Let’s start with the boring stuff first. That way we can enjoy the rest of the course.
It is good practice – although it might come off as tedious and time consuming – to edit your tracks before diving into the mixing realm. You need to be precise when you’re editing. You need to edit out all the pops and clicks, and doing inaccurate editing just makes everything worse.
Every instrument isn’t playing all the time. However, many instruments are recorded in one take through the whole song. Many times the silent regions when a musician isn’t playing isn’t actually that silent. Sure, it’s masked by the drum sound or your attention is drawn to the vocal, but there is sound coming from that track.
And it’s the worst type of sound. Just useless background noise, the musician shuffling around impatiently or hum from an amp. That’s something you need to get rid of.And what’s worse, when you start adding compression to those tracks during mixing you’ll just raise the noise floor. And all of a sudden those “silences” are cluttering up your clean mix.
Removing or muting silences makes for a much cleaner recording. You’ll have an easier mixing experience when the only thing you hear in your mix are actually instruments playing. Not useless background noise.
If you’re already a great editor, I salute you. Not everyone devotes the time to really edit their tracks to make them sound perfect. I know I struggle sometimes because I think it’s so boring. But it is well worth it. Well edited tracks make the mixing process smoother and more enjoyable.
Even the greatest of drum takes might have a beat or two off the grid. It happens and it gives the song a human feel. But when those few hits are just a little too much out of time for your taste, don’t drag the drummer back into the studio.
Cut those regions and move them to the right place. If the work takes you less time than to listen to the whole song a few more times, it’s better than re-recording the whole thing. It’s more efficient and cost-effective.
Copying regions to another track for processing certain phrases is a simple editing trick that doesn’t require you to use automation. It also allows you to create automatic double tracked vocals to accent certain phrases.
Once we’re done editing we want to make sure that the tracks actually sound good on their own. Sometimes there’s a lot of noise you need to deal with, especially if you’re recording in a bedroom studio. Air conditioning, outside traffic, dogs barking. These are all issues the average home studio deals with, and definitely something I encounter every day.
Distorted guitars can have a lot of high-end hiss. This goes back to the background noise we were talking about before. Even when a guitarist isn’t playing his amp sure is hissing. A simple way to get rid of the hiss is with gating. By using a noise gat the sound only comes through when the guitarist is actually playing the guitar, not when the amp is humming in the background.
Another way to get rid of hiss is by simply low-pass filtering the high-end out. Rock guitars recorded with dynamic microphones won’t miss that high-end anyway if you filter it out. But filtering is something we will get to in Mixing Mistake #8 so I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
Background Noise from Voice-overs
A common problem with amateur voice-over recordings is the terrible bedroom noise the microphone picks up. I did some work for a friend that had done some videos where he needed the voices to sound better. They were both uneven and had a lot of room noise that wasn’t making it sound too professional. Noise plug-ins like the Z-Noise from Waves can lock into the noise you don’t want and extract it from the audio. It can work wonders but if you’re not careful you might compromise the voice-over as well.
Noise removal is a crucial aspect of editing and can make your tracks sound that much cleaner. To me, editing is about cleanup, not about tightness. You should get tightness from the performance. Moving a region here and there is fine and all, but don’t spend too much time on it. Instead, when you have a great performance, focus on making that performance sound as clean as possible.
In the next lesson we’ll be looking at volume and headroom. Specifically we’ll learn how to set up a mixing session, how to use metering on the master fader and make sure you’re using correct gain staging.