Classical Editing Gone Crazy

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by DavidSpearritt, Jan 22, 2005.

  1. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    We are about to start a new CD project with a fantastic chamber group, where I know editing will be, again, a frustrating and time consuming process.

    Its not that classical musicians cannot play, they all are, generally, consummate live performers.

    Its that editing is now de rigueur for classical CD's and I find it the most onerous of all our work.

    What do others think about the excessive editing in classical music. We sometimes have hundreds in one project.

    Should we as producers and engineers, discourage it, put our hourly rates for editing up, how can we stop this juggernaut. These damn DAW's are so good at making inaudible edits in the most exposed places or in complicated phrases, the musicians now know what it can do and edit single notes.

    The musicians sometimes sit with me while I am editing, I think they are sort of turned on by making their playing perfect.

    What can we do about it?
  2. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    In a word "nothing"

    I do a lot of classical recording and editing and I know from personal experience that the number of splices has gone up exponentially in the last couple of years. I started off in tape editing and switched to DAW editing when I went into digital recording. I think part of the problem is, as you stated, that note by note editing has become part of the classical music "scene". We can do edits today, that a couple of years ago would have only been possible with some fancy razor blade work or impossible to do at all. When the performers see and hear what we can do they started thinking that was the "norm" . (just recently I had a violinist ask if I could raise the pitch of one note in a fast run since it was " a tiny bit flat and it was the best I ever played it")

    I recorded a chamber music group a year ago. That recording needed, IMHO, only a few splices to make it sound really good but the producer, who also did the editing, did over 2000 splices in the CD before I mastered it. When I questioned him about it he told me that he did the splices we had originally discussed which amounted to about 20 splices. He made copies of the edited material and gave them to the players. He then started receiving "requests" from the members of the chamber group for small changes "just a few splices to make it FLOW better" and after doing those "small changes" he again send out the CDs to the group and got more "small requests for changes" which he did and finally wound up with 2000 edits. He finally said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and sent the material to me for mastering WITHOUT sending copies out to the whole group. He was paying for the whole recording so he had enough clout to end the editing but if he did not I am reasonably sure he would still be doing "minor changes".

    None of the splices after the original 20 really made a BIG difference but were done, IMHO, for vanity purposes to please the musicians sense of what "sounded" correct to them and so none of their colleagues would listen to the CD and question anything.

    The original playing and recording were very well done and the music sounded alive and was entertaining to listen to. After the splices the recording still sounded fine but now with all the splices the music sounded "too" perfect and sounded more like it was played by a very good sequencer instead of by live musicians.

    Having recorded well over 2000 live concerts I can tell you that the feeling one gets from a live concert recording is much different from the recording done with no audience and lots of splices. I hope musicians are aware of this as well and will be more willing to record live performances and put them out on CDs but in this techno/post STAR WARS age I rather doubt this will be the direction taken.

    Good post and a good subject to question.
  3. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    WOW, what a fantastic topic, one that's been right in front of all of us; I'm surprised no one's mentioned it yet!

    IMHO, it's a blessing and a curse. But the trick is to manage it all properly. (Good luck! :) ) There's a part of me (and many others here, I'm sure) that enjoys taking things apart and putting them back together again, so the whole process of editing comes naturally to me. But there are limits, both artistic and practical, and there certainly comes a time when you've gotta say: "Enough is ENOUGH, folks!"

    This very genre is about "Live" (acoustic) Music, so it's always a lofty goal to keep it that way, yet the tools we now have in even the most basic editing systems are amazing, and just about any kind of repair is possible, esp if you have an alternate take.

    My clients are all over the road on this one; some are anal-rententive nightmares, while others feel like it's "live" and therefore shouldn't be tampered with much, beyond the basic trimmings for tunings, lulls and applause. Some leave it up to me, and still some others go CRAZY with minutia. (sp?)

    Here's how I try to handle things for the various packages I offer clients:

    1. Mixing and editing for the initial Master is done at our discretion, unless another agreement is set in place.
    2. Editing is done at the hourly rate.
    3. Re-editing is done at the hourly rate.
    4. ONE person should be the designated spokesman, hopefully the artistic director or the composer. (My space doesn't allow much more than three people - including myself - to attend the editing sessions.)

    In most cases, I offer the client a temp CDr from the session or concert, and STRONGLY urge them to do their homework ahead of time, before coming in for the edit session. Make your cuts/changes based on the track #s and timings on the CD, and mark your score if you like, too. (MAKE A LIST, people! ;-) )

    When they start checking the clock, they realize this is a good thing: they quickly figure out what's worth fixing, and what isn't; what is "liveable" and what can't go out as-is. I always tell them: You have the choice to sit with ME, holding your hand at the hourly rate while you go over this in real time, or you can do it on your own, with headphones or whatever, and THEN come in to edit. (And bring your notes and the SCORE, too!)

    One very good regular client (choral director) now usually just sends me his "Wish list" from the rehearsal and concert, with any other instructions needed, and he lets me go my way with it. After that, I send him a temp, or if it's short enough, sometimes just email an MP3. (I wish many of my clients were this together!)

    But we all get fooled from time to time.

    One scenario I've seen is what I'll call the "sight-reading pro who's got 'em all fooled." This isn't picking on a good player who's not practiced a piece, it's just life in the fast lane for some who dash from session to session, concert to concert. In several instances, I've had tremendously talened "pros" hired to record "new" (difficult!) classical/original music, and they have a neat little trick they do when under pressure: They tend to play things a phrase or a line at a time, rarely having a vision for the entire movement. It's subtle as hell, but it's there if you look/listen closely. THESE people then want to edit it all more tightly together, and make it cohesive that way. (Results are marginal, IMHO). I've had the composer on hand as well, from time to time, and they pick up on it fairly quickly. How seriously this happens also depends on how much $$ they set aside for rehearsals, too! ;-)

    One time, two of these "sight-readers" where in charge of the edit, and we did HUNDREDS of cuts and rebuilds for a 30 minute work. They didn't bat an eye, budgeted all the editing time in their grant $$, and thanked me profusely for putting up with them. I hated the nonsense of it all; the pieces were entirely "Manufactured" from segments and wasn't what "I" call real music, but they were happy, and their check cleared the bank.

    Another scenario is the "Composer-who's-trying-to-RE-Perfom-their-work" syndrome. I'm sure you've seen this: the person wants to tighten up a pause here, replace a phrase there and (now my least favorite) CHANGE THE TEMPO of a phrase or (even worse) an entire movement. Some of them want retards added, or false accellerandos created too. Very often I'm pulling out every trick in the book (ambience beds, reverb tails, pitch change, etc.) It can make you crazy with some of these people!

    Choral directors have it tough, too, esp editing a capella works that go up or down in pitch within even a single movement. (Of course, with "elastic audio" plug-ins now, this too can be worked around!)

    But this can all be viewed as "Time is money" if you set it up right, in the first place. I was always the one "giving it away" too many times, till it got so bad I was hating life itself, and even worse, HATING to sit down at the console in front of the computer to edit. THAT"S when you know you need a break and a better production agreement. My helper (a young and agressive 24 year old) likes to gently remind me (when the client isn't around): "Are they PAYING for all of this?" He's got a good point, but as we all know in this busines, sometimes you MUST go the extra mile to fix something that's got to be done properly, $$$ or not, esp if your name is going to be on it.

    Occasionally, I will get jammed up in a session that's part of a package, and (duh, surprise!) this is often a situation where the client is really milking the situation and taking advantage of my good nature. (This is where a good production agreement comes in handy, otherwise, SOMEONE gets very cranky! Hahahaha...)

    But I must ad that the post-production - the mixing, editing & mastering - is always fascinating to me, something I enjoy very very much. I'm as emotional/passionate about music as anyone, so if I am in agreement of the artistic merits of the edits, I'm fine. If, on the other hand, the music/performance is crap (and the money & time is getting tight), then the alarm bells start going off in my head, I squirm in my seat, and life sucks big time. Sometimes even the $ doesn't matter.

    The workflow is the key; from the temp CDs, to the clients' own personal/musical EDLs that they bring in to the session all help make it go smoothly, to the software you use, and finally your actual workspace.

    I've avoided saying it till now, but Samp/Sequoia makes editing a real joy. (Here I go again!) It's really fast, all object based, completely un-doable, and downright FUN to use. The clients always get a kick out of it, as well. I work VERY VERY quickly, (often with a pen-pad instead of a mouse) and they know I'm not trying to waste their time. I need a drool bucket over on their side of the mix area, they are often so STUNNED at what we can fix; mouths hanging open, or yelps of joy. (Which in turn leads to more $$$ and more editing time, if they want to REALLY go nuts....hehehe)

    Probably the worst stuff is a-tonal music, things where you can only tell what's going on with the score, and not your ear. I find that the most upsetting stuff to work with; I read music as well as "hear" it, so the best sessions for me are when I am using both parts of my brain. When it's only mechanical stuff, without an emtional connection, I'm working way too hard, and those alarm bells keep going off...
  4. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    JoeH, you know what I am talking about.

    Yeah, we always make them a "TakeCD" and they must prepare an edit list. This saves a huge amount of time and puts the onus on the artist or producer (this is another topic) to carry the can, as it were.

    I refuse to do some of these, REFUSE. We tend to not allow the session to continue unless we have decent takes of any piece from the perspective of tempo, or pitch. We often play a previous take back to the group through the little talkback tannoy in the hall, to help them continue the same tempo, this is always fun. Pitch and tempo bending is out unless its an extreme last resort emergency, then I think we would put a disclaimer on the cover. "Warning pitch bending was requested by the client, against good advice." This is why I lurv live concert recording the best of all.

    Well I largely agree, although I dislike editing almost always, trolling through the marked up score, inserting all the takes, fixing bars and notes here and there, I'd rather do something else. Mastering is fun and very rewarding.

    I love my DAW as well (Wavelab 5), the way it works, its speed and accuracy. This has never been a problem. File management and backup is a little more annoying, although its just housekeeping. Do you have clients that come around and make a fourth and fifth change and then say they prefer the second version. I store all edit lists into different directories named as ISO dates, YYYYMMDD, so they sort chronologically on the drive and I can revert to previous versions easily. When the cliient says, "Can we use the one we did on Monday evening", I can say sure, what date was that, etc.

    Thanks for your take on this JoeH and TOM, it is a big part of what we do.
  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Hmmm.... Are you saying you have a paying client that is asking you to do DSP repairs on HIS/HER recording, according to their artistic vision and you say no? Ok....

    I mean, sure, there's artistic integrity, and flat out "live" performances captured solely "as is", esp if they're represented as such. But then, there are also "projects" that involve sessions or live performances that are blended together to make a "perfect" or ideal artifact, or composite.

    One of the composers I referred to (who shall remain nameless) is in his 80s, has fought (and beaten) cancer, has limited practical time left in his profession at all, and still has the means to pay the orchestra, myself and his support staff to record, edit and archive what reamins of his life's work. Budgets being what they are, he's not able to pay for endless retakes or multiple nights for a 75 piece orchestra with choir. So, we work with the best he's got, and create an idealized "perfect" version of what he envisioned. I don't have a problem with that; it's HIS music, HIS vision, and HIS money. A disclaimer would be an embarassment and not necessary in this case. (I also think it's more of the opposite nowadays: NOBODY CARES anymore; everyone assumes just about everything has been altered or edited. With a totally pure recording, I might be tempted to put a disclaimer that NOTHING has been altered, instead! ;-) )

    But of course, the line between acceptable and not blurs more all the time, as our tools improve.

    For example, suburban choirs who aren't nec. full time professional singing groups are certainly entitled to sell their product for fundraising and the like at Christmastime, or online, and they're certainly entitled to sound the best they can, esp if this stuff is also cleared for radio airplay. Since the very concept of editing began, the ongoing problem of pitch drop (or raising) in a capella singing has plagued anyone doing tricky music that may involve editing. In choral session work, the music director may even do things one line or one verse at a time, just to maintain pitch (esp if they're aware of the editing side of it all). With the "Elastic Audio"
    plug-in (Pyramix? and Sequoia), this problem is effectively solved, at least for live performances that don't have a second or third take to choose from. Hard to say if this is so wrong, at least when one is building the "Perfect Beast", taking segments from rehearsals, performances, or just simply "Tweaked" with DSP to match it all up. (It's still THEM performing, as well...) .

    I admit it's a very fine line between being a purist and a whore, and I'm not casting any aspersions here. (I would definitely fall on the "whore" side, as such). Many times, these are NOT my decisions to make, just as the editor alone.

    I don't know how I'd survive financially if I refused to do edits that paying clients are asking for. (Of course, there are limits - technological, etc - that sometimes make the call for me.) And of course, there are times when someone is asking for something COMPLETELY unethical (editing someone ELSE's performance withoiut permission, etc.)

    All of this, of course can be decided ahead of time with a clear production agreement (which i'll probably put in another post), and those are the kinds of things that clearly define who's responsible for what. THAT sounds persnickety, alright! (Are these people PAYING for all this, or are they just yanking your chain with indecision?) I do similar file saving as you describe. I usually call my EDLs (VIPs) things like V1, V2, V3, etc., and double check the days they were created if in doubt later.

    Don't get me wrong, there are always times when i get my butt in a sling and REALLY get beaten up by a client taking advantage of a loophole or max-out the time we have available, and eventually we have to reign the damn thing in and wrap it up. (Out of fuel, and time to land the plane!)

    Of course, if you're the one SOLELY in charge of a production from top to bottom, I guess you've got every right to make the call on what's acceptable and what isn't. But a good bedside manner helps giving our clients what they need, and coming back for more. Working in a large city as I do and knowing there's always someone out there scheming to eat my lunch, I don't feel it's my place to tell anyone "NO" - within reason, of course.
  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I think I fall squarely between David and Joe on this one.

    While I try to accomodate as much as I can, there are lines and often, I'm the one drawing them.

    I try to communicate up front the limitations of both the digital system as well as what my personal limitations are. So far, I haven't lost any sales or clients over this. Often, they're rather pleased to know that I am familiar enough with editing that I have a list of what I will and won't do.

    Of course, there's always those really persistent people that, in my opinion, try to "polish a turd" with judicious (or not) edits. I make it real clear up front when I'm encountering a situation like this, that they will be paying for excessive edits in the name of "edit time."

    One thing I don't do - pitch shifting of individual notes. It's one thing if it's a vocal overdub or even some instrumental overdubs, but trying to surgically enhance a single note in a recording is absurd and I won't do it. I'll splice all day long, but to me, editing the natural wave is clearly audible and introduces numerous problems.

    So far, like I said, no money lost over this. (Knock on wood.)

  7. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Ha, yeah, know this one well. What do you say to these people? Its very difficult. You keep retaking and they keep singing flat, with the piano or orchestra so pitch bending is out. :roll:

    Yes, I agree, and its usually impossible for anything other than a solo instrument. I have only done this with solo piano, and guitar.

    We have been known to apply, ahem... a very small amount of pitch bending to unaccompanied choral items when the pitch flags over the last verse or half of a piece. Especially when you have to join it to verse 2, that you did a fresh start on. I think this has prevented a full face wince in the listener a few times. Happens a lot with school stuff, mainly, ie. not one of my favourite gigs.
  8. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    <<One thing I don't do - pitch shifting of individual notes. It's one thing if it's a vocal overdub or even some instrumental overdubs, but trying to surgically enhance a single note in a recording is absurd and I won't do it. I'll splice all day long, but to me, editing the natural wave is clearly audible and introduces numerous problems. >>

    Well ok, but wait until you try "Elastic Audio" in Sequoia V8. (I'm not sayin', I'm JUST sayin.... ;-) )

    I think every case is different, and it's rare anyway to fix a pitch for a single note, but it does happen here occasionally. Hopefully, we've just got a better take to choose from. (esp a violin part, or muffed note from a recorder, singer, etc.) I DO get cranky when they go past "artistic" and veer off into just plain annoying and STUPID.

    I did have a bizarre situation (with the same composer I referred to up above on this very thread) who had ONE take of an a capella group (6 voices) performing one of his Latin motets. Seems the lone tenor had sung one note a 1/2 step flat, making it a minor chord instead of major. This "problem" really stuck in his craw, although no one, (and I mean NO ONE) would have known the difference without the score. I initally said: "no way; I can't isolate one note out of a chord like that, and I don't have a second take."

    But the more we listened to it, the more the wrong (flat) note sounded like one pure sine wave, almost fundamental alone (it was an open "o" vowel sound, in a fairly quick eighth note passage by a tenor). Just for the sake of argument, I told him I'd give it a shot. (this was not a deal-breaker situation, we were fully accepting the fact that it couldn't be fixed at that point.)

    I opened the phrase (Object) in Sequoia's FFT viewer, and with the highest resolution setting literally found the "wrong" pitch and drew it out with the pencil tool. Without the flat (minor) third of the triad, I now had an "open" chord (root, fifth, octave) sung by the rest, without the tenor's fundamental pitch. (Extremely rare that it was this clean, I admit.)

    I then had him sing the correct pitch/vowel into a nearby VO mic I have in the studio, and imported that as a steady tone. Gently shaving the in and out of the note/object to fit the time window (remember, there was no "hole" in the clip we're editing INTO, it was just an open fifth now, with no fundamental note for the "Wrong" pitch) so i was able to blend the new pitch into the phrase, on a separate track, add a little bit of room sim, and voila; the repaired section was now a MAJOR chord, instead of minor.

    Personally, I felt the whole thing flies by so fast it hardly matters, but it made him (The composer) VERY happy. To his mind, he said that major chord was like the SUN coming out emotionally, at that point in his score. (Who was I to argue?) And technically, this was just an overdub, not a pitch-shift fix. We were just able to add the CORRECT pitch over the whole where the wrong one was removed.

    But still, the line continues to blurr about what is OK and what isn't. Many of our clients today are young and OK with technology - to a point. They're not like the purists of the old days - people who'd never do anything to a performance. Even audition tapes and grant submissions are all edited. The attitude of most is: Everyone ELSE is doing it, why should I be left out of a possible position in a great school if I don't submit a note for note perfect demo?

    Of course, this will still only get you so far, eventually they must deliver the goods in person, onstage, and most high brow schools now want a VIDEO of you playing as well as the audio, so they can SEE it wasn't faked....pretty good idea, actually.)
  9. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I recorded a lot of really weird music in my day. Things we use to call "whistle fart" (new or contemporary) music that was all over the place in terms of how sounds were produced, tempo, pitch and dynamics. It was fun to record but a BEAR to edit since it was almost all one off recordings that were never played the same way twice. I also did a lot of Baroque ensemble recordings that were great to do. One harpsichordist I worked with was a phenomenal player but he never played the ornamentations the same way twice. His stuff was really hard to edit. I had a jazz pianist who never was on tempo and every take was one a one shot and we were never able to edit takes together (he also like to sing along with his playing but NEVER in tune) . I also worked with a vocalist that could glissando though the pitch but never seemed to be on it. She was always flat or sharp but never on the pitch. These are the people that want and NEED editing to get them to sound somewhat like they know what they are doing. It takes a really great engineer with good ears to be able to do the editing and SFX that some musicians want done today. I look at it as a challenge. I wish people understood that to do the types of things they are asking for takes time and therefore money. They watch too much TV and see the lab techs on CSI doing things with audio at the push of a button and think that must be the way it is done. I watched on episode recently were the lab tech had a tape with noise on it and he was simply pushing a button to get rid of unwanted sounds."I'll get rid of the background noise" he says "and then the cars going by and the rain storm outside" all by pushing one button. Nice system if it would work that way I have to find out what it is so I can get one since we do a lot of restoration but I doubt it exists in the "real world"
  10. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I think I've seen that CSI, Tom.....there's a similar one in L&O SVU where they isolate the sound of a boat or a train from a noisy cell phone call or something ridiculous (So they can hear where the victim was calling from....?) At least they show onscreen DAWs now; reel to reel tapes and graphic EQ's were once the tools of the gumshoes in older crime shows.

    My other favorite one is "cleaning up the pixels" in a really bad photo, and then hitting "Sharpen" or some nonsense to get a license plate or enhance a face or something. (I'm usually out of my seat and screaming at the TV about that point.) They must know people have gotten fed up with that trick, because in one of those shows, the lab tech actually said: "I have some new software from NASA we can try, maybe we can fix the image THAT way..." Gaaaaaad..... :evil:
  11. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    My attitude towards editing is that I'll do anything that the client pays me to do... If I don't like it on musical grounds, I will certainly let them know, but in the end it is their product- not mine.

    The key to a successful edit session is a good recording session and good production. The times that editing gets crazy are when everything isn't covered. I find this most often in concert recordings as there is only one place to edit from. That means that tricks like slicing attacks to clean up chipped notes and bad ensemble are often used.

    I also will get projects that are recorded by the client and brought to me to edit. At that point, I do the best I can and give them a bill at the end. I had one client that completely changed her mind every week on her interpretation. Add to that the fact that this recording was horrible in every sense of the the word- sound changed from day to day (different mic positions), sound was unfocused, performance was abismal... What should have been a $300 basic edit job turned in to $3000 in work. I told her at the end of every day that she should seriously consider the project done, but she always wanted to fix more... Hey, I had a good Christmas that year. :D Swallowed my pride and cashed the checks.

    Projects with hundreds of edits are not uncommon. I personally like the flow with fewer edits, but in the day and age where recording reviews in the audiophile press focus on missed notes, it is easy to understand why the industry has gone this way.

  12. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Ben, your fickle client reminded me of a very talented (and very neurotic) local actress who hired us to edit her "talent reel" for future work.

    She had a TON of stuff, some of it actually usable, and plenty to pick from. We suggested 15 minutes of her best stuff, on DVD with chapter points and easily navigable items to view from the main menu, so she could use it for a variety of auditions. She of course had other ideas....

    Against our advice (and her agents) she had us edit her clips (over and over and over again) until we had something that would have triggered a seizure in an epileptic - some of it was mere SECONDS of disjointed products and spokes-person babble. It was a 3 minute NIGHTMARE of stuff, screaming past you at warp speed, leaving you totally confused as to who she was and what she was good at.

    Of course this took forever, with endless revisions, and she kept ignoring my warnings about the cost. It all boiled over the day she accused us of (get this!) foot-dragging to drive up the cost. I got her final payment, and gave her ALL the materials (Master, dubs, edits, etc.) and showed her the door as fast as I could.

    Haven't heard from her since. Thank GOD.
  13. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I am with Ben on this. I am providing a service, not a musician counseling agency. I will certainly give a musical opiinion on the direction (pointing out that it is against my financial interests) and then smile inwardly as the cloeck ticks out the dollars.

    For those who attend editing sessions they can see that things are going faster than they expected. For those that don't they often do not understand the factors that determine whether an edit is technically possible-- never mind the musical issues.

    I recently had the displeasure of recording a very good string quartet for a label that declared that after several hundred edits it was ready for release. The group disagreed and then had me hand it off to another editor. Lost $$ but retained sanity.

    It also has a lot to do with the repertiore. The work in question was the Ives 2nd quartet, which actually CAN withstand the edit-per-measure approach (whcih was actually exceeded by a clear margin).

    In a musical world where most listeners are listening in the car, the integrity of the phrase is a forgotten concept. Now it's "ZERO DEFECTS."


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