DAW Fundamentals — Editing Audio

Basic Editing Tools & Methods

Select/Range Tool: This tool allows for audio selection. You can either select an entire region/clip or just part of one. Hitting delete usually removes whatever is selected. You can also click and drag an edge to roll it in or out as needed.

Selected region in a DAW

An entire region is selected (top track).

Selected range in a region in a DAW

Part of a region is selected.

Split/Cut/Slice Tool: This tool splits the audio region into two at a chosen spot.

Split audio regions in a DAW

One audio region is split into several.

Gain: Gain is a pretty generic term, as it applies to where the gain knob is turned to on the interface and all of many, many locations in the signal path. Almost every effect has an input gain, an output gain, or both. The one we’re talking about here is the gain that can be applied to an audio region before it goes to any effects or busses.

Applying audio gain to a region in a DAW

Gain was applied to a first track, then more to the second so they match well (the second mic wasn’t as sensitive).

Fades: Every region of audio should have at least a tiny fade in at the start and fade out at the end, to avoid clicks and pops.

When two regions are adjacent to each other, but from different takes, a crossfade blends between the two. Sometimes it takes some real finesse (or another take) to get it to sound smooth. There are different types of crossfades. in general, an equal-power crossfade is for regions that are dissimilar; the phase incoherence will sound like equal volume to the ear. An equal-gain crossfade is for similar material, to make up for the apparent gain of waves that are phase-coherent enough to reinforce each other.

Fades and crossfades of audio regions in a DAW

Fade in the beginning, fade out the end, and a crossfade between two audio regions.

Punching In: If you have an amazing take, minus a couple little spots, punching in is the solution. You’ll play a few seconds before the part with the mistake, then hit record when you get to the part that needs to be replaced (and out when it’s over). Most DAWs can be set to automatically apply a tiny crossfade at punch in/out points. If the musician is playing/singing along with the track up to the punch in point, it usually sounds natural.

Copy/Cut/Paste: These tools work in a DAW as well as anywhere else. They are great if you want to loop audio, take the best part of a chorus and paste it into the rest, cut out something undesirable, or what have you. Entire tracks can be duplicated as well. For some of these functions, there are special tools (like looping, automation, etc . . .).

Phase Coherency: As explained in a previous section, phase coherency is when waveforms go up and down in sync; they reinforce each other to great effect. When they aren’t in sync, they cancel each other out at any number of frequencies (or everything entirely). If audio content is dissimilar, phase isn’t usually an issue. In our example, there are two mics receiving almost identical signals. Here are two examples: one where the mic distance was just right to be naturally in phase, and what it could look like with a different mic placement. Out of phase audio can be fixed either by flipping it 180-degrees and hoping for the best or zooming way in and nudging it into place. If flipping phase, keep it if the low-end is more present; if not, the original was most likely better. In studios, placement can make phase mostly a non-issue. In budget filming several mics are often placed in too close proximity; fortunately, it’s a quick and easy fix.

Two waveforms with a good phase relationship

In-phase waveforms have peaks and valleys at the same locations.

Two waveforms with a poor phase relationship

Just a 2ms difference (~2 ft. between mics) in the same signal makes the audio quality unbearable.

Resources for this Section

Chapter 3 contains practical editing tips that prepare for a smooth mixing session. The rest of the book is about the mixing process.

This audio quiz contains much more than what we covered on this page, including many tips for film audio. Besides solutions, there are audio examples of each issue.