If you’re anything like me you won’t be able to play a perfect take every time. Even the best musicians make mistakes once in a while too! This means you’ll want to record multiple takes so you can punch in certain sections of a song. If the timing is a bit off in one take, you can grab a good section from another take.
There are a few different ways you could do this. The best way my experience is using the playlist function in Pro Tools. Sometimes you’ll be using multiple microphones for one instrument – if you’re recording drums for example or electric guitars with multiple mics on the cabinet.
For this exercise, let’s assume you’re recording drums.
Step 1. Group the drum tracks together for editing.
To group multiple tracks together, selecto the tracks you have in mind, then hold down control to add more to your selection. Then press Cmd+G on a Mac or Ctrl+G on PC to set up a group. Down the bottom left or your edit or mix window, there is a little arrow icon that you can click to see all your groups and you can activate or deactivate each group. We come back to this a later.
Step 2 – Change the track view to ‘playlists’.
So let’s say you have recorded a drum take. Overall it’s pretty good but there’s just a couple of little fills that were a bit untidy, so you want to record another take or two for this section.
Once you’ve done your first take, on the left-hand side of each track on your edit window, there is a little button titled ‘waveform’. If you have your track height set on ‘small’ or ‘mini’ view then this button won’t appear, so I suggest you set your track height to ‘medium’. With the drum group enabled that you set up in step one, click the ‘waveform’ button on one of the drum tracks and you’ll see a drop down menu appear. Select the ‘playlists’ view – this changes the view of your edit window for your selected tracks from ‘waveform’ view, which is the default, to the ‘playlists’ view.
You’ll now see another track appear under each of your selected tracks and you can record as many takes as you want using these playlists.
Step 3. Drag your first take into the first playlist position
Make sure you have all your drum tracks selected together, (or your drum edit group enabled from step 1). Select your first take and drag it down from the main track into the first playlist position. This will leave your main drum tracks empty, ready for you to record the next take.
Step 4. Prepare to record your next take
Now with your tracks armed for record again, you can record the whole song again or just one particular section of the song. I like to record 2 or 3 takes of the whole song – and usually I can get enough to work with for the editing process. Any more than 3 takes and it gets too hard to get your head around all the tracks. The musician needs to practice more and come back later!
Once you’ve recorded the next take, drag this down to the second playlist track (below the first one you created in step 3).
Step 5. Listen through each take and add markers
Now you’ve got 2 or 3 good takes recorded, take some time to listen through each take one by one and make notes on the sections that need to be fixed or replaced. I suggest you listen with the click track un-muted but all other other instruments muted so you can make sure the timing is accurate.
You can also use the Marker function in Pro Tools as you’re listening to place a mark in a section that needs work. To place a marker while listening through, just hit the right-hand enter key on the numeric keypad section of your keyboard. (The main enter key won’t do it). If you’re on a laptop without a numeric keypad, you could buy a cheap USB numeric keyboard, or re-map one of the keys on your keyboard – such as the right-hand control key. Here’s a guide on how to set that up for Windows with SharpKeys – a free Windows App. You can also re-map keys on a Mac by following these steps.
Step 6. Select one take that’s the best overall performance
Once you’ve listened through all your takes, choose the tightest one that needs the least amount of work and set that as your main track. (Drag it up from the playlist to the main waveform track). Highlight the section of the song that needs to be fixed, then right click on the play icon in the transport window and select ‘Loop Play’. Pro Tools will now continue playing just the selected section of the song. Toggle through the audio from each playlist by clicking the ‘S’ solo icon in each playlist to listen to each take so you can choose the best section.
A reminder again to have the click track unmuted while you’re doing this.
Step 7. Splice the best sections from other playlists into the main track
Activate the ‘Selector’ tool or the ‘Smart’ tool (I prefer the Smart tool). To do this, either click on the little box above the Trim, Selector and Grabber Tool, or just hit F5+F6 or F7+F8 on your keyboard.
Place your cursor at the beginning of the section you need to fix. Then hit Cmd+E on Mac or Ctrl+E on Windows to split the clip at your cursor. Using the Trim tool, you can drag the bad section of the audio out of the way, ready for you to splice in a good piece from another take. If you have the Smart tool activated, just hover over the split that you’ve created and the Trim tool icon will appear. Then drag to the right. You are now ready to punch in a section from another take.
Step 8. Punch in a good section from another playlist
Move the cursor to the playlist with the good take and highlight the section you want to punch in. On the playlist track, there are a couple of controls – one is a solo icon, which enables you to listen to the playlist, the other control is a little up arrow icon – which copies the selected audio to the main track. With the good take highlighted, click this little up arrow – and Pro Tools will place the selected audio into your main track. (You can copy and paste as well, but the
I want to highlight again the importance of having your drum edit group enabled when you’re doing this, so that all of your drum tracks will move together. The reason this is so important is so that you don’t get out of time artifacts from one track accidentally left behind!
Step 9. Find the transition point where the timing is seamless
You may find that the timing from a couple of bars leading up to the new section don’t match. You can use the trim tool to move the transition point until the timing between the two takes matches. This moves the point where the punched in sections starts, until it feels like the timing is natural.
Step 10. Crossfade between the two takes
The last step in the process is to cross fade between the two takes. It’s important to do this so you don’t get any pops or clicks at the transition point, and you also want to let the ambient artifacts from cymbals or toms to fade out naturally, rather than be cut off.
To crossfade with the Smart tool enabled, hover your cursor over the bottom of a transition between to wave blocks and you’ll see the crossfade icon appear.
There you have it! A complete 10 step process to recording multiple takes in Pro Tools and splicing the takes together to get one good track!
Hope this has been helpful for you. I’ve saved myself a lot of time in editing now I’ve finally figured this process out!