From time to time you might hear your producer saying, “We’ll roll with that”. This means that your track wasn’t entirely perfect, but it was really close and they’re able to edit it the rest of the way. There are two general types of editing: timing correction and pitch correction.
Timing correction can be really simple or complex depending on the scope of the edit. Simple timing correction can mean selecting a note and nudging it so that it happens earlier or later than it happened originally.
Typically editing timing by hand is done this way: isolating a region that contains the audio you want to fix, and then moving it earlier or later on the timeline. After moving the clip, you usually want to extend the clip in the direction it came from to fill the empty space. Once you’ve filled up the gaps you’ll want to crossfade(fade in and fade out) to cover up the edit and make it smooth.
In Pro-Tools there’s a semi-famous plugin called Beat Detective that can help with this. Basically what Beat Detective does is recognize all of the peaks (called transients) in an audio clip. You can set the sensitivity of Beat Detective to pick up more transients (for finer editing) or less transients (for less potential issues). Once B/D has a region selected, it separates the original clip into a new clip for every transient. After this it will conform (move) the clips and transients to the grid. Basically what you’re doing is separating each note and then snapping those notes to the grid so that they happen at the correct time. The last step is Edit Smoothing which will connect the separated clips again and add crossfades to make the edit clean.
The second tool for editing timing is called Elastic Audio. This method employs an algorithm that allows you to do things to the length of notes which otherwise you’d be unable to do. For example, a bass guitar note cuts off too soon and sounds like a mistake, you can use elastic audio to actually stretch the note (like elastic, right?) so that it will fill out the measure. Elastic audio can have some miserable side-effects or artifacts. If you overdo it your track can start sounding like it has distortion and it can change the tone of the note.
And last, quantizing. Quantizing is generally pretty awesome, however sometimes it can be a little too easy; so easy that it might make you want to quantize too much. Hitting alt+0 will bring up the quantizing screen in Pro-Tools. Simply select the region you want to quantize, hit quantize and there you go. I should note that this mainly works just for midi, but by combining Elastic Audio with it you’re able to quantize audio clips as well. Quantizing works by snapping or ’rounding’ notes to the grid. If you meant to play a note on the downbeat, but were a little late, quantizing will place the note perfectly on the downbeat.
Open Elastic Audio (I always set it to Polyphonic no matter what) by clicking on the Elastic Audio tab below the I/O of the track you’re wanting to edit. Then change the track view selector from Waveform to Warp. Then select all of the Warp Markers and hit alt+0. Set your quantization settings, hit quantize, and there you go.
Be careful with quantizing. Remember your objective. For a lot of people, music is about connection not perfection so I’d advise you to notice if you’re overdoing it. When music gets overly perfect it can start to sound boring to me. Tracks lose some dynamics as well once all of the beats are quantized. You’ll find your happy medium. In general though quantization can either be a way to tighten up that last 5% of the performance or it can become a crutch that makes it a temptation to not really go for nailing it in your performance.
Usually I’ll use each of these editing methods depending on what kind of edit I need to do. 9/10 I’m going to edit it manually because I don’t have to rely on a tool to do the right thing. Most edits are simple and by zooming in you can get enough precision to make a clean edit. It takes some practice, but don’t underestimate editing by hand. If I need to edit a large section that’s really messed up, sometimes I’ll use beat detective though. The fact that it works on whole clips can speed things up, but usually you’ll want to supplement using Beat Detective with hand editing any spots that Beat Detective doesn’t deal with correctly. As I said before, elastic audio is really useful if a note is too short and you need it to be longer. Another solution for this can be copying another one of the same notes from another section, but if you need to lengthen the one you have, EA is the way to go. Quantizing can be great for midi, but lame for audio so be careful there!
I hope this helps you understand how studios can use different types of timing correction based on different scenarios to correct timing. Remember, your goal is to make something musical, not something perfect, and don't get carried away with these great tools.
Until next time!