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The Good, Bad & the Ugly About Audio Editing

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This post is part of a series called Editing Audio: The Complete Guide.
Quick Tip: 10 Quick Editing Tips

Audio editing makes me yawn. The thought of it evokes feelings of tediousness and boredom. Audio editing makes me think of menial and repetitive tasks that take away from the creative aspects of audio production. Perhaps you might think that way too?

But we would both be wrong.

You see, I started thinking about all the aspects of what audio editing actually means. And yes, some of it is downright mind-numbingly boring. But there's hidden creativity within those boring parts. Creativity that makes your final, produced piece of music sound so much better.

OK, yes. It's like doing the dishes or prepping your food for cooking. But the end result is a delicious production, enhanced by the work you did during the audio editing phase.

Let's look at some of the things that make audio editing so great.

The Good

Matt Williams, the current CEO of told us in a lecture the other day that luck is all about preparation. Well, great audio is obviously about getting a great performance down right away, but if you can't, a great production lies in the audio editing.

Think about it, people will appreciate well recorded audio that's also edited well more so than a poorly edited track. Therefore success lies in correctly preparing your audio for mixing, mastering and listener enjoyment.

Make Everything Sound in Sync

Editing is about making sure your production grooves to the beat. This means moving the kick drum when it's slightly off the beat for instance, or making the guitar and bass lock to the grove. It's easier than ever to make everything groovy, with all of the audio quantize tools available in any DAW. Sure, it might be cheating, and we'll get to that in “The Ugly” but sometimes it just needs to be done.

Ask yourself this: Do you want a recording that's not in time but real in every way, or do you want a recording that's been fixed a little bit to sound tight and groovy? Sometimes you just gotta fix the blemishes. It simply makes the final production sound better.

Removing Noise

Audio editing isn't purely about moving regions around and making things tight. It's also about removing noise, and other cosmetic enhancements.

I was doing voice-over post production for a friend the other day. He had videos with voice-overs that were recorded in a less than ideal environment. The microphone picked up the fan noise from the computer as well as the typical bedroom recording sound with the usual background noise levels.

Here was my path to editing a better voice-over sound.

  1. Noise Reduction – There are a ton of different noise reduction plug-ins out there, in my case I chose the Z-noise plug-in from Waves. It has a handy learn feature where you can find a spot between vocal phrases where there is only noise. The plug-in learns to recognize the noise and extracts it from behind the speech. It doesn't completely eliminate it, but it does a helluva good job.

  2. Gates – It's a good idea to use gates to eliminate the noise if there are large spaces of silence. It simply makes the voice-over sound more professional if there is complete silence between the speech.

I also used compressor and EQ to balance the audio and improve the frequency loss generated by the noise reduction plug-in (in order to improve intelligibility) but that's straying into mixing territory.

Creative Editing

Audio editing can also be incredibly creative. This is where the line to editing and mixing blurs together. Once you start ripping up your audio tracks to create rap and pop tricks you're straying into audio territory. For instance, whenever you create a new vocal track to make some creative changes, like the Ke$ha style warped vocals, that's editing.

The Bad

Even with all these cool things you can do, it's still held up by the fact that it's pretty boring to cut up your audio. Even with all the cool editing tools modern DAWs have to offer, it's still going to be the most boring aspect of the audio production process.

Except dealing with recording a drum track after drum track. That's actually pretty high up there in the “kill me now" phases of audio production.

Whenever you're in a recording situation, think of it as a cost-benefit analysis. If you're listening to a recording that's riddled with errors that are going to make you stay up late to fix, maybe it's better just re-record.

Re-record as many times as you can until it equals or exceeds the time needed to edit the same bad recording. Because it's also about saving time. If it takes less time to re-record, do it. If, god forbid, it takes less time to edit that same recording, just send the player back home and get on with the tediousness.

The Ugly

Continuing on, the ugly thing about spending so much time on editing it that it hides the fact that some people just can't play. Before super efficient editing features in modern day DAWs, players had to play. They practiced their parts and got them right on tape. Because tape was expensive, and studio time was as well. Now musicians can do take after take without any consequences because we'll just “fix it in the mix” or we're not billing hourly so our time is worth less than the big shots of the past.

It's a simple trade-off really. There's greater access to technology that we can do awesome, creative editing with. But at the same time that technology hinders people putting in a 100% effort into their playing. Because we can edit it, autotune it, quantize it ad nauseum.

What do you think about that? Is audio editing good, bad or ugly?

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