Stupid Fade Tricks


Spiral Fade
Fades are among the most powerful functions of a digital editing program, yet they are generally under-used. You might as well let complex math do its thing, that’s what computers are for, so drop that mouse, stop trying to massage that fader up and down, and let the machine do some of the heavy lifting.

Before we start: ProTools is notorious for losing fade files. Whenever you make or adjust a fade, the program calculates the volume changes, writes a soundfile, and places it in position over the region you defined. This new soundfile is supposed to go in your session’s “fades” folder. The next time you open the session, ProTools should put all the fades in place and you’ll be right back where you left off. But if you’ve done any work at all in ProTools, you’ve likely encountered the annoying “where is fade X?” dialog upon opening the session. I know, it’s like your forgetful uncle asking you where he left his car keys: how should you know? The first thing you should do is to navigate to the fades folder, sometimes ProTools just forgets that it had put them in the right place. But usually they’re lost. Don’t worry, the session file has a description of the fades, and will recreate them. It’s a bit time-consuming to rebuild all the fades, but at least all your tweaking hasn’t vanished. I really wish users could name and save fades manually, but at this point we can’t, the program gives them enigmatic names and occasionally lets them fall between the couch cushions.

Shape Up!

(Examples are in Streaming MP3 – 128 kbps)

For a general-purpose default fade, I really like the “S” fade: the cosine curve. On fade-ins it has a gradual introduction of the sound, then a faster ramp-up, than a more gradual leveling to the final volume. And the converse is true for fade-outs, the volume drop is fairly steep, then more gradual at the end, making for smoother transitions with silence. To my ears, many crossfades also seem to be smoothest using this curve.

The plain-old linear fade does just fine in many cases, especially when making simple volume adjustments.

The exponential fade is really great for hitting posts after a voice-over, or for very gradual fade-outs.

The examples above are of a dense and busy ambience: innumerable frogs in a small pond in western Massachusetts. Ramping in and out of this type of sound can demonstrate the distinct characters of the different fade shapes: the linear fade feels a bit more abrupt; the exponential more gentle at the edges, but fast in the middle, the Cosine (S-curve) has attributes of both the previous shapes.

Download these examples in MP3:

It’s Your Own Default

The first thing you should do is tweak your default fades (preferences>>editing). These are the fade shapes that will be automatically applied whenever you invoke a fade command. Don’t worry, they can always be adjusted later, so you’re not married to your defaults, but if you set them up carefully, you might find that you don’t have to do much tweaking afterward. There’s never going to be one fade that’s perfect for everything, it will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish and what the sound being faded is like.

By configuring your default fades, you will automatically create those volume curves when invoking a fade command. The most common technique is to use the selector tool to highlight a range of two adjoining soundfiles and then key-in command F (control F on windows computers) to make the crossfade. Double-clicking on the fade will open the fade window where you can make adjustments to the default fade. There needs to be original soundfile information overlapping both sides of the boundary in order for the fade to be created , make sure that you have recorded or imported a bit of audio before and after the part you want to use, so that there’s some audio space to write a fade over. If you select a region that extends beyond the bounds of the original soundfile(s) ProTools will tell you so, and ask if you want to adjust the boundaries. Click yes, and see if you still like the sound of the fade because the fade length(s) will have been changed. This warning doesn’t appear in the fade window for some reason, the program only complains after you click OK out of that window.

Crossfade WindowClicking on the red and blue triangles in the left of the fade window will show the waveforms under the curve display, either one on top of another, or overlapped, depending on which box you checked. The red and blue X removes the waveform display, leaving only the curves. It’s sometimes helpful to have those visual cues to help place the fade boundaries. But, as always, the proof is in listening. Clicking the speaker icon will preview the fade. Clicking the “1” will play just channel 1 (usually the left side of a stereo track,) the “2” plays channel 2. The blue triangles increas and decrease the waveform display height.

Holding the control or option keys, then using your keyboard’s up and down arrow keys will toggle through the “standard,” “S-Curve” and preset fade shapes. Those same up and down arrows with no modifier keys toggles among “Equal Power,” “Equal Gain” and “None.” Control or option with the left and right arrows will scroll through the different preset fade shapes. When “none” is selected for the power relationship, option left and right arrow scrolls the fade-in shapes, control left and right arrow scrolls the fade out shapes.

Automatic Transition

Tired of drawing volume automation curves or riding faders at the beginnings and ends of regions to smooth ambience shifts? Two really convenient fade shortcuts are the “fade in from region boundary”, and “fade out to region boundary.” These commands write a fade-in from the beginning of the region to your cursor upon keying-in option D or a fade from the cursor position to the end of the region when you hit option G. So, by using the trimmer tool to adjust the start and end points of the region to provide some margin around the crucial audio, then placing the cursor at the beginning (or end) of the desired audio, then using these keystrokes, one can quickly create smooth ramps in and out of a sound that has some background ambience. These fades can be applied across multiple tracks by shift-clicking on the desired tracks before invoking the fade command. Almost any track, even one recorded in a good booth, has a bit of ambience that can benefit from a ramp in or out. You can adjust the length or start and end points of a fade in the edit window by dragging its edges with the trimmer tool.

Batch FadesYou can batch-process fades, for instance applying a short crossfade to all edits to prevent clicks and thumps that can result when edits don’t happen exactly at zero crossings, or at perfect waveform meshes. Simply select the entire range of sound encompassing all the edits you wish to smooth, and hit command F. The batch fade dialog will appear, allowing the selection of fade shape, length, position, etc.

You can batch process in and out fades of several non-contiguous regions in the same way: simply highlight all of the segments you wish to treat, hit command F, adjust the parameters, and every segment will fade in and out of silence rather than hard-cutting.

You can automatically apply fades to punch-ins as well. If you are picking-up a word or two in a narration, go to setups>>preferences>>editing, and enter a default quickpunch fade length. Then, under operations, enable “quickpunch” then highlight the words you want to replace. When you hit record, you”ll record only over the section you selected, “punching-in” to replace a section in the middle of a previous recording. With a quickpunch fade length set in preferences, the transition between the old and new recordings will be smoothed: no clicks or pops.

The default setting is for crossfades to be symmetrical, to have the same length and position. You can choose an “equal power” or “equal gain” or “none” setting which will treats volume relationships differently across the length of the fade. In a rough generality, “equal power” is usually good for crossfading between two very different sounds, “equal gain” is often best for crossfading between two very similar, or identical sounds, and “none”. well, when the others don’t work, or you want to try something more complex.

Uneven in the Quietest Moments

Asymetrical FadeA handy trick is to make the fades asymmetrical, by checking the “none” box in the fade dialog. This allows choosing differrent shapes for the fade in and out, and/or adjustment of each fade duration and position independent of the other by clicking and dragging the “handles” at the top and bottom of each fade. By adjusting the fades this way, one can, for instance, bring a sound up quickly, while letting the previous sound tail-off more gradually, which is very handy when ambiences don’t match well.

Or if a short volume peak or P-pop is hard to control with other volume or compression manipulations, try placing the cursor at the middle of the peak, make a separation (command E) then make a short crossfade across that spot, and the offset the fades, creating a short dip that counteracts the peak. This can give a quicker and more finessed result than just creating a dip with volume automation, try different fade shapes and amounts of overlap, and you can often find something that sounds much better than a simple fader dip.

Peak FadeThese techniques can be used equally well to adjust long transitions of ambience or music beds as for very quick fades in dialog editing. If a voice edit isn’t working, or thumps or clicks, try a short crossfade between the regions. If a splice sounds unnatural, try cutting in the middle of a word, with a short crossfade over an S or F or th. Ambience drop off too fast? Tack some room tone at the end of the voice and make a crossfade to camoflage the shift. Just applying short (half-second or less) in and out fades at all region boundaries can make edits sound much smoother. Extending ambience beds can go quickly by selecting a section of clean ambience, duplicating it by clicking command D as many times as needed, then selecting all these newly-created segments and applying batch crossfades to smooth any bumps.

For some tips on using crossfades as a mixing technique, see “The Mix” here on Transom.

Despite the seeming complexity of some of these adjustments, after you get used to them they’ll become almost automatic, and speed up your workflow dramatically over tweaking fader automation or adjusting the breakpoint nodes of volume lines in the edit window. And making quick edits then applying short crossfades as a batch process will eliminate lots of laborious tweaking. And as always, true efficiency is all about the shortcuts: once you get option D and option F, command F, and option arrows into tactile memory, you’ll love it.

Scene ends. Fade to black…

Jeff Towne

Jeff Towne

During more than 25 years as a producer of the nationally-syndicated radio program Echoes. Jeff Towne has recorded interviews and musical performances in locations ranging from closets to cathedrals, outdoor stages to professional studios, turning them into radio shows and podcasts. Jeff is also the Tools Editor for, a Peabody Award-winning website dedicated to channeling new voices to public media. At Transom, he reviews field recorders, microphones and software, helping both beginning and experienced audio producers choose their tools. In his spare time, Jeff will probably be taking pictures of his lunch in that little restaurant with the strange name that you've been wondering about. 

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