTube.
Setting Audio levels For Video Recording
When recording audio for video, it is essential to keep an eye on your recording levels to ensure that the audio recorded, be it dialogue or sound effects, is loud enough to be heard but not so loud as to clip.
The following is an excellent explainer video for setting the audio levels for videos.
How Are Sound Effects Created?
Sound effects can be recorded on location or in a studio.
As a general rule, sound effects are created by recording the sound on a variety of high-quality microphones, namely a high-quality stereo microphone and a high-definition sound recorder.
When sound effects are being recorded, multiple recordings are done to ensure many variations and the best sound is captured.
These recordings are then taken to a studio where they are catalogued and listened to, to choose which sounds will be used and which sounds can be deleted.
Sound Processing of Sound Effects
As a general rule, sound effect recording engineers will aim to record a sound effect as true as possible to the original sound and apply minimal post-processing.
This reduces the amount of time working on the sound and gives the best and most accurate representation of the sound.
However, for many outdoor recorded sound effects, it may be necessary to apply sound processing to remove environmental noise such as wind and traffic.
The typical post-processing applied to such sound effects would be EQ (equalisation) to remove the noise and compression to increase the volume.
Is Recording Sound Effects Difficult?
Recording sound effects is a skill and art form with some Foley sound artists dedicating their entire careers to the recording of sound effects.
For Hollywood and high-end sound effect recording artists, one of the biggest challenges is finding a believable sound to record and ensuring it is true to what is required.
For example, if you want a sound effect of a jet engine, you need to record a jet engine to get the best effect and have the necessary high-end microphones to do so.
In addition, trying to record on location can pose a lot of challenges as often the environment is not quiet with lots of background environmental noise, such as traffic.
Using sound effects can greatly enhance your content and captivate your audience, however, you must ensure that your sound effects sit nicely within the existing audio environment and are not too loud.
When creating sound effects, sound engineers will typically try to record the sound as true-to-life as possible and apply minimal post-processing in order to reduce the amount of time working on the sound. However, for many outdoor recorded sound effects, it may be necessary to apply sound processing to remove environmental noise such as wind and traffic.
Foley artists are experts in the field of recording sound effects and often dedicate their careers to finding believable sounds to record.
By using sound effects, you can add an extra layer of detail and professionalism to your content.
Getting the sound effects sound good is essential and setting the levels between -12dB and -18dB is a great place to start.