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Unlocking iMovie '09 & '11

We've all had it happen, or something like it. In my case, it was an Ultimate Frisbee highlight video I was editing with music and everything. For a number of clips I wanted the music to dominate up until a score, at which point I wanted the hooting and hollering to win out. The handy rubber band in iMovieHD always obliged. Not so in iMovie "the Rebirth". In your case there may have been the occasional car vrooming by or an unwelcome bout of flatulence by Uncle Ralph. Either way, just because the rubber band ran off doesn't mean your hopes did too.

Okay, being completely honest you can't fade audio, or "duck" audio, within a clip, but you can accomplish the same effect. Another caveat is that this How To does not cover all audio editing issues you will face. This is just about audio levels in general and you may come across issues with audio levels that this post does not address.

While I strongly suspect that the handy little rubber band in iMovies of yesteryear will make a comeback, here is how to get (very) close to the same results in the current incarnation of iMovie '08.

Video Killed the Radio Star
Editing audio levels in iMovie '08 is very "video-centric." In iMovieHD, editing audio always involved going to the actual audio track and making changes. If you wanted a track to be quieter than another track, you reduced the volume on that track. With iMovie '08, you will have a much easier time by generally focusing on making audio changes to the video track. Put your song in place. Put your sound effects in place. Once they are in place, focus your audio level editing on the video tracks. This might seem counter-intuitive to you like it did to me, but it helps me focus on how the new iMovie works.

How do I make the song quieter than the video?
First it's important to understand how audio ducking works in iMovie '08. In the interest of simplicity, Apple automated the audio ducking process. Instead of having to manually fade an audio track in a sound or video clip, iMovie will subordinate one track to the other depending on the audio settings for a given clip. This is pretty reasonable, as long as you like the actual levels iMovie gives to the quieter track.

To auto-duck other audio tracks, select the clip you want to dominate and either hit the letter "A" or select the "Adjust Audio" button.

That will bring up this floating window:

Notice that I have already checked the box titled, "Reduce volume of other tracks." You, too, will need to check that box. Once checked, all other audio tracks that run during that video clip will fade to become quieter and then, when the clip is finished, will fade back up to full volume.

To this you may say, "Wow! That's great. No more fiddling around with the sound levels. All is as it should be." I suspect a lot of you are saying, "Boo! Bad iMovie! Who's in charge here? I am the director of this movie, not some algorithm!"

Well, if you are really picky about your audio levels, editing the audio of the sound track itself looks to be a much messier operation if you want to make the change for only the portion of the clip. For a song, from what I can tell it would involve actually importing the song three times and trimming each of the three copies of the song to the particular fade points, reducing the volume of the middle copy, and lining all three songs up in the "Arrange Music Tracks" window. Even then, I don't think the audio would fade, but just drop off then jump back up. The auto-ducking option suddenly makes me feel a lot less picky.

Of course, if you want to fade an entire song, you can select that song, open the "Audio Adjustments" window I mentioned earlier, and just reduce the volume on the volume slider.

What if I want to duck more than one clip?
You can prioritize the audio on as many clips as you like. To do this, you could use the old fashioned way and, while you have the audio adjustment window open, click on the each of the other video clips and check the same "Reduce volume of other tracks" button. Or, you could use the fancy-new-super-duper-mega-cool way and select the first clip you prioritized, press "Command-C" to copy the settings of that clip, and then select each of the other clips and press "Option-Command-U" to paste the audio adjustment to those clips. (The "audio paste" ability can also be accessed in the Edit menu under "Paste Adjustments".) Now that you have done that, you can feel totally ridiculous because the fancy-new-super-super-mega-cool way took the same amount of time and effort. Curse this new iMovie and its inability to select multiple clips at once!

(An Aside: Selecting video clips for adjusting audio has a slightly confusing UI-thing going on. Consider the following:

If I select a clip and open the "Audio Adjustments" window, I will get this. This looks normal.

If I then immediately click on another clip to edit its audio, I get this. This is confusing. For which clip am I editing the audio? The one on the right with the fainter yellow border.

If I had originally selected only part of a clip to edit its audio and then open the "Audio Adjustments" window, I get this. This is a little weird, but it at least tells me that I am editing audio for the entire clip.

This is behavior I don't expect to continue into future versions of iMovie because it will probably change as iMovie's audio editing abilities are improved.)

How do I make the video quieter than the song?
You might think that all you need to do is select the entire music track and choose the "Reduce volume of other tracks" checkbox. It doesn't work. That option is greyed out for music tracks. Lame.

Again, focus on the video clips, not the audio tracks. In this case, you want to select the video clip you want to be quieter than the music and, upon opening the "Audio Adjustment" window, reduce the volume on that clip by moving the volume slider to the desired amount. iMovie knows to fade the clip, so don't worry about a sudden volume change when your movie gets to that point.

If you want to do the same to multiple clips, you might want to use the "audio paste" feature I described above. It's not much of a time-saver, but will help you be more consistent. If instead you decided to drag the volume slider for each clip, it opens the opportunity to get different levels between clips.

Quick Tip: If you plan ahead, you can save your self a little monotony in changing the audio levels for a lot of clips. Before you begin adding video clips to your project, select the source video you are using in the Event Browser and make the audio adjustments you need. All of the clips you drag into your project from the source video will land in your project with the same audio adjustments.

How do I make these changes within a clip?
You can't. iMovie can only make audio changes to entire clips. This doesn't mean you can no longer get the same result. The trick is to create a new clip for the range of video you need to adjust. Odds are you want to make sure your audio adjustments cover a very specific range of audio. If you haven't already seen it, I covered how to make frame-precise edits in another post. Go read that if you need help making accurate video edits.

How to make frame-precise edits

The easiest way to make a new clip for a range of video is to use the "Split Clip" ability from the Edit menu.

This will take the range of video you selected and make three clips: the video before your selected range, the selected range itself, and the video after your selected range. If you make a mistake in splitting, just select the middle clip and choose "Join Clip" from the Edit menu.

Once you have made a new clip from the range of video you need to fade up or down, just select the new clip, open the "Audio Adjustments" window, and do what you need to do.

May the rubber band bounce back
Looking over this How To, many people can complain that the rubber band was more elegant, intuitive, and accurate. They're right. For example, you can't extend an audio fade for over a second or two. Nor can you easily adjust the audio levels of multiple tracks all in the same window. For these and many other reasons, I really think that the rubber band will make a comeback. Until then, I hope this How To helps.

23 comments: to “ How to fade audio within a clip

  • Ahmed
    August 16, 2007 at 5:39 PM  

    OMG!!!! i found a way to edit where you want your music clips so it doesnt play through the whole thing!!!!!!!! in the green space once youve put your music in, click on the clock u can trim as much as you'd like, its complicated, but at least youve got it!!!!!!!!! comment back if u have a question

  • Anonymous
    August 18, 2007 at 12:17 AM  

    hey aaron -- have you tried sending the movie project to garageband and adding/editing the audio track there? it's an extra step, but it seems like GB offers the audio-tweaking functionality that the previous version of iMovie had onboard.

  • Aaron
    August 18, 2007 at 8:34 AM  

    @ Anon,

    I have played around with doing the audio for a movie in GarageBand. The reason I don't use it is that I often find myself editing video to match audio I have added. This isn't possible in GB. Because going back and forth between GB and iM'08 isn't really an option, so thus far I am making do with the audio capabilities iM'08 has.

    This isn't to say you can never use GB for editing audio in a movie. If you are sure that your video track looks exactly how you want it, GB would be great because, like you said, it gives you much of the same capabilities of the iMovie HD timeline.

  • Haly2k1
    August 31, 2007 at 6:06 PM  

    You wrote: "The easiest way to make a new clip for a range of video is to use the "Split Clip" ability from the Edit menu.

    This will take the range of video you selected and make three clips: the video before your selected range, the selected range itself, and the video after your selected range. If you make a mistake in splitting, just select the middle clip and choose "Join Clip" from the Edit menu."

    Could you tell me in more detail just how to do this? I tried selecting a clip in the Project window; but Split Clip is greyed out; likewise with a selected clip from the Project window. Where and how do I select a clip, such that the 'Split'/'Join' editing feature is NOT greyed out.



  • Aaron
    August 31, 2007 at 6:22 PM  

    @ Hal,

    Thanks for pointing this out. I should have been clearer. The option will be grayed out if you have an entire clip selected. You need to select a range within a clip to be able to split it. You can do this by click-dragging across a clip (as long as it wasn't already selected) or by dragging the ends of the yellow selection box.

  • Jordan
    April 24, 2008 at 2:50 PM  

    Hey there,
    I have a question that maybe you could figure out. I worked with the older versions of imovie and there was a way to take the sound from a clip and move the sound alone where ever you wanted, however in this new version i can't find a way to separate a clip from its sound. Do you know a way I could do that?

    Jordan L.

  • Peter
    June 14, 2008 at 7:19 AM  

    To Jordan: Yes. First select (ie make a yellow box around) the video clip in your library that you want to pull audio from. Then hold down Command-Shift while you drag that clip to your project. Presto! Only the audio moves, now separated from the video.

    You say you've ALREADY moved the video to your project? Select that clip in the project, then go to the edit menu and choose "Reveal in Event Browser" and you'll see a grey box around the library copy of that clip. Now you can apply the above trick to that grey box and it will perfectly separate just that amount of audio so you can again drag it to your project.

  • Anonymous
    June 18, 2008 at 7:39 PM  

    First off, THANK YOU for your site. I just started playing around with IMovie '08 and find it extremely frustrating but I am going to give it a try.

    I have a quick question. How do I delay the start of a clip? For example, I have audio that has some *spoken word* in the beginning and I want my clip to start when the music does (about a second or 2 into the song)

    please help!

    (thank you)


  • Peter
    June 19, 2008 at 5:52 AM  

    Caroline -- Export the audio using the above technique. That produces a green bar separate from your video. You can then drag the green bar to the left in your project, so that the audio starts a couple of seconds before the video. You can put the audio over a title screen if you want.

  • Anonymous
    October 2, 2008 at 8:54 PM  

    You rock! Thanks for your help! I was getting all kinds of stressed out when I opened my new computer and saw an entirely different program set up.

  • Elena
    November 12, 2008 at 9:14 PM  

    Hi there

    I am unable to bring up the adjust audio box that you mention in your post...any help with this?

    I am very disappointed with iMovie 08, I hope apple fixes all these annoying problems!!!

  • Patrick Collins
    January 11, 2009 at 10:40 AM  

    I stayed with imovie HD because of the lack of the audio editing capabilities.

    So here we are in January 09... has imovie 09 fixed this issue?


  • Anonymous
    March 12, 2009 at 7:03 PM  

    I'm all about change...but the changes made in Movie08 are awful. They took a great program (iMovieHD) that may be harder to learn but allowed the user more editing power and changed it to an easier to use program with less editing power. GRRR. Hopefully they will add some updates! and soon!

  • Rob
    August 22, 2009 at 7:04 AM  

    I used garageband.. It worked just fine.. Import the track in garageband, edit the volume of the track at will and import back into itunes.. Then, select the edited version of the song and use as you would use the original..

  • abigail
    November 16, 2009 at 11:16 AM  

    I have a question. I'm editing a music video in imovie. There is the song audio in the clips because I had to lip sync it but I want to remove the audio from the video and play the recorded song over it. When I took out the audio from the movie and imported the song it worked but it wouldn't play because I had turned the volume off the clips. Any tips?

  • Daysebc
    May 7, 2010 at 7:14 AM  

    Thank you for the explanation on how to fade out just the music not the voice in a clip using iMovie 09

  • Danniga Vibergen
    May 23, 2010 at 12:13 PM  

    The ''Duck audio'' box or whatever it's called is frozen.
    If I do it while I have selected the click I want to dominate, the box works, but the audio doesn't change at all. :(

  • Max Weaver
    October 9, 2010 at 4:56 AM  

    Thanks for the great post. However, I have not been able to achieve what seems to be the most simplest of tasks and have spent hours trying. I created a keynote with sound, imported in to iMovie so I can fade out the sound at the end. If Keynote enabled audio fade out I wouldn't need to use this crippled iMove program but it doesn't.

    So, how do I simply fade out the audio at the end of the clip??? I've tried everything I can think of but nothing seems to work. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  • Max Weaver
    October 9, 2010 at 10:53 PM  

    I've tried removing the audio and exporting the Keynote presentation as a video (tried many different formats: mp4, avi, QT, etc) without audio.

    But when I open iMovie and try to import it it won't let me, it is greyed out and not an option. I tried dragging it in but iMovie won't allow that either.

    So I've downloaded iMovie HD6 and tried using that instead. It allows me to import and I lay the single audio track, great. But when I preview it it is all pixelated and looks terrible. I tried exporting in every single format with every variation I can think of but the result is always pixelated. The pixelation slightly pulses about once every second. I have no idea why iMovie can't reproduce a clean video non pixelated video but Keynote can.

    The only way i can get the video to look nice and crisp is to export in full quality from Keynote...but then there is that problem again with not being able to fade out the volume.

    I have spent a total of about 8 hours just on the exporting alone!

    If by some stroke of luck you are able to advise with some magic method to achieve this very simple task I'd appreciate it. Otherwise I give up.

  • Rayman on the Run
    October 19, 2010 at 3:18 AM  


    Thanks for your great blog. My problem is i am trying to edit a video for work and i simply can't work out how to stop the 1 second fade at the end of my clip before my transition - the audio bleeds into the transition if i try and stop the fade. or i get a fade that goes into my questions after the answer of my interviewee (if this makes sense - i am simply attempting a straight forward edit of an interview with transitions between each cut. please help my boss is losing patience with this video!!



  • Max Weaver
    October 19, 2010 at 3:50 AM  

    I found the solution to all the iMovie pain = Screenflow. Screenflow works like a charm and is incredibly versatile.

    So simple and easy.

  • man
    June 13, 2011 at 9:49 AM  

    Hey there,I have a question that maybe you could figure out. I worked with the older versions of imovie and there was a way to take the sound from a clip and move the sound alone where ever you wanted, however in this new version i can't find a way to separate a clip from its sound. Do you know a way I could do that?
    Austin Remodeling Companies

  • dubaiexperies
    August 1, 2011 at 8:47 AM  

    I still have yet to get around to figuring out my own lyrics to post proper finished versions of them; maybe in a few years I'll do that.
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