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Looking for tips & tricks on how to make those backgrounds, winds and crowds come back to life -- ie. how to effectively use amplitude or frequency modulation / EQ sweeps / delays to affect depth perception, spatial information, etc. Would appreciate focus on these techniques rather than the standard reverb (read: Altiverb) applications. Thanks all -

  • Are you looking to simply brighten and enliven these tracks, or is there an emotional or narrative goal driving the enhancement of these backgrounds? Or is this a broad question, not specific to a certain task or problem you're trying to solve? – NoiseJockey Jul 14 '10 at 20:06
  • Exactly, just general techniques that folks have developed. Broad question. – Jay Jennings Jul 14 '10 at 21:52
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Well...if you're interested in modulation, eq sweeps, depth perception techniques, here are a few thoughts:

1) When used subtly, Waves Mondo Mod can add some nice movement and modulation to a background, winds and water for example. I like to automate it, so the modulation isn't periodic, and less obvious.

2) EQing with a wide presence filter around 1-4khz can pull a background forward or back in the mix. Automating this filter with subtle changes in this frequency range can give a static sound some movement. This also helps if there is fast movement on screen.

3) Stereo imagers, or upmix software (I like the Flux Stereo tool or the Waves UM551) can do some nice things with boring stereo backgrounds. Automating the width of a sound can also push a background forward or back in the mix over time.

4) Start with a mono background and slowly introduce more of it into the stereo, 5.1, or 7.1 field...or do the opposite. This can work wonders if done at the right time.

5) Record your backgrounds and crowds in double MS. I've been playing with this recently and digging it. Especially for nature stuff. Adding a slight delay in the rear channels can really add some nice depth.

  • @Justin, thanks. I also like using MondoMod in moderation. Very effective. EQ note is handy; have not played much with imagers, maybe will give that a go. Re. recording bgs, that's not happening on this project but will keep in mind for next time. I captured some stuff in ORTF recently, was very pleased with the results. – Jay Jennings Jul 13 '10 at 22:24
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This doesn't necessarily fit into your idea of processing the ambience/background you're working with, but something i like to do when things sound to flat and stable is to add in accent sounds.

Provided you can match the tonal characteristics of your ambience (which usually isn't that hard for background elements), a few wild sounds that stand a bit forward of the background can really provide some depth to an otherwise stale sound field. The one thing that microphones cannot do is match the perceptual processes of our brain. Even if we're in a completely focused conversation with someone in a given space, our brain will still pick out elements of our surrounding and give them additional weight beyond the rest.

Basically, microphones capture reality, but we don't hear reality. We subconscously hear in a selective manner. Giving the audience a few elements here and there for their brains to snatch at will really make your backgrounds pop.

  • @Shaun, thanks for your answer. I"ve got my spotted FX happening already, it's the actual background tracks that I'm looking to enhance (crowd beds, airs and nature tracks) by way of subtle - or not so subtle - processing. – Jay Jennings Jul 14 '10 at 13:43
  • @birdhousesound, understood. I tend to think of those sounds I mentioned as being part of the background (because I usually try to get something that would disappear into the background), and I don't use them the way I do spotted sounds. I just try to throw in an item or two, that's very similar to the background, that I can pulse through it using pans/eqs/etc to change its characteristics and behavior. I guess your referring to sounds that need more tonal changes? – Shaun Farley Jul 14 '10 at 18:05
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If you have good source and accent sounds I think one of the simplest and easiest things to do is panning and volume automation.

If you have multiple tracks of static ambiences automate the volume significantly. For your accent tracks don't be afraid to pan those suckers around the speakers. This might not work if you're going for a more natural ambience but depending on the scenario it still could. For example, leaves rustling and birds subtly flying around the speakers would sound awesome in a forest ambience.

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