So, you’ve finished recording all your tracks. The guitar sounds pretty good and the bass player really nailed it. The vocal sound is good and everything is pretty much the way you want it. Now you’re ready to start mixing, right?
Er, well… No.
There’s an intermediate step between recording and mixing that makes a huge difference in how the final song will sound. That step is (wait for it)…
Editing is done in two basic steps. Well, actually there are more, but two is a good start. First you’ll want to listen carefully to each track, one track at a time, and fix stuff before you even start mixing. Stuff like pops or clicks that happened during the recording; noise or talking at the beginning or end of a take; the squeak in your chair that found it’s way into the vocal microphone. All the stuff that doesn’t really belong there. Do this for each track, one track at a time.
The second part of editing is to make subtle tweaks to individual notes or beats to put things “in the pocket.” Maybe the drummer was doing a great job but rushed a couple kick or snare hits. Or maybe the bass player missed the downbeat in a couple spots. With digital audio, it’s easy to nudge them just a little so they sit right where you want them. This is what I call “pocketing the groove.” It can be time-consuming and some of the tweaks are very subtle, but the end result is that the whole thing just “feels” better and tighter.
But Isn’t that “Cheating”?
Well, it is and it isn’t. Playing live is one thing. Recording is another. In the studio you have many more tools at your disposal to improve the overall sound of the song and there’s no reason not to use them.
Pocketing the groove can make an average tune feel a lot better and will make the job of mixing a lot easier too.While the purist may object, I think it only makes sense to do everything you can to make the song sound it’s absolute best.
There are some other things you can do in the editing process too, before you start mixing. Personally I sometimes will use a pitch-correction plugin to tame any errant notes, especially on the vocals. This doesn’t have to be anything drastic like the “Cher” effect where every note is absolutely perfect. In the real world, when everything is perfect it just doesn’t sound, well, real. You want to bring things close to perfect but not overdo it. That goes for pocketing the groove too.
We’ve all heard drum machines that sound kind of robotic and stale. That’s often because the notes have been moved to the exact beat position, or “quantized”, A real drummer has slight variations in timing and hits some notes slighty before or after the beat. Same thing for bass players and other musicians too. Humans aren’t perfect and for the music to sound “real” there needs to be some of this human feel left in the recording.
Editing In a Nutshell
So editing, in a nut shell, is just tweaking the tracks, removing unwanted sounds and pocketing the groove. Once all that’s done, you can start mixing and working with EQ, compression and processing. It sound tedious, and it can be, but it’s a crucial step that will help turn a decent recording into a good one, and a good recording into a great one.