How to Splice Music Together

By Scott Shpak
Audio editing and splicing techniques aid synchronization of sound to images.

Prior to the rise of digital audio, editing music was done to magnetic tape with razor blades and tape. Hardly a high-tech solution, but at the time it was one of only a few options available. Even home audio enthusiasts spliced together reel-to-reel mix tapes, accomplished now by building playlists. Using a contemporary computer and audio editing software, you can splice digital audio in almost any manner you can imagine.

Preparing to Splice

Splicing, or audio editing, removes content from an audio work so that it is not heard in the final product, or connects separate pieces of audio content together. With digital files, material is erased or hidden for removal, or added together, then mixed together to achieve your final vision. With recording tape, sections of tape are physically removed or added to make new content. In either case, planning your final product guides your splicing decisions, though digital audio allows for more trial and error.

Manipulating Digital Audio Content

For digital work, all you need is audio editing software. Freeware products include Audacity, Waveshop and Wavosaur, and while each audio editor has its own interface, splices and audio edits are a standard function and carried out in a similar manner in any program. Using the waveform view of your editor, you can remove sections of audio by highlighting and cutting. Most editors use standard key combinations, such as "Ctrl-X" for Windows applications. Adding audio works the same way, using copy-and-paste methods, inserting copied audio where you wish.

Nondestructive Editing

An enormous advantage that digital audio offers is the ability to step backward when you make a mistake, or to perform your edits in such a way that the edited material is not lost. This is called nondestructive editing, since, unlike tape, your original material is not altered. Creating a playlist is a way of splicing or editing without affecting your original songs. The playlist contains instructions about what audio material to play, but doesn't contain the audio itself. Audio players such as Windows Media Player and iTunes are suitable for splicing playlists together.

Magnetic Tape Splicing

Despite the advantages of digital editing, some people value the sound qualities of magnetic tape and continue to use it in the recording process. To splice magnetic tape, audio content for removal is located by moving the tape back and forth across the play head, a technique called "scrubbing," to locate the point where the tape will be cut and removed. To minimize the chances of an audible sound at the splice, cuts are made at 45- or 60-degree angles. With the unwanted section removed, the ends of the tape are butted and fastened with adhesive tape.

Uses of Splice Edits

Splicing magnetic tape is usually done to alter the arrangement of a song. With digital music, it's common to edit out a singer's breathing, or to remove sections on a track where an instrument is not playing to eliminate unwanted background noise. In spoken-word audio, you can rearrange sections easily and remove pauses or "ums" and "ahs" that often occur. Audio montaging of music, sound effects, speech and any other content is possible, limited only by your imagination.

About the Author

As an operations and technical projects manager in the photofinishing industry, Scott Shpak is also an experienced audio engineer and musician, as well as Editor-in-chief, feature writer and photographer for Your Magazines Canada.