How to Fix Audio Recording Mistakes by Punching In and Out

Don’t waste precious free time trying to record audio in a single take. Learn how to seamlessly fix audio recording mistakes with your DAW’s punch in / punch out feature in this beginner-friendly tutorial.

When I first started recording guitar covers for YouTube sixteen years ago, I wasted so much time trying to achieve perfect single-take recordings. Making one simple mistake often meant starting over again from the very beginning of the track. “Time consuming” doesn’t even begin to describe my recording process during those early days. Fortunately, I later learned about punching in and punching out, and how this feature can be used to fix small audio recording mistakes easily and seamlessly. This brief tutorial will introduce you to this invaluable recording technique.

💡 Please Note: This is part of an ongoing backing track tutorial series. If you’re new to this website, you may benefit from reading the main backing track tutorial before proceeding.

What is “Punching In” and “Punching Out”?

The terms “punch in” and “punch out” date back to the old days of analog tape recording. To fix a mistake or improve a performance, producers would play back an earlier take and ask musicians to perform over it. They would then hit record just before the sequence they wanted to redo (“punch in”), and stop recording immediately after capturing the new take (“punch out”). Doing this cleanly required extreme precision and a keen sense of timing. Listen to the iconic studio producer Daniel Lanois talking about the process here with Rick Beato.

Nowadays, punching in and punching out with a digital audio workstation (DAW) is a simple matter. Rather than doing it on the fly during playback (with only one opportunity to time things right), you can set and fine tune your punch in and punch out points at your leisure.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this tutorial, you will understand how to:

  • Set your punch in and punch out points
  • Activate the punch in and punch out feature
  • Record a seamless new take by punching in and out

If you are unable to meet these objectives, feel free to reach out for assistance via YouTube. Be sure to include the title of this tutorial in your comment, so I’ll know which one you’re referring to.

Gear Requirements

To complete this tutorial, you need only one thing:

  • A DAW that can punch in and punch out

For the purposes of this tutorial, I will be using Cubase Elements 12 as my example. Plenty of other major DAWs also have this feature, however, such as:

The list goes on. Consult your DAW’s manual for more information if the steps below are difficult to translate to your preferred software, as each DAW handles punching in and out a little differently.

Tutorial

Step 1: Zero in on Your Mistake

Zeroing in on a mistake.

After recording your audio (be it guitar, bass, vocals, etc.), locate the general area where you made the mistake you want to correct. In the case of my example above, I made a small timing error in my bass track leading into the first verse, between bars 24 and 25.

Step 2: Set Your Left and Right Locator Positions

In Cubase Elements 12, punch in and punch out points are associated with the left and right locator positions, respectively. To set your locator positions, either drag the locators along the top of your timeline ruler with your mouse, or set them via the controls at the bottom of your screen.

Setting right and left locator positions.

You can set your left and right locators as close to or far away from the mistake as you’d like. I prefer to set the left locator to the bar immediately preceding the mistake, and the right locator to the bar immediately following the mistake, as I always record with a click track and find my own timing is at its tightest on the beat. So in the case of the above example, I set the left locator to bar 24, and the right locator to bar 25, as the mistake I want to fix occurs between those two locations.

Step 3: Activate Your Punch In and Punch Out Points

Activating Punch In and Punch Out points.

Once you’ve set your locators, activate the punch in and punch out feature by pressing “i” and “o” on your keyboard. You’ll know that the feature is enabled when the Punch In and Punch Out buttons by your transport controls are highlighted in light grey. Alternatively, you can also click the buttons to activate or deactivate them without using the abovementioned keyboard shortcuts.

Step 4: Arm the Track for Recording

Click on the audio track where the mistake occurs, and arm the track for recording. The process of arming a track for recording has been explained in a previous tutorial. Please refer to that earlier tutorial if you’ve forgotten how to do this step, or if this is the first time you’ve visited this site.

Step 5: Play Along with the Track

Example of a new take created by punching in and out.

Set your cursor a few bars ahead of the punch in point, hit the Play button (not the Record button), and start playing along with the track. Only stop playing a few seconds after you pass the punch out point. By starting playback a few bars before the punch in point, you give yourself ample lead in time to get into the groove of the song. Never attempt to record another take directly from the punch in point, as you will likely struggle to get your timing and your dynamics perfect.

If you’ve followed the previous four steps correctly, you’ll see your new take superimposed over your previous take. The bars prior to the punch in point will not be re-recorded, nor will the bars after the punch out point. Only the section contained by the left and right locators will be re-recorded — which is what we want.

Step 6: Listen Back to Your Fix, and Repeat if Necessary

Deactivate your punch in and punch out points by hitting “i” and “o” again, then listen back to what you just recorded. If you’re happy with the new take, continue on with your recording project. If you’re unhappy with it, hit Ctrl + Z or Cmd + Z to undo the take, then repeat Steps 3 – 6.

Conclusion

That’s all there is to it! Punching in and punching out makes it incredibly easy to fix small mistakes without having to re-record entire sections of your project over again. Keeping this process easy is what keeps it fun — and that’s what arguably matters most when you record music as a hobby!


Questions?

Do you have a question about the subject matter of this blog post that I didn’t answer above? Feel free to leave a public comment on my YouTube channel by clicking on the button below, and I’ll get back to you there as soon as I can.

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