When recording a live band to a click track in Pro Tools, the grid can help you keep the song organized by bar/beat, but when editing, it can be a nightmare. That's because the best drummers use a click track as a suggestion rather than the gospel and artfully lay the pocket (timing) of the groove ahead and behind the beat in different sections to make the song breathe. This is where editing off the grid is the best way to work because you're edits follow the players and not the click and grid.
When the song is a moving target in reference to the click, who do you trust? In most cases the drummer, especially if they're highly skilled. It's much easier to align other players to a solid drummer than vice versa. It's like playing a round of golf with a player who's much better than you – it always brings up your game.
Aligning Audio Off The Grid In Pro Tools
When you're editing entire parts of a song together from other playlists, it's not always as easy as a vertical cut and paste. This is because the timing of the count off can differ between takes which results in the playlists sitting in different places on the timeline. For example, verse one on playlist four may start at bar 56, but the same verse on playlist six may be at bar 61. To edit these takes together you need to have a common reference, in this case, as mentioned above, the drummer's timing is king. Use the kick drum for downbeat edits, and snare for offbeats. Once you have a reference, edit all tracks as a group and paste them into the spot you like.
Start by using Tab to Transient to place your cursor at the first kick drum hit of the section you wish to replace and hit the letter B to break the clip at that point. Then find and break the clip at the same point on the clip you wish to move and use Control + C to copy that section. Navigate back to the first edit and use Command + V to move the copied clip into position. After checking if the edit works, make a small crossfade at the edit point to finish the job.
To make an entire band cut more believable, leave the drum clip edits in place as a single event, then move the edits for other instruments before or after the drum edit to make them sound more random. In other words, if the drums are intercut starting at bar 81 beat 1, then move the bass edit to the next note to the left of the cut – say bar 80 beat 2 and do the same for the guitars, keyboards, and other instruments at different locations. By randomizing the edit points of tracks around the drum kit, you'll have a much better result that will sound like the band played it that way in the first place.
Watch this free tutorial to see all these techniques in action.