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Editing to tighten performance

I’m currently working with a band and after each part is recorded I’m spending a good amount of time editing to tighten up the performance. It’s not because they can’t play well, they’re actually really good, I could probably get away with not doing any tightening of the performance at all. I’m tightening the performance not just because I can, but because it sounds better. To me at least. You can disagree, I don’t care.

For me the effort and time spent is worth it. It makes the song sound more polished and another step closer to a professional result. I do this kind of editing on everything I work on, I won’t mix a song that has a sloppy performance.


This editing to tighten things up is often called “pocketing”. It takes time and it’s not very much fun but it really makes an difference.

In this project I’ve edited the drums, bass and guitars to be perfectly in time. Some people like the bass a bit behind the beat by a certain amount and have different ideas about where things should be. I do everything right on the grid and it sounds right to me. I have not yet had a complaint that it sounds too perfect or too rigid.

How Perfect

You don’t have to do every 16th note of the performance, you can do much less than that. I usually start by lining up all elements at the start of each section of the song. Then go through in finer detail if anything sounds off. Often I’m adjusting down to 8th notes especially if parts are double tracked, with two performances panned left and right of the same part. If those parts aren’t tight you get a distracting bounce between each ear. I really hate that.

DIs Really Help

When I record guitars I always like to have a DI track. I don’t usually ever need to actually listen to the DI track, but it’s useful for editing because the transients are much clearer than that of a mic on a distorted guitar amp. Of course the DI is useful as a safety if you end up hating the guitar tones from the mics.

Cutting & Warping

There are two methods to pocketing, cutting or warping.

  • Cutting is separating the recording at each section or note if needed and moving the start of each piece into time. Then filling gaps and crossfading between each peice. In pro tools you can do this automatically with Beat detective or manually.
  • Warping would be using a function like Pro Tools Elastic Audio or Logic’s Flex editing to stretch and shrink the notes within the recording without making any separations.

Warping is faster but there is a sound quality loss.

I do this kind of editing a lot. In general cutting works best for drums. Warping is usually fine with bass and guitars and vocals but not always, sometimes it can really degrade the sound.


Here’s an example to show what this is all about. Here are 2 layers of stereo acoustic guitar, each played by different players.

Acoustic Guitars

I’ve gone through and tightened up the timing by manually chopping and sliding into position. This was a situation where Elastic Audio in Pro Tools just wasn’t good enough for the job and the editing was done in REAPER.

Acoustic Guitars Tighter

I can hear an improvement that was definitely worth the effort. What do you think? Let’s get a discussion going in the comments


  1. Chaco
    Chaco May 3, 2010

    This was done in Reaper? Interesting. I’ll have to look at the audio editing capabilities of Reaper again.

    As a general rule…the faster the BPM…the more closely transients should land on a grid? I’m thinking of anything dance or speed metal related.

    But what about slower stuff? Or stuff that’s groovy? Certainly the Daptones are tight but do they worry about the guitar hitting exactly in time with the bass?

  2. Mike Hillier
    Mike Hillier May 3, 2010

    I completely agree on tightening performances. Although I usually edit to the drummer’s groove rather than the grid, as I hate metric performances even more than sloppy ones. But I realise I’m near enough alone in this preference having Beat Detective’d enough drummers for “name” producers in the past.

    So having decided that Elastic Audio wasn’t good enough why did you decide on Reaper to edit the audio instead of just editing in Tools?

  3. Jon
    Jon May 3, 2010

    Hey guys thanks for the comments.
    It took a long time to warm up to using REAPER, over 400 days! Once I got into it (with some help on the forum) I started to really like it.

    Reaper allowed me to set up a function similar to the “nudge within region boundaries” PT has, but instead I click and drag to line up the transients. It’s slip editing without changing region boundaries.
    Also it auto-crossfades in a way that doesn’t slow down my drives.
    Another editing feature I really like is a volume trim on every region.
    Besides that I have most of the key and mouse commands matching Pro Tools wherever possible.

    Also it doesn’t crash HAHA!

    Anyway back to editing. I never found Beat Detective to work on guitars, for drums I prefer it, but haven’t done drums with the REAPER workflow yet.

  4. Randy Coppinger
    Randy Coppinger May 3, 2010

    I generally don’t line stuff up unless someone is worried about the timing long after the musicians are gone. I’d rather spend the client’s time recording a good performance than editing it later. Timing problems are usually caused by one weak player, so I’ll start by working on that person’s track(s) first, then go to other tracks as needed. I like the idea of using a DI track to “see” the edits… good idea.

  5. Big Al Wagner
    Big Al Wagner May 3, 2010

    I do this kind of editing all the time. However, I always try to be aware of when I might be overdoing it just because I’ve gotten into a routine. There are SO many examples of great songs that groove hard but are as sloppy as snot if you listen closely.

    Also, I like to do all the parts by hand, one correction at a time, and it’s not always to put it _right_ on the beat.

    I would always choose to get it right in tracking and hold out for the perfect take. But, that isn’t always the hand you’re dealt.

    At the end of the day, if the artist likes it and the song hasn’t been compromised in any way…if it sounds good, it is good. 🙂

  6. Sean
    Sean May 4, 2010

    Normally I’m recording myself so lots of pocketing is required. What do you use to fill the empty spaces in instruments that are sustained when manually editing?

    I also find it interesting that you’re moving over to Reaper. I’ll have to give it a second look as well.

  7. I like the idea of doing this. I think those subtle little corrections and edits and really help the tracks to gel. Plus, really like editing. And I mean the actual process of sitting there chopping it up and moving it around. I think it’s fun and it’s incredibly rewarding to hear the finished product.

  8. Brell
    Brell May 4, 2010

    Wouldn’t editing the drums like this cause some phase issues? I’ve never had the chance to do this type of editing myself, but I’ve read about it on other forums.

    I’ve been trying to work with Reaper for about 2 months now, and I still can’t wrap my head around it.

  9. Jon
    Jon May 4, 2010

    @ Sean – I’ll sometimes stretch a longer note of a doubled part to match.

    @ Brell – Maintain phase relationships by grouping the tracks or regions. As long as you cut, move or stretch all the drum tracks at once you maintain phase.

  10. Brell
    Brell May 4, 2010

    Cool, good to know. Thanks Jon.

  11. Tom Knox
    Tom Knox May 4, 2010

    Since “warping” seems to leave slight artifacts in the audio, I try to only “warp/pocket” the initial scratch tracks. I will have an artist(s) come in and record a well played rough cut of the song, then I’ll go back and pocket this performance to a set tempo after the session. These pocketed “scratch” tracks are then used as a reference when recording the final tracks.

    I’ve also found that a lot of the artists I record struggle when playing to a click track (go figure ;). Since the artist is laying down a final track to pre-pocketed “scratch” track, the result is usually a tight, but natural sounding final track.

    • Elliot Ignasiak
      Elliot Ignasiak January 20, 2019

      That’s a great tip!

  12. Petri Suhonen
    Petri Suhonen May 4, 2010

    Hi Jon,

    That’s a lot of work, but I bet it’s rewarding. I do something similar to our band recordings, but instead of Reaper I use FL Studio. I import all the audio tracks into FL Studio’s audio track -view at once and then I cut and slice and move around the pieces.

    Only downside with cutting the drums is that if there’s a crash cymbal playing in a spot I need to do a cut, the resulted gap is quite hard to make non-audible.

  13. Steven Carey
    Steven Carey May 4, 2010

    From the two performances, I felt that the second one was at times a little before the beat, which I’m not too keen on. In the examples, I’d say there are parts where the corrections work (stabs) and parts where it doesn’t (where more swing is required) I thought the rhythm guitar was more obviously corrected.

    Personally, I do correct timing issues, but I’m really against editing poor performances. I’d rather make something that’s great, brilliant.

    If only that were always the case.


  14. Joe Pearson
    Joe Pearson June 5, 2010

    Great article – for certain, every engineer needs to know these techniques.

    I think the real skill lies in knowing when to leave something alone – imagine if editing capabilities like this existed during the time of the Beatles recordings (just watch the film “All Around The Universe” – ugh). This sort of editing shouldn’t ever be used to cover up a lack of skill – musicians should come prepared to the studio!

    In short: over-editing can easily kill the organic beauty of time flow.

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