Do you edit your recordings?

Once everything has been recorded, before you start mixing, do you edit the audio? Do you fix things? Do you think it’s cheating? Do you think it’s stupid NOT to do it? I’m going to give you my take on it, but be sure to let me know your opinion in the comments section below.

What is Editing?

An audio editor is much like a book editor. He takes the original audio file and adds or removes bits and pieces to make it better.

An audio editor at a radio station will take a spoken-word commercial that’s 34 seconds long and trim it down until it fits into a 30-second spot. A book editor will read the manuscript and suggest that certain parts be taken out…or certain parts be stretched out.

With regard to music production and recording, editing involves any changes made to the audio between the recording phase and the mixing phase. This can involve normalizing audio files, correcting timing issues, removing unwanted sections, or even changing the actual performance itself.

Editing is not just a digital thing. Back in the “analog days,” engineers would regularly cut and splice tape between two different takes.

Is it cheating?

One could argue that the musician’s performance should remain untouched. If the performance wasn’t perfect, that’s okay. That’s reality. That’s how the musician really sounds.

Others like to take a good performance and “touch it up” here and there to make it even better. A prime example? AutoTune.

Some people rant and rave against AutoTune. They write things in the liner notes like “AutoTune was not used anywhere on the album.” Others swear by AutoTune.

First, let me make a point here. You should be recording good musicians. No amount of editing tools or software or magic voodoo will make a crappy musician sound good. Let’s just assume we’re talking about good musicians and good performances.

So…is it cheating to take a good performance and try to improve it? Is it wrong to “pocket” the drums so they’re a bit tighter and more in sync with the click track? Is it wrong to pocket the bass, making it “lock in” with the kick drum? Guitars? Keys? Background vocals?

I can’t tell you if it’s cheating or not. But let me tell you what I think.

I’m creating a product.

When I’m working on a recording project, the end result (most likely) is a finished CD or album. I’m producing something that’s going to have my name on it. I want it to sound as good as possible. That’s why I work with good musicians.

However, what if there are mistakes in the audio? What if the bass comes in a little too soon in a few spots?

Well, I ask myself, what would be best for the song? Would it sound better if the bass was playing WITH the kick drum rather than a few milliseconds BEFORE?

My answer? Yes.

What’s best for the song? That’s what I ask myself. What will make this product I’m creating sound its best?

In my opinion, all these editing tools are just that…tools. Just like in any other industry, I use the tools I have at my disposal to make the best product I can. That means I almost always pocket the drums, then the bass, then the guitars and other rhythm instruments.

Even an amazing performance can stand a little tweaking here and there. I’m not talking about changing the performance entirely. I’m simply trying to enhance the performance. Chances are every change I make is EXACTLY what the musician was trying to do, but didn’t.

At a live show, the band can be REALLY tight, and it sounds great. On a recording however, the little sloppy parts are MUCH more noticeable…so I fix them.

So…like I said, I’m creating a product. I’d much rather listen to a song that sounds amazing and doesn’t have any distracting parts. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you should never overdo any editing. You’re simply allowing the song to be the focus, rather than the individual components. Again…it’s all about the song.

Come Back Tomorrow

Perhaps you’re still not sold. Or maybe you’d just like to hear exactly what I’m talking about. I’ll be posting some audio examples tomorrow, and you can decide for yourself.

HSC Production Club Update

Editing is one of the topics I cover in depth in the HSC Production Club. I’ll be accepting new members next week, then the doors will close again for 12 weeks. If you’ve been wanting to join, or if you don’t know much about the Production Club, you can check it out here and sign up to the interest list. It’s a 12-week training course where I walk you through the recording process from start to finish. It’s a blast. More to come soon.