Music 265B Week 07 Editing, Part 1
PDF version available HERE
During the Editing phase, we try to accomplish three goals.
- Assemble the best performance out of all of the recorded material.
- Fix any mistakes: correct pitch and adjust rhythmic accuracy as needed.
- Clean up, polish, and prepare our tracks for the mixing phase.
Let’s take a look at some of the tools & functions we will be using for the next few weeks.
The Trim Tool is the first of our three primary tools. It has three separate functions, which can be changed by right clicking on the icon. In Standard mode, we can trim down the ends or our clips, or extend them back out if we accidentally trimmed off too much. This is useful for trimming the “dead air” out of the start and end of each take. TCE (Time Compression Expansion) mode lets us shrink or stretch time by speeding up or slowing down the clip without changing the pitch. This can be useful for making small speed adjustments, but larger adjustments will leave behind Artifacts – audible glitches and distortions left behind by the processing. Loop mode lets us copy and repeat a clip. To create a loop, first trim the clip down to an exact length – for example, four bars. Next, select loop mode, then click & drag out the end of the clip. Pro Tools will repeatedly copy and paste that clip in a continuous loop.
The Selector Tool allows us to select a specific point in time, or highlight large sections. We can make a break or separation in the clips by clicking at the desired point and using the shortcuts B or ⌘E. To highlight, we can either click and drag, or click on one point, and shift-click somewhere else to highlight everything in between.
The Grabber Tool has several modes. In its default Time mode, we can select a clip to drag it forward or backward in time, and even drag it from one track to another. In Separation mode, we can highlight a region with the Selector tool, then cut & paste it somewhere else by clicking & dragging with the Separation grabber tool. Alternatively, we could just select, cut, and paste with the selector tool. In Object mode, we can select specific clips while ignoring others by shift-clicking on them. For example, imagine we have three clips on a track. Normally, if we click on the first, then shift-click on the third, Pro Tools will highlight all three clips. In Object mode, we can click the first and shift-click the third clip, ignoring the second clip. With the first & third clips selected, we can drag those together, leaving the second clip in place.
The Smart Tool, sometimes called the Multi-Tool is a combination of the Trimmer, Selector, and Grabber tools. We can activate it by clicking on the bar above the three primary tools. The Smart Tool changes functions when we move our mouse to different areas in a clip. If we move the cursor to the ends of the clip, the tool functions like the Trimmer tool. If we move to the bottom half of the clip, the tool functions like the Grabber tool. If we move to the top half of the clip, the tool functions like the selector tool. The Smart Tool has an extra function: Fades. If we move to the upper left corner, we can click and drag to create a Fade In. The upper right corner allows us to create a Fade Out. If the clip is next to another clip, we can click and drag in either of the bottom corners to create a Cross-Fade. Fades adjust the clip’s playback volume over time. Crossfades are used to hide transitions in between edits. Always fade in, out, and between clips.
The Zoomer Tool looks like a magnifying glass. In its default mode, Normal Zoom, we can click on a clip to zoom in on that area. We can right click on the zoomer tool icon to change to Single Zoom mode. In this mode, we can click to zoom in, but Pro Tools will immediately switch back to whatever tool we had previously selected. This comes in handy for quicker edits.
The Scrubber Tool lets us Scrub a section: we can click and drag to play this section back, forward or backward at different speeds. Drag slowly for slow speed, and fast for normal speed. This can be useful for focusing in on specific noises, like pops and attacks.
The Pencil Tool serves a few different purposes. Right click on the pencil icon to see its various modes. The Pencil tool can draw automation, or redraw the audio waveform into those various shapes. For example, the Pencil tool is frequently used to remove pops and peaks in the waveform. Select the Free-Hand Pencil mode, and find a pop or click on one of our audio tracks and zoom in on that area. It might look like a sharp peak that extends beyond the range of the clip. With the pencil tool, we can redraw this peak by clicking and connecting one wave to the next. This may eliminate the popping sound, but listen for any audible artifacts.
In the upper left corner of the Edit Window, we can choose between several different editing modes: Slip, Grid, Shuffle, and Spot.
Slip mode allows us to click, drag, and slide our clips around freely within the session. In slip mode, nothing will jump around and lock to a set time.
Grid mode will move things to the nearest time reference on a grid. For example, it we set our session to a 1 bar grid, our clips will jump to the nearest bar when we try slide them around. We can change the grid’s resolution and time reference with the Grid Value dropdown, next to the transport. Grids can be set to Bars & Beats (note values), Timecode (frames), minutes & seconds, and so on. This normal grid function is sometimes called an Absolute Grid, because it will lock to the nearest absolute grid reference in the session. Clicking the Grid button a second time will activate Relative Grid mode. In Relative Grid, clips can be moved to the nearest grid reference, but they will keep their relative distance from the grid. For example, imagine that a bass player played slightly behind the beat (several milliseconds behind the grid marker). If we chopped up the bass track, but wanted to keep the player’s musical timing, we could move the bass clips in Relative Grid, and still keep that several milliseconds difference.
Shuffle mode will cause clips to snap to the end of the previous clip. For example, when we highlight and delete a section in slip mode, there will be a gap left between the end of one clip and the start of the next. If we do the same thing in Shuffle mode, the start of the new clip will immediately jump to the end of the previous clip, filling in the gap. This function can be useful for editing dialogue, since we can use it to eliminate long pauses, or unwanted words, but use caution when editing music with this mode. When one clip shuffles to the end of another, it will usually cause it to be musically out of sync.
Spot mode allows us to move a clip to a specific time in the session. When we select a clip in Spot mode, the Spot Dialog window appears. We can sync this clip by spotting the start of the clip, the end, or by identifying a Sync Point. For example, if we want to sync a clip from our bass track to the downbeat of measure 3 in a session, we need to find where that note occurs in the clip. Look for the peak in the waveform on the bass track. Use the selector tool and click on that peak. Next, select Clip > Identify Sync Point (shortcut ⌘,). A little green triangle with a line will appear in the clip – this is our sync point. Next, find the downbeat of measure 3, or whatever time we wish to sync to. It may not be exactly on the grid line – we may want the track to be slightly ahead or behind the beat. Write down the desired time. Click on the bass clip again to bring up the Spot Dialog. In the Sync Point field, enter that time, and click OK. The clip will now move itself, aligning the sync point to that time.
The zoom functions are located between the tool selectors and the edit mode selectors. Horizontal Zoom lets us zoom in or out in time on the edit window. Press the left arrow to zoom out, and the right arrow to zoom in. Alternatively, we can use the shortcuts R to zoom out, and T to zoom in. The Audio & MIDI Zoom functions control the vertical zoom within our clips. Zooming in will exaggerate the peaks within a waveform, expanding them closer to the top & bottom. Zooming in too far will make the clip look like a solid block of color. Zooming out will shrink the peaks closer toward the center of the clip. These have no effect on the clip’s volume. Adjusting the actual track’s height is done elsewhere. To change track heights in the edit window, right click on the silver bar that separates the track name & meter bridge from the clips & waveforms. The numbered buttons beneath the zoom functions will adjust the edit window to various zoom presets.
Additional Editing Functions
There are several additional editing functions located beneath the tool selectors. Activate them by clicking the icon (blue is active, grey is inactive).
Zoom Toggle (shortcut E) lets us quickly zoom in on a selection with the push of a button.
Tab to Transients lets us use the Tab button to quickly jump from one peak (transient) to another within a track.
Mirrored MIDI Editing lets us change multiple identical MIDI clips (clips with the same name & ID) at the same time. For example, a song’s drum groove may use a single MIDI clip, which gets looped throughout the entire session. With Mirrored MIDI Editing active, any changes made to one clip will affect all of the other identical clips. Enable or disable this option as needed.
Automation Follows Edit will copy any written automation data attached to the clip. We will cover automation in detail during the mixing phase.
Link Timeline and Edit Selection lets us play back and forth between two separate sections. This option can be confusing for most beginners. To understand it, let’s break it down into its two components. Timeline refers to the time rulers along the top of the screen. Edit Selection refers to a selected or highlighted clip, or section in the bottom portion of the edit window. Most of the time, we want to keep these two items linked for playback purposes, but we have the option of playing back one or the other. By default, the Play button will play back the timeline selection. When these two are unlinked, we can press Option [ (left bracket) to play the Edit Selection, or Option ] (right bracket) to play the Timeline Selection. More often than not, we leave this option active.
Link Track and Edit Selection will select and highlight the track names that are currently being edited. For example, if you highlight clips across the drum tracks, Pro Tools will select those tracks as well.
When Insertion Follows Playback is selected, Pro Tools will play like a tape machine. If you start playback from the start of the session and stop one minute into the song, Pro Tools will resume playback at the one minute mark (where it left off) and so on. When Insertion Follows Playback is deactivated, Pro Tools will always play from the selected point. Stopping and replaying will start again from the same first selected point.
Edit Window Scrolling can be found under Options > Edit Window Scrolling. These different modes affect how the Edit Window appears during playback. In Page mode, the Edit Window will scroll over when the playback head reaches the end of the screen. Page is our default view. In Continuous mode, the playback head will stay locked in the center of the screen, and the edit window will scroll past it, like a tape machine.
During the session setup, we experimented with one of the Time Operations: Move Song Start to change the downbeat of bar three into the downbeat of bar one in the session. We may use the other Time Operations found under the Event > Time Operations menu. During the editing phase, it may be necessary to Insert Time or Cut Time within the session in case the song structure needs to change. For example, the producer may want to insert an 8-bar solo, or 2-bar pre-chorus into the song. We can select the bar where this section should start, and insert a few extra bars into the session. This will separate any clips at this point, and move them back a few bars. However, this only affects the current playlist – takes on other playlists won’t move.
Editing, Phase 1 – Compositing
Remember, our first goal during the editing phase is to assemble the best performance out of all of the recorded material. To do this, we grab sections and clips out of each take, and assemble them into one new Master take on a new playlist. We call this process Compositing, or Comping for short. First, save a new copy of the session. Select File > Save As… and save a new version of this session with the word “Edit” tagged at the end along with the date. This gives us an original, untouched version, and our edited copy. We can always go back to the original.
During the recording process, the producer may have picked what he or she thought to be the best take. Sometimes, the producer just has the band record multiple takes under the assumption that “We’ll fix it in Pro Tools.” In either case, we need to listen to and analyze each take for sound & performance quality. This means identifying the takes (or sections of a take) that are useable, and which ones are worthless. Even the producer’s favorite take may have rhythmic mistakes, missed notes, or distorted audio from time to time. We need to identify where those problems lie, and if other takes are available, which sections can be cut and spliced together in order to make one solid master performance. Depending on how we recorded these, we may run into some problems. If the band didn’t record to a metronome, then each take will most likely be inconsistent: some may be slightly faster or slower than others. The levels may not match up: the chorus in one take may be louder than the chorus in another, or the transition from one section to another may be different in some way. Fills, accents, and other unique elements may be inconsistent from take to take. Regardless, we still have to sit down and analyze our material.
Once we have analyzed all of our material, we can assemble it into our master performance. To start off, make a new Playlist for each track: select the dropdown arrow to the right of the Track Name and make a new Playlist. When we assemble, we will copy and paste all of our edits into this new playlist, leaving the others intact in case we need to go back. We can start editing by selecting the best overall take: select all the clips in that take, Copy them with ⌘C, and Paste them into that track’s Master Playlist with ⌘V. Next, go through the song section by section, and track by track. Find the best intro, verse, chorus, solo, and other sections for each player. Separate each section with the shortcuts ⌘E or B, then copy & paste them into the master playlist. More importantly, find the sections and instrumental performances that fit together. There may be minor mistakes here and there, but we will address those in a moment.
“In the Pocket”
When we talk about musical timing, or playing in sync with other musicians, players often use the phrase “In the Pocket” when someone is playing in the groove, or on time with one another. One instrument defines where the beat is – we don’t hear the conductor or the metronome counting away throughout an album. The drummer is not always in charge of keeping musical time, but we can usually follow their hi-hat Think of that player’s performance as the grid markers in Pro Tools. The other players can be considered on time or in the pocket if they are playing close enough to that beat, within a certain tolerance. They can play slightly ahead, but not too far ahead of the beat, or they can “lay back” and play behind the beat to a certain extent. If they play too early, they are rushing, and if they play too late, they are dragging. We want to make our players sound like they’re playing naturally “in the pocket,” rather than exactly on the beat like a quantized drum machine. We don’t want them to sound sloppy either. Most ensemble hits are meant to be played together. In some styles, certain parts are meant to play ahead of the beat, or lay back. We can manually slide the entire section forward or backward in time, or we can separate and adjust individual notes. Rather than drag clips around manually, we can use the Nudge command to slightly bump the clip forward or backward in time. First, select a Nudge Value from the dropdown located between the Transport & the Main Counter. We can select a time increment in bars & beats, minutes & seconds, Timecode, or samples. Start with a small value, like 100 Samples under the Sample option. Select the clip we want to move, and press the – or + keys on the number pad to nudge the clip forward or backward by 100 samples. The Nudge function is great for small adjustments, but it may be more efficient to simply click and drag over larger distances.
Sometimes, one section or an entire take may be noticeably louder than another. In order to create a smoother transition, it may be necessary to raise or lower the volume on individual clips, without changing the overall track volume. We can do this with a feature called Clip Gain. Clip Gain lets us alter the volume on a clip without writing automation onto our tracks. To start, right click on a clip, and select Clip Gain > Show Clip Gain Line. Use the Trimmer or Smart Tool to raise or lower the clip’s overall volume, or use the Grabber Tool to create lines & peaks (gradual changes) in the clip’s gain. Right Clicking again allows us to hide the clip gain line, or to erase our changes if something went wrong.
We use Fades to generate smooth transitions from one clip to another. We Fade In at the start of every clip, Fade Out at the end of a clip, and Crossfade between two connecting clips. We can create fades using the Smart Tool: click and drag from the top corners of a clip to fade in & out, click and drag the bottom corners to create a crossfade. Alternatively, we can use shortcuts: mark the start/end of the fade with the selector tool, and press Option D to fade in, Option G to fade out. We can create customized fades by highlighting a selection and pressing ⌘F to bring up the Fades menu. This menu lets us alter the shape and intensity of each fade, among other things.
If there are any MIDI or Instrument tracks in the session, we can bring up the MIDI Editor window with Control = or by double clicking on any MIDI clip in the edit window. MIDI data can be edited like audio. Highlighting, copying, pasting, and other commands function in the same way. We can also click and drag notes around to change pitch or timing. To toggle between the standard MIDI Editor and the Notation Display, click the button in the upper left corner that looks like a pair of musical 8th Notes. The MIDI Editor gives us a lot of powerful function through the Event Operations menu. Get familiar with the options under Event > Event Operations, like the Event Operations Window. Alternatively, we can highlight notes and right click to find the same options. These functions let us Quantize, Transpose, change duration, pitch, intensity, and alter the MIDI performance in any way imaginable. For example, Quantization lets us lock notes onto the musical Grid. We even have the option of humanizing the performance: Randomizing all of the values in a MIDI performance to create some variation, or we can even Include or Exclude notes within a certain tolerance of our grid. In any case, highlight the notes you want to alter, bring up the Event Operations, adjust your settings, and press Apply. We will learn how to perform these functions with audio in the next lesson.