How to Unpack All Audio Tracks in Adobe Premiere Pro [Tutorial]

The assistant editor’s comprehensive guide

Congratulations on locking your cut for the first, fourth, or tenth time!

Welcome to audio turnover. If you cut with mixdowns in your multicam clips, someone will have to unpack all audio tracks back into the timeline. Ideally, your sound team can do this themselves. Pro Tools Ultimate can conform ISO tracks with its Field Recorder Workflow, and third-party applications like EDiLoad can do it too.

But – if you need to do it yourself, you’re in the right place.

Big picture: Starting with your last track of multicam dialogue, we’re going to sweep through your timeline and overwrite all audio clips onto new empty tracks. We’ll work on one track all the way through, and then repeat the process for each remaining track. Don’t worry – I’ll show you how to automate the tedious parts.

This is a very intricate process. Be diligent and follow this guide closely. Read it through once before starting.

Does all of this make sense? Great. Put on a pot of coffee and let’s get started.

Begin a Standard Audio Turnover

Before unpacking your dialogue tracks, begin the standard audio turnover process.

Duplicate your editor’s locked cut and apply all the appropriate mastering elements, such as a slate and 2-pop. Make sure your sequence starts at the TC defined by your show’s specs. Then, duplicate this sequence into an Audio Turnover project with today’s date.

Delete all video, and use Premiere’s Simplify Sequence command to clear all disabled audio clips.

Organize your audio clips into sections for dialogue, ADR, SFX, ambiences, and music. Export a guide stem for each section.

Your timeline should be organized into sections for dialogue, ADR, SFX, ambiences, and music.

Warning! It’s dangerous to go beyond this point. The rest of this process will be very destructive to your timeline. Duplicate your sequence (again) and back up your project.

Set up Your Timeline

Delete redundant clips

Let’s look at your timeline. Your dialogue clips are probably in pairs (e.g. A1 + A2, A3 + A4, etc.) We need them to be in single tracks, so delete all redundant clips and consolidate into as few tracks as possible. Once you’re done, delete all empty audio tracks.

Do this slowly and carefully. Your editor has likely thrown some individual ISO clips into the timeline, so you can’t just lasso/delete entire tracks.

Here’s a pair of before/after screenshots. (For clarity, I’m working with a minute-long edit.)

Create New Audio 1 with Bars and Tone

Create a new audio track before your first track. Select File > New > Bars and Tone. Drag the audio all across your new A1 track, starting on your first frame of action and extending until your last frame of action.

Drag Your Last Track of Multicam Dialogue onto Audio 1

Stick with me here. Things are going to get a bit weird. It will make sense soon.

Highlight all the clips in your last track of multicam dialogue and drag them onto Audio 1, partially overcutting the tone clip. (Hold shift while dragging vertically to preserve sync.)

Lock All Audio Tracks, then Create New Ones

For peace of mind, we should lock all audio tracks besides Audio 1. Shift-click on your track locks to lock them all down, then unlock Audio 1.

Finally, add a ton of audio tracks after Audio 1. (Seriously, add at least 45. We’ll delete most of them later.)

Batch Unpack the Audio

For each clip on Audio 1, we need to repeat a precise series of actions. These actions are:

  • Mark clip
  • Match frame
  • Default Source Assignment
  • Overwrite
  • Focus Timelines Window

If your head is spinning, take a deep breath. There are two options for speeding up this process. Option 1 is simpler, but Option 2 is cooler.

Option 1: Create a Task Keyboard

Open your keyboard preferences, and assign the above action series to numbers 1 through 5. Save it as a new keyboard.

Next, close all other timelines. (Having multiple timelines open will interfere with this process.)

Set Premiere to insert sequences as individual clips (white) and make sure Audio 1’s record targeting is enabled (blue).

Insert sequences as individual clips
Enable A1’s record target

Now, the unpacking begins. Starting at the beginning of the timeline, press each key in sequence. Work your way through the whole audio track.

Work carefully. Going too fast or missing a keystroke can throw the whole process out of balance. (It’s helpful to have the History panel active, so you can easily backtrack if things get hairy.)

Option 2: Run a Macro

Essentially, a macro is a small executable process that will press the keyboard action sequence for you.

For Mac users I recommend a program called Keyboard Maestro, which offers a fully functional 30-day free trial. (Read my Getting Started guide here.)

I’ve built out a macro for this process – download it below. Read its instructions to assign your keyboard shortcuts for the action series.

Next, close all other timelines. (Having multiple timelines open will interfere with this process.)

Set Premiere to insert sequences as individual clips (white) and make sure Audio 1’s record targeting is enabled (blue).

Insert sequences as individual clips
Enable A1’s record target

Hit Run inside Keyboard Maestro. A dialogue box will pop up asking how many times to repeat the macro. Start with a low number, like five, and press OK. Premiere will churn away on the clips in your timeline.

Kick your feet up – the machine’s doing the work. It will chime when done.

If your computer lags while running the macro, increase the macro’s pause durations.

If there’s a problem, cancel the macro by holding shift + alt + control + command and press on the Keyboard Maestro icon in your system tray. (It’s helpful to have the History panel active, so you can easily backtrack if things get hairy.)

To cancel a macro, hold Shift + Alt + Control + Command and press on KM in your system tray.

If the macro is working properly, set the macro to run on all clips you have on Audio 1. (The Info panel will count clips.) Autosave pop-ups will interfere with the macro, so you may want to temporarily disable Autosave.

It’s working!! I’ve never felt such power. How can I learn more? Macros are insanely powerful tools that can change your entire workflow, but they can be tricky to learn. Check out my guide to learn more about Keyboard Maestro and get on my email list for future updates.

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Clean Up Your Timeline and Repeat

Once you’ve reached the end of Audio 1 you’ll need to clean up your timeline before repeating the next audio track.

Depending on your workflow, camera scratch audio may be in your timeline. Select all camera clips by hitting control/command-F and entering your video extension (usually .MOV or .MXF). Make sure your lower audio tracks are still locked, and press delete.

Do the same thing with bars and tone.

Finally, delete all empty audio tracks.

You’ve done it! Now just repeat the above process for each remaining track of multicam dialogue, starting by creating a new Audio 1. (Remember to process your multicam tracks from the bottom up because each track will insert above the previous track.)

Confidence Check

Once you’ve unpacked and cleaned up all dialogue tracks, scan through the timeline to check your work.

  • There should be no multicam clips left in your timeline.
  • There shouldn’t be any excessively long clips. (Sometimes Premiere may glitch and overwrite an entire audio take.)
  • There should be no vertical gaps in between linked audio clips.

If you have time, play back to the timeline to make sure every clip is accounted for. However, it’s normal to have some back-and-forth while conforming an audio turnover so I wouldn’t stress too much over a potential missed clip.

Finally, you may want to prepare a version of this sequence with video tracks included. That way, when the producers need to make “one small change,” the editor can make changes in an unpacked sequence. (Duplicate it first, of course.)

Did this process work for you? Please leave a comment below and let me know how it went. For more workflow tips, subscribe to my email list.

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Responses

  1. Meg Avatar
    Meg

    This blog is already becoming a must read. Thanks for the thorough explanation of your workflow.

  2. John Schmidt Avatar
    John Schmidt

    Thanks for all this! Brilliant. And thanks for the tip on Keyboard Maestro.

  3. M SK Avatar
    M SK

    This is amazing… sadly, in my case, glitches get in the way… in some instances, match frame won’t take a instead overwrites the previous marked in-out from source monitor. Hopefully a restart solves.

    1. Christopher Tennant Avatar
      Christopher Tennant

      Thanks for reading! When dealing with glitches like that, it often helps to add a bunch of pause steps into the keyboard maestro macro.

      1. M SK Avatar
        M SK

        OK, this is amazing, I think it’s alive! Infinite gratitude. One thing is, it can’t do it when where’s gaps between clips. But if there’s a cluster together, I can repeat for the amount of contiguous clips, which already super cool.
        One thing I’d like to add for any new readers is that if the Audio Team asks for trimmed/with handles AAFs, and you’ve been working with mixdowns only, then you’ll have to unpack. EdiLoad and Field Recorder Workflow only work with the complete audio files. Thanks again!

      2. Christopher Tennant Avatar
        Christopher Tennant

        The gap problem is why I include that step about dragging a bars and tone file into the first track of the sequence. You’re essentially creating a dummy clip to fill in all the gaps so that the macro can proceed without stopping.

        Good note about EdiLoad, I hadn’t heard that before!

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