I watch a lot of YouTube videos – probably more than I should. It’s impossible not to get sucked into a funnel of YouTube content whenever you take a look at your recommended videos. Just in the past week I’ve watched multiple videos on bouldering, speedcubing, obscure speedruns, penspinning, traveling in China, and healthy eating. YouTube is amazing.
One thing I’ve noticed in all types of content is that the very best YouTube videos always use several different audio layers. Narration, music, and background or environmental audio are often all playing at the same time, and they all have to be balanced so the viewer can take it all in at once. Some YouTubers even point out their audio balancing changes, like Magnus Midtbø does at 21:14 in this video.
But adjusting the volume of various layers at different times, like making the background music quieter for a few seconds of narration, is not the simplest edit to make. In this article, I’ll go over the best techniques for balancing your YouTube videos’ audio and the easiest way to do so in three free video editing softwares. Let’s get started!
When do I need to balance my audio tracks?
It all depends on what audio layers you’re using in your videos. If you’re using background music, added narration, and your video’s original audio, your balancing might be complicated. Here’s a general rundown of when you should balance out your various audio tracks and why:
- When your narration isn’t clearly audible. If you’ve added a narration track, it should be the most audible audio layer at all times.
- When your music sounds too loud. When you add background music to your video, you have no control over how its volume will sound compared to the other sounds in your video. Most often, you’ll simply need to make your background music a bit softer.
- When you want to switch the focus from one audio source to another. This will often occur during montage sequences, sped-up portions, small bits of narration, and things like that. It might not be immediately noticeable, but all your favorite YouTubers probably use this technique.
Balancing audio levels:
If you’re a Mac user, iMovie is an easy destination for simple video edits. When you import a video to an iMovie project, you can right-click on it and select “Detach audio” to allow its audio track to be shown as a separate layer in the timeline. You can also drag & drop audio files directly onto the timeline of the project you’re working on.
When you’ve added or detached all your audio layers, you can adjust their volume by dragging the faint bar on the audio layer up or down. This tends to be very sensitive, so be careful and take your time. If you need to adjust the volume of just one section of an audio layer (decreasing music volume while some narration is being spoken, for example), go to the spot where you want the volume to be lowered, click, then right-click and select “Split clip.” Do the same at the point where you want the volume to return to normal. Now, adjust the volume of the portion in the middle and play through the whole section to make sure it sounds the way you want.
iMovie is a good option for audio balancing on Mac computers, but on any other device I recommend using Kapwing. It works on any device, including mobile devices, and requires no downloads. Start by going to Kapwing.com and clicking “Start Editing” to enter the Kapwing Studio. Here, you can upload all your video and audio files, import video and audio from the web by pasting a URL, or record your video and audio directly. Using the Record tool, you can record video from your screen or any camera input, and capture audio using any mic input or system audio from your browser.
In the Studio, some audio layers will be separate and some will be connected to video layers. Either way, you can select the layer in the Timeline or layer list in the lower right and decrease its volume using the Volume slider on the right.
If you want to decrease the volume of just one section of an audio layer, select Timeline and move the time slider to the place where you want the volume to decrease. When the bar is placed at the right time, select the audio or video layer whose volume you want to reduce and click “Split” above the Timeline. Do the same at the spot where you want the volume to return to normal and return to the Studio to decrease the volume of the section in the middle.
You can also auto-level the volume of multiple audio tracks in Kapwing with a click of a button. Simply highlight the audio tracks you want to adjust the volume to and click "Auto-Level Volume" in the Edit tab on the right-hand navigation bar.
Remember to play through the section you edited to make sure it sounds the way you want!
If audio editing is the main thing you do to your videos, and you don’t need many video editing tools for your content, Descript is a good software to use. You need to download the app and create a new project. Here, you can drag the files you want to use into the video editing window and align them on the timeline. When you select a layer on the timeline, click the Track Inspector button in the upper right and you’ll be able to adjust the volume of your audio.
To reduce the volume of just one part of an audio track, move the time slider to the place where you want the volume to change, right-click on the layer, and select “Split Clip.” Do the same at the spot where you want the audio to return to normal, then reduce the volume of the clip in the middle using the Track Inspector tools.
Audio balancing and adjustments can boost your viewer experience and level up your YouTube content. For more content on video editing for YouTubers, check out Kapwing App on YouTube. And while you’re here, take a look at some of our related articles on audio editing with Kapwing: