The audio editing process is one that we would all like to avoid. Admit it, editing can be a very boring task, the cutting and pasting, the listening to that one small part of the track over and over and over again. But editing can be as creative as the mixing process, where you can use multiple techniques to refine the song before you even start mixing. One such technique is “comping”.
What is comping?
Comping is a process where you use the best parts of multiple takes and piecing them together to make one perfect take. Being the imperfect beings that we are, capturing a perfect take in one go is not always possible. Engineers remedy this by recording multiple takes to create the perfect take from. Though comping is a technique commonly use when editing vocals, it is also use when editing other instruments.
There are multiple ways of comping. Traditionally, comping is done by recording a number of takes on different tracks, and then each take is split into several phrases. After which the best regions are copied to a single track, with cross-fades between each regions, to create the final comp.
Now, DAWs such as Logic Pro allows you to record multiple takes that is stocked in a folder on a single track. This brings with it the benefit of not having to manually cut and paste the regions and applying cross-fades to them.
With Logic, once you have selected the quick swipe comping mode, all you have to do is click and drag to highlight the region you want to use. After you are through with comping, Logic allows you to export the comp to a new audio track.
Before you get started, you will need to record enough takes to comp together. Most engineers thinks you should get at least 3-5 takes. The reason behind this is that, you won’t have too little takes to choose from and you won’t have to many to confuse you.
Though you do not want to overwhelm your performers, I think that only you can know the number of takes that you will need. What I normally do is allow the artist to warm up a bit before getting into the “real” tracking. But during this warm up stage I always record the artist and instead of deleting these takes, I keep them just in case the best performance was captured. When the performer is warmed up and ready I would record around 5 takes.
The number of takes you record is up to you, but I will say this, you do not want to record too many takes that will confuse your decisions later. Believe me, I have been there. Having so many takes I cannot decide on the ones to use and the ones to discard. The main thing you want to do is to capture enough takes when the artist is performing at their best.
Choosing your parts
The most important skill you will need when comping is the ability to listen keenly. You need to listen if phrase or syllables are in time and have the same tonal quality.
Timing may not be an issue if you are using the Logic comping example. But if you are cutting and pasting regions, it is important that you get time matching right because it contribute to the overall feel of the song. One way that you could deal with timing issues is Time-Stretching. However, because of the side effects that sometimes come along with time stretching, I would recommend that you choose a region that is in time in the first place.
Tonal matching is even more important than time matching in how the final comp turns out. When you choose a region that you like to use, make certain that the tone matches the region before it and the one that follows it. You may not see the significance of tonal matching until you add an EQ and realise that the regions don’t blend well together.
Even though comping can be time consuming. It is a valuable skill to develop as an audio engineer. Like any other skills, the more you do it, the quicker and easier it gets.