While there are some artists that are vehemently opposed to any editing of their performance, most want you as an engineer to make them sound as good as possible. In many cases, this will include fixing little timing issues. Ableton offers up 2 different modes, audio editing and warping. This post looks at when you might want to use one method vs. the other.
There are two choices when it comes to fixing timing in Ableton: editing and warping. With editing, you are cutting the audio track apart, and pasting it back together in time. Engineers have been doing this as long as they’ve had magnetic tape to work with (they physically cut the tape with a razor blade and used adhesive tape to put it back together). The benefit of this method is that the audio performance is exactly the same, just shifted on the timeline. The downsides are that it’s time consuming to “pocket” all the audio if there is a lot to fix, and some things are impossible (or at least very difficult) to fix. For example, if you want to fix timing on a word that drags out over a long melodic phrase.
The modern way to fix timing is warping. Warping uses a software algorithm to stretch and render new audio to fit user-defined timing. Generally a user will define anchor points and then drag the audio around within anchor points to set timing. The benefits are that it’s extremely easy to do, and you can adjust almost everything. The downside is that it’s a software rendition of the original performance so some fidelity is lost. In some situations where audio is stretched an extreme amount, the loss of quality is readily apparent.
So when should you use each? As usual, I’d like to first state that there are no hard rules, you should figure out what works best for you. There are, however, situations that generally call for one method over another. When fixing timing issues with drums, I would suggest editing the audio over warping. Editing will keep the pitch and impact of the original audio, and since the hits are short, it lends itself to clean edits. For working with melodic instruments, such as guitars, bass and vocals, I would edit as much as I could between phrases, and then use warping for detailed pitched audio phrases. For example, a guitar note that is played legato with the note before and rings out would be hard to edit. That’s a good place to warp instead.
On an interesting side note, Reaper seems to have a pretty effective system for pocketing audio. You can move audio portions of a track around as if they are being warped, but they are actually just being edited, with extra space added or removed when needed. Of course, it doesn’t stretch the audio if that’s what you need, but It’s a pretty nifty time saver for edits.