Punch And Roll Recording – What is It?
At Landen Park Studio, we record spoken word (audiobooks, voiceover etc.) using a technique called Punch And Roll recording – often just called Punch-In.
Punch-in is a familiar technique for musicians, who’ve been working this way since the dawn of the multitrack tape era. But if you haven’t worked in a studio before, you might wonder what it’s all about.
Punch-in is one of those things that’s a lot harder to describe than to do! Essentially, it’s just the process of jumping from playback to record without stopping.
Imagine narrating the following:
Since my first introduction to recording studios, I’ve been an admirer of punch-and-roll. It makes things so much quicker and easier.
Now, suppose you read the first sentence perfectly, but fluff the second one. The engineer will ‘roll back’ to the beginning of the previous sentence – “Since…” – play the sentence back to you, and then instantaneously switch to recording just after the word “roll“. You then re-read the second sentence… and on we go.
Experienced narrators are so used to this that we can work this way without even talking about it. We both just instinctively know where we’re going to drop in. Also, some narrators are so good they can ‘drop in’ mid-sentence – after the word “studios” in the example above.
Punch-In with DAWs
Now, here’s where the magic comes in – and this is something even experienced narrators often fail to grasp. Back in the days of tape, the punch-in point had to be perfect. With tape, you are destroying whatever was recorded beforehand.
But with a DAW such as Pro Tools (the software we use at Landen Park Studio), nothing is ever deleted. So, if we punch a little too early in the example above and just ‘nick’ the end of the word “roll“, it doesn’t matter. We simply ‘drag out’ the clipped-off bit during editing.
Also, since the original take of the second sentence is still there, we can ‘drag out’ parts of it – even individual consonants – and combine that with the second take. Again, we do this during editing.
The really mind-blowing thing about punching in with Pro Tools is that it’s actually always recording. This means that if you start to speak just before the punch in point, even that audio is available just by dragging.
Discipline is Key
Of course, all this doesn’t mean you should just throw caution to the wind and start talking whenever you feel like it! At the very least, this makes the editing job much more time-consuming (and it’s annoying!). Also, the director will want to hear a ‘clean take’ as it goes along – to know if something is right, or needs re-doing.
To help you time your punch-in, there are cue lights in the studio, positioned to be in your peripheral vision while you’re working, The amber light goes on when playback starts, switching to a red light as we drop in to record. These lights are automatic, controlled by the Pro Tools software itself.