TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 36 Music Editing

TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series continues looking at the Editing stage of the multitrack process.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve discussed music editing in some detail. This week we’ll finish looking at the editing stage by considering the use of some signal processing as edit tools. We’ll also discuss how editing can create a performance that was never recorded or considered at the beginning of a recording session…’s not just for fixing mistakes.

Not really regarded as editing in the purest sense, some types of signal processing can alter the sound, effectively performing an edit on the audio file. You can alter the pitch of a sound, stretch or shrink the length of it and reverse it to produce some great effects.

Legendary Voice Over Artist & Man Of A Thousand Voices – Mel Blanc.

Altering the pitch of some sound files e.g. vocals, can only be done by a relatively small amount before the file starts to sound a little odd – think of Alvin & The Chipmunks or some of the many voices the legendary Mel Blanc created for cartoon characters! He did many cartoon voices without the use of effects, but sometimes even the great Mel Blanc needed help with a little pitch change.

Having said that, there will be times when the vocalist has gone and you are left with a vocal track that is out of tune in places and needs fixing with pitch correction.

Prior to the wonders of digital technology and pitch correction plug-ins, many vocalists ‘got away’ with certain vocal imperfections – I’ll let you decide on whether that was a good or bad thing.

The fact is, today’s commercially released music very often employs an auto tune and/or pitch correction to vocals or specific instruments before it is released.

Before attempting a reverse modification, pitch or time correction fix, I would recommend making a copy of the file you want to work on. It’s just more convenient to keep a version of the unmodified file, so that you can make fresh copies for each attempt at a modification or fix.

There are plenty of plug-ins on the market that can help to fix pitch problems. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some, like the DPP-1 (below), come free with Pro Tools 6.0 TDM or higher.

Stereo Or Mono Pitch Change Plug-In.

To fix the pitch problem, choose the note or notes that need correcting then open your pitch correction plug-in. Pitch can often be changed by a ratio, percentage, or fractions of semi-tones, although you may need to try a few times before you get the desired result.

By pitch shifting a vocal or instrument, you can sometimes add harmonies to words or musical phrases, without having to re-record them at the new pitches.

Antares Auto-Tune 7.

Some plug-ins like Antares Auto-Tune claim to be able to alter the pitch of a voice or instrument in real-time without distortion or artefacts, whilst preserving the nuances of the original performance. Most good plug-ins can achieve this providing you don’t push them too far to their limits.

Logic’s Pitch Correction Plug-In Allows You To Modify Scales.

With Logic’s Pitch Correction plug-in you can modify scales by selecting or deselecting notes from the music type keyboard in the centre of the window. Just be careful when setting the response time. If it’s set too fast you’re likely to get a robotic feel to the vocal.

Time Shift Plug-In.

Audio can also be stretched or shrunk. Let’s say that you are producing a piece of music for a commercial. Unfortunately, the finished track runs one second too long. To cut a second out of the track would be difficult or impossible, whilst still making the track sound natural and complete.

The answer could be to shrink the running time by one second using a plug-in like the one above. It allows you to dial in a time length that you want a piece to last, whilst keeping the pitch of the piece the same. It will also handle pitch shifting.

When I first started producing my own music and playing all the instruments myself, there was a little more effort involved in getting certain special effects with analog multitrack technology.

Reverse Guitar Parts Recorded Digitally – With A Characteristic Slow Attack & Quick Decay.

I remember for one song, I’d recorded half a dozen or so instruments in the normal way, by overdubbing them. But on the next track I decided, I wanted to try out a reversed acoustic guitar. So in order to achieve this I had to remove the multitrack tape from the tape machine, turn it over so that it was now upside down and then place it back on the machine.

When I pressed play, all the previously recorded tracks were now in reverse. I then played and recorded a guitar track over the backward sounding tracks, then turned the tape over again.

Now the latest guitar track was in reverse, whilst all the other earlier tracks were back to normal. It produced a very interesting, creative effect – not immediately recognizable as a guitar.

Pro Tools Includes A Reverse Effect In The Audiosuite Plug-Ins.

Today, the process of reversing audio is much simpler with digital technology. There are numerous plug-ins that will reverse your audio. It’s useful to make a copy of the file you want to reverse first. Then apply the reverse effect to the copy.

The Left Audio File Is The Reversed Cymbal. The Right Shows The Original Forward Cymbal.

The picture above shows 2 stereo cymbal crashes. The one on the right is the original, forward cymbal. And the reversed cymbal is on the left. Once you have the reversed audio, you can then place it in the correct position in your song, trim the length if necessary and add other effects like reverb.

As with all ‘effects’ less is usually more. Try not to overdo a particular pitch change or reverse effect, otherwise it can become cheap and tacky.

For the one-man-band who is recording at home, it’s often useful to get a good, solid backing or rhythm track down as quickly as possible, so that you can then take your time overdubbing, content in the knowledge that the tempo is sorted, allowing you to add or replace tracks at your convenience.

This is where digital editing becomes a useful and creative tool. You can easily put together a song from small loops…..copy whole sections, like a verse or chorus and then paste them elsewhere…..create a composite take of a lead vocal or guitar solo.

Let’s consider some examples…..

#1 Loops – allow you to quickly build a basic drum track, for example. Play or programme a couple of bars with kick, snare and hi-hat. Record them into your DAW, then copy/paste or loop them to give you a drum track that lasts the length of the song.

Two Bars Of A Drum Loop – Sliced By Propellerhead Recycle Software.

Make sure the tempo of the loop is accurate when repeated. If you use beat 1 on the kick as your first edit point, choose beat 1 on the kick as your second edit point too. If you’re out by even a small amount it will affect the timing. You don’t want it to sound like you’re missing a beat at the beginning of each measure or changing time signatures. This will sound disturbing and make it impossible to overdub.

Once you have a drum loop with the correct tempo, you can record a guide vocal and overdub the other instruments. Then using the basic drum loop and a few other instruments as a click track, re-record (overdub) a fuller more interesting set of drum tracks with a real drummer.

Logic Studio – Edit Page.

You may then want to re-record some of the other instruments again. A fuller drum sound with fills, may inspire you to play another instrument part different/better… can be an organic process.

Finally, add your vocals…..see point #3 below with the video, which explains how to assemble a great vocal track.

#2 Song Assembly – it’s always useful to plan out the number and order of verses and choruses in a song. The first example below shows a simple song structure.

Intro-Verse-Chorus-Middle 8-Chorus-Outro.

So let’s say all the basic parts are recorded for this example. But you then get inspired to write another verse. And whilst you’re at it, you decide it needs another chorus or two. The final structure could look like this…

Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Middle 8-Chorus-Chorus-Outro.

Example Of A Song Structure – Showing Various Tracks For The Intro, Verse & Chorus. The Solid, Thin, Vertical Line Shows The Position Of The Cursor At The Beginning Of The Verse.

Left-Verse Section. Right Chorus.

By simply copying just the tracks in the verse section, you can paste them to the new position for the added verse. Do the same for the chorus; paste it once after the newly added verse and again after the third chorus but before the outro.


Intro-Verse-Chorus-Middle 8-Chorus-Outro.


Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Middle 8-ChorusChorus-Outro.

Once you have placed the new sections, you may need to move them slightly to fit the tempo of the song. Slight adjustments of some tracks may be needed, but it’s still quicker than re-recording a complete new verse and two choruses.

When the basic tracks forming the song are in the order and structure that you want, you can then add your lead vocals and any other finishing touches to the song.

#3 Composite Tracks – if you have multiple takes/performances of a particular instrument or vocal, by using the best parts of a few performances you can often piece together the perfect track. This technique is used to great effect for lead vocals and guitar solos, for example.

Ted Carfrae owner and founder of the TCM Music Group, speaking from the TCM Mastering Studios, describes how to achieve the perfect vocal performance in the video below.

Next week we move onto the Mixing stage.

If you’re looking for help, putting those finishing touches to a music track or would like more information on our affordable studio packages, please contact us by clicking here.

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  1. […] week in the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio blog, we completed our discussions on Editing by looking at how some signal processing can be used to edit your tracks. We also demonstrated how […]

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