Tracking and Editing in the Home Studio

AG 245 May 2013 Cover

Posted by Doug Young

When you are confident that you’re capturing a good sound, you’re ready to record. There are many ways to approach the actual recording, depending on the type of music. If you’re overdubbing or playing to a click track, you will need to use headphones. Experiment with levels until you feel comfortable and can hear the click or the tracks you’re overdubbing to as well as your guitar. Make sure the headphones aren’t so loud that they bleed into the microphones.

Everyone would prefer to record a song perfectly in one take, but most recordings involve multiple takes, which are often edited or combined to fix mistakes. It helps to have a strategy to make editing easier. Here are a couple approaches:

Back up and Try Again If you aren't playing along with other instruments, one way to deal with mistakes is to stop, back up a few bars, and keep going. Once you make it to the end of the tune, you can use your audio editing software to cut out the bad parts. Most modern editing software can automatically “crossfade” the good parts, creating a seamless join that no one will notice. It takes some time to learn to edit—and each editing system is slightly different—but the process becomes easier with practice. With this approach, you need to be able to stop and resume the song with the same volume, tempo, and feel, and try to avoid moving or changing your location relative to the mics—even a slight difference can create tell-tale signs at the edit point.

Compositing Multiple Takes Another approach is to record the entire tune multiple times and then piece together the best parts of each performance. With this approach, it’s best to keep playing, even if you make a mistake. Once you finish a take, record again on a new track, repeating until you think you have played each part correctly, somewhere, in at least one take.

Different editors support this process in a variety of ways. Nearly all will allow you to cut sections from one track and paste them into another. Some editors have more sophisticated functions, letting you select regions from different takes and automatically compiling them into a single performance.

It takes experience to find the right balance between obsessively fixing every little thing and letting small issues go. If you find yourself needing to make a lot of edits to get an acceptable recording, you should consider whether your time would be better spent practicing the tune. The beauty of home recording is that you’re not “on the clock,” and you can do as many takes as you need to, or take a break and try again another day. 

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar May 2013

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