What is Audio Editing?

When you think of audio editing, what exactly do you come up with? Most often, when we think of editing, we often don’t think of music or audio. In fact, it’s more common to think of writing in relation to editing in many cases. In reality, audio editing is a lot like editing a written document. Things are deleted, replaced, cut, copied, and pasted just like they would be in an essay or a novel. Only, instead of manipulating words, you are manipulating sounds. So, the answer to the question, “What is audio editing?” is that it is a way to edit, shorten, or otherwise shift a piece of music or spoken audio to make it ideal for either listening or viewing pleasure.

How it Works

With the advent of new technologies in audio editing, editing over the years has become more accurate and easier. Software and hardware programs are designed specifically to help editors piece together music or audio pieces. These programs are generally referred to as digital audio workstations (DAWs). The idea behind audio editing is usually to take a piece of music and slice it and dice it so that it is free of errors and consistent to listen to.

Editing can be purely for audio (example audio podcast, music cds etc.) or it can be for a video.  For audio which needs to be synced with video, the editors are provided with a video clip and an audio clip that both need to be matched. Obviously, the video clip isn’t going to undergo any editing because it is the section of media that the music is supposed to conform to (not the other way around).

In many cases, the audio editor is given a file that works with their specific DAW. They can then manipulate virtually every part of the musical piece. Most DAWs give you access to all of the individual tracks that go into making a complete song. That means editors gain access to the vocal track, the guitar track (or other instrumental track), the drum track, and many more. This is not just an mp3 audio file, but, instead, a song divided into its individual tracks (or stems). It’s also conveniently placed into a visual interface—generally conveyed as “waveform”—that is a visual representation of each audio track.

Some general application of audio editing are:

  1. Remove breaths, cough, ringing of the phone or any other unwanted interference
  2. Remove repeated dialogues
  3. Add music intro/outro
  4. Stretch/shorten audio and sound effects according to the length of the visual.
  5. Splice together audio recorded at different sittings
  6. Sync up different musical instruments so that they all sound on the beat.
  7. Loop, slice and edit beats.

Challenges of Audio Editing

The difficulty of matching audio and video shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, many audio editors are given a 30-second video clip to work with and a song that is, of course, well over 3 minutes. You have to pare down the audio file so that it fits into that 30-second window, but you also have to make sure that it is aesthetic and feasible within the constraints of the time allotted.

In some cases (for instance, in films), the script might be flipped. Audio editors might receive a 30-second audio clip that needs to fit into a 53-second video window. In that event, they must stretch the audio either by looping it in some sections or slowing down the tempo. Looping essentially means repeating a section of music (you can think of it copying and pasting—some DAWs even use those terms). But, again, the edit needs to appear flawless and completely enmeshed with the video. During an emotionally powerful scene in a film, it’s not often that you recognize the music if only because it generally fits so well with the visual.

Editing only for audio is less challenging but equally difficult. The editor has to make sure the voice flow is natural and there are no jerks in the audio. Music editing requires very minute cuts (correct upto 1 millisecond), which ensures that the song sits perfectly on the tempo.

Editing: The heart of a song

No discussion revolving around the question, “What is audio editing?” would be complete without the mention of audio editing as a way to make music.

Indeed, musicians will record a song as composite parts (i.e. vocals, guitar, strings, drums, etc.) and then take all that audio information and place it in a DAW. From there, they can add all kinds of effects including reverb, equalization, bass boosts, crossfades, and much more. This is what we might refer to as “post-production.” Intrinsic to many DAWs is the ability to shift the tone of a piece of music. Each section of the music is 100% editable. Everything from tempo and pitch to the actual score of the music can be manipulated.

Sometimes, a song on its own merits isn’t that great, but, when put through some audio editing, it can provide a much better listening experience overall. A good audio editor can sometimes make the song great.

You might still be wondering exactly what is audio editing, but, the reality of the situation is that you’re surrounded by audio editing every day. When you watch a commercial on television and that commercial plays a song you’re fond of, it’s unlikely that the song appears in its original form. Maybe some (or all) of the lyrics have been removed or there’s a particular instrument that doesn’t show up. This is audio editing.

If you hear recorded music in almost any medium, be it television, radio, cds internet or your ipod, then it’s likely that it has seen some form of audio editing. It’s not an easy process, and requires years of technical training not only in softwares and hardware but also requires a trained ear and a through grasp of psychoacoustics and musical theory.

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By Rajiv Agarwal

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