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EDITING: PART 1: THEORY AND CONCEPTS

The first skill that anyone working with audio needs to master is editing. Whatever you're recording, whether it's music, an interview, actors speaking lines or a presentation, it is highly unlikely that you are going to want to use everything between the press of the record and stop buttons, never mind whatever rubbish the pre-record buffer might catch. Being able to cut out what you don't need and being able to do it in a way that meets the requirements of your project is essential. Different situations call for different practices and sometimes you have to go for the least worst option. While it's impossible to cover every situation you might encounter, here goes.

An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

You may not be able to control how your material is recorded, particularly if you are editing someone else's work but, if you can, try to ensure that the material you get is as easy to edit as it can be.

Where possible, try to keep background noise on the recording to a minimum. Making seamless edits is far harder when you have background noise to contend with, particularly when it is intermittent or varies in pitch, timbre or volume. Examples of particularly problematic noise include construction work, passing vehicles, (particularly emergency service vehicles and aircraft) and music. Music makes seamless editing virtually impossible.

Quite apart from considerations of copyright, any edit you perform on material with a backdrop of music is likely to be very noticeable because it will throw off its timing and cadences. If you are recording on location, try asking whoever is responsible for the music if they would mind turning it off while you are recording. You have nothing to lose by a polite enquiry, but do be prepared for a no, which will probably mean you have to move elsewhere.

If your recording is disrupted by intermittent background noise, try to wait until it has stopped before continuing the recording or do another take. When performing an interview or doing something else that is time-sensitive, it may not always be possible to record multiple takes. Adapt your tolerance to background noise to the particular situation.

Editing is much easier if the levels are constant throughout the entire piece or between takes. Try to avoid moving microphones during a recording, both because of the noise this is likely to generate, and because it will also change the perspective from which you are recording and therefore the level of the signal. Avoid automatic gain control at all costs This causes levels to fade up and down all over the place. this sounds bad enough if you're doing professional work if there's no need to edit, but editing around AGC can introduce all sorts of clunky sounding level changes that are difficult, if not impossible, to correct.

If you are editing someone else's work, depending on your relationship with them, you may be able to encourage them to adopt these practices, either by providing polite and constructive feedback on work you have already received from them, or by discussing the ideal way you'd like to work beforehand.

The Creed Behind the Craft

The best edits are unnoticeable. Ideally, you will start with a hesitant, repetitious subject who fiddles with his/her keys and transform them into a briskly confident, entirely prepared person, all without anyone being any the wiser. This isn't always possible however.

The first thing to consider is what are you editing this project for? How is the material going to be used? If you are editing for a commercial or sound-bite for a newscast, brevity is the paramount consideration and everything else should be secondary to that. these are the situations that require the heaviest and most ruthless editing. Was that clunky edit you heard on the news today an example of a bad editor who should be sacked forthwith? Or was it the least worst way of keeping things short and crisp? The second explanation is far more likely.

When you are editing a piece that doesn't have to be squashed into a packed schedule, such as a documentary, podcast or interview, you can ease up. Over-editing here, cutting out every pause for breath, every repetition, every um, every ah, every laugh, turns your subject into a robot on amphetamines. Removing all those things from someone's speech is hard. Why? Because they're part of the way we speak and your subject's tone of voice and volume will be modulated appropriately around his/her pauses, repetitions, coughs and stumbles. Take out too much or edit out the wrong repetition, and you will rob the piece of human warmth and character. Editing, therefore, is one of those areas where the lines between art and science blur, being full of trade-offs and the need for judgement calls based on all kinds of factors. so identify the primary goal of your project and edit accordingly, trying to make your work as invisible as that goal allows.

How To Listen

When editing, there are so many things that you have to listen for that it can be hard to keep track of it all. You have to take note of all the clicks and clunks of people moving around; your subject/s coughing, making strange mouth noises, (we all do it), umming etc. We could identify these things as noise. It is theoretically possible for you to listen out for all the above imperfections and not really take in a word of what's being said. If you intend to do more than simply chop out unnecessary audio segments, there will be other sonic imperfections to listen out for, things you might want to try removing by noise reduction or eq - strip light hum, air conditioning noise, mobile phone interference etc. And that's just the noise.

Let's say you're editing an interview. To edit out the repetitions and tangents, you're actually going to have to listen to what's being said as well as looking out for all this other rubbish. One way to do this efficiently would be to perform a number of passes through your project - once listening to the signal, i.e. the audio you actually want, so that you get a sense of where it's going, what you need and what you don't, and once to listen for the noise.

It well may be that, while listening to the signal, you identify some noise or vice versa and that's fine of course, (one less thing to deal with on your second pass), but, if using this method, try to keep focussed primarily on one type of listening per pass so you're not trying to take in too much at once.

Don't Cut Out Cut Down

This next SECTION focusses purely on the kind of editing you do when you are listening to the signal rather than the noise, when you are trying to sort the relevant from the irrelevant or dispensable. It's important to start conservative in this area.

Say you are interviewing someone about accessible technology and you happen to be an expert in the field. You may feel that your subject is belaboring an obvious point and be tempted to start zooming right the way out to remove great chunks. It's important to remember that it's all about your audience and what may be Chrystal clear to you, may need extra clarification for them. Even if you think your audience is likely to know the information given, maybe there is some other value to them hearing it again.

Even if you're not an expert in the subject matter, you may have gone over the material so many times that it seems to you as though your subject is being overly repetitious, that your audience will still get the point if you delete this or that. People summarizing texts encounter the same pitfall. My English teacher always used to tell us, "don't cut out, cut down", by which she meant, don't remove information from what you're working on that only occurs there once. Instead, condense the information you have by removing all the unnecessary flesh but keeping the bones.

As a rule, unless you have to shorten something a great deal, or if you are recording for a documentary or similar project that starts out with the intention of junking a lot of the material, only cut out the repetitions and be sure before you do that what you are cutting out is duplicated in its entirety elsewhere. To do this efficiently, you might like to listen to the audio all the way through without stopping at least once, to get a feel for it, both in terms of what the subject is trying to communicate, and in terms of what the project goals are. Alternatively, listen to the audio paragraph by paragraph before editing. This will also save you cutting out 30 ums from a segment you find you didn't need because your subject then corrects him/herself, going back on what he/she said and forcing you to delete the whole lot.

Where to Listen

Always edit in as quiet and distraction-free an environment as possible. This may seem obvious at first glance, but if you are in a hurry or if the editing you have to do seems as though it is going to be straightforward, there's always the temptation to cut corners. It's easy to forget that, even if the signal you're editing is at a fairly constant and loud level, as in an interview or musical performance, that the audio as a whole may have a wide dynamic range. In other words, the mouth noises, microphone clunks and other imperfections you need to remove, may lie well below the average volume of the recording and if you try to edit while distracted or in noisy conditions, you may miss them or fail to edit them properly. A breath that seems to start half way through could stick out like a sore thumb to your audience.

Find a quiet room and close the door, preferably the window as well, before you begin. If you can afford it, sound-proofing your room and optimizing its acoustics would be great, but it's not always practical or affordable and isn't essential for editing. Turn off your mobile phone or move it well away from your setup, not just to ensure that your editing has your full attention, but to prevent interference coming through your headphones or speakers, which you may mistake for interference in the audio itself.

Always Listen at Safe Levels!

This point cannot be stressed enough. A few epic edits are not worth compromising the quality of your hearing for life. Safe listening levels range between 80 and 85 DB, depending on whom you ask. If you have access to a sound metre, so much the better, but use common sense. The more quietly you can get away with listening to something and still be able to hear all the fine detail, the better. If you can avoid using headphones, so much the better, since prolonged exposure to even lower volumes than the one mentioned above can be damaging, not to mention the act of inserting buds into your ears. This is another reason to listen in a quiet environment. The louder the background noise, the louder you are going to need to have your audio to compensate, so that you may not even notice how loud everything is getting for you.

Beware Audio Fatigue

Focussing on any task for too long is fatiguing and can lead to a drop-off in the quality of one's work. Audio is no exception. If you've been listening to the same piece of audio for a long period, the details start to blur, your objectivity can suffer and it can get more and more difficult to make good edits. The length of time a particular person can work effectively on a particular project varies according to the individual, their mood on a particular day and the material he or she is working with at the time. Discover your own limits and respect them. When you reach your attention span, take a complete break and return refreshed a little while later.

Getting To Work

Having ensured that you've got the best possible material to work with, identified your project's goals, found a quiet environment and prepared yourself for the multi-level, critical listening ahead, (plus breaks of course), you'll be wanting to get down to it. The next part of this article will go through how to do just that, including examples of the common pitfalls, as well as tips for dealing with them.

Resources

Remember where we came from, and the kind of processes goldwave and reaper are emulating in there own ways. You will appreciate the examples provided here, this first link is an example of editing speech.

Speech Editing

This guy has a really awesome open reel machine, because most of them do not have the  facilities onboard to automatically cut the tape at the edit point you choose.

Open reel editing

In this example, this video has a guy who is editing music, doing so on a deck which doesn't have a cutter, so has to use a splicing block to compensate.

 So, should you feel frustrated with the apple guy, go back in time, buy some tape, a box of splicing tabs, a Greece pencil (despite the fact we can't see its markings) and get to work.

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Page last modified on August 08, 2016, at 02:25 AM