There’s an important step that comes between recording that last instrument and starting the mixing process. It’s called editing.
Editing can mean lots of things. Pocketing, cleaning up, comping, tuning, Beat Detective, quantizing, nudging, “flying,” copying & pasting, cutting out entire sections of the song — all of these could be put under the blanket of editing.
Let’s take a look at what editing is why you should make editing a part of your workflow.
What is Editing?
Editing is simply getting the tracks ready to be mixed. It involves comping together all the takes of each track into one, “perfect” take. It involves cleaning up the starts and ends of tracks to prevent any unwanted sounds getting into the mix. It involves getting rid of unwanted noise, like the singer smacking his lips or clearing his throat between phrases.
Editing can also mean pocketing. In other words, it can be the process of “fixing” or “tightening up” the timing of a performance. If the bass player comes in a little early on the downbeat, you can use editing to quickly correct it without dramatically altering the performance.
Editing can also mean tuning. The singer could deliver a fantastic, emotional performance, but a few notes went flat. You can use tuning software to quickly correct the pitch without dramatically altering the performance.
“…without dramatically altering the performance.” <—- That’s the key.
I don’t advocating taking a performance and chopping the life out of it. I view editing as one of the most creative parts of the process. You’re taking a great performance and polishing it.
You may disagree with me, but a lot of times I’d rather listen to a nice, polished recording than a sloppy one. That’s why I edit.
I’ve never edited a song and had the performer come back and tell me how I ruined the sound. Oftentimes they don’t really notice. They just like what they hear.
You wouldn’t criticize a mix engineer for using EQ on an electric guitar track would you? The guitarist works hard to perfect his tone, but the mix engineer EQ’s it to make it work in the mix. I view editing as the same thing, changing the performance slightly to make it work with the rest of the tracks.
Why Not Edit as You Mix?
When editing a song, I recommend having a couple of dedicated “editing sessions.” It’s tempting to just jump straight into mixing, and just “edit as you go.” But I don’t recommend this.
Why? Because editing is a very surgical, left-brain process. While mixing is a much more creative, right-brain process. If you’re constantly having to switch between “mixing mode” and “editing mode,” you won’t do either very well.
As they say in Nashville, “if you’re fixing, you’re not mixing.” If a track needs to be cleaned up, tuned, or pocketed, simply set aside time to do just that. Once all the editing is done, THEN move on to mixing. I’ve found that this helps me edit much more quickly. I get in a bit of a groove, and I can blow through the editing process fairly quickly.
Is Editing Cheating?
If done properly, I say the answer is no. You’re welcome to disagree (and I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below). I simply view editing as another great tool in my engineer tool belt. For some songs I may only need to do very little editing. For others, I might need to spend several hours editing. Either way, I only do what makes the song better.
Don’t edit just to edit. If it needs it, go for it. I think you’ll be glad you did.
3 Ways to Learn More
Want to dig in deeper with editing? You can do so one of three ways:
- Check out the “related articles” just below this article. I’ve written a lot about editing, and you’ll find some interesting stuff there for free.
- Check out my tutorial series Understanding Editing, complete with training videos and practice tracks.
- Join the Production Club (time sensitive!) and see exactly how I edit an entire song, in the context of walking through the entire production process from start to finish.