Q1: While I’m editing, should I normalize each clip to -6 (or 0 or -12)?
Q2: What should be my target level on the first pass?
Q3: How about the final pass?
Before we can put a number on the target, there are a few things that need to be clarified. First, you’re probably looking at the wrong meter to answer that question. Second, the number you settle on depends on your delivery method. Broadcast is different from web, for example. Third, are you looking at peak level, or some version of average level – which will give you more of an indication of loudness?
For an in-depth look at all of this, check out part 1 of the full article on AOTG.com.
For a quick answer, try this:
A1: I personally never normalize. (yes, I said “never” – and I meant it). What do I do instead? First step is to adjust the level of each clip non-destructively. Each NLE has its own terms: Avid uses Clip Gain, which translates to ProTools non-destructively via AAF. Adobe Premiere has two methods at the clip level. The non-destructive method is to adjust the gain in the sequence while viewing “clip keyframes”. The other method is called “Audio Gain”, which is non-destructive inside of Premiere, but becomes permanent when exporting, which can be problematic.
A2: Your target level on the first pass can be a little lower than your deliverable level, to allow for gain in the output stage, or it can be the same. It’s a personal mixing choice. While editing, it is important to maintain a consistent average level, which can be adjusted globally later in the process.
A3: If you have a loudness specification, use that as your guide. If you don’t, then you just have to know what kind of meter you have and mix accordingly. I have included some general suggestions below:
U.S. Broadcast: -24LKFS / -2dBTP (True Peak) or approximately -24dB RMS with peaks around -6dBFS (to be safe)
Web video: -18LKFS or -18dB RMS
Podcast audio: -16LKFS
The bottom line: Mix using average levels, because what we care about is how loud something sounds, not where the digital peaks are. Control your peaks using a limiter, and hopefully other dynamics processors along the way. Stay tuned for more on Audio Levels & Metering!
Update: Part 2 of the AOTG.com article is up! It contains a review of metering and FOUR videos for your viewing pleasure!