If you’ve been in the business long enough, you probably remember doing split track master layoffs to tape machines. For me it started with 1 masters that had VO on channel 1 and everything else on channel 2, and progressed to using D2 and digital beta that allowed you to layoff vo on one channel, natural sound on channel 2, and stereo music on channels 3&4. If you were fortunate enough to have higher end decks, you were able to layoff up to 8 discreet audio channels.
If you’ve never done this you may wonder why you would want to do such a thing. It’s all about the revisions. Before everything was on the computer, doing changes to a tape masters could be a real pain and very time consuming. Often you would need to make a change to the VO, or maybe the client wanted to change the music. If all you had was a mixed master you were pretty much out of luck for the quick fix. It was back to all original elements.
Now that everything is digital and all file based, changes are easier then ever. That is, as long as all of your original elements are still on the computer. But what happens if a project comes back for changes or an update a year after it was originally done? Maybe a translation into a different language (this happened to me recently). Most editors I know usually have a mixed master layoff (many of us don’t have access to the high-end decks that cost more then a house) and/or a QT export of the final master sequence that gets archived to a DVD or HD Backup system. But that doesn’t help much if the changes you need to make involve audio. However, since the release of QT 7 there has been the ability to export multi-track QT movies from FCP that retain all of the individual audio tracks so you can make whatever changes you need! The problem is, most editors don’t seem to know about it. This article will walk you through the process step by step.
Although there are no hard rules on exactly how you should edit your audio, it’s a very good idea to give each type of audio it’s own discreet channel, and stick with it! As your project grows and gets more complicated this becomes crucial. Being organized makes batch changes easier (say raising the audio on just the vo for the entire program or swapping out English for Spanish), mixing easier, editing faster in general (because you’re not spending time trying to find any given piece of audio) mistakes less likely (how many times have you edited audio into your sequence and blew over something else that you didn’t’ realize was on the same track?) and will keep your audio guy happy should you need to send your audio to an audio house for higher end mixing.
My usual break down on audio is to have voice over on channel 1, bites on channel 2, natural sound on 3-4, and 5-6 (allows for over lapping sound), and usually stereo music on channels 7-8 and 9-10. If I have SFX, they usually go on 11-12.
But enough talking, let’s get to it!
Once you have a final approved video that you’re ready to archive, duplicate the final sequence. I normally append “Split Audio” to the end of the sequence name to differentiate it from the original.
Next, right click on the new sequence and select “Settings…”. Click over to the audio tab in the new window. The default “Outputs” setting takes as many audio channels that your sequence has and outputs them to a stereo pair. In most cases that’s what you want since most edit systems are only setup to monitor 2 discreet audio channels. For our purpose we need to have as many channels as we have tracks of audio. In my example here I have 12 audio tracks, so I’m changing the output to 12.
Once you make this change, you’ll see the extra outputs listed in the window.
Click OK to close the window.
You’ll now notice that your audio tool has been updated to reflect the extra outputs you have added.
The next step is to map the proper timeline audio tracks to the proper outputs. To do this, right click (control-click) on each audio track in your sequence and change the output to match the associated track number. Note, you must click to the right of the audio patch panel number to see this option). The first 2 channels are correct already since they need to go to outputs 1&2, however the rest of them will need to be changed.
So when you’re done, you should have both tracks 1&2 going to the output called “1&2”, tracks 3&4 in the sequence should be going to the output called “3&4” and so on.
If you play back your sequence now, you’ll notice that the audio tool meter shows the different channels going to there proper locations. You’ll probably also notice that you don’t hear all of your audio now. You can probably only hear what is being played back on channels 1&2. That’s normal, again because most edit systems are not setup to monitor more then 2 channels of audio. However, if you want to hear your full mix in this configuration, just click on the “downmix” button located above the audio meters.
You are now ready to export your QT movie. Use the “Export Quicktime Movie…” selection and be sure to make the movie self contained since this is for long term archive long after the rest of the media has been deleted. I also always include “DVD Studio Pro” markers, even if the file is not being used for a DVD at this time. You never know if it will be in the future, and adding those makers now will allow for a higher quality compression later should I need to compress it. FCP inserts compression markers at all edits and transitions to help the quality of the compression.
As a general rule, I never change the name of the exported file. It should always match the sequence that it was exported from so that there’s no doubt which files match which sequences. It’s a good way to stay in sync with changes as well. Once I do an export, if any additional changes need to be done to the sequence, I duplicate the sequence and version it up to do the changes in the new sequence. That way I know if my exported file does not match the most recent sequence number, that the QT file is not the most recent version.
Look at the newly exported file in the finder and you’ll see that it’s larger then the one I exported earlier with just stereo audio. This is because of the extra individual tracks inside of the QT file.
Now open up the split track QT move in a QT player and you’ll notice nothing different. Only 2 audio channels are displayed on the meters, and if you play it, it sounds like a stereo mix. Don’t worry, FCP will see the extra channels. This is actually pretty awesome because you can still use this file for most of the post processing you would normally do to create a DVD, web files, or anything else.
Go back into FCP and create a new sequence. Add as many audio tracks as you had on the original sequence. In my case, it’s 12 tracks of audio.
Import the QT movie file that you exported and load it into the viewer. Notice that on the patch panel you have a lot more audio channels to work with. Use the patch panel to match up the tracks numerically, and edit the movie into the sequence.
Play back the sequence and you’ll notice that all of the audio is now split into the proper channels. You’re now free to change the VO, swap out music, remix the whole program, or anything else!
If you find this tip useful or have any suggestions or comments on how to improve it, please email me. I am always interested in feedback.