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Rolling with the punches – how to punch and roll edit

Problem – your client has asked you if you can supply Punch and Roll audio but you don’t know what it is.

Solution – read this blog and you’ll be able to say ‘Yes’ even if you discover that you don’t like Punch and Roll.

Here are some quick video how-to tutorials showing you how to do Punch and Roll edit in Audacity, Audition, Logic Pro X, Ocenaudio, ProTools, Studio One, Twisted Wave and Reaper.

What is Punch and Roll?

Punch and Roll is a method of recording by which you perform a basic edit as you go. It’s a method that’s been used for almost as long as we’ve been recording onto tape, but the digital era has made it easier than ever. The theory is that if you use Punch and Roll as you record, when you get to the end of the copy you end up with a piece of audio that already has the mistakes edited out. Although in truth you’ve only edited out the ones you’ve noticed!

Punch and Roll in the days of reel to reel

As with most things recording, Punch and Roll was originated in music studios. Imagine the scene – the band is recording their next single and the guitarist records the solo and it’s an amazing performance apart from 2 bars in the middle of the solo where his fingers fell over themselves. Rather than record the whole thing again and lose the great performance the decision is made to just re-record those 2 bars. The tape is lined up and the guitarist plays along with the previous take of the solo, but at the crucial point in time the engineer punches the record button and the 2 erroneous bars are re-recorded. At the end of which the engineer punches out of record and hopefully what you have is a seamless sounding guitar solo. Punching in and out like this was dependant on having and engineer on hand, and one with fast precise fingers. Punch and Roll was done manually – as it still can be – and was only as precise as the engineer’s skills.

Once home recording became more of a thing tape machines had to automatically handle the pre-roll and punching in and out. I’m pretty sure that my first 4-track Portastudio had automated punch in and out options. It would be very difficult recording full band stuff by myself without that option. Finding the right point(s)on the tape was the tricky bit – particularly if you were recording in between a couple of bits that you wanted to keep. Tape doesn’t have non-destructive editing capability!

Digital Punch and Roll

So from the above I don’t think it’s a million miles away from what we can do in our DAWs/editors. We set a pre roll length and put our software into Punch and Roll mode. When we hit play, the playhead drops back by the amount we’ve set, plays the audio and starts recording when it gets back to point where it previously was. With some software we can automatically punch out as well, but with other software we can’t. Another huge advantage with digital Punch and Roll is that some software does record (some of) the pre-roll so we can tweak the edit a little to ensure the transition between takes is as clean as possible.

When to use Punch and Roll

You can use Punch and Roll whenever you want. But if you use it on short form audio it’ll probably take you longer to record than if you don’t. Punch and Roll really comes into its own on long form audio – e-learning and audiobooks. Using it for these long jobs means that you save a lot of time editing – although it could mean it takes longer to record. Instead of having to figure out whether it was take 3 or take 4 of this paragraph that you wanted to keep, having that first-pass edit effectively already done will make the whole post-production stage much quicker.

How to Punch and Roll

The exact mechanics of Punch and Roll differ from program to program. So watch the below video for your particular software to see how it works.

Punch and Roll in Audacity

Punch and Roll in Audition

Punch and Roll in Logic Pro X

Punch and Roll in Ocenaudio

Punch and Roll in ProTools

Punch and Roll in Studio One

Punch and Roll in Twisted Wave

Punch and Roll in Reaper

The downsides?

“This all looks amazing! Are there any disadvantages to Punch and Roll?”

Yes. Yes there are.

Firstly, not everyone gets on with recording like this. There is inevitably a learning curve when starting out with this method. But some people simply don’t get on with it and would prefer to carry on recording as before. See the next section if you fall into this camp. Some people simply find that they get a better result from using markers or a dog clicker to denote a mistake and keep going. They find the flow of the read is better when they work that way and that using Punch and Roll breaks their concentration too much and the end result is too disjointed.

I mentioned above that you only edit out the mistakes you notice. We could consider that a downside! I’ve had to edit self-records where there have been mis-pronunciations and other mistakes that the voiceover has missed. I’ve been in sessions where I’ve had to stop and correct the voiceover as they’ve slipped up on words and they haven’t noticed. It is very difficult to catch all your mistakes, and I’ve done jobs where mistakes haven’t been picked up until the client’s client has heard it. Punch and Roll won’t pick up on these things. So although it is a useful tool it’s not a magic bullet and pickups may still be necessary.

But also Punch and Roll can become impractical if too many mistakes are being made. I’ve have recorded more than one audiobook with a narrator who is reading the book without ever having seen it before, and in this situation there are mistakes a-plenty. I’ve found that in this situation the constant stopping and starting for Punch and Roll can be more disturbing to the flow of the book than letting the narrator just go back to the start of the sentence  and me put a marker in for editing later. Having collaborated with other producers on the recording of a couple of such books they would agree that not using Punch and Roll was the right choice, even though it did increase the edit time the end result was better. As a producer, managing the talent is as important as the technical recording. When you self-record you are both the talent and the producer.

How to not Punch and Roll

Let’s wind the clock back to the beginning of the blog. Your client has asked for Punch and Rolled audio. But you either don’t like or your software doesn’t do it. Does that mean you have to turn the job down? Nope. Not at all. All that request really means is that the client wants to receive audio where there aren’t mistakes and re-takes in the copy. Achieving that might be easier with Punch and Roll, but for whatever valid reason you may prefer not to Punch and Roll as you record. All you have to do is a first-pass edit after you’ve finished recording and send it off. If you’ve done your job well – either by Punch and Roll or first-pass edit – your edits should be seamless and your client shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. So feel free to carry on using your dog clicker, hand clap, markers, or however you mark your fluffs if you wish. Clients requesting Punch and Roll audio is possibly just them using a buzzword and asking for slightly the wrong thing (as they are wont to do from time to time). But if they ask for Punch and Roll on a directed session, that’s probably what they want.

In conclusion

Punch and Roll isn’t as complicated as many people think it is, but not everyone gets on with it. What you need to do is know your own strengths and weaknesses and know how to ‘interpret’ client’s specifications. The right recording technique to use is very often just the one you work most efficiently with.

If you need any more help with Punch and Roll or other recording, editing or production techniques then get in touch and I can set you on the right path.

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