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Surround Sound Mixing in Soundtrack Pro 2

One of the best new features in all of the Final Cut Studio family is the addition of surround sound mixing to Soundtrack Pro By Kevin McAuliffe

One of the best new features in all of the Final Cut Studio family is the addition of surround sound mixing to Soundtrack Pro 2 (STP2). Let's take a look at how easy it is to mix in surround sound, and things you need to keep in mind while doing it!

Let's start with the basics. For 5.1 surround sound, you are going to be working with five main channels consisting of Left, Right, Center, Left Surround, Right Surround, and one additional channel called LFE (which stands for Low Frequency Effects, and makes up the .1 of 5.1). Most people also refer to this ".1" channel as the Subwoofer, as that speaker is where the audio for that channel is directed to. This is the standard surround setup for 5.1 audio, and that is how we will be working in STP2.

I want to put a little side note in here before we get too far in. Before you start this tutorial, you need to see if your system supports 5.1 monitoring. The easiest way to find out is to navigate your way to your Utilities folder, which is located in your Macintosh HD>Applications>Utilities>Audio Midi Setup. This is where you make sure that your system supports surround sound audio, and all your channels are assigned to the correct speakers. If your system does not support surround sound, Soundtrack Pro will automatically default to downmixing your project to stereo for monitoring. It will not affect your outputs to Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro. We'll assume for the purposes of this article that your system supports surround sound.

Believe it or not, simply by opening STP2, you are about two clicks away from mixing in surround. First, I'll quickly create a piece of music that I can put in my timeline. I'm partial to drums, so by navigating your way to your instruments, you can pick a drum kit, and drop it into your timeline. By dropping the clip in your timeline, you have instantly created a stereo mix. By pressing the space bar, you can see that your VU meters are showing you both your left and right channels. Also, you will notice at the bottom of the "Meters" window that you are able to monitor your surround channels, and you will even notice that there are some numbers located below each of the channel meters. The numbers represent the actual channels that your audio clips will be on in your AIFF file (or WAV, or whichever file format you choose). When you import the file into an editing application like Final Cut Pro, and drop it into your timeline, the configuration will be as follows:

Channel 1 - Left
Channel 2 - Right
Channel 3 - Center
Channel 4 - LFE (Sub)
Channel 5 - Left Surround
Channel 6 - Right Surround

Surround Sound Channel Configuration

Picture 2.5

This is a universal standard as to how you should configure channels in your editing system, for your output to tape (HDCam SR, DA-88, etc).

Now that your clip is in your timeline, let's surround it! Located on the right side of the channel window, you will see your pan fader, so you can pan your audio from left to right. To convert your channel to 5.1, simply right click on the audio pan tool, and select "Use Surround Panner".

You will now notice that your simple left and right panner has now changed to a surround fader that you can grab and adjust. The surround pan tool that is located on your track is extremely small, so for ease of use (and your own sanity), simply double click on it to enlarge it!

Most people, at this point, are pretty excited, and click play on their timeline, and then are disappointed when the meters start moving, and the clip is still only two channels. Remember, when the "center control" (which represents your sound source) is sitting at the "home" position, it will always play back the native sound of your file. If your file is stereo, it will play out of the left and right channels, if it is natively surround, it will play out of the assigned channels.  So, press the space bar to play your clip, grab the center control button (CCB), drag it around freely, and you will notice that your audio is now panning around to all your channels! This is great, but as you will quickly notice, your channel does not retain any of the panning information, as you were whipping the CCB from side to side. Much like in stereo mode, to have the channel retain the panning information as you adjust the CCB, make sure your mixer is visible at the bottom of the screen, and you will notice that there is a drop down menu with "READ" selected. Simply change "READ" to "TOUCH", and you are now ready to play your sequence, pan your CCB, and have STP remember your panning information.  

To see your keyframes from your surround panning tool, simply click the drop arrow beside your track name, and you will see all the keyframes associated with your surround pan.

We're almost done, and there is only one thing left to do, because if you hit play, you will notice that you are still only getting a stereo mix. When you create a new project in STP2, the default is to create a stereo project, and that means that all your tracks, including your submixes will be in stereo. To make them export in surround sound, simply right click on the "1,2" located on the "Submix" channel, and switch it to "SURROUND>1-6".  

This great and easy to use feature in STP2 lets you mix your entire show in surround, export your mix as surround, and then take your submix, switch it back to "1,2", and you now have a downmix to stereo from 5.1 for a stereo version of your show. Once you are done with your surround mixing, we are ready to export our file for Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro.

Here's where you really need to think things out, because when it comes to deliverables, every television station is different. If you are mixing for a DVD, you can now easily drop your AIFF file into Compressor, and stream it to a 5.1 AC-3 file, no problem. For television, it gets a bit tricky as Digital Betacams and Beta SX machines support four channels of audio, and Beta SP machines have two channels. My suggestion, if you are working on a high definition project, and don't have access to a Dolby E Encoder, is to rent an HDCam SRW-5500 VTR, which supports up to twelve channels of audio in SR mode, so you can put not only your stereo mix, but your Mix Minus, M&E, and all discreet surround channels on one tape, or if you are working in SD and don't have access to a Dolby E Encoder, simply output your show to your desired format, and either rent a DA-88 machine, or take your surround mix to a Post Audio House, and have them make a DA-88 master of your surround channels so you can send it out with your show.

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Kevin P McAuliffe is currently a Senior Video Editor working in HD post production in Toronto, Canada. He has been in the television industry for 12 years, and spends his days onlining on a Final Cut Pro HD. Kevin's high definition onlining credit list includes concerts for Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, Snow Patrol, Sum41, Paul Anka, Il Divo and Pussycat Dolls, to name a few. Also, Kevin is an instructor of Advanced Final Cut Studio 2 at the Toronto Film College. If you have any questions or comments, you can drop him a line at kevinpmcauliffe@gmail.com

Related Keywords:Soundtrack Pro, surround sound mixing, audio editing,


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