Known throughout the industry as the arrangement phase, the next step following the tracking is the part that parallels the work of an editor. Choosing what parts will be used, what parts won’t, and arranging them onto a playlist or timeline. Some general cleanup of the files might be in order, such as: removing parts where the band is talking and not playing, or taking away a moment of loud noise, for instance. There may be some need for general volume adjustment; but don’t go crazy. This isn’t the time to do the heavy work. This is an opportunity to observe the resources you have available and see if they’ll take you where you want to go. Many of the tracks will have to be corrected for timing and you may notice, before you go any further, that another take on a particular track is required; maybe because there was some clipping on the channel that was missed during the recording. This would be the best time to get another recording session scheduled; before anything has been processed.
One exception to the rule, for me is the vocals. I like to do some of the preliminary work on those at this stage. Specifically, riding the faders to keep the volume at a good overall level. I’m not talking about compression; this is something that should be done way before compression if it needs to be done at all. The reason for this is that sudden changes of volume will engage the compressor later and cause undesirable periods of gain reduction. I might take out sibilants (annoying hisses of higher frequencies) with a de-esser, or remove some of the plosives (thuds made by certain consonants in the mic). Finally, if the breath sounds are too noticeable, or happening in uncomplementary ways, I’ll clean them up too. The object is to ensure that I have a completely usable track.
It’s important to keep very good organization in these steps! Without careful labeling and a good folder hierarchy, it’s easy to lose track of what’s what. A good rule of thumb to live by is: keep all files from the same session in the same folder and if using multiple DAW projects to do a single job, keep all renders in the same folder as the project file they came from. This helps you later when you have a project which uses audio files that were bounced from multiple projects. You’ll know what project to go back and make changes to; if need be.