The Difference Proper Fading and Cross Fading MakesMay 26, 2023
Editing vocals in Pro Tools
I call it, "cleaning your room." Part of this is organization and pure serenity, keeping your vocal sessions looking clean cut and professional. Do your stacks of background vocals wav files all start at the same point or do you see a staggered mess? When people see your session, you want to hear them say, wow that looks super neat and tidy!
But that's not even the focus of today's article. It's all about the fades.
I had an assignment in college to actively listen to famous music and identify poor edits that I noticed. Breaths cut off mid-breath, sentence endings cut off mid-word, and the worst was blatantly poor comping that made it sound obvious that a line wasn't performed in a single continuous take. When you listen closely, you'll be shocked at how often you hear mistakes even on the radio. Don't be that guy.
The guidelines are so simple, yet somehow so many people get lazy and leave these mistakes for all to hear.
1. Create a Fade-In at the beginning of every audio file
2. Create a Fade-Out at the end of every audio file
3. When two audio files meet, cross-fade them
4. When comping vocals, listen carefully and only accept the edit if it sounds like a continuously sung vocal take.
We need this on every audio file, and I do mean every single one of them!
Also pay attention to possible chair creaks, strange mouth clicks, saliva sound, breathing sounds, etc. and make sure they don't end up in the final mix!
Try to keep the headphone volume lower while recording to avoid headphone bleed. Too much headphone bleed (when music leaks from the headphones into the microphone) can actually lead to phasing problems and have a significant detrimental effect on your mix. Delete any significant amount of free space on audio files to contribute to the clarity of the music, especially if you have any headphone bleed showing up in those empty spaces. I know we like to catch a vibe and turn up our headphones, but it's really a great skill to build to NOT need that to perform your best.
Whether you stopped a recording and started again, which results in two separate audio files, OR you did many takes and are "comping them," cross fade every separate file where they meet. Comping is when you record many different takes of the same line, and splice together your favorite words from different takes. The goal is to make it sound like it was sung in one take, even though it wasn't. One way to ruin that facade is to forget to crossfade, and now we all hear the cuts and clicks at your poorly done edit points.
It takes practice to become skilled at seamless editing, but here are some tips are great editing points to place your crossfades:
- In an empty space between words (the best!)
- On a consonant sounds like S, F, H, SH, or CH
- Before, after, or mid-breath (mid-breath works often but listen carefully if it sounds off).
Some spots are simply not going to work. You might notice you sang with slightly different timing and now you have two "T" sounds causing a stutter. This is where your editing ninja skilled get sharpened. You can do some fancy time stretching or isolating a word and nudging it a little bit to make the crossfade work. Also pay attention to the way the waveform itself looks. Waves have peaks (highest point) and troughs (lowest point, and then the 0 point where they cross in the middle. Place your crossfade where a peak meets a trough at the 0 point for the best chance of making it sound good.
Test out the different shapes of fades that may be available in your DAW. It's really going to be a lot of trial and error on your part, and you'll discover what tends to work every time.
Soon you will enjoy the oddly satisfying catharsis of a super tidy and properly faded session :)
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