In Points and Out Points “On the Fly” Using Pro Tools

   By Sarah C   Categories: Audio SoftwareGeneralMastering Audio

Back in the day, when editors used flatbeds and Moviolas, we marked the “in” and “out” points of a section of music by tapping the musics’ tempo with a grease pencil on the mag tape as it passed over the play head. Today I use an updated version of this technique in Pro Tools all the time, to establish “cut-to-cut” sections or edit points.

This is useful for all kinds of music but particularly handy for rhythmic pieces, with common or even polyrhythmic meters; it’s particularly useful for deleting or editing similar sections—for example a repeated part in an introduction, solo bridge or ending, or a repeated chorus.


Picture from Flickr user Brian A Petersen

Audio editors often work by viewing digital waveforms in DAWs and listening to tracks. This technique goes a step further, editing or marking in and out points on tracks “on the fly,” while the music plays. The technique is not new to Pro Tools users—in fact it appears in the early instructional books on Pro Tools—and it is easy to implement, practical, and effective. It doesn’t trump other possible techniques, though, many of which can be equally effective—rather, it’s another “trick in the bag” that you might like to try out, and may find helpful.

Here are some step-by-step guidelines:

1. Set a pre-roll a few seconds—at least two to four bars—ahead of the location in the song you think you want to edit for a deletion or move. You can place markers or memory locations as needed.

2. In the Pro Tools Preferences, on the Operation tab, make sure that “Edit Insertion Follows Scrub/Shuttle” is checked, and that “Timeline Insertion/Play Start Marker Follows Playback” is not checked. (When selected, this latter option also appears as a blue button on the main edit window, directly below the pencil tool. Make sure it’s not selected—that is, the button should not appear blue.)

3. Play the track and tap the beat (usually quarter or eighth notes) on the “down” arrow key on your computer keyboard—keep a loose wrist and hit the down arrow with one finger, kind of like you are slapping the key; the trick here is to get into the “groove” or rhythm of the beat. Continue tapping the down arrow until you get to the point you want to make your edit “in”, making it your last “down slap.”

4. Keeping the song playing, resume tapping the beat but now on the “up” arrow key, making your last “up slap” at the point you want to make your edit “out.”

5. Once you have played and marked the in and out points, stop playback. Your selection will be highlighted on the track. (If the highlighted area disappears when you stop, check the preference settings; see step 2.)

6. Play back your selection to check it—you can use loop playback to repeat the whole selection or selectivity play through the in point then out point to check their rhythmic accuracy. If you’ve made a mistake or missed the beat you want—it takes a while to get the feel of this—you can do the whole process over, or (if the in point is correct and you just want to reset the out point) play the selection from the in point and just tap on the up key, to update the out point.

7. To delete the selection, hit the Delete key on your computer keyboard. To move it, use Cut and Paste in the Edit menu. (Note this technique uses Slip mode rather than Shuffle. This is not to suggest Shuffle mode isn’t useful—just not necessary in this case.)

8. When you hit Delete or Cut, the edit cursor will remain at the initial in point. Hold down the Control key (Mac) or Start key (Windows) and grab the right side selection. It will snap to the clip boundary at the in point. Obviously your selection may not have been positioned perfectly on the beat—I am usually slightly late on the draw—but you can tell if the edit will work by following these further steps:

9. Make an empty stereo track directly below the one you are editing on (it can be tricky to make accurate edits if your selections are on the same track). Using the grabber tool, select the “B” side of the edit—to the right of your earlier selection—and, holding down Control (Mac) or Start (Windows) to prevent it moving out of sync, grab and drag it onto the new track.

10. With the trim tool, reveal a bar or two to the right of the “A” side section and the same to the left of the “B” side (now on the track below).

11. Slide the “B” side left or right, as needed, to match the sound and the waveforms of the “A” side. I often look for the higher transient peaks of drums, musical strums, or accents to match up.

12. Play back both tracks simultaneously to listen for the match. Once the two parts of the music, with their revealed sections, play together in time and rhythm, you have successfully matched them. Grab-highlight the “B” side and, again holding down Control (Mac) or Start (Windows) to maintain its position, drag it up to cover the overlapping section on the “A” side.

13. The final step is to choose where the best edit “line” is—it’s important to note that your original in point is not necessarily the best place. Use the trim tool to move the edit, revealing more of either the A side or the B side, to find a position where the song sounds smooth and natural, and there’s no “bump” associated with the edit. A cross-fade can make an edit sound smooth, but if you find the “zero-crossing” point you can make a perfect edit without any need for cross-fading.

Excerpt from Music Editing for Film and Television by Steven Saltzman © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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About the Author

Steven Saltzman, MPSE is a music editor and composer based in Los Angeles, CA. He received his Bachelors of Music in composition and film scoring from Berklee College of Music and is a certified Avid Pro Tools instructor. He has been editing music for film and television for the past eighteen years. In addition, Steven has lectured nationally, and he has created and taught numerous music editing courses. A recipient of a Golden Reel Award for music editing, Saltzman is also a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, and he sits on the board of the Motion Picture Sound Editors Guild.


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