Using Sound in Your Movies

Using iMovie, you can create rich, full sound tracks for your movies. You can include four types of sound in your movies, which are the following:

  • Native sounds When you import clips into iMovie, any sound that was part of those clips comes in, too. If your clips had sound, you've already heard it numerous times while you were assembling your movie from those clips. You can use iMovie tools to control some aspects of your movie's native sounds.

  • Sound Effects You can add sound effects to your movie to bring it to life. You can use iMovie's built-in sound effects, and you can import other sound effects to use.

  • Narration If you want to explain what is happening in a movie or add your own commentary, you can record narration for your movie. You can also use the narration tool to record sounds from a tape player or other audio device.

  • Music The right music makes a movie a better experience. You can import music to your movies from many sources, such as audio CDs, MP3 files, and so on.

You use the Timeline Viewer to control the audio portion of your movie. As you saw in the previous section, the Timeline Viewer enables you to see all the tracks that are part of your movie. Click the Timeline Viewer tab (the clock icon) to see the Timeline Viewer (see Figure 18.15).

Figure 18.15. The Timeline Viewer and the Audio palette provide the tools you need in order to create sound tracks for your movies.


Each track on the Timeline Viewer is used to create and edit one of the three audio tracks you can have in your movie. The top track displays the native sound in your clips. Typically, the Audio 1 track is used for sound effects and narration and the Audio 2 track is used for music. Functionally, there is no difference between these tracks, and you can use them however you'd like.

In Figure 18.15, you also see the Audio palette, which you use to add sound effects, narration and other sounds you record, and music to your movie.

The tracks you see are all time-based "views" of your movie. The left side of the tracks represents the beginning of your movie, and the right side represents the end. You also see the Playhead, which works the same way it does in the Clip Viewer and the Monitor. For example, you can move it in the same ways, and the timecode shows its location in the movie. The frame at which the Playhead is currently located appears in the Monitor window.

Some of the controls you see on the Timeline Viewer do the same things for each track (or selected clip). These are the following:

  • Timeline Zoom pop-up menu Use this to control the "magnification" of the viewer. Choosing a higher magnification enables you to make more detailed changes because each second in the movie is shown in more detail. Choosing a lower magnification enables you to see more of your movie without scrolling.

  • Mute controls Using a particular sound track is an all-or-nothing affair. The track is either on and you hear its sounds, or it isn't and you don't. You use the "Mute" check boxes to turn a sound track off. If the "Mute" box at the end of a track is not checked, that track is muted. You're most likely to use this on the Native track, but you might occasionally use it with the others, as well.

  • Fade controls The "Fade In" and "Fade Out" check box controls do what you would expect them to. They make a selected sound clip fade in or fade out, depending on which boxes are checked.


    If you double-click a sound clip or a video clip, its Info window appears. In the Info window, you see two Fade sliders along with check boxes. If you check a Fade check box, you can use the slider to set the duration of the fade. When you use the "Fade In" and "Fade Out" controls on the Timeline Viewer, the fades have a preset duration.

  • Relative volume slider You use the Relative Volume slider to set volume levels of clips relative to one another. For example, if you don't want your sound effects to drown out the sounds on the Native track, you can control how loud the effect is relative to the native sound.

Working with Native Sound

Your movie probably has some sound that came with the video clips. If you recorded your clips with a DV camcorder, these sounds are whatever you recorded, for better or worse. Each clip has its own soundtrack, which is what you see represented in the Native track of the Timeline Viewer. The bars you see show the beginning and end of each audio clip (and by no coincidence, each video clip).

Muting Native Sounds

The most basic change you can make is to mute the Native track so that you don't hear any of its sounds. To mute the Native track, uncheck the "Mute" check box located on the right end of the Native track. Now when you play your movie, you don't hear any Native sound from it. To hear the native sounds again, check the "Mute" check box.

Changing Relative Volume Levels

Because your clips probably came from different sources or were recorded under different conditions, the sound level from one clip to the next might vary quite a bit. Although some variation is natural (you expect the roar of a jet plane to be louder than a cat walking across the road), too much variation (or the wrong variation, such as if the cat is louder than the airplane) can be annoying or distracting.

Use the Relative Volume slider to set the relative sound levels of the various sound clips on the Native track.

  1. On the Native track, select a clip that should be at the "average" volume level; after you do, the clip's bar on the track becomes highlighted in yellow to show that it is selected.

  2. Move the Relative Volume slider toward the middle of its range. This sets the volume level of the selected clip at an "average" level.

  3. Now move through each clip in the movie and use the Relative Volume slider to set its volume relative to your "average" sound level. Select the first clip in your movie that has native sound (assuming that your first clip isn't also your average clip, of course).

  4. If you want its sound to be louder than your average clip, drag the Relative Volume slider to the right of the position you set as the average volume level; if you want it to be quieter, move the slider to the left. Or, if you want it to be about the same, place the slider in about the same position as it is for the average clip.

  5. Continue this process with all the clips that have native sound.


You can change the relative sound levels for several clips at once by holding down the Shift key while you select the clips. With the clips selected, move the Relative Volume slider. The relative volume of all the selected clips will be set at the level you choose.

Now when you play your movie, the sound should make sense. Loud parts are louder, quiet parts are quieter, and the average is just right (relatively speaking, of course).

Fading Sounds

If you have assembled your movie from a series of clips, the sound probably jumps from one clip to the next. For example, if your clip has music in its native sound track, it is highly unlikely that the editing you have done has resulted in smooth cuts in the music; more likely it is a rough cut from one part of the music to the next. This can be really jarring and disrupts the flow of your movie.

You can use the Fade controls to make the sound of a clip fade in or out smoothly. If you make a clip's sound fade in, it starts completely silent and smoothly comes to its full level. Similarly, if you fade out a sound, its volume smoothly becomes quieter until by the end of the clip, it has faded to silence.


If you add a Fade Out or Fade In transition to a clip, its sound also fades, so you don't need to use the Timeline Viewer fade controls on that clip.

To make a clip's sound fade in, select the clip and check the "Fade In" check box. If you want it to fade out, check the "Fade Out" check box.

You can control how long the fades are by opening the Info window for a sound clip (double-click it or select it and press Shift+graphics/symbol.gif+I to open its Info window). Check the "Audio Fade In" check box and use the slider to set its duration. Check the "Audio Fade Out" check box and use its slider to control how long the fade-out takes. Click OK when you are done.

Editing a Clip's Native Sound

As you learned when you began editing your clips, whatever you do to a clip's video, you do to the clip's sound. This works the other way, too; changing the sound affects the video?unless you extract the sound from the clip (you will learn how to do this in the next section). You should play each clip and listen carefully to its sound. Crop or trim the clips as needed to eliminate sounds you don't want or to include sounds you do want (without messing up the video).

Extracting a Clip's Native Sound

You can extract the audio portion of the clip so that you can work with it independently from the video clip. Extracting the audio from a clip also enables you to move it relative to the video clip. This is useful if you don't want to use all of the audio, but want to keep all of the video in a clip.

One of the best uses for the extracting audio feature is when you have a clip containing background music that should be at least somewhat synchronized with the video, such as a ballet performance. You can extract the audio, and then you can edit the video part of the clip without hacking up the music that goes with it. You can then "spread" the extracted music so that the single music clip covers all of the video. Although the music may not exactly match what is happening in the video anymore, this is much less distracting than music that jumps around as the edited scenes play.

To extract a clip's sound track, select that clip on the Timeline Viewer. Choose Advanced, Extract Audio. The audio portion of the clip is extracted, and is placed on the Audio 1 track. When you extract it, it's still in sync with the video clip from whence it came.

After the audio clip is extracted, you can use the audio-editing techniques that you'll learn about in the rest of this chapter to work with it. For example, you can move it around, lock it in place, and so on.

When you extract audio from a video clip, the audio actually is copied to the audio track rather than being cut from the video clip. The volume of the audio that is part of the video clip is set to zero so that you never hear it again. Does this matter? Not really, but you shouldn't extract an audio clip unless you really need to. Because it is not actually removed from the video clip, your movie file will be larger than if you didn't extract the audio (because iMovie will carry two versions of that sound around). If you want to mute only a specific audio clip, set its relative volume to zero instead of extracting it.

This also means that you can hear the sound of a video clip from which you have "extracted" the sound by selecting that clip and using the Relative Volume slider to increase the sound of the clip again. You can use this for some interesting sound effects because you can have multiple versions of the sound playing at the same time, with each being slightly out of sync with the others.


You can lock audio to a video clip so that when you move the video, the audio goes along for the ride and always remains in sync with the video. When a clip is locked, you see the locked icons. One appears at the beginning of the locked audio and the other appears at the point at which the audio is locked on the corresponding video clip.

Adding Sound Effects to Your Movie

One of the more fun aspects of making a movie is adding sound effects to it. You add sound effects using the Audio palette. To open the palette, click the Audio button. The palette pops up and at the top of the palette you see several sound effects you can use (scroll through the list to see and hear all of them). To hear one, click it. The effect you click plays so that you can preview it. Continue clicking sounds until you find one you want to use in your movie.

When you find the perfect sound effect, drag the sound effect from the Audio palette and drop it onto the Audio 1 track. When you move it over the track, a yellow line appears on the track where the clip will be placed when you release the mouse button; this line indicates the point at which the sound effect will start playing. In other words, where you place the effect on the track determines where in the movie the effect is heard. When you release the mouse button, a small square appears on the track. This square represents the sound effect you have added. You can work with the sound effect just as the other elements in a track. For example, if you select it, you will see its name and duration at the top of the Timeline Viewer (see Figure 18.16).

Figure 18.16. Here the Crowd Applause sound effect has been added to the end of the movie.


Drag the Playhead to the left of the sound effect you just placed and press the spacebar to preview it. To move the sound effect, click it to select it (its box will darken to indicate that it is selected), and drag it to a new location. When you select the effect, the Playhead jumps to the beginning of the sound effect. At that point, the Playhead "sticks" to the sound effect, and you can move it frame by frame using the Left- and Right-arrow keys (hold down the Shift key to move it 10 frames at a time).

When you have the effect positioned so that it plays at the perfect point in the video, it is a good idea to lock it to that spot so that, if you move the video, the sound effect will still play at the right time. To do so, select the effect and choose Advanced, Lock Audio Clip at Playhead (graphics/symbol.gif+L). You will see the locked indicators and from that point on, the sound stays at the relative location of the Playhead when you used the command.

If you want to move the sound relative to the video track again, select the clip and choose Advanced, Unlock Audio Clip (graphics/symbol.gif+L).


The Fade and Relative Volume slider controls work on sound effects just as they do on native clips.

You can also overlap sound effects. To do so, simply drag one effect on top of another. At those moments where the sound effects overlap, both effects play. You can more easily manage overlapped sound effects by placing one in the Audio 1 track and the overlapping sound in the Audio 2 track.

Recording Sound for Your Movie

Using the Audio palette, you can record your own sounds to play during your movie. One obvious use for this is to add narration to various parts of your movie.


The record button in iMovie is actually labeled Record Voice. But don't let that fool you?you can use this button to record any sound you want. For example, you can attach the output of an audio tape player to your Mac through its microphone jack or USB port to record the sound output of that device to use in your movie.

To record your own audio to go with your movie, do the following:

  1. Click Audio to open the Audio palette.

  2. Test your microphone setup by speaking into it. If everything is working, you'll see a sound level bar in the area just above the Record Voice button that shows you the level of the sound that is being input. This bar should be moving to levels at least above halfway across the bar. If it isn't, move closer to the microphone so it gets better input.

  3. Drag the Playhead to the point in your movie at which you want to begin recording.

  4. Click Record Voice. Your movie will begin playing. Speak into the microphone (or start the audio playback device).

  5. Click Stop when you are done recording.

In the narration track, you will see that your sound has been recorded. The recorded sound is represented by an orange bar with a Crop Marker at each end (see Figure 18.17).

Figure 18.17. The bar shown in the Audio 1 track is a sound that was recorded via a microphone.


You can edit a recorded sound in ways that are similar to editing other elements of your movie. When you click the bar that represents the recorded sound, the bar darkens to show that it is selected. You can do the following:

  • Move the sound by selecting it and then dragging it to a new location. (If you are narrating something specific, the sound might become out of sync with the video.)

  • Lock the sound in its relative place.

  • Apply the Fade and Relative Volume slider controls to the recorded sound.

  • Move the sound's Crop Markers (which are always visible, unlike those for a video clip) so that they enclose the part of the sound you want to keep. Choose Edit, Crop to remove all the sound except that between the Crop Markers.


When you move a sound's Crop Markers, the part of the sound outside the markers won't play anymore. You can use this to fine-tune what you want to play before you actually change the sound clip. When you have it set to what you want to play, you should crop it so that the movie's file size will be smaller.

  • Name the recorded clip by selecting the clip and then typing a new name in the Audio Selection box (or double-click it to open its Clip Info window and rename it there).

  • Overlap sound effects with the recorded sound by dragging an effect on top of the recorded sound.

  • Remove a recorded sound by selecting it and pressing Delete. The sound is removed from your movie and placed in the Trash.


As you work, remember to empty the trash once in a while to free up disk space.

Adding Music to Your Movie

A music sound track can help you convey a full range of emotions or simply make your movies more enjoyable to watch. There's just something about music; we love to hear it, even when our main purpose is to watch something.

Because working with music is much like the other sounds you have already learned about, you already understand almost everything you need to know about adding music to one of iMovie's audio tracks. You can use the Audio 2 track to store the music you want to play during all?or parts?of your movie. You can use several different pieces during your movie, or you can have one piece play throughout.

You can use two methods to add music to your movies. One is to record music from an audio CD by using the tools on the Audio palette. The other is to import music that is contained in an MP3 or AIFF file.

Copyright Conscious

Generally, all the music you listen to, unless you created it yourself, is protected by some sort of copyright. Mostly, these copyrights prohibit you from distributing the copyrighted work as your own or profiting from its distribution. Many copyrighted works can't be redistributed by you in any form; the copyright entitles you to personal use of the material only. Be aware of any copyright issues related to the music you use in your movies. Generally, as long as you keep your movies to yourself or distribute them to just a few other people, you will be okay copyright-wise. However, if you distribute your movie to many people or use it for any sort of profit-generating work, make sure that you have sufficient licenses to cover that use of the music.

The way to be able to use music that other people have created in your movies for so-called nonpersonal use is to obtain the proper license to use that material. Although you aren't likely to be able to license popular music groups or singers, there is plenty of great music for which you can buy a license to be able to use it in your movies?even if you distribute it for profit. Royalty-free music, also called music with a buy-out license, can be used in any manner you see fit.

You can purchase many kinds of music that come with a buy-out license from The Music Bakery at At the time of this writing, you can get a CD full of music for $59.

Adding Music from an Audio CD

Recording music from an audio CD is very simple; the hardest part is figuring out which music is right for each scene in your movie. To record music for your movie, do the following:

  1. Open the Audio palette.

  2. Insert an audio CD into your Mac's CD or DVD drive.

  3. Use the Play, Rewind, and Fast Forward controls on the Audio palette to find the song you want to use in your movie.

  4. Now move the Playhead to the point in your movie at which you want the music to begin. You don't have to be terribly precise here because you can always move the music around on the audio track later.

  5. Use the controls on the Audio palette to get the music to a point just before you want to start recording.


    You can jump to a specific track on a CD by clicking it on the Audio palette.

  6. Click the Play button and start recording by clicking Record Music. Your movie begins to play as the music is recorded. You see the purple music clip being laid down in the Audio 2 track.

  7. When you are done recording, click Stop. The portion of the Audio CD track you recorded will be imported into your movie.


Don't worry that you can't hear the other sounds in your movie while you're recording from an audio CD. That's normal.

Continue recording tracks from CDs until you have all the tracks you want to use in your movie. You can have as many different tracks as you have room for.


You can also drag a track from the CD window onto either of the Audio tracks to add the entire CD track to your movie.

Adding MP3 Music to a Movie

The better way to add music is by importing MP3 files into your iMovie project to use as soundtracks for your movie.

To learn how to create MP3 files from your audio CDs, see "Creating MP3 Music with iTunes," p. 480.

To import MP3 files into your iMovie project, do the following:

  1. Move the Playhead to the point you where want the MP3 music clip to begin to play.

  2. Choose File, Import File.

  3. Move to the MP3 file you want to use, select it, and click Import.

The music will be imported and a new music clip will appear on the Audio 2 track.

Editing the Music

Now that your movie has some music in the music track, you can use the sound controls, with which you are already familiar, to edit it (see Figure 18.18).

Figure 18.18. The Audio 2 track contains music that was recorded from an audio CD.



If you used the CD on which you have recorded music in iTunes, its name (along with the names of the tracks on it) will appear in the CD window. Of course, this assumes that iTunes is configured and able to connect to the Internet to download the information.

You can edit the music by performing the following tasks:

  • Name the music clip by selecting it (the bar darkens to indicate that it is selected) and typing a name for it in the Audio Selection box. If the song's title is already there (because you have previously identified the song title), you will see the name in the Audio Selection box.

  • Position the music clip by dragging it on the track. Align the Playhead with the left or right Crop Marker to make it stick to the clip, and then use the arrow keys to precisely position it. When it is properly aligned, use the Lock Audio at Playhead command to lock it relative to the video clip.

  • Use the Fade In, Fade Out, and Relative Volume slider controls just as you did with the native sound and sound effects. To use these, select the music clip and then use the appropriate control to apply it. (The Info window works with these music clips, too.) Most of the time, you will end up using the Fade Out control on music clips, unless you get lucky and they end at precisely the right time.

  • You can crop the music if it is too long or if you want to remove either or both ends of it. Select the clip you want to edit. Move the Crop Markers so that the music you want to keep is between them. Choose Edit, Crop. The music outside the Crop Markers is removed from the track.

Move the Playhead to the start of the music clip and press the spacebar to view the movie and hear its music track.

Adding and Using Your Own Sound Effects

Although iMovie comes with several sound effects, you can import any Audio Interchange Format File (AIFF) and use it as a sound effect in your movie. This means that a huge number of sounds are available on the Internet for you to use. The better news is that you can convert practically any sound on your Mac into AIFF and then use it in iMovie.

You can bring an AIFF file into iMovie in one of two ways:

  • You can install the file in the Sound Effects folder (which is within the Resources folder in the iMovie for Mac OS X folder). Any AIFF sounds you install in this folder appear on the Audio palette. You can easily reuse these sounds by dragging them from the palette onto the one of the audio tracks. Use this option when you want to install a sound effect that you think you might want to reuse often.

  • The other option is to import the AIFF file into iMovie. With this method, the sound is placed on the Audio 2 track at the current location of the Playhead. You can then treat it as you do a sound effect that you recorded. You should use this option if you want to use the sound only once or only very rarely. Importing and using an AIFF file works in exactly the same way as importing an MP3 file.

To learn how to extract and convert the sound from any QuickTime movie into AIFF so that you can import it into iMovie, see "Using QuickTime Pro to Convert Files into Other Formats," p. 529.

Mixing Audio Tracks

After you have added all of the audio to your movie, play it. Listen to the individual tracks (use the Mute buttons to turn off tracks) and then listen to how the various sounds interact. Use the editing controls to change the relative volumes of the tracks. For example, your music should be quieter than any sound effects you want your audience to hear. You can use the Relative Volume slider to make this happen.

You can also move music and sound effects between the two Audio tracks. This can be especially useful if you want to use part of one track, but mute the rest of it. You can drag the sound from one track to the other and mute the track you don't want to hear.


If any of your sound tracks extends beyond the end of your video track, it will continue to play while the video track shows a black screen. When you change video after you have added audio, make sure that you preview the entire movie again.

    Part I: Mac OS X: Exploring the Core
    Part III: Mac OS X: Living the Digital Lifestyle