Using Sound in Your Movies

Using iMovie, you can create rich, full soundtracks 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 and other recorded sound? 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 your iTunes Music Library, audio CDs, MP3 files, and so on.

You use the Timeline Viewer to control the audio portion of your movie. As you saw in an earlier section, the Timeline Viewer enables you to see all the tracks that are part of your movie.

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 want.

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.

You use the tools on the Audio pane to work with a movie's soundtracks (see Figure 17.13).

Figure 17.13. You can use the Audio pane to add sound to a movie.


This pane includes the following tools:

  • Source pop-up menu? This pop-up menu enables you to select the source of sound you want to use. Its three fundamental options are iTunes Library, which lets you access the music and sounds you have stored in iTunes (you can select a playlist to work with the songs it contains); iMovie Sound Effects, which enables you to add sound effects to a movie; and Audio CD, which enables you to record audio from a CD.

  • Sounds in selected source? When you select a source on the Source pop-up menu, the sounds contained in that source are listed in the center part of the pane. For example, when you select a playlist, the songs in that playlist are shown. You can select a sound (such as a song or sound effect) to work with it.

  • Play? Click this button to hear a sound you have selected.

  • Search tool? Use this tool to search for sounds. As you type text in the Search box, the list of sounds is reduced to include only those items that contain the text you type.

  • Place at Playhead? When you select a sound and click this button, that sound is inserted at the current location of the Playhead.

  • Recording tool? You can use this tool to record sound, such as from a microphone connected to your Mac. An obvious use of this tool is to add narration to a project. However, you can also connect other devices, such as a tape recorder, to record sound from that source.

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 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 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 (the top track on the Timeline Viewer), select a clip that should be at the average volume level of your movie; after you do so, the clip's bar on the track is highlighted in blue to show it is selected.

  2. Make sure the Relative Volume slider is set to the 100% position, which is marked by a vertical line through the slider. This sets the volume level of the selected clip at the average level.


    You can also set the relative volume levels as percentages by typing a number in the percent box next to the slider. The position of the slider is always indicated by the percentage displayed in the box. When you move the slider, the percentage changes, and when you input a percentage, the slider moves accordingly.

  3. Select another clip in the Video track.

  4. Use the Relative Volume slider to set its volume relative to the average clip you selected in step 1. If you want the sound of the selected clip to be louder than the sound level of your average clip, drag the Relative Volume slider to the right of the 100% position; you can make the sound as loud as 150% of the average sound. If you want it to be quieter, move the slider to the left of the 100% position. Or, if you want it to be about the same, leave the slider in the 100% position, which is the default for all sound.

  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for each clip in the Video track.

  6. Preview your movie to hear the results of your work. Hopefully, all the sound makes sense. Loud sounds should be loud and quiet sounds should be quiet. If not, continue with the previous steps until the native soundtrack is what you want it to be.


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

Fading Sounds

You can use iMovie's Edit Volume tool to make the sound of a clip fade in or out smoothly. If you make a clip's sound fade in, it starts completely silently and smoothly increases to the level you set. Similarly, if you fade out a sound, its volume smoothly becomes quieter until by the end of the clip, when 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 Edit Volume tool to fade the sound for that clip.

To fade sound, perform the following steps:

  1. Select the sound clip you want to fade, such as one of the clips on the Video track that contains sound.

  2. Check the Edit Volume check box. The Volume Level bar appears through each clip in the track you selected (see Figure 17.14). This line represents the volume level at each point in each sound clip in that track. By default, this line is at the 100% position (relative position, that is).

    Figure 17.14. You can use an audio clip's volume level bar to set its volume at any point.


  3. Click the Volume Level bar at a point at the end of the clip whose sound you want to fade out. A handle (a yellow dot) appears, and a segment of the Volume Level bar is highlighted in yellow to indicate which portion of the clip will be affected by the change you make. A smaller dot appears at the start of the segment to show you where the fade will begin.


    Getting a marker to appear exactly where you want it to be can be difficult. If the Volume Level bar moves at the start of the next clip instead of the end of the one you are trying to fade, you clicked in the wrong clip. Press graphics/mac.gif-Z to undo the marker creation and try again.

  4. Drag the yellow handle until it is at the bottom of the clip; this represents the zero volume level. A nice fade out effect is created, and the clip's volume smoothly fades out at the end of the clip.


    Instead of dragging the marker, you can use the Relative Volume slider to set the location of the marker, or you can type a percentage in the percentage box (such as 0 to make the sound silent).

  5. Move to the beginning of clip whose sound you want to fade in.

  6. Click the Volume Level bar at the beginning of the clip; a marker appears.

  7. Drag the handle to the bottom of the clip, move the Relative Volume slider all the way to the left, or type 0 in the percentage box. The clip's sound is now silent at the start.

  8. Click the Volume Level bar at the point at which you want the clip's volume to reach its 100% level. Another handle appears.


    Before you can move a marker, you must select it. When a marker is selected, it is yellow. When it isn't selected, it is purple.

  9. Drag the handle to the 100% point, move the Relative Volume slider to the 100% line, or type 100 in the percentage box. The clip's sound now fades in smoothly (see Figure 17.15).

    Figure 17.15. You can use the volume level bar to set the sound level of an audio clip.



To remove a marker (thus returning the Volume Level bar to its previous location), select the marker and press the Delete key.

Editing a Clip's Native Sound

As you learned when you began editing 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 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 to 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 the audio but want to keep all 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 the single music clip covers all the video. Although the music might 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. Then select Advanced, Extract Audio. The audio portion of the clip is extracted and 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 you've learned about in 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 cut from the video clip. The volume of the audio that is part of the video clip is set to zero so 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 is larger than if you didn't extract the audio (because iMovie carries 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 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 can use the tools on the Audio pane to add sound effects to a movie.

To work with sound effects, open the Audio pane and select iMovie Sound Effects on the Source pop-up menu. The list in the middle of the pane shows all the built-in sound effects. To hear one, click it. The effect you click plays so 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 pane 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 (see Figure 17.16). You can work with the sound effect just as you can with the other elements in a track.

Figure 17.16. A sound effect has been added to 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 darkens to indicate 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 it plays at the perfect point in the video, you should lock it to that spot so that, if you move the video, the sound effect still plays at the right time. To do so, select the effect and select Advanced, Lock Audio Clip at Playhead (graphics/mac.gif-L). You 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 select Advanced, Unlock Audio Clip (graphics/mac.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.


You can add other sound effects by importing audio files, such as WAV, AIFF, or MP3. When you import a sound file, it is placed on the Audio 2 track at the current location of the Playhead.

Recording Sound for Your Movie

Using the Audio pane, 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.

To record sound from an external source, you need to have some sort of microphone attached to your Mac. Some Macs have built-in microphones; other Macs have microphone jacks (although these sometimes require that you use a PlainTalk microphone). One of the best ways to record sound is to use a USB microphone. To record narration, use a headset-type microphone, such as those included with voice recognition software. Or add a USB sound input device that enables you to connect a standard microphone to it (many headphone-type microphones include such a port).

To record narration or other sound for a movie, perform the following steps:

  1. Click the Audio button to open the Audio pane. At the bottom of the pane is the recording tool. It includes an input level monitor and the Record button.

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

  3. Test your microphone setup by speaking into it or making the other type of sound you will be recording, such as by playing a tape player connected to your Mac. If everything is working, you see a sound level bar in the input level monitor that shows the level of the sound being input. This bar should be moving to levels at least above halfway across the bar, but it should remain in green. If the level gets into the yellow, the input level is probably too high. If it gets in the red, it is definitely too high.

  4. Click the Record button (the button with the red dot in it). Your movie begins playing. Speak into the microphone or make the sound you are recording, such as by playing an external audio device. A purple bar appears on the Audio 1 track to represent the sound you are recording. The sound you record is labeled Voice #, where # is a sequential number (each time you click the Record button, this number increases by one).

  5. When you have recorded all the sound you want, click Record.

  6. Edit the recorded sound using the same techniques you use for other sound, such as native sound and music.

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.

There are three ways to add music to a movie. The easiest way is to use music from your iTunes Music Library. You can record from an audio CD and import music as well. Because using music from your iTunes Music Library is the best way, it is the only one covered in this chapter. Frankly, because iTunes enables you to manage all the music with which you work, you aren't likely to use one of the other methods anyway.

To add music from your iTunes Library to a movie, perform the following steps:

  1. Click the Audio button to open the Audio pane.

  2. Move the Playhead to the location in the movie at which you want the music to start playing.

  3. On the Source pop-up menu, select iTunes Library or select the playlist that includes the music you want to add to the movie. The Content window shows a list of every song in your iTunes Library or the contents of the playlist you selected, respectively.

  4. Scroll or search in the Contents pane to find the music you want to add to the movie. Searching works just like it does in other areas.


    You can double-click a song or select it and click the Play Sound button to hear it. To stop the music, click the Play button again.

  5. Click Place at Playhead. The music is imported into iMovie and placed on Audio track 2 at the location of the Playhead. You see the name of the song in the music clip (see Figure 17.17).

    Figure 17.17. The song called "Playing with the Boys" has been added to this movie's soundtrack.


  6. Play the movie to hear the music playing as the movie does.

Mixing Audio Tracks

After you have added all 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 extend beyond the end of your video track, it continues to play while the video track shows a black screen. When you change video after you have added audio, be sure to preview the entire movie again.

The audio tools you learned how to use throughout this section work on all types of audio. For example, you can use the fade tools to fade a song, use the Relative Volume slider to set the relative volume of narration to music, and so on. Use these tools to blend all the sound in the soundtrack together.

One editing tool that hasn't been covered yet is cropping audio. To crop an audio clip, use the following steps:

  1. Select the sound you want to crop. It becomes highlighted.

  2. Drag the Crop Marker at the end of the audio clip to where you want the sound to stop. The Playhead sticks to the crop marker so you can easily see where it will end (and you can use the Arrow keys to position it precisely). The sound that remains is shown by the darkened area, and the sound that is not selected is indicated by the light part of the sound clip bar.

  3. Move the Playhead to the point just to the left of the crop marker.

  4. Play the movie to hear where the sound stops.

  5. Adjust the crop marker if necessary.

  6. Repeat steps 2?5 for the crop marker at the beginning of the sound clip if you want to crop sound from the beginning as well.

  7. Select Edit, Crop. The sound outside the crop markers is removed from the clip and the movie. The clip shortens to indicate that the sound has been removed.


You don't actually have to use the Crop command if you want to leave the sound clip intact for some reason. Any sound outside a clip's crop markers won't be heard when you play or export the movie. However, you should crop out unused sound clips to save disk space after you are sure you won't need that sound any more.

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