Author Scott Hirsch shows vocal post-production editing techniques, such as de-breathing and removing mouth noises, for making a vocal comp track fit into a final mix.
- [Instructor] Breathing correctly is a big part of singing, and you undoubtedly have inhales and exhales along with your actual singing in any vocal recording. Depending on your stylistic decisions, you may need to reduce, remove, or sometimes even add breaths to make your vocal part work in the context of a song. Once you've made your final comp, there will also be mouth noise and even some stray plosives, or low frequency hits, during B or P syllables. Let's go over some techniques on how to deal with breaths, mouth noise, and plosives to make your vocal edit clean without sounding unnatural.
So here's our final comp and our final comp track for this song. It has all the breaths and mouth noises. Nothing has been finessed. Let me play some back so we can hear that. We'll also increase the wave form resolution so we can see also visually some of those breaths and mouth noises. Here we go. (singing) Let me go into the verse and we can hear some of these breaths.
(breathy singing) So you definitely heard some mouth noises at the beginning and in between these two sections, so I'm going to ahead and start cleaning those up. I'll be using the trimmer tool, and you just want to get this as close as possible. Now the question comes here, do we want to leave the breath in? Typically for first lines, I like to have the line just come in. With breaths, like anything else, it's really subjective, so some producers like to leave breaths in, depending on the song and the style of the song, you have freedom to remove all breaths if you want, or you might leave some in.
In the case of this song, I like to leave some of the breaths in if they sound musical, and some of them I'll take out, so it's, again, it's really subjective, it's up to your production style. In the case of this first breath, I'm going to remove it. Now when I remove a breath, I want to make sure I zoom super close in and I want to make sure I make a cross fade up to the actual line. You don't want to ever leave any region just without any kind of cross fade, so every edit you make will have a cross fade just to make sure there's no digital audio pops or clicks as the play head moves into that region.
So there's our first line. Now this second breath, let's see if we want to leave that. (upbeat music and singing) So to me, that sounds like a natural musical breath. It's not overly stated, it's not too loud. I'd probably leave that one in, and then here I can see, I've got a mouth noise coming up, so. (upbeat music and singing) Definitely want to get rid of that stuff, and then the question becomes, again, cross fade, so I'm using my quick key key commands.
That was just the button G to make a cross fade at the end of a region, you can always select and do command F to open up your cross fade to really finesse the fade itself. (upbeat music and singing) So again, that breath is a little heavy to me, so some breaths you might want to leave in, but you might just want to turn down, so if I make a selection here and type the B key to split this region off, I can use my clip gain tool just to lower the volume of the breath, and then it can become a little bit more musical.
I think you'll find that a lot of times in here, your breath sounds fine, but they're just a little heavy and if you want it to sound natural, you can keep the breath, but just turn it down a bit, so here we go. (upbeat music and singing) There we go, nice and musical. Again, same thing with this breath. It's a little heavy handed, we could just take it, just turn it down a little bit, and then I'll cross fade in and out of that section. (upbeat music and singing) Okay, so here is again the beginning of a new thought, the beginning of a new verse.
I'd probably just go ahead and get rid of all this stuff and just have the line of the first verse start out fresh without a breath in. Now some breaths, like the one coming up here. (upbeat music and singing) Okay, so the but make it quick, that's just a big breath, it's overly dramatic. We don't need that in there at all. We may want to reduce this, or let's see what it sounds like if we just remove it altogether. (upbeat music and singing) Okay, we'll leave that for now.
We might want to bring that back in later. The one I want to concentrate on for a second here is this breath here. (upbeat music and singing) So this breath sounds fine, it's not too loud, but it's not rhythmically very musical, so some breaths you may actually move in place, so if i just make a selection and type B, I can actually move this breath just a little bit ahead of the rhythm from where it is and also turn it down a little bit. See if you can just make it appear to be a little more natural than where it sits now.
Let's see if this works a little better. (upbeat music and singing) There we go, yeah, it's better moving, a little bit closer to the word. It was just a little out of place rhythmically and it kind of, to my mind, messed up the verse a little bit, so let's hear it. (upbeat music and singing) Pretty good, now we'll just turn it down a little bit more and I think it will sit in there a little better. (upbeat music and singing) So you want to go through your whole vocal and again, get rid of any mouth noises and work on the breaths, you might need to remove them completely, like I did to some of these, you might need to move them, turn them down.
The end result should sound natural and musical, whatever you end up with, as long as it's natural and musical sounding, that's where you want to be with your breaths. One other thing to think about as you're de-breathing is that you will ultimately be compressing this vocal. Most vocals need some amount of compression to sit them in the mix, and this tends to enhance breaths even more, so you might want to go a little bit further than you even think in terms of lowering the breaths here because compression will bring those out as you do your final mix.
So once we've done our final pass in terms of de-breathing or reducing the breath noise and mouth noise, your final comp track will look something like this. You'll have a lot of edits and a lot of cross fades. I want to show you a spot where there's another type of edit to be made. Over here, I have a marker showing me the letter P, which is telling me there's a P pop, or a plosive bump, right on the word pain, actually, in the verse. Let's take a listen so you can hear what I'm talking about. I'll actually solo the track and we can really identify what we're hearing here.
(singing) Okay, it seems innocent enough, but there is a low end bump right on the P of the word pain. Let's hear it again. (singing) Okay, so we want to clean that up because this is only going to get worse as we compress and EQ our vocal. So if I zoom way in on the wave form here, you can actually visually identify that there's a lot of low frequency right at the beginning of the syllable P, and I can see that because of the large wave form here.
So with this kind of P pop, it's actually really easy to just make a simple edit and get rid of all the low energy of the P while maintaining the consonant syllable P in a way that works a lot better, and it's simply as easy as just selecting the low frequency area here, just this big swooping wave form, which is the low energy, just getting rid of that, then over here, if I zoom in, I'm going to increase the wave form size a little bit, here I have the actual syllable of the P that we like, so I'm going to go ahead and just make an edit here, and I'll move this closer to the beginning of the phrase.
Now we're making micro edits here, so it shouldn't affect the performance too much, but it will clean up that low end bump we got at the beginning of the word. Now I'm going to back out our zoom, and let's take a listen, see if we've cleaned up that P problem. (singing) Much cleaner, again, that's going to work much better once we compress and you want to do that to any problem areas where you have a plosive like that. Just remove the low end area of the problematic section, very micro edit, but it will save you a lot in the end and make your vocals smooth and seamless to listen to.
So here's our final comp track edit. As you can see, there's a lot of cross fades and a lot of visible edits. When you listen through, you'll hear that I left some of the natural sounding breaths in and I removed everything else, including all mouth noise and popping or plosive sounds. These are the small details that are important to make your vocal production as accessible as possible to the listener. Let's take a listen to the first verse and really hear how the edit's working. (upbeat music and singing) Great.
Audio engineer Scott Hirsch starts with comping the vocals—combining the best performances into one final vocal master take. He explains how to edit out breaths and other noises and fabricate a doubling effect for additional texture and vibe, and then brings in some plugins into the mix—Antares Auto-Tune, Melodyne, and iZotope—to tune vocals and create more interesting soundscapes. In the "Mixing" chapter, Scott enhances the sound of the vocals with EQ, compression, reverb, delay, and automation, adding life and motion to the song. The final track demonstrates everything you can do to maximize the effectiveness of vocals with Pro Tools.
- Comping takes in Pro Tools
- Editing breaths and noise
- Doubling and tuning vocals
- Experimenting with iZotope's Stutter Edit
- Processing vocals with EQ and compression
- De-essing vocals
- Using reverb, delay, and modulation effects
- Automating levels and FX in Pro Tools