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Editing Song Tracks in Your DAW

Editing: the crucial step you don’t want to skip before you start mixing your songs… a few minutes saves hours of frustrated mixing or another trashed song!
Editing Song Tracks in Your DAW to save mixing time later

Table of Contents

In this article, you’ll learn the first step in the mixing phase, editing your tracks.

Once you’ve recorded the vocals and instrumental track for your song in your DAW, it’s time to start mixing your tracks to create a song you can release. You desperately want to start turning virtual knobs and moving faders to pull the mix together, but you need to clean up your tracks first, otherwise you’ll waste time mixing “broken” tracks. A few minutes now saves endless remixing later…

Remember back when you were first learning how to write a song… remember how you felt when you wrote a song you thought would be great but you got frustrated and tossed it in the garbage. Yes, you’ll be making the same mistake in a new way if you try skipping the simple, basic editing I’ll show you in this article. Please don’t skip this!

Editing is Choosing the Best Takes…

Making sure they flow together smoothly and cleaning up any problems so you’re ready to mix. Trying to skip the editing phase usually gets you an embarrassing mix that you’ll want to delete. 

Below the video lesson is a summary of the strategies, with bonus ideas and links to other songwriting resources to improve your songwriting!

The Golden Rule of Editing…

Record tracks that need the least amount of editing possible. While you can fix some recording problems in the mix, it takes more time and energy than recording the track again.

Get the recording right in the first place and everything is easier afterwards!

The cleaner your recordings, the easier it is to mix your song tracks!

Edit Your Songs before your Start Mixing to save time and get a better mix

Editing Track Workflow

  • Audition tracks to find the best takes (and partial takes)
  • Adjust the crossfades to hide transitions between tracks
  • Eliminate Noises
  • Trim the beginning and end of each track
  • Set markers at the start and end of the song

Picking the Best Takes in Each Track

Audition the tracks to find the best take… the fewer tracks you record, the faster and easier this is. While you’re recording tracks, Delete any tracks that you know are substandard during the recording phase!

SOLO: the number one reason  your DAW isn’t playing what you think it should… a track is on solo.

You can SOLO several tracks to hear them at the same time (but not tracks that aren’t soloed)

If you hear nothing, check you haven’t soloed a track that’s muted (yellow M and green S = the sound of silence)

Solo a track and listen:

How to solo a track in Cakewalk DAW
How to Solo a Track: the green S means the track is soloed, you won’t hear other tracks that aren’t soloed too.

Bonus Tip:

You can also solo a take lane… letting you hear everything in that lane, even if you’ve selected a different take with the comping tool.

Solo a take lane to hear everything in it even if you've selected parts from other take lanes, Cakewalk DAW
Soloing a Take Lane… so you can hear a phrase without changing your selections with the comping tool. In this screenshot, you can listen to take lane 2 (even though take 2 is selected for parts of the first verse)

I start editing instrumental tracks first, usually in the order I recorded them. This example was deliberately kept simple to make it easier for you to follow and copy on your own.

Vocals usually take the most time, so I save them for last.

Auditioning Takes: Which Take Do I Choose?

When I’m selecting the best take, I listen for the best:

  • Emotional performance
  • Phrasing
  • Timing
  • Tuning
  • Tone

There’s no magic formula, great emotion can still be spoiled by bad timing. Use your ears. If you’re not happy with what you have, re-record the track instead of wasting time trying to fix it.

Be especially picky with vocal tracks, these are where your audience will notice the flaws. I’m working on vowel sounds, keeping them clean and clear, and phrase endings. Think about your own vocals and what strengths and problems to listen for….

Crossfades on Tracks

To fix a problem adjust the transition point and/or the cross fade. To fix the guitar transition, in the video, I adjusted when the change between takes happened. You can also overlap the takes slightly and adjust the crossfade (crossfade = one part fades out while the other fades in… adjusting how quickly a cross fade happens can hide a transition problem)

Comping Your Song Tracks

Most people hear vocals before anything else, so it’s important that the vocal part(s) are strong. Fortunately, there are usually more breaks in a vocal part (breathing is important) so it’s generally easier to comp (composition) several takes together, as I demonstrated in the first verse of the song. Manually adjusting crossfades isn’t always necessary. If you find you’re having to do it often, you can adjust the defaults to make it faster. 

Selecting Crossfade options so you don't have to change them manually later
Setting the Crossfade Options so you don’t have to manually change them later.

Comping vocals is usually the most time consuming for me. I can quickly get confused about which phrase is best in which take. I’ve tried writing on the lyrics sheet, selecting every line and deleting line I know I won’t pick, and several other things that didn’t really help. 

The best thing to do is record it right the first time and keep your take count as low as possible!

The Vocal Takes for Exotic Bean

Select the best parts of each vocal take to "comp" a final version
All vocal takes in the song

The Vocal and Instrumental Takes for Exotic Bean 

All takes from this session, comped and ready to mix
All Selected Guitar and Vocal Takes

Trimming the Tracks

Add fade outs to the Endings (and beginnings of tracks)

Find and Eliminate Noises

Listen for background noise in any tracks, especially in tracks you’ve recorded with a microphone. Delete that spot or temporarily drop the volume to hide it.

Editing is a Necessary Step to Clean Up Your Song Tracks!

Just as you trim extra lines and improve parts in your songwriting, you need to take some time to clean up the tracks in your DAW before you start mixing them.

There are so many decisions to make when you’re making a home recording, it’s best to finalize decisions quickly. 

Edit and clean up your tracks now, before mixing, so you can focus on improving (instead of fixing) the tracks and how they fit together.

Imagine creating a jigsaw puzzle. You’ve created a picture (the song you’ve written and how you perform it) and cut the pieces (the tracks). Until you polish the tracks by editing them in your DAW, they won’t fit together easily. Once they’re sanded and polished, the pieces will slide together. If you don’t, you’ll waste time trying to smash them together before dropping them in the trash and telling everyone that you don’t have the talent or skills to record your own songs!

Do it the right way the first time, and don’t give up as you continue on your home recording journey!

Your Next Steps to Mix Your Song:

Your Next Steps after editing your tracks, mixing with EQ (equalization), mixing with compression, mixing with reverb

The next three lessons will help you mix your song, using:

1. EQ (equalization),

2. Compression, and

3. Reverb

Leave a comment to help other songwriters:

What’s your best takeaway from this article?

More from the Singer Songwriter’s Ultimate Guide to Home Recording

How to Improve Your Songwriting:

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff has taught, played and written music professionally for the last 25+ years.
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