If you’ve been in the music production world for a fair amount of time you have probably come across the term “comping”.
You may wonder what comping actually means in the context of music production since it is a widely used term.
So, What is comping?
In music production, comping or track comping is a technique in which different takes of audio recordings or performances are combined to create a single performance which is called a composite take. This is usually done by choosing the best takes or and then combining them to create one good take. Bad audio recordings can also be sorted through, picking the parts in order to have them comped to make them sound better together.
Uses of Comping
The most common application of comping is in vocal and audio recordings primarily because they are at the front and centre of most songs… comping gives the sound engineer options to get the best parts of various vocal takes and combine them to form one great take.
This can be very helpful in situations where you have multiple takes that don’t sound as good as you want them to sound but do contain certain parts that you could take from each track and consolidate to make a good audio track that has attributes only of the best parts in all your vocal takes.
In recording instruments like guitar, you can’t always expect to have the best takes through out the process of recording. Which is why comping can help you get a good combination of various good takes that can help you have a good track.
It’s useful to record more than one take when dealing with instruments because that way you can pick the best takes and comp them and also utilize stereo effects to make your overall instrument recording sound a lot bigger and wider.
Audio for film
Another useful application of comping is in audio for film. Film sound designers will usually have to use audio fx like rain, animal sounds etc.
Its not always possible that the sound designer will have enough of the audio fx required to fit the duration of a particular scene.
In such situations, the sound designer has to loop FX to cover the duration of the particular scene…. the catch is, the sound designer has to loop these sound effects seamlessly so the listener doesn’t detect that the sound effect is being looped.
Comping can be an effective maneuver in such a situation because the sound designer can basically employ tactics to ensure that the loop seamlessly repeats to sound like a continuous flow of audio.
The problem in comping
The downside to comping is that you’ll run into artifact problems which are usually the result of combining different audio clips to form one good take.
When it comes to comping the two artifact problems that you’ll run into are clicks and pops.
Artifacts will arise because of the intervention of combining different audio clips that do not line up.
Good practices for comping
Using Sibilance to your advantage
One good practice when it comes to comping is combining audio takes in between the noise that separates them. This can allow you to deal with lesser clicks and pops.
Sibilance can also work in your favor because you can combine tracks on the sibilant words and be able to get away with no artifacts detectable because the noise that sibilance has can easily be masked.
Hide the comps
You can also use frequency and auditory masking to basically hide your comps.
In frequency masking you basically use matching frequencies to mask the comp and avoid audio artifacts. This is pretty is easy to do, you can just zoom in on your audio tracks and line the frequencies and find matches to combine.
In auditory masking, you use louder sound to mask quieter sounds. This is a technique that i apply to beat making when particularly working with samples that produce artifacts on comping.
I simply layer the kicks on top of the audio parts with artifacts to diminish them with my kicks.
Cross-fading is a technique in which two audio clips are blended by fading one out while simultaneously bringing the other one in.
Often times, Film sound designers use them to seamlessly loop background ambiences without the listener noticing like I described above.
Getting good takes
One good practice that you can employ as a sound engineer is taking note of good recording techniques as well as ensuring that good takes are recorded.
Don’t let your artists rely on comping, have them rely on their ability to record well in the first place.
Identifying the good takes that you took note of in the first place will make it easy for you to work with them better and avoid the whole process of having to comb through a lot of takes.
You also have to take note of very specific details like projection of the voice, pronunciation and etc… Just because a person records a take without messing up doesn’t mean their recording will actually be great.
Therefore it pays to go through the vocal and listen for mistakes or simple errors that could be fixed by having another take.
Comping is the art of combining multiple audio takes into one ultimate take that has a combination of the good parts of each.
It is a very useful technique for any multiple takes that require to be combined into one take to get rid of the bad parts of several audio takes that may not sound good on their own.