Audio ducking is the practice of adjusting certain elements in a mix to make room for other sounds. The most common application of audio ducking is lowering music when there is dialogue or voiceover, and raising it back up after the speech finishes. Lowering the volume of competing music or sound effects results in a more consistent volume, or loudness, throughout your entire mix.

Audio ducking can be extremely pronounced, like in movie trailers, or very subtle. In this trailer for The Wolf Of Wall Street, notice how the music becomes quiet when there is dialogue, and then gets loud immediately after. This allows for greater intelligibility of the dialogue while still creating impact with the music.

 

 

Ducking Audio Manually

The most tried and true method for ducking audio is by manually creating keyframes. In Premiere, this is done by selecting the Pen Tool and adjusting the volume of the music or sound effects over time. If you need to brush up on the Pen Tool, check out the second tip here.

Knowing when to lower or raise certain elements in your mix is partly subjective and up to your creative discretion, but there are some clues that exist to help you get started. If you are ducking music and sound effects under dialogue, it is helpful to use the dialogue waveform as a visual guide for where to make your keyframes.

 

  1. Adjust your timeline view to be able to see the dialogue waveforms and still have enough room to make keyframes on your selected clip.
  2. Select the Pen Tool.
  3. Starting on the left of a given dialogue clip, make two keyframes on your music or sound effect clip.
  4. Make two more keyframes to the right of the dialogue clip.
  5. Select/highlight the two middle keyframes by holding shift and clicking both points.
  6. Lower the volume level by clicking and dragging between the two clips. You can also use the left bracket key on the keyboard if the keyframes are still highlighted.
  7. Adjust the distance between the outer and inner keyframes to control how quickly the audio ducks.

 

 

Ducking Audio Automatically In Premiere

It is important to know how to duck audio manually because the process is pretty much the same in any software program. A couple of years ago, Adobe released a Premiere update that included something called Essential Sound. This panel contains a user-friendly interface to make powerful and automatic adjustments to the audio clips in the timeline. One of the features available in Essential Sound is to automatically duck audio.

In our same scenario where there is music that should be ducked when there is dialogue, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Essential Sound panel in Premiere if it isn’t already visible (Window → Essential Sound).
  2. Select all the dialogue clips. (Remember to keep your timeline organized by audio type). 
  3. In the Essential Sound panel, label the selected clips as dialogue.
  4. Now select the music clips in the timeline that you want to adjust, and label those as music in the Essential Sound panel.
  5. Enable the Ducking section.
  6. In the Duck Against settings, choose the first option for dialogue. Premiere knows which are dialogue clips because of the work we did in steps 2 and 3.
  7. Click Generate Keyframes.

 

 

Try this process several times to understand how the Sensitivity, Duck Amount, and Fades parameters affect the keyframes. You can always use the Pen Tool to fine-tune these generated keyframes to your liking.

Once you’re comfortable with this process for ducking audio against dialogue clips, explore the other possibilities within this section of the Essential Sound panel. Dialogue, music, SFX, ambience, and even “unassigned” audio clips can all be ducked against any of the other types.