Though I never claim to be a master when it comes to editing audio, I do know enough to be able to solve most day-to-day problems.
Recently, I was asked to create a shorter mix of a song for a dance troupe performance. They were using Down Home Girl by Old Crow Medicine Show, and had a lot of choreography set to the lyrics, but wanted a few alterations made:
- Remove the instrumental break
- Shorten the intro slightly
- Shorten the outro, but keep the ending riff
All of these were simple requests, and after hearing the song I figured this would be a fairly easy job. Here’s how I went about it.
I listened to the track a couple of times, noting sonic characteristics that would be important when making the edits.
- How much does the tempo change over the length of the song?
- How does the instrumentation change between verses and choruses
- Where are the obvious cut-points? Are there any gotchas?
Basically, I’m looking for anything that could ruin the edits that I was planning. In this case, the harmonica was in the foreground near the edit points, so I knew I would have to listen carefully to make sure I didn’t cut off any notes in mid-blow.
Though I could have easily done these edits in a WAV-file editor, I decided to work in Pro Tools, since I’m very familiar with editing in PT, and I already had it open while working on another project.
I created a new PT project with the following settings:
- Bit depth: 24-bit
- Sample rate: 44.1kHz
I listened to the whole track, making sure to set a Marker at every major song section. It is important to put the markers exactly on the downbeats, which will save me lots of time in the future when making the actual edits.
The first edit – remove the instrumental break
The first edit I did was to remove the instrumental break. Rather than have the instrumental break, the troupe wanted to go directly into the next verse after the chorus, and also wanted to remove 2 bars of the standard pre-verse break after the chorus to go better with the choreography they were planning.
I usually find edits work best when they occur on beats. Be extra careful if either segment you’re editing together contains a legato foreground instrument – it will make the edit very noticeable if a sound suddenly appears or disappears.
Additionally, I often like to edit on a secondary beat, especially when dealing with acoustic music. The reason is because you can often find very good edit points on the pickups to the down beat. Due to the phrasing of most music, you’ll find sparser instrumentation at the end of a phrase. Of course, it all depends on the specifics of the song you’re editing.
When I find the edit points I want, I slightly reduce the bounds of my selection before removing the middle. With Pro Tools, you can always adjust the edit point after the fact, so right now our only concern is to make the beats of each section line up so that the pulse of the music is steady through the edit. The reduced bounds will give me a visual indication I can use to help align the beats of the segments.
Now listen to your new edit (no crossfades are applied yet). If you sense that the beat is slightly off, make sure the adjust it now before going on.
With your edit in place, you can turn the cut into a crossfade. I like to start with a crossfade of 40-60ms, making sure the fade is set to Equal Power mode (this will make sure the audio is at a constant volume through the edit). Depending on the kind of music, you will need to adjust the crossfade length. For faster or more rhythmic songs, I use a smaller crossfade. For more melodic or slower songs, I use a longer crossfade.
The placement of the crossfade is also key. I usually place my crossfade just before the beat, so that we avoid flamming the drums. Again, adjust depending on the song.
The intro and outro edits
The intro and outro edits went through roughly the same process as the instrumental edit. Though here it was vitally important to make sure the lead instruments “made sense” through the edit.
Hopefully, you should notice that the edits without the fades should sound pretty good – the crossfades should only be hiding the instantaneous discontinuity, not masking the sonic differences between the two sections.
Once I finished the edits, I bounced down the result to WAV. Note that I didn’t add a fade in or a fade out to the track – they are not needed since we were already working with a final mix that presumably had fade ins and outs.
I then used RazorLAME to create a 256kbit MP3 file
Delivery to the dance troupe
Once I had the final MP3 edit, I posted the audio to SoundCloud. I marked it as Private and listed the email addresses of the dance troupe members so they could listen to the track online.
There are several advanced edits when standard crossfades won’t cut it. I won’t go into too much detail, with the hope that you will explore their use yourself.
Extended crossfades are crossfades that last more than ~1 second, and work wonders for non-rhythmic sections such as synth pads. In these scenarios, you need to make them long enough so that the crossfade sounds like it occurs naturally in the song. In some cases, I have used crossfades that even extend 20 seconds or more. It’s very important you use Equal Power crossfades here, so that you don’t produce a dip in the volume of the track.
Extended crossfades can also work well in rhythmic sections, but you have to be extra-careful to match the beats properly so that you don’t hear any flamming. This is equivalent to beat-mixing when DJing, but done in an offline fashion.
Unmatched fade curves
Unmatched fade curves are sometimes necessary for edits, when you want a beat to enter at full-volume, but have the pre-edit material continue to fade out (for instance, shortening a non-rhythmic intro).
With just a little bit of effort, you can create professional-sounding fades that most people won’t be able to notice. At least, if they’re not looking for it…