How to Trim a Song – A Quick Tutorial

Like everything in life, the more you put into mixing, the more you’ll get out. One aspect of mixing which many of us either don’t think about or simply don’t do is song trimming. Trimming the audio clips of a song saves processing power and cleans up your audio, so let’s cover how to trim a song.

What is Song Trimming

Song trimming refers to any kind of editing to either a complete rendered down mix file like a WAV or AIFF, or the audio clips of the mix themselves on a mix level.

Trimming is important to do in said mixing level with regards to the audio clips themselves as this yields a clean mix by removing unwanted audio so that you’re only keeping the audio you want.

This is especially important when you’re using a pretty common type of processing like compression which can inadvertently bring up unwanted and otherwise quiet parts of the audio via makeup gain.

And while you might not be able to hear the unwanted bits of audio during busier parts of the mix with everything else playing, add this up over a number of tracks and you’ve got another source of noise which can add to the mix mud of the song.

How to Trim a Song

Trimming a song essentially boils down to dealing with the outside and inside of the audio clips.

How to Trim a Song

Step 1 – Trim Outside

First, we want to trim the dead air at the beginning and end of our clips. This applies on the mastering or song trimming level as well as the mixing level.

I’ll get a lot of mixes for mastering via with a ton of empty space on the mix leading up to the audio itself or on the fadeout or even after the fadeout.

On a mixing level when working with hundreds of audio clips, the dead space surrounding the audio itself needs to be trimmed, as well.

When we’re recording, we typically spend zero time setting up the perfect start time for a clip. Instead we’ll hit record with some kind of lead in to get ready to track the take. Oftentimes this will even mean multiple takes will be insulating the actual final take.

During this lead in, the microphone or recording hardware can pick up all kinds of unwanted sounds which is why we need to cut everything immediately before the first and last notes of the performance on the clip.

In the case of vocals, I like to cut to the millisecond before the vocal breath.

clip trimming

I put together an entire guide on how to remove vocal breaths which is more about attenuating them for the most natural results while keeping the breath(s) from overtaking your vocal, so refer to that.

Essentially cutting to the edge of practical audio at the beginning and ending of the clip, then creating an automatic fade on either end to create a smooth off ramp minimizes unwanted noise as naturally as possible.

Step 2 – Trim Inside

It’s just as important to cut out the bits of “silence” inside the clip as much as the outside of the clip.

Aside from the microphone picking up unwanted room or outside noise, a lot of plugins add analog emulating hiss to tracks when there’s an audio clip “playing” on the track whether there’s practical and intended audio or not.

I use guitar amp emulator plugins on DI recorded guitar quite often to get the sound I want in the box. Sometimes the type of distortion and compression dialed in within this amp/fx emulator creates this kind of hiss whenever there’s a clip on the timeline regardless of whether I’m playing or not.

As such, 1-2 second breaks between guitar parts where I didn’t stop the recording carry a lot of unwanted noise, so trimming the clip within the clip on either side of the audio removes a lot of very noticeable noise.

Here the process is essentially the same, we’re just manually creating a little break then using fades like before on either side to create smooth transitions:

clip trimming inside

Step 3 – Repeat This on Every Track

It can take awhile to do this which is why I say the more you put into mixing, the more you’ll get out.

Note that while you can use a noise gate to mitigate a lot of noise, it still takes a decent amount of time in setting the proper threshold level for each track on the gate to the point that it’s not worth it as a time saver.

More importantly, you won’t get the quality of the results as you’ll get by manually trimming each track in your song.

It’s also important to note that the more practice you have with trimming your tracks, the better you’ll get at identifying what you need to keep and knocking out an entire mix in just two or three minutes.

And lastly remember, trimming the clips of your song to just the practical parts where there’s audio playing also saves processing power. As I explained in the difference between VST2 and VST3, even the most efficient VST3 plugins count toward your mixing CPU usage when there’s audio on the track at that point.

Trimming your tracks so that they only contain the points when (wanted) audio is playing will save processing power which in turn will help you mix more efficiently.

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