Vocal Editing Part 01 - Comping

We're going to take a look at editing vocals from start to finish. This will be a multi-part blog post dealing with everything from comping, editing takes, making smooth transitions and fades, time aligning and tuning. 

Here we see Pro Tools with a vocal track in Playlist view. This shows all of the takes that we recorded for this section of the song. If you look closely at the waveforms you can see that from take to take the timing isn’t exactly the same. This doesn’t make them unusable, it just means we’ll have to do some creative nudging to make the parts work together. 

I like to comp quickly and stay in the zone, so I go through and fly in my favorite words, lines or syllables without worrying about how they line up. I like to work in an assembly line fashion, focusing on one task at a time. Once I’ve picked my favorite parts I’ll switch hats and start editing.  

Next, I make a new blank track underneath the vocal track. This is just going to temporarily hold the clips that need to be nudged. The goal here is to make the pieces all fit together and flow as if it was sang in one fluid take. Starting with the first phrase, you’ll see that I pulled the 2nd two clips down onto the lower track. This is so that I can extend the first clip in the phrase to be able to easily visualize where the 2nd clip needs to go. This helps us to align the clips with where the singer naturally wanted them to go and makes for much smoother edit points. 

When I zoom in it becomes obvious that the pink clip is happening slightly late relative to when those same words were sang in the first take. The arrows point to sections that should line up but currently are not. 

A simple nudge to the left (earlier in time) and the pink clip, which is the take that we like, will pick up right were the other left off. 

We’ll fly it into place and move on to the 3rd phrase, the purple clip left in our bottom track. 

This next example is more subtle. They almost look perfect until we zoom in. 

Vocal Editing Zoomed In

This subtle timing difference doesn’t look like much, but when we try and crossfade the two clips were going to hear that transient twice. 

With the two clips lined up we have a smooth transition and a good place to crossfade. 

Vocal Editing Comp Crossfades

With all three clips in place i’ll add crossfades just before each phrase. Nothing beats dead space, but in a tight comp like this high frequencies are usually great places to get away with crossfades. The first transition happens on an “S” giving a burst of high frequencies to fade through. The 2nd transition had enough of a gap to sneak in a quick undetected fade. 

The end result is a comped vocal that should sound seamless. Each clip should pick up where the other left off making it as natural as possible. The problem here is that everything is in time relative to the clip before it. That doesn't always mean that it's in time with the song. 

I've found that Melodyne is the best tool for both timing and tuning a vocal, and I'll cover both of those in detail in parts 02 & 03. Check back soon!