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10 editing tips to help you work faster in Sound Forge Pro

by Gary Rebholz


Sound Forge Pro 10 has been the go-to audio editing tool in everything from project studios to radio production rooms, to mastering houses. As users know, the application boasts very powerful tools for doing just about anything you need to do with your audio files. In this article, I'll present 10 editing techniques that will not only help speed up your editing sessions, but also help you get more out of the application and accomplish more with it. Although I focus on Sound Forge Pro in this article, most of these techniques also work in Sound Forge Audio Studio 10, so you can take advantage of them regardless of the version you use.


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Snap to Zero Crossings


Before you started editing your projects in Sound Forge Pro, check to make sure that your Snap to Zero Crossing option is activated. To understand this option, take a look at a waveform in a Sound Forge Pro data window. Zoom into the waveform so you have a tight view of a smaller section of audio as I have in Figure 1.


Figure 1

Each time an audio waveform passes from one side of the –Inf line to the other, you have a Zero Crossing


You can see how the waveform passes from above to below the –Inf line and back over and over again. We refer to each of these crossings from one side of the line to the other as a Zero Crossing. Basically it means that at that point, we have silence. Of course, these crossings happen so many times each second that we don't actually hear the silence, but technically it exists.


Now, choose Options | Snapping and verify that the Zero Crossings option is off.  Back in your data window, drag through the waveform to create a selection with edges that land at a peak in the waveform and not at a zero crossing. Then, choose Process | Mute to mute the selected section of audio. Click away from the selection to remove it. Now, look at the waveform. You may need to zoom into it a bit more to see it, but now the waveform drops directly from the peak that was at the edge of the selection to the –Inf line. You can see this as the straight vertical lines in my file in Figure 2.


Figure 2

After muting a selection with edges not on zero crossings, you can see the abrupt transition from the peak of the wave to –Inf which causes an audio glitch.


Those straight lines mean audio trouble because they may very well result in audible glitches in your audio. Play your file and listen to determine whether you can hear the glitch or not. Undo your edit.


Now, choose Options | Snapping | Zero Crossings to turn the option on. Make a new selection in your timeline. Notice that this time, the selection tool snaps to the nearest zero crossings for each selection edge. Create the selection you want and then mute it. This time there is no abrupt drop from the peak to –Inf because you made your selection at –Inf to begin with. You can see that this is a less precise way to edit, but it will most likely still be precise enough and you'll save lots of time and frustration since you won't have to go back and try to fix any glitches caused by non-zero-crossing edits later.


Keyboard selection techniques


If you've used Sound Forge at all, then you've probably created selections in your timeline with your mouse. A simple drag through the data window selects the area you want. But often times this method doesn't give you the precision you want or the speed you need. A few very handy keyboard shortcuts can help you work much more accurately and more quickly.


To see this, make a random selection in your file—a couple seconds would work just fine. Click the Loop Playback button to enter loop playback mode and then click the Play button. The selected portion plays continually and you can hear whether or not you made a good selection. For instance, do you cut the end of a word off or something else that makes this a bad selection?


Stop playback for a moment. Notice that the edit cursor flashes along one edge of your selection. This gives you an important visual clue to use along with the keyboard techniques we're about to discuss. Hold the Shift key and press the Right/Left Arrow keys. This moves your cursor and—since you're holding the Shift key—also adjusts the selection edge along with the cursor. This expands or contracts the selection. Note that if you still have the snap to zero crossings option activated from the last tip, the selection edge jumps from one zero crossing to the next.


Now, with the data still selected in your window (and assuming your cursor is flashing along the right edge of the selection) press the Home key. With no selection in your window, the Home key moves the cursor to the very beginning of the file, but in this case—since you have a selection—the Home key moves the cursor to the beginning of that selection. Press the End key (which without a selection would send the cursor to the end of the file) to reposition the cursor to the end of the selection.


You can see then how quickly you can adjust the selection edges and jump back and forth between the leading edge of the selection and the trailing edge. Play your project again. Since you're still in loop playback mode, the selected portion plays continually. Now use the same shortcuts to modify the selection edges as the file plays. This enables you to quickly adjust one edge of your selection, while continually monitoring the results, then jump to the other edge and adjust that one. Once you master these techniques, you'll really start working fast!


Skip the selected data on playback


As long as we're talking about selections, let's discuss one of my favorite techniques. Say you've selected an area of your file that you intend to delete. Wouldn't it be great if you could listen to the file without that selected area before you actually delete it so that you can evaluate whether or not you've made a selection that works? With this technique you can do just that.


With the area you intend to delete selected, press Ctrl+K. The file begins to play from a little way before the selected area, skips over the selected area, and plays a small portion after the selection. The audio plays back and you hear how the file would sound if you deleted the selected area. If it doesn't sound quite natural or you determine that you've included too much or too little data in the selection, you can use the quick selection adjustment techniques from the previous tip to adjust the selection accordingly. Then press Ctrl+K again to see if it works any better now. When you're happy that it sounds right without the selected area, press Delete. You've just removed the perfect amount of data and you never had to take your hands off the keyboard to accomplish the task. Again, that's working fast!


Creating a new data window


Sometimes you want to take a portion of one file and create a completely new file that contains just that portion. Sound Forge Pro makes that task very easy. You can accomplish it in a couple of different ways, but here's my favorite by far because it's nearly instantaneous.


First, if you have your Sound Forge Pro data window maximized, click the Restore Down button for the data window. (Make sure you click the button for the data window and not the entire Sound Forge Pro application window.) This sets the data window so that it no longer fills the entire Sound Forge Pro workspace and reveals the empty workspace outside of the data window.


Now, drag the selected area from the data window and drop it onto the blank space in the Sound Forge Pro workspace.  This immediately creates a new, completely independent data window that holds a copy of the data you had selected from the first data window. You can make whatever edits you need to and save the audio in this new data window as a new file without ever affecting the data from the first file.


Change the playback rate


When you have a long file that needs extensive editing, you can utilize the adjustable playback rate to get through it more quickly. For instance, say you've recorded a narration that lasts for 20 minutes or so. The typical narration read contains many mistakes: mispronounced words, incorrectly read words, vocal stumbles, throat clearing, and so on. When you edit the narration, you need to remove the unwanted mistakes and keep just the good reads. 


If you have a 20-minute file, then obviously it takes 20 minutes just to listen to it at normal speed. Add in the extra time it takes to select and delete the unwanted material and it could easily take you twice as long or more to get through the whole thing. But, if you listen to it at a faster speed, you can cut your time down dramatically.


Open a narration file (or record one if you don't have one). Play the file. Of course, it plays back at normal speed as you'd expect it to. However, every data window has its own playback rate controls as shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3

Every data window has its own playback rate controls.


Notice the Rate setting. You can see in the figure that mine reads 0.00. That's because I'm not playing my project. If you're not playing yours either, your Rate setting reads the same. Press the Play button and notice that the Rate slider moves to the right to match up with the orange Normal Rate triangle button and the Rate setting reads 1.00. Stop playback and hover your mouse over the Normal Rate button. A tooltip shows you that the normal rate is currently set to 1.00.


Drag the Normal Rate triangle to the right. A readout below the Rate field shows you the new normal rate value as you drag the triangle. Set the Normal Rate to about 1.85. Now play your file again. The file now plays at 185% of normal speed. That's much faster and the voice sounds sped up and funny, but you can still understand what's being said. You might need to slow it down a bit or you might be able to speed it up even more and still understand the narration. Now you can get through the file much more quickly and make the edits you need to make.


Of course, you can't rely on the accuracy of your edits when you listen at this speed, so when you're done, double-click the Normal Rate triangle to reset it to 1.0 and listen to your file again to verify your edits. Yes, this means you still have to listen at normal speed and it'll still take another 20 minutes to get through the file, but you'll probably find that you need to listen through it several times in the course of an editing session anyway. In any event, I would never deliver a file without one final careful listen at real speed, so you're going to have to listen to it at least once at normal speed regardless. I find that if I do this rough, high-speed edit as the first step of my editing process and then slow down to do my fine edits or final review in real time, I can cut my editing time significantly.


Windows Layouts


Sometimes it's easy to overlook the obvious aids to productivity. I know that personally I tend to get wrapped up in my editing work and neglect to do things I could do to make my task more efficient. I think that the Sound Forge Pro window layouts capabilities fall into this category for a number of users, so even though this is an obvious one, I wanted to include it on this list.


The Sound Forge Pro workspace has a very simple default configuration which really consists of not much more than the data window that you have open, the tool and menu bars and the audio peak meters. But the application features many other windows that you'll find helpful in different editing situations.


If, during the course of your work, you find that you open and close the same windows repeatedly, consider creating a custom window layout to help you work faster. Sound Forge Pro features three window layout presets. The default layout is the one you see when you first start the application. To see the other two, choose View | Window Layouts and then choose 5.1 Video and Red Book Authoring from the menu.


These two layouts display different windows that you'll likely utilize when you work on the type of project that their names suggest. For example, the Red Book Authoring layout includes the Track List and CD Information windows among others, while the 5.1 Video layout naturally opens the Video Preview window and other windows that will be helpful for 5.1 surround sound editing.


As you see, you can switch between these layouts quite easily. And better yet, you can create custom layouts with the exact tools you need access to in order to complete your unique editing tasks.


To see how to create a new layout, first choose View | Window Layouts | Default Layout. In this example, let's say that you use the Plug-In Chainer often and you want to create a layout that features this window.  Choose View | Plug-In Chainer to open that window. Dock the Plug-In Chainer to the bottom of your workspace. Next, choose View | Window Layouts | Save Layout As. In the Save Layout As dialog box, give the layout a name, specify a shortcut from the Shortcut drop-down list, and click OK. Now choose View | Window Layouts again and notice that your new layout appears in the list along with the default layouts we saw earlier. Notice also that you can add nine more custom layouts to this list.


FX Favorites


You can also customize the FX Favorites menu for more efficient access to the filters and processes that you use most often. This really helps if you utilize a large number of third-party plug-ins with your projects.


To customize the FX Favorites menu, choose FX Favorites | Organize. In the Organize Favorites window, click the Expand button for the FX Favorites option in the tree view at the left.  This shows all of the folders that current exist in your FX Favorites menu both in the tree view and the list view at the right.


Let's say you have a few different equalization (EQ) filters that you use quite often. You can create a new folder under the FX Favorites menu and fill it with your EQ plug-ins. First, right-click an empty spot in the list view and select Create New Folder from the menu. This creates the new folder and you can give it a new, more descriptive name. In this example, you'd name it something like MyEQs.


Now, in the tree view, click All to view all of the plug-ins loaded on your system in the list view. From the list view, select Graphic EQ, then hold the Ctrl key and select both Paragraphic EQ and Parametric EQ from the list to add them to the selection. Finally, drag any of the selected items and drop it into the MyEQs folder that you created in the tree view. This adds a reference to these plug-ins to the MyEQs folder and notice that they still also appear under the All folder as well.


Close the Organize Favorites window. Now, choose the FX Favorites menu. Notice that your new MyEQs folder now exists in this menu. Choose it and you see the three EQ plug-ins that you added to it a moment ago. Now when you want to access any of these plug-ins during future editing sessions, you can quickly and easily find them under your My Favorites menu.


Remove glitches with the Pencil Tool


During the recording process, you might end up with small glitches in the recorded file. These can be heard as clicks or pops that clearly don't belong in the recording. They might have been made by a mouth noise the narrator inadvertently made, a slight bump of the microphone during recording, or some random sound generated by the electrical system while you were recording.


Whatever the cause, these noises detract from your recording. You have a number of options in Sound Forge Pro to fix these types of glitches. Sometimes I'll simply zoom far into my file until I can identify the waveform of the glitch, select it, and delete it. This doesn't always sound right though, so I often reach for another tool: the Pencil Tool. The Pencil Tool enables you to literally redraw the waveform and thus you can “draw away” the glitch waveform.


The Pencil tool becomes available once you zoom into the Sound Forge data window to a zoom ratio above 1:32. Assuming you're zoomed all the way out now and your Zoom ratio is greater than 1:32, notice that the Pencil Tool button is unavailable. When you hear a glitch you'd like to get rid of, it can be a bit of a challenge sometimes to find the waveform for it. To make this a bit easier, make a rough selection over the area where you hear the glitch.


Now zoom in as far as you can while still being able to see the entire selected area in the data window. Play the file. Since you've made a selection, only the selected data plays. Try to determine where in the selection the glitch falls. Adjust and narrow your selection down and zero in on the sound. Zoom in further each time so you can see more waveform detail. Repeat this process and eventually you can often see strangeness in the waveform that you can reasonably suspect is the glitch. This may be difficult at first, but as you gain experience you'll soon be able to recognize the glitch waveform quite readily.  Notice the two dramatically different areas in my waveform in Figure 4 that represent a glitch in my audio. Isolating this area in a selection and then playing it verifies that I've located my glitch.


Figure 4

The glitch waveform stands out as dramatically different than the surrounding waveform.


You can also see from Figure 4 that in order to edit out the glitches at zero crossings as we discussed earlier, I have to also remove a considerable amount of the data around the glitch. This is why simply deleting the glitch wouldn't work well in this case. So, I reach for the Pencil tool to fix this.


Now that you're zoomed far into your project, the Pencil Tool button is available in your toolbar. Click it to switch to the Pencil Tool. Now, just use the Pencil Tool to draw out the glitch waveforms. Try to determine the direction that the waveform is trending and draw a smooth line that replaces the glitch waveform. This too may take a little practice, because if you draw badly you can create a different ugly glitch in your audio, but once you get the hang of it, you'll often be able to draw a replacement for the glitch that removes the glitch without introducing other noise.


Once you've draw the glitch out, play the selection to evaluate whether or not you've done the job adequately. If it sounds good, zoom back out of your waveform, click ahead of the selection to remove the selection and then play the file again to make sure that your edit sounds good. Just like that, you've altered your waveform to remove a troublesome glitch in the audio!


Use a noise gate to eliminate breath noises


When you have a long narration recording, there are bound to be breath noises and other low-level noises in the recording that you'll want to remove. While you can individually select these noises and mute them, this could quickly get to be an extremely long and tedious process on a long narration file. To automate the process, add a noise gate filter to the file. With a noise gate, you to specify a threshold volume level and the gate reduces any waveform that falls below that threshold to silence.


I prefer to use a noise gate filter through the Sound Forge Plug-In Chainer in order to maintain a high level of control over preview playback. To add a noise gate this way, click the Preview Plug-In Chain button in the transport bar of the data window that holds the audio. In the Plug-In Chainer, click the Add Plug-Ins to Chain button.  In the Plug-In Chooser, select the Noise Gate filter from the list view, click the Add button, and finally click OK. The Plug-In Chainer now contains the Noise Gate as shown in Figure 5.


Figure 5

The Noise Gate filter is a simple tool you can use to remove low-level noise from your file.


Notice in Figure 5 that I've set my threshold to -28dB. This seems to work well as a starting threshold for the recordings I do, but that may be different for you, so  listen carefully to your file to make sure it works properly. Click the Plug-In Chainer's Preview button. The file begins to play and you'll be able to hear how the noise gate silences any audio that doesn't rise above the threshold setting.


As I said, make sure to listen carefully. If you set your threshold too high, you may start to remove audio that you really want to keep. Particularly problematic are words that begin with an “F” sound or end in a trail “S” sound. Since these sounds either build up or trail off, you may end up cutting part of them out when you don't really want to. If this happens, your audio will sound unnatural and the gate will be obvious to the listener. In that case, lower the threshold to let more sound through. It's better to let the occasional sound through that you don't want than to remove sound you do want. You can always go back later and mute anything the gate didn't catch that you don't want to keep.


Listen to the entire file to verify that the gate settings work properly.  Assuming you want to process the entire file, make sure you don't have any data selected in your data window. When you're ready, click the Process Selection button in the Plug-In Chainer. Watch the waveform and you'll clearly see the waveforms for any audio caught by the gate change to –Infinity—the noise is gone.


There is one more thing to keep in mind however. This noise gate technique really only works when you have a very quiet recording environment. If you have a room where there's lots of background noise (like an air conditioner or refrigerator and so on) the gate will only remove that noise when it stands alone—that is, when the narrator's not speaking. But when the narrator starts speaking again, the audio rises above the threshold and the gate doesn't touch it. While this keeps the narration which is what you want, it will also keep the background noise that you don't want. This results in the noise kicking in and out as the narrator speaks and becomes even more obvious than it was before you gated some of it away.


If you have a recording that was created in a noisy environment and the gate doesn't sound right, you'll have to use other techniques, like the Noise Reduction plug-in to try and remove the noise throughout the file whether the narrator's speaking or not.


Event Edit mode


Finally, the new event edit mode that we introduced in Sound Forge Pro 10 can be a great time-saving tool in many ways. I'll give you one example.


Sometimes you need to edit out a mistake, but you don't have a particularly “clean” spot in which to make the edit. For instance, it's always best to have your narrator stop after a mistake, back up to the beginning of the sentence where the mistake was made, and read again. The natural pause the speaker takes between sentences gives you an easy place to edit the file. But you don't always have this luxury and sometimes it's difficult to find an edit point that doesn't sound obvious to the listener.


In such a case, it often helps to create a short crossfade where previous good audio fades out before the mistake while the correctly narrated audio simultaneously fades in. For instance, you might try fading out of a trailing S of a word in the original recording while simultaneously fading into the same trailing S in the corrected read audio. Such a crossfade can often adequately mask the edit.


In Normal Edit mode, such a crossfade can be difficult to accomplish, but it's very quick and easy in event edit mode. To switch to event edit mode, click the Event Tool button. Now, place your cursor at the point where you want to make your edit. Press S on your keyboard. S stands for split and this splits the data into two separate events. Split the second event again after the mistake that you want to remove, then click the middle event to select it, and press Delete to delete it from your data window. You now have a hole in your file, so move the second remaining event to the left and overlap it with the first event. As you do, you see an X pattern which indicates that the first event fades out as the second fades in. The more you overlap the events, the longer the crossfade lasts. Play through the edit and make sure it sounds right. If it doesn't, adjust the crossfade to achieve a better edit.


So, there you have 10 tips that will hopefully help you edit your audio projects faster and more efficiently in Sound Forge Pro. These techniques really point out the power that lies within Sound Forge Pro. It might take a little practice for you to gain proficiency with all of these techniques, but the time you spend up front mastering them will pay huge dividends down the road when you're under the gun to get a project done as quickly as possible!


For more training resources, visit the training section of our website at www.sonycreativesoftware.com/training. There you'll find many learning tools including our Seminar Series training DVD packages, many free training videos, free webinar archives, free newsletter tutorial article archives, and more.

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