Recording long vocal takes is no mean feat. Coughs, sneezes, mumbling, stuttering, and background noise are just a few factors that can make or break your recordings. For this reason, multiple takes are essential to creating a clear and engaging listening experience.
Unless you are in the small percentage of people who can record a perfect hour-long episode on the first try, you will most likely find that your sessions consist of a selection of different takes needing to be stitched together.
The process of editing a variety of audio clips into a single episode may seem daunting to first-time producers – but it doesn’t have to be. Today we will be breaking down the crossfade, one of the most important tools for audio processing.
Table of Contents
What is Garage Band?
For this guide, we will be using Garage Band. This DAW is free and comes pre-installed with any computer running Mac OS. Don’t let the lack of a price tag fool you though, as Garage Band is an incredibly powerful DAW. The software itself is a stripped-back version of Logic Pro, Apple’s flagship Music Creation Suite, so the tracking and editing functionality is of a professional standard.
With up to 256 tracks available – each with compression, limiting, and EQ inserts, Garage Band is more than capable of handling your basic recording, editing, and processing needs. Obviously, the one downside is that this software is a Mac exclusive, but for those of you running Windows, we have a guide on ‘How to Cut & Move Audio in Audacity‘, another free DAW with comparable functionality.
What is a crossfade?
Fades and crossfades are essential to audio production as they offer seamless transitions from one audio file to another. The immediate advantage of this technique is that it allows you to record in sections, and also re-sequence your podcast to improve pacing. Another bonus is the ability to reuse audio files between episodes – which is especially useful if you have a fixed intro, outro, or a recurring sponsor segment.
A fade on a single track ensures the audio file stops with no sonic artifacts. If no fade is used and there is a sudden cut, the drop in level is perceived as a clicking sound. While this noise can be avoided by cutting at the zero-point of a waveform, using a fade allows you to cut wherever sounds best. Along with this, a fade gradually lowers the volume before stopping, creating a smoother transition to silence.
A crossfade is simply where a fade out of one track, fades into another (the automation looks like an X, hence the name). This technique is used in a variety of different situations to great effect. When switching between takes, a crossfade can smooth the change and create a seamless transition.
How to Cut in Garage Band
Before we get to crossfading, it is important we run through the basics of cutting. In the example below, we have an episode split between two takes. As you can see, the second take begins on the 7th bar, meaning it is at this point the first take must be cut.
While it seems obvious to cut as soon the moment the second take comes in, for the purpose of crossfading it is good practice to leave some amount of overlap, to allow the fades to gradually automate each take’s volume.
To cut at this point, you must first move the play head to where you intend to split (using the timeline below the bars). Once happy with the cut point, you can either right-click and press ‘Split at playhead’ or use the keyboard shortcut CMD T to cut, and then delete the excess audio.
In the example, we also need to clear a space for a sponsored segment. To do this we must find a sensible place to switch to the sponsor (in this instance it is in the second take). Instead of deleting the audio this time, we will be moving the second half of the take to the end of the segment (keeping an overlap for crossfades).
How to Crossfade in Garage Band
Now all the takes have been placed in the right order, it’s time to create the fades. Unlike Logic, which offers a simple drag-to-crossfade option, Garage Band fades are created using volume automation. With this in mind, you will need to head to ‘mix’ and select ‘show automation’ (or press A).
With automation view active, the next step is to zoom in to the point you want to crossfade and click on the volume line (which the automation should be set to by default). You will notice that clicking the grey line will turn it yellow and add a point, this point can be dragged to line up with the beginning and end of the overlapping tracks.
Next, you will need to click on the end of the first take and the start of the next, to create two more points. Drag these second points to the bottom of the track lane to -infinity dB. If your automation looks like the image below, congratulations you’ve just made your first crossfade!
Now you know the basics, be sure to listen to your fades. The overlap time may need to be longer or shorter depending on a variety of different factors, so it is up to you to listen and decide what sounds the best.
As you can see, all of our audio tracks now crossfade to create a seamless listening experience. To enhance the listening experience further, fades have been added to the intro and outro, to stop any sudden starts and stops at the start and end of the episode.
Remember that the most effective crossfade is one that is barely noticed, so try to time cuts and crossfades so they don’t muffle speech or start in the middle of a sentence for the best results. Another thing to consider is the volume of both takes, the transition may be more apparent if one takes is louder than the other, so make sure to match signal levels for maximum effect.
Hopefully, by following this tutorial you should be well on your way to producing the audio for your own podcast. Just remember that like recording, production is an art, and audio should be processed based on what you think sounds the best.
Different tones may require different approaches to crossfading. For example, a fast-paced episode may require quick transitions to maintain the energy of the spoken content. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, a longer fade may help convey a sense of drama or mood.
Regardless of the intended effect, volume automation is an incredibly versatile tool, and fades are just the tip of the iceberg of what you can achieve with an understanding of automation. Now that you’ve got to grips with this basic principle of editing it may be tempting to spend days pouring over every detail of the episode, however, over-editing may cause more problems than it fixes.
To find out the results of over-editing and how to avoid it, check out our article ‘How Long Should it Take to Edit a Podcast? Our Guide’.