Three Easy Things You Need to Know About Editing in Your Home Studio by Scott Harlan
Aug 09 2013
Knowing when and how to make basic audio touch-ups can make using your home studio a lot less intimidating, even fun. It also pleases clients. But first, it’s important to understand exactly what your client expects to receive from you (or what they don’t want you to do). They may want you to do nothing, just send them the original recording. Or they might assume that you have deleted all but the good takes, edited out distracting breaths, downtime, coughs, etc. Or they might want you do more. Whatever basic tasks are expected, they’re pretty easy to do, but you must do them in a professional manner.
So let’s discuss 3 topics that are important in self-recording:
- What “raw” audio means
- The importance of crossfades
- How to manage breath noise
1. RAW AUDIO
Technically, “raw” audio means that the sound characteristics of the original recording have not been changed (that is, the audio has not been “processed”). But some people extend its definition to include “unedited.”
(What are examples of processing? One common tool is equalization (a.k.a. EQ). Equalization allows you to add or remove different frequencies to or from a sound, like the bass and treble controls on your home audio system. Another frequently used tool is compression . It evens out the volume levels of a sound by turning down the loudest parts, which usually results in being able to then make the whole thing louder. There are other processing tools too, but the point is that NOT applying an EQ, compressor, or other processor will mean that your file is unprocessed … or raw.)
(What are examples of editing? Essentially it’s the cut, copy, paste, delete, crossfade type of tools, used for removing bad takes, random noises, breaths, merging separate files into a single file, and so on.)
Processing your audio is not considered editing. And, if you haven’t processed the audio in any way, it is still, by the strictest definition, “raw.”
Here’s the confusion: Some clients might say “raw” and mean your unedited source files — what you recorded before making any changes at all. Yet some might say “raw” and want edited files — for example, only the best takes without breaths between them.
So the first important thing to know, is: Does the client expect a raw file? Or a raw, unedited file? It is okay to ask, “Do you want unprocessed AND unedited, or just unprocessed?”
Better to confirm that at the outset, rather than find out later that there’s been a misunderstanding.
Assuming editing is not verboten, there are two editing techniques in particular that will help keep your performance sounding clean and professional. These are the next two things on our list.
Most editing in voice over involves cutting your audio into smaller segments, making some sort of change to a small piece, and then seamlessly putting it all back together. “Seamlessly” is the key word here. When you cut an audio track into two or more pieces, you’ve essentially created sharp edges – each segment has an abrupt beginning and end. Even if both sharp edges begin and end in recorded silence (nothing but “room tone” – what the mic hears when you’re making no sound yourself) or if you insert a gap of pure silence between two recorded segments (e.g., recording volume at zero, or inserted by the software), the gap will likely be apparent (even if the listener is not conscious of why). There is almost always a sonic change in the background noise that should be dealt with.
In any case, when you tack separate audio segments together, even if one is pure silence, the abrupt transition can be apparent. And, even if they’re just room tone, you’re putting two different wave forms against each other. By making two audio segments adjacent that originally were not adjacent, differences at the edit position can produce a click, pop or other noise.
So, how can you “seamlessly” put together audio files without gaps, clicks, or pops? Crossfades.
The idea behind a crossfade is very simple. The first audio file quickly fades out to silence while the second audio file simultaneously fades in from silence … they overlap, like runners handing off the baton in a relay race. (Or if you’re a film buff, think “lap dissolve.”) Some programs will do this for you automatically, but most will not. Applying your own crossfade usually involves selecting (highlighting) the area where two pieces meet, and then either using a keyboard shortcut or a right-click menu option to apply the crossfade. For example, in Pro Tools you can use Control+F/Command+F.
It is important that your crossfade does not occur over the last word of the first piece, nor over the first word of the second piece. It should occur only during the space between words, and even then it doesn’t need to be the full space. Usually, the shorter the crossfade, the better.
An experienced engineer can do a lot more in editing, but everyone should know how to do at least this. Always listen back after applying a crossfade to make sure that you’ve achieved the seamless sound you desire. If only to delete or minimize some of your pesky breaths.
3. BREATH NOISE
You and your client don’t like to hear gasps between long sentences, but it’s painfully obvious if you remove them … what do you do? Here are three approaches to managing your breath noise in your recordings.
(Bear in mind what we’ve said about the varying needs of various clients and genres. Breath control and the ability to edit breaths is always important. But only sometimes critical.)
Option 1. Ideally, avoid generating loud breaths in the first place. Learn to breathe better: more fully, more openly, and more quietly. Some final voice tracks need to have every breath deleted — even if they are low in volume. Some require only loud breaths to be removed.
Option 2. The quickest, easiest thing is to simply reduce the volume of the breath. Attention to detail really pays off here. Whenever possible, select (highlight) only the breath. Sometimes, you might find that you need to select the entire space between the last word before the breath and the first word after the breath. Either way, try turning the breath down, depending on just how loud it is.
You can apply this volume change in a number of ways, and it will totally depend on your level of comfort with your software. Most likely, you will select “Gain”, “Level”, or “Volume” from a list of sound processes or tools, and then click “Apply.” If your software made a new piece of audio out of this edit (like a new region in Pro Tools), then remember to crossfade it afterward!
Option 3. A fancier way to address breaths is to delete them.
But note: If the client will move the audio around to match visuals, for example, in a video or documentary, then after deleting the breath, do nothing … other then crossfade, of course (see section #2 above). Conversely if the audio is for a finished product that may not be matched to visuals, such as an audiobook or telephony, then the space formerly taken by the breath needs to be reduced by half. Otherwise, the space will seem like an oddly long pause. (In other words, one-second breath would now be a half-second space.)
Once you’ve confirmed that it’s okay to edit the audio, these two important editing techniques will help keep your performance sounding clean and professional. This brings us back to the original issue: when should you use them?
PUTTING IT ALL IN PERSPECTIVE. Or rather, DELIVERING IT ALL IN PERSPECTIVE
If all this is new to you, don’t fear. Usually all you need to know is when and how to handle edits and breaths. It will be so satisfying when you realize how easy it is to master, and how happy your client is when you deliver a stellar recording.
Speaking of deliverables, we’ll leave you with the basic 4 types of deliverables:
- Raw audio = no editing, no processing. Typically a “raw audio” client doesn’t even want breaths removed.
- Edited audio = cut, copy, paste, crossfade, etc., but no processing. A cross-fade at a splice does not constitute processing, but reducing the volume of a breath is processing, so this is the case where it may help to confirm your client’s needs.
- Processed audio = EQ, compression, and other software that affects the sonic quality of the recording. If you venture into these techniques, it is equally important that you understand technically how to execute them.
- Gray-area. The most frequent example of this would be a client who wants raw audio of only the final selects (aka, best takes, choice takes, good parts only, etc.). In this situation, simply edit out the bad takes, and take course (a) or (b).