Welcome to Day 20 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

On Days 1-10 we talked about gear. On Days 11-19 we looked into recording techniques. For the remainder of 31 Days to Better Recordings, we’re going to look at what do to with those tracks once they’ve been recorded, things like editing, mixing, and mastering.

Today, let’s take a look at editing.

What is Editing?

That’s a fair question. You may be new to recording, or maybe you’ve just never bothered to think about editing. Either way, I think it’s worth your while to give it some thought. It might be a key factor in making better recordings.

So, what exactly IS editing? I’ve talked about it a lot here on Home Studio Corner (see Intro to Editing), but let’s review.

Have you ever read a book and found a typo? (For some reason it always makes me happy.) The reason these typos stand out in our minds is because they rarely happen.

Do you think an author writes his book, emails the text to the publisher, and then they promptly print thousands of copies and start selling them? Wrong. In the book publishing world, editors are hugely important. They’re responsible for finding errors and typos, even rearranging (or possibly removing) sections of the book in order to make it flow more smoothly.

We’ve come to accept the editing process when we read books. If you were to buy a book that has tons of errors in it, you’d probably feel like you didn’t get your money’s worth, right? There’s something about a polished, finished product that just seem right.

Well, if you expect your books to be professionally “polished,” wouldn’t it makes sense to expect the same quality from your recordings as well? I think so.

So…what is editing? Editing is simply using the tools in your DAW to alter the recorded signal, to change it for the better. This can involve any of the following:

  • Pocketing – Moving out-of-time sections of a performance to make them sound more “in time” with the rest of the song. (This is probably what most people are referring to when they say they’re “editing” a song.)
  • Noise Removal – Recording in a home studio lends itself to lots of noise. Whether it’s simply the singer smacking his lips between phrases, or some random spikes in the audio due to a glitch in your converter. These all can be fixed with editing.
  • Comping – Copying and pasting from several different takes to make one final “comp track” of a performance.

Is editing cheating? Some think it is. They think that if you dare to touch the audio after it’s recorded, you’re hurting the music and killing the performance. I disagree.

First things first, you can ALWAYS have too much of a good thing. Editing, just like EQ, compression, reverb, delay, etc., can easily be taken too far. But just because you can go overboard with editing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t edit.

A lot of mixes I hear from beginner engineers have tons of reverb…we’re talking TONS. Does that mean reverb is a bad thing and they shouldn’t use it? Not at all. Like all things, it needs to be used in moderation.

Another Part of the Creative Process

I approach editing just like I would playing a guitar part or singing a lead vocal. In my opinion, editing is just another key part of the creative process. There is a musical way to edit things. If you edit a track properly, you won’t be able to HEAR the edit, you’ll simply be impressed with such a great-sounding track.

That’s the point. We’re not fixing a crappy performance. We’re enhancing a good performance. Want to hear the difference? Check out this post: Audio Editing: Hear it for Yourself.

Just like a good author utilizes an editor to put the final polish on his book, we as audio engineers should use editing to put the finishing touch on the songs we’re working on.

If you want in-depth training on editing (including practice tracks), check out Understanding Editing. There’s a lot of good info there.

Day 20 Challenge

If you’re a fan of editing, leave a comment and tell us why you edit. What difference does it make?

If you’re skeptical of editing, or if you’ve never done it before, leave a comment and tell us why. Your challenge is to give it a shot, and report back here.

  • http://keithhandy.com Keith Handy

    Editing reminds me of pre-computer animation, in a way, because you’re zeroing in on brief events that will whiz by a listener’s ears… but you know and understand that the cumulative result of fine-tuning all these brief moments is a more satisfying song to listen to.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Wow. That’s a really cool analogy. I might steal it. :)

      • http://keithhandy.com Keith Handy

        Go for it! :)

  • Melvin Blickenstaff

    I’ve always been skeptical, but I just recently tried it on a MIDI track (that I recorded with a controller). Made a world of difference. Definitely going to try it some more.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      MIDI is especially fun, because you can literally change the original performance, whereas with audio you don’t have quite as much flexibility.

  • Preshan

    I’m a fan of editing, although I think it’s one of the more tedious, boring sides to production. But a little editing here and there can definitely improve a song. I almost always edit bass tracks using elastic audio. I find that if the bass is tight with the drums, that itself will make a huge difference to the overall sound of the song.

  • http://www.rockxx.de Jens

    Isn´t it true that all those guys who uses computers and DAWs for (home-)recording their stuff (so: we all here) are fans of editing? I think that´s one reason to do recordings with your computer (sure, there are some other reasons, but this is one of them in my opinion). For me it is funny, if someone uses all this computer techniques and after all he says “oh, editing is cheating, so I never uses the tools for editing my recordings”. Funny!

    So, yes! I´m editing my recordings … and more: I uses all the editing-tools in the songwriting-prozess, too.

  • Arjun Ramesh

    I like editing because it helps me build a song like a house. I am a fan of stripping silence, especially in my home studio, where my single coil pickups add that hum and having all the electronics nearby makes it worse and it ends up on the recording. Why have all that unnecessary noise in the beginning of the track or during parts where the electric guitar is not even playing? I also mute sections at various times during the song to introduce instruments to give the listener something new to look forward to. Some of my artists have expected that everything they play will end up on the final track, which is completely understandable. But, after they hear the edited version, they usually like it better, as they get to hear certain things kick in when they least expect it. I had one of my friends hand me a song he recorded with 12 acoustic guitars, and 8 vocals. When I gave him the final mix, he was a bit surprised at first to find that his catch phrase riff/diddy was taken out at the beginning. Since it occurred at the end of each chorus anyway, I decided to introduce it later. But, he was blown away by certain riffs he had played and did not even know about, with all of the guitar tracks he had compiled. I had introduced them throughout the song. This is really fun to do when I edit and it makes it a much more creative sounding track, rather than everything being coming in at the same time. Also, cleaning up the silent parts, while he was waiting to play and kind of counting in his head leading in also had to go. Not to mention the inevitable cough, or accidental bump of the guitar while waiting to play his next part.

  • Edith Ballistics

    Frequently the least fun, but the most necessary. And starting to mix will often show you where more editing is required.

  • http://soundcloud.com/bouben Bouben

    I do edit and I like editing itself. It is fun for me and it is rewarding. I like hearing cluttered mix evolving into polished one.

  • Matt

    I edit when needed. Usually it is to comp takes together or for pocketing an instrument. I don’t enjoy it so much as it is tedious sometimes but, if it is necessary, it makes a HUGE difference to do it. When needed, it is well worth the time.

  • Frank Adrian

    Why do I edit? Because the end result sounds better when I edit than when I don’t! Why else would you do it!?

    First, I comp parts – I think everyone does, even if it’s only at a sectional level. Comping is not cheating. When even classical recordings comp, I don’t feel bad about it. Maybe if I was a jazz purist, I might object, but I don’t think there’s been a really good sounding record over the last fifteen (twenty-five?) years that wasn’t comped somewhere. The people who complain about this are probably sad that we’re still not recording audio direct to cylinder with all those electronics getting in the way of “sonic purity”.

    I tend to edit vocals a lot more than I edit instrumentals. I may lower the volume a really annoying string squeak, but the instrumentals don’t take nearly as much editing as vocals. There are a few reasons for this: Vocals, being the focal point of the song, usually get mixed at higher levels. As such, any flaws in the vocals really stand out; Having a fairly wide dynamic range, vocals tend to get compressed more heavily than any element other than drums. When this is coupled with the fairly large HF content of the voice, you can get a really annoying sound from too-loud breaths and sibilance. You need editing to reduce these; Guitars and basses usually have their annoying sounds in the same frequency ranges as what makes them intelligible. Therefore, if you do get a string squeak, it’s usually masked by other instruments enough that it’s not that noticeable when mixed. All of this leads to editing vocals more than instruments.

    As I said before, I start with comping. Then, I’ll go over the volume of individual words or phrases to make sure that none are particularly too loud (or soft) – this is done only if the issue is really egregious; I’m not trying to change the feel of the vocals, only getting rid of obvious flaws. Next, I’ll tune notes that are a bit too out of tune (I’m not going to let one bad note spoil a lovely phrasing). I then pocket the phrases on vocals so that they fit tightly into the rhythm of the mix (with a good singer, very little of this is necessary). Finally, I decrease volume on breath sounds that might be annoying (Note: if you’re using a compressor on your vocal chain, do this with the plugin/hardware unit engaged. The compressor will make these sounds louder so, if you don’t have it engaged while you’re editing, you’ll probably have to go back and reduce them more when you hear them with the compressor turned on). I also said “reduce volume”, not “remove” – everybody breathes. After that, we’re ready for actual mixing.

    So, that’s what I do. On the other hand, some folks have called me obsessive…

    • Frank Adrian

      Oh – one other reason why I tend to comp vocals more… It’s usually easier to get a passable retake of an instrumentalist than of a vocalist.

      • Cush

        I’m very much with Frank on all of this. His first sentence says a mouthful by itself.

    • http://keithhandy.com Keith Handy

      If breathing is a flaw, we’re in trouble. ;)

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/stanmishler Stanley Mishler, Jr.

    Editing is great I can fix bad notes in a stellar take that would otherwise have to be scrapped. Or like joe said pocketing a groove. Plus it gives you one more time to really evaluate your sound quality and recording choice to see what you can improve on for your next section.

  • http://www.jawjmusic.com John

    I am a fan of editing. I noticed the difference in the sound of my tracks just by making the few adjustments you mentioned: pocketing and noise removal. My tracks went from cluttered to polished instantly (well at least after 40 minutes of editing). I do have your Understanding Editing course and it has worked wonders for me. I would encourage everyone out there to get the course and don’t neglect this often overlooked step of the process.