Music Editing to Even Out a Performance - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Evening out a performance means making editing adjustments to the levels of a note or phrase within the song. Sometimes it can also mean changing the emphasis of certain notes to change the meaning or “feel” of a part.

Two functions which allow you to even out a performance are called Normalize and Quieten. (Some systems call the Quieten function Gain Change.) A track often contains 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, as follows:

  • To raise the volume of a note: Select the note that you want to change and choose Edit→Normalize. 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 that you want to have left (also in dB). These last two options are essentially the same thing.

  • To lower the volume of a note: Select the note that you want to change and choose Edit→Quieten (or Gain Change). 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 a 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 to have left or the amount below clipping. This drops your signal by 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 to be 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 also use Quieten or Normalize to adjust the levels of short phrases or an entire track.

Normalize and Quieten only adjust the levels of the section that you choose to work with. So when you use these functions, 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, the first illustration below shows a percussion line before and after normalizing to maximum dB. The view on the left shows the levels before normalization. The one on the right is after the normalization procedure. The notes were raised a bit, and the overall dynamic range remains the same.

Normalizing keeps the dynamic range of the original section.

Normalizing keeps the dynamic range of the original section.

Next, take a look at this next illustration. 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.

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

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