Editing Your Home Recordings

If you're going to get into editing your music in a home recording studio, you need to know a couple of useful skills. These include being able to edit individual notes and phrases, and finding and replacing notes that are too loud or too soft.

Replacing a bad note

Replacing a bad note is one editing procedure that you may end up using a lot. Here's an example: Say you play the drum part of a new song and you really get into the groove — the feel is right, you make all the changes, and you even do some really cool fills and stuff. When you listen to the part after you finish recording, it sounds just fine, so you go on to record some other parts. But when you listen to it again a week later, you hear one snare drum hit that you caught the rim on and it sticks out in the mix like the proverbial sore thumb. You could just punch in a new snare drum note, but you're lazy. Besides, you've already put away your mics, and there's no way you could set them up the way you did the day you recorded the drums, not to mention tuning the drums exactly the same way you had them that day.

Well, here's a time when you'd be thanking your lucky stars that you have a digital system that enables you to make minute edits (just try slicing a single snare drum note out of analog tape). Here's how you'd go about it:

1. Copy the track that you want to fix to another track in your system.

This way, you can reference the original track.

2. Place the copy on a track or virtual track that allows you to hear both the original and copy at the same time.

3. Listen for a snare drum hit that you especially like and select it.

4. Make a copy of the selection.

5. Find and mark the bad note.

6. Place the copy of the good note right where the bad note is.

The procedure for this varies depending on your system.

Make sure that you have turned off the Insert function. Otherwise, you add an extra note and move the bad note over, along with the rest of the music from that track.

7. After you have the good note in the place of the bad one, turn up both versions of your track and listen back to them.

You should hear an exact copy of the track except for that one single note. Listen carefully at the place of the replaced note for any timing problems. The two tracks should match up perfectly. If they don't, then just use the Undo function and try again. Also, check the rest of the song after that note to make sure you didn't accidentally insert the note rather than replace it.

If your system doesn't allow you to make such a fine edit or if you can't successfully select a single note, you can replace a whole measure instead of just the single note. Just follow the same steps and use a larger phrase instead of the one note.

Evening out a performance

Evening out a performance means making adjustments to the levels of a note or phrase within the song. Sometimes it can also mean changing the emphasis of certain notes in order to change the meaning or "feel" of a part. This section covers these areas using two functions called Normalize and Quieten. It's not uncommon for a track to contain a stray note that is either much louder or much softer than the rest of the notes around it. In this case, you don't need to cut it out and replace it with another note. Instead, you can just make a change to the volume (or level) of that note:

  • To raise the volume of a note: Select the note that you want to change and choose Edit --> Normalize from the menu bar. In most cases, Normalize allows you to choose the maximum dynamic level (in dB) that you want the section to be, the amount below clipping (0dB) that you want, or the minimum headroom you want left (also in dB). These last two options are essentially the same thing.
  • To lower the volume of a note: Select the note you want to change and choose Edit --> Quieten from the menu bar. This lowers the amplitude of the selected section by a predetermined amount. On some systems, you can choose this amount.

If you know where your levels are in decibels (dB), you can also choose Edit --> Normalize to reduce the level of a note. In the dialog box that appears, choose a value that's lower than the peak of your selected note. For example, if you have drumbeat that is too loud — right at 0dB — and the surrounding notes are at -6dB, you can then choose 6dB for either the minimum headroom you want left or the amount below clipping. This drops your signal down 6dB — the level of the rest of the notes. If you don't know where your levels are in dB, you can experiment until you get the level where you want it. Using the Normalize function to reduce the volume of a note may be better than using the Quieten function if you want to control exactly how much quieter you want the note and your system doesn't allow you to set the value used by the Quieten function.

You're not limited to making adjustments to single notes. You can use Quieten or Normalize to adjust the levels of short phrases or an entire track if you want.

Normalize and Quieten only adjust the levels of the section that you choose to work with. So when you use these functions, you need to be aware of how your edits relate to the music in and around your edits. For example, if you normalize or quieten a section of the waveform, the softest notes increase in volume only by the level that the highest note increases. For example, take a look at Figure 1. It shows a saxophone line before and after normalizing to maximum dB. The picture on the left shows the levels before normalization. The one on the right is after the normalization procedure. The notes were raised up a bit and the overall dynamic range remains the same.


Figure 1: Normalizing keeps the dynamic range of the original section.

Next, take a look at Figure 2. This shows what happens when you choose the quietest section to normalize. As you can see, the relationship between the various notes has changed dramatically. Played back, this passage now sounds unnatural and the original performance is altered beyond recognition.


Figure 2: Choosing a quiet section of a song and normalizing it alters the dynamic range of the music.

You can use normalization to change the emotional content of a piece of music — even its meaning — by changing where the emphasized (accented) notes are located. For example, take the phrase "I love your music" (a phrase that you hopefully hear a lot). Depending on which word of the phrase is emphasized you get a slightly different meaning:

I love your music.

I love your music.

I love your music.

I love your music.

These are slight variations but ones that can alter how the listener perceives something. In the same way, by changing the level of a note or phrase, you can change the emotion of the performance.

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