Hard Truths: Everyone Edits Their Takes

Welcome to Hard Truths, the series on the LANDR Blog where we cut through the noise and take on a harsh reality from the world of music production. This is the advice you might not want to hear—but will make you a better producer. 

Modern music production is an art form.

The techniques that today’s engineers and producers use to create the songs you love are highly advanced.

But despite all the fancy technology, a well-produced track still sounds like a unified musical event. It’s a compelling illusion.

We’d love to believe that our favourite artists belted out their finished vocal in a single take, or that their raw instrument tracks just sounded perfect and punchy right away.

I’m not saying it can’t happen that way. But the reality is that most of what you hear in a commercial recording is the result of a ton of engineering work behind the scenes.

Here’s my hard truth for today: “studio trickery” isn’t about faking it—it’s important mixing and engineering work that requires skill and finesse just like any other part of the life cycle of a song.

Studio tricks?

Sometimes it seems like modern production tools are sucking the life out of music.

But DAW manufacturers and plugin designers didn’t develop their products to make music less authentic.

They were responding to the actual needs of real engineers on the frontlines of music creation.

Every technique that gets a bad reputation for “ruining music” has legitimate uses.

Every technique that gets a bad reputation for “ruining music” has legitimate uses.

I’ll go through a few common techniques that are often called studio trickery and explain why they’re good for music on the whole.

Vocal production

There’s no formula for a hit. But if there’s any common thread in the popular music of the last few decades, it’s vocals.

Big, bold, commanding and perfect sounding vocals.

Vocals are the main way listeners connect to the emotional content of a song.

It makes sense. The singer’s tone, delivery and lyrics are the human element in most productions.

As recording techniques evolved, producers naturally tried to find better, more reliable ways to make vocals sound good.

Getting a great vocal track in the studio is surprisingly challenging. Anyone who’s ever recorded themselves singing knows that a lot has to go right to capture your best performance.

Anyone who’s ever recorded themselves singing knows that a lot has to go right to capture your best performance.

With so much on the line, any techniques that can help you get that perfect take are highly valuable. I’m talking about tricks like vocal comping, pitch correction and manual timing edits.

As artificial as these processes may sound, the end result is a more musical performance if you use them well.

A take with the perfect vibe might be unusable because of one small mistake. Vocal tracking can be so variable that getting the same feel twice isn’t possible.

Why settle for a take with less emotional impact? If you’re willing to dive in and edit you don’t have to.

It’s not “cheating.” It’s just using your tools to make the song better.

Do you think the pros miss out on this opportunity to improve their tracks? No chance.

Almost every vocal you’ll ever hear from a pro mix engineer has had the same kind of attention paid to it in the editing phase.

Drum production

Rhythm is another massive pillar of your mix.

If the groove doesn’t punch, your track won’t have the rhythmic drive to keep listeners interested.

That’s why percussion is another crucial area where studio trickery often comes into play.

For example, capturing the sound of a live drum kit is one of the biggest challenges in recording.

Maybe you didn’t choose the right microphone or position it properly when you tracked.

Or perhaps the issue is with the performance. Many drummers aren’t used to the extra challenge of playing accurately to a metronome in the studio.

For the first problem, there’s a common fix—drum sample replacement.
Just use a drum replacement plugin to blend or replace each hit with the perfect punchy sample.

Some may call it cheating, but the truth is that crafting a compelling drum sound this way isn’t easy.

It’s still an achievement to get a great sound that works well in the mix using this technique. The same goes for tightening up drum performances using slicing or warping.

Making these changes transparently and musically is a skill that takes practice to learn. And that’s part of the reason they’re so often attacked.

The most glaring examples of bad editing get the most attention. When they’re used well, these techniques are practically invisible.

The best producers know when a few edits here and there can enhance a track. They also know how to stop before going too far.

The best producers know when a few edits here and there can enhance a track. They also know how to stop before going too far.

The key is to keep your musical intuition sharp and stay focused on how what you’re doing serves the song.

Tricks of the trade

The sound of every era in music is defined by the tools and techniques engineers had access to at the time.

Modern production styles are no different.

If some tool or process really doesn’t add any value for engineers, it falls out of favor. But there are plenty of controversial production techniques that look like they’re here to stay.

Drum editing, sample replacement, vocal comping and tuning are too valuable and practical to avoid for the sake of authenticity.

No matter what your position is on the state of modern music, using these tools well and musically is an important part of becoming a better producer.

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