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There Are Some Basic Mistakes You May Be Making
Not Using Crossfades
In the days of yore, recording engineers went to great lengths to edit audio. It involved tape, razor blades, an editing block, a grease pencil, and a lot of skill. If you made a mistake and cut out the wrong part, you might find yourself scrounging around on the floor looking for that little sliver of tape you tossed, thinking you didn’t need it. That’s no longer the case, thanks to modern digital tools. Cutting and pasting is as easy as pressing two buttons, and there’s a handy undo feature if you mess up. That being said, with all these powerful tools at our disposal, it’s easy to paint yourself into a corner. A good edit should be sonically invisible — if you can hear it, you didn’t do it right. Here are six audio editing mistakes you may be making, along with tips on how to correct them.
Amateur recordings are chock-full of abrupt volume changes, audible clicks, and unnatural transitions. These unwanted effects are caused by discontinuous waveforms — a common consequence of splicing audio clips together. So how do you prevent these? You could make all your cuts at zero-crossing points (during moments of silence), but that’s not always practical or possible, and it’s definitely time-consuming. So how do you make smooth edits? That’s where crossfading comes in.
Chopping Off Transients
It’s easy to assume that you can make edits directly on the beat. After all, everything is on a grid, right? Not so fast — human musicians aren’t robots, so there may be notes that start a little ahead of the beat. Consequently, if you slice the waveform too early, you’ll chop off its initial transient. Without this opening attack, the clip will sound soft, lifeless, and unnatural. So what do you do? Start by making your edits on the beat. Then zoom in and take a close look at your edit transitions. Do you see any chopped-off waveforms? If so, suspend your DAW’s snap-to-grid function, then use its trim tool to move the effected region to the left until the full waveform is revealed. Next, you should listen to the entire clip — editing visually is great, but it doesn’t replace a good set of ears. And don’t forget to apply crossfades at each edit to eliminate any clicks or audible artifacts.
Removing Too Much Mouth Noise
When you record vocals or voice-overs, you’re bound to capture at least a few intrusive mouth noises. Saliva-induced clicks, mouth smacks, and heavy breathing can wreck an otherwise excellent performance. With today’s powerful audio editors, you can easily remove these offensive sounds — but it’s important not to overdo it. In their quest for perfection, some audio engineers take it upon themselves to edit out every single mouth sound on a track with the exception of the actual vocal. Unfortunately, the result ends up sounding completely artificial. Breathing is a natural part of singing, and vocals sound strange without it. While it’s good to eliminate any distracting mouth noises that detract from an artist’s performance, you need to retain the majority of the breath sounds that precede their vocal phrases. This breathing is part of the singer’s distinctive character and expression, and you need to keep it intact if you want to capture an intimate, natural-sounding performance. If the breaths are so loud that they are bothersome (a telltale sign of over-compressed vocals where the singing is highly compressed but the compressor releases between phrases, making the breaths sometimes 6dB–10dB louder than they should be), then you can pull the level of the breaths down to a natural level (3dB–6dB) but still leave them intact. Throughout our decades of studio experience here at Sweetwater, we’ve learned that it’s best to leave as much of an original vocal performance intact as you can. In other words, if a sound isn’t objectionable, leave it be. Don’t remove it just because you can.
Being Overly Enthusiastic with Pitch Correction
Since we’re on the topic of natural-sounding vocals, we’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the proper use of pitch correction. A common editing tool in modern production environments, pitch correction software like Auto-Tune and Melodyne is great — it can fix a couple of bum notes in an otherwise excellent performance. But when you abuse it, you not only imbue your vocal tracks with a robotic, metallic quality, but you also create a performance that sounds anything but natural. So how do you use pitch correction invisibly? That’s easy — subtly and in moderation. Rather than running your entire vocal through a plug-in in “lazy mode” (also called “automatic”), listen to the vocal in the track. If a bad note jumps out at you, fix it manually. If you don’t find anything that distracts you from the performance, leave it alone. Perfection isn’t natural, and a slightly pitchy performance can still sound great in the context of a song. In fact, some vocalists sing slightly flat or sharp intentionally — it’s part of how they convey emotion when they interpret a song. The last thing you want to do is kill their mojo with heavy-handed pitch correction.
Going Overboard with Comping
A comp track is made up of sections of several takes that were originally recorded on alternate tracks. Commonly used with vocals and instrumental solos, this technique allows you to create a superior performance out of the best bits and pieces of the different takes. Comping has been used since the good old days of tape and razor blades, but now, thanks to the magic of the DAW, it’s easier than ever. Sometimes, audio engineers become obsessed with creating the “perfect” track. They’ll slice and dice everything into the smallest chunks possible — right down to individual notes and syllables. Then they’ll paste it all together, perfectly tuned and quantized. There’s a word for that: BORING. When an artist performs, there are subtle variations in intensity that convey their emotions. And these variations aren’t necessarily the same from take to take. So when you take bits and pieces out of their intended context, you can disrupt the artist’s emotional flow. This gives you a haphazard-sounding performance, regardless of how “perfect” it is. It’s better to take a minimalist approach. Start with the best overall take. If there are any mistakes in the performance, replace them with an entire musical phrase from another take (rather than a single word or note), and be sure that it’s one that fits the emotional tone of the main track. And if there were any once-in-a-lifetime moments in one of the other takes, integrate them into your final track (provided that these phrases fit into the emotional context of the comp track). Then listen to the final result. It should sound like a complete performance rather than a pieced-together one. If it doesn’t, head back to square one and try again.
Going Overboard with Comping
If you click through menus with a mouse while you’re editing, then you’re wasting valuable time. By using keyboard shortcuts instead, you’ll speed up your workflow drastically. Beyond that, you’re less likely to sustain a repetitive strain injury in your wrist from all that pointing and clicking. Which shortcut should you start with? With the most important one, of course — the save command. Use it frequently, and your life will be better for it. Next, learn the undo and redo commands. Then learn to operate your DAW’s transport controls, such as play, pause, stop, rewind, fast-forward, and start/stop recording. After that, learn to cut/paste, create/heal a separation, nudge left/right, create a fade, and enable/disable your DAW’s snap-to-grid function. Now you’ve learned the basics — what’s next? That’s up to you. After all, everybody’s workflow is different. We suggest taking note of which functions you use frequently and learning their corresponding keyboard shortcuts. Modern technology gives you an endless array of editing options. You can do just about anything — but that doesn’t mean you should. Gently massaging a good performance can transform it into a great one. But replacing a poor performance with an artificial-sounding sonic jigsaw puzzle will rarely give you the vibrant, emotion-rich performance you’re aiming for.
I personally believe if you want your music to be listened too- you have to keep up with the trends. Be a life long learner and continue to read about your trade, take classes, conferences, and college courses to develop your production skills!
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