Editing is sort of like the breakfast of the production process. Although people don’t covet and fetishize it they way they do mixing (the dinner), it is absolutely essential for a well-balanced diet. You might say mastering is the dessert, but I’m inclined to call it a breath mint that you grab on your way out of the restaurant. Or maybe editing is the house salad and pre-production is breakfast since people skip it when they’re in a hurry even though it’s the most important meal of the day and even though they could at LEAST take a Nutri-Gain bar on their way out the door…
Anyway, here’s what I’m really getting at: you wouldn’t eat breakfast and dinner at the same time, would you? That’s gross. To this end, the absolute top of the top mixers (i.e. the ones that charge $10K/song–there are about 20 of them in the world) make sure all of the editing is done before they begin by having their assistants prep all their sessions.*
And that’s how it should be. Not only is it gross to mix and edit at the same time, but multitasking is actually less productive than doing things one at a time. (My freelancer readers will know what I’m talking about here.**) Technical difficulties are the arch-rival of creativity. They will throw you off track and kill your creative flow. So get rid of them ahead of time. But many times you don’t hear things that need editing until the mixing process has already begun.
So whether you’re a mixing a project yourself or handing it off to a mix engineer, the following technique will save you time and headaches by enabling you to quickly simulate a mix and get all the editing done beforehand:
- Before you begin editing, put some compression on each track you’re working on and mess with the settings until you’re really, really hearing the compressor work (try using the fastest release and a ratio of 10:1 or higher).
- Boost the treble on your master fader with an EQ plugin. A lot. Particularly the 8 to 13kHz range.
There are two reasons why we often don’t find noises and bad edits until the mixing phase. The first is that these noises are generally very quiet and occur during a section where that particular instrument is not sounding. Since compression effectively makes quiet sections louder, the mixing stage can bring noises to the front of the mix which were previously inaudible. For example:
- The guitar part hasn’t started yet, but the noise of the guitarist putting his hand on the strings makes it onto the recording.
- The drummer has stopped playing but he moves and his throne squeaks faintly.
- While editing vocal takes together, you’ve made an edit in the middle of a breath without realizing.
- You’ve edited guitar solo takes together and made an edit in the middle of a note without cross-fading, creating a pop.
These noises are often audible only in the very highest frequencies, which is why I’m also advocating a treble boost.
More Editing Tips & Common Mistakes
- I’ve found that rap producers who work in Pro Tools like to edit and consolidate everything exactly to the downbeats, sometimes for looping purposes but other times it’s just an obsessive compulsive thing. DON’T DO THIS. I know it looks gorgeous and symmetrical and all that, but it’s not worth it. Musicians and samples rarely start and end exactly on a beat, so you’re usually harming the attack of the first note and the decay of the last. And by consolidating those edits, you’re also making it impossible to remedy the problem later by cross-fading.
- Before you consolidate regions in Pro Tools, cross-fade at every edit or cut point, even if only for a fraction of a second. Pro Tools automatically adds tiny cross-fades on edits during playback that are not preserved when consolidating regions.
- One of John Mayer’s engineers recommended that instead of cross-fading, you should make cut edits by aligning the two sound files at a zero crossing***. I haven’t found that to be effective most of the time, but it’s something to try if cross-fading isn’t working out.
*This includes pitch correction (in the rock world, Melodyne is the tool of choice, not AutoTune), Vocalign for getting background vocals tight, Beat Detective for drums, and fades. Some mid-level producers do their own editing for creative reasons, or sometimes no editor is listed at all (the band must be perfect!)
**Why multitasking is bad: http://freelancefolder.com/5-creativity-killers/
***A zero crossing is that middle line on a waveform that represents 0.