Much of the work involved in mixing political ads is the same as longerform video or even music productions. There is, however, a certain amount of procedural repetition that makes these productions ideal for showing off some of Nuendo 5’s new time-saving post features.
Typically, a ready-to-mix TV spot is handed off to me via FTP in the form of an OMF file — a multitrack audio export from an Avid or Final Cut Pro timeline — along with a matching video file. The audio tracks are comprised of two to eight voice tracks (voiceover, several soundbites and a candidate’s disclaimer), ambient sounds and effects, and music.
Nuendo provides several methods to set up tracks with basic EQ and processing. Factory- and user-created Track Presets can be selected when adding new tracks; these same presets can also be applied to existing tracks (e.g., the OMFimported tracks). Additionally, single or groups of channel settings can be saved/loaded from disk or flash drive (great for engineers on the go), or channel settings can simply be copied/pasted from another open project (Nuendo allows multiple open projects, making copying/pasting audio and settings between them very easy).
I set up each new mix using yet another method: a project template. My TV Spot template is preloaded with track EQ settings and processing (basic shelving EQ and bypassed Steinberg VST3 DeNoisers at the ready), VO, FX and MUSIC subgroups (each with compressors plus a bypassed De-esser and Exciter on the VO group) for creating the stem mixes, and a stereo main output. Additionally, my template is set up so that the VO group output feeds the MUSIC group compressor sidechain input, which I use for subtle -2 dB automatic ducking. I augment the template with track presets when additional tracks or specialized settings are needed. I also take advantage of the newfor- N5 feature to quickly convert the splitstereo music and effects tracks into interleaved stereo channels: much easier for processing, EQing, routing and so on.
Next, I clean up the voice tracks, which typically includes reducing breaths and mouth smacks, filling in room tone or crossfading between them, and reducing background noise. I make good use of Nuendo’s macro programming to automate de-breathing (highlight the breath and a key-command macro cuts at each end, lowers breath 5 dB and applies xfades), inserting room tone (deletes overlaps, adds x-fades), basic clip fadeins/ outs, and for capturing DeNoiser footprints (the highlighted noise area is put into play cycle and DeNoiser plug-in is opened; another macro then expands the cycle to include full voice clip so I can adjust the reduction settings). A favorite time-saving new feature — Clip Packages — lets me group events across multiple tracks and store as a package for recall later in the project or in other projects: great for designed elements such as show openings/closings, stingers, commercial bumpers and layered sound effects that get repeated use.
Occasionally, I am called on to swap out of words or syllables for clarity when the talent is appearing on-camera. N5’s new smooth scroll wheel, in combination with the program’s new QuickTime video engine, have made matching waveform to video a precise and easy process. Similarly useful, the program’s Edit Mode — originally intro’ed with N4, but improved thanks to the above — smoothly scrolls/scrubs the video when adjusting audio event start and end points, event placements, fade lengths and other edit functions.
Without a doubt, the biggest enhancement to my workflow comes from Nuendo 5’s totally reworked routing, monitoring and exporting features. N5’s direct routing matrix now allows any tracks, subgroups and FX returns to be routed to multiple destination. Combining this with N5’s new monitoring matrix, in which up to eight input, output and groups sources can be selected (alternately or additively!) for monitoring, provides for some really creative ways to audition and output multiple stereo and multichannel mixes and/or alternate live streams to hardware outputs. Very cool.
For each TV mix I produce, I also need to supply the video editor with stem mixes of the VO, FX and MUSIC subgroups. With N5’s awesome new batch export function, I simply check the box for each subgroup and the stereo output and, presto, all selected output mixes are written to disk simultaneously (and for those paying close attention, yes, the MUSIC stem does reflect the action of the VO group sidechain!). All four mixes printed and named properly in one fell swoop, and a quarter of the time. Hallelujah!
Steve Murphy is Washington, DC-based audio professional and regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.