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I Like That Old Time PUNCH & ROLL (Apologies
To Bob Seger). Here's Why & How To Do It ...

By James Romick
Voice Actor & REAPER Instructor

The term Punch & Roll stems from those nearly bygone days of multitrack music recording on those huge 16- and 24-track analog tape machines used to record Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in recording studios such as The Power Station, The Hit Factory and The Record Plant.

The term Punch & Roll is really a misnomer, though.

Technically, it should be called Roll & Punch, because that's the order in which the process is performed.

The recording engineer would jog the tape reels back a bit to get a pre-roll, then roll the tape, and the performer would punch-in at a certain point, either as a new take (and continuing on with the recording) or to make a correction in the middle of some previously recorded material.

In either case, the previously recorded material was recorded over, erased from existence, never to be saved for posterity.

And that, my friends, is the simplest example of destructive editing newly recorded material replacing and erasing previously recorded material.

So, why the name Punch & Roll?

Well, Roll & Punch just doesn't readily trip off the tongue, in much the same way that Roll 'n' Rock collides as just wrong in the brain. Duh! It's Rock 'n' Roll, dudes and dudettes! Hence: Punch & Roll.


Fast-forward to the digital age.

Nearly anyone with a computer, a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) installed on said computer, some relatively inexpensive professional recording equipment (microphone and preamp), and a sound deadened space (a padded, walk-in closet for instance), can have for themselves a home studio in which to record their auditions, podcasts or audiobooks.

Therefore, being a voice talent nowadays necessitates having some (more than basic) audio engineering skills, such as setting good input levels, possibly processing and mastering your files (using FX plugins like EQ and compression), and of course, using Punch & Roll to correct mistakes or mis-takes as the case may be.

Almost all DAWs now have P&R functionality. But the way they achieve it can widely vary.

Audacity and Adobe Audition, for instance, have only recently implemented their own versions of P&R ...
Audacity is still a destructive editing DAW (explained in the first paragraph), so whatever punch-ins are performed overwrite and erase previously recorded material. And that can be frustrating if the punch point isn't hit dead on, often due to computer latency issues.

If the voice comes in too soon (before the punch point), the first syllable or word may be clipped off. The only recourse is to hit [Un-do] and try again. Coming in too late is better, because at the beginning of the punch-in there is some uselessly recorded material that can be edited out.

IMHO however, that makes Audacity's P&R implementation a bit clunky to use. But better than the previous stair-step method used to make corrections.

Meanwhile, Adobe Audition is a non-destructive DAW (all the previously recorded material is still there to use somewhere), so its implementation of P&R leaves more wiggle room, as far as editing is concerned.

OcenAudio, like Audacity, is free to download and use. And like TwistedWave, it only opens with a single track. Its implementation of P&R can be done in both a destructive and non-destructive way.

Steven Jay Cohen's video covers both ways. (Note that the non-destructive way simply pushes the previously recorded material on ahead of the punch point. That's a little different than how other non-destructive DAWs perform.) Start watching at 4:02.
And here's one of George Whittam's videos on P&R for TwistedWave. Start watching at 1:24.
In Logic Pro X, as for some other DAWs, there quite a bit of initial setup involved. Check out this video.
StudioOne Artist is becoming a very popular DAW for voice-over talent. And who better to learn P&R from but the S1 Guru himself, Don Baarns, in this video.
In ProTools, it's a kind of punch-in/punch-out thing. This video explains it. However, ProTools is geared more toward correcting mis-takes. Search YouTube for a specific P&R video. Since ProTools is the 800 lb. gorilla of DAWs, there's bound to be a ton of videos on P&R, mostly music oriented.
Additionally, here is a link to an article on P&R written by U.K. voice actor and audiobook narrator, C.C. Hogan. He includes an instructional video using Cubase, a very popular DAW in Europe.
And my favorite DAW, if you didn't know already, is Reaper (see earlier Reaper how-to article).

There are also tons of music-oriented instructional videos featuring P&R for Reaper. However, my friend Steven Gonzales has created one specific to voice-over that is quite thorough and succinct.

IMHO, performing P&R in Reaper combines some of the best bits of most of these other DAWs, and really makes it fairly quick and easy for the user to perform or not perform at all if you don't need to.

Quite honestly, sometimes I don't want the pre-roll on for P&R so that I can begin recording right from the time I hit [Record] without waiting the 2.5 seconds that I've set as my pre-roll.
BTW: Like some DAWs, the pre-roll may or may not be recorded depending upon how you set the preferences. That recorded material is hidden, but it's there for editing. I have that on/off toggle assigned to the keyboard shortcut [P] and linked to an icon in my tool bar as a visual to let me see which state my pre-roll is in.
Also, Steven talks about Reaper's three record modes. I have my customized version of Reaper set to [Record mode: time selection auto punch] as the default. That record mode doesn't interfere with anything else I might need to do. Correcting a mistake is as easy as dragging a time selection (highlighting in other DAW parlance) over my mis-take, placing the play/record cursor back a little way (in essence, setting a pre-roll), and hitting [Record].

The process is very much like the previous ProTools video's punch-in/punch-out method with a twist. Steven shows you what that twist is.

Here's your link to Steven's video. I would urge Reaper users to watch the entire 26:17 and all of Steven's other Reaper instructional videos, for that matter. I watch then every now and then as reinforcement, and I always pick up on something that I might have previously dismissed or overlooked.


In Summary: No matter what genre of voice-over you perform commercials, eLearning, narration and, most especially, audiobooks Punch & Roll is a process that you must take the time to learn and perform, no matter which DAW you choose to use.

Amanda Rose Smith, who has engineered and mastered over 1,000 audiobooks and is one of the fiercest proponents of Punch & Roll recording (as opposed to the dog clicker method), relates a story about teaching an author (a veteran) with no prior digital audio engineering experience how to use P&R to narrate his own audiobook in a matter of 20 minutes.

It ain't rocket surgery, people. Learn it! Use it! 
James Romick figures he's in the fourth or fifth phase of a 40+ year acting career, who "never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that I'd be recording and producing audiobooks at home in my den from a vocal booth I designed and built myself. While investigating the world of audiobooks," he adds, "a seasoned narrator once told me, 'Actors are natural storytellers. Whether on stage, on film, on TV, in commercials, giving instructions or just telling a good joke. Actors can also create unique and interesting characters.' Hmmmm, I thought. 'Been there, done all of that.' Audiobooks just seem like another aspect of this actor's creative outlet. Being a singer/musician and taking a 9-month audio engineering course didn't hurt either." James also offers tutoring in voice-over and audiobook recording, and a PowerPoint presentation and accompanying PDF of the REAPER class he occasionally presents at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation (EIF) Voiceover Lab in New York City.

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Comments (2)
Nina Murano
10/7/2022 at 11:12 AM
I am so looking forward to todays Zoom w James Romick! This article was so encouraging and hopeful.
Steve Black
5/6/2021 at 3:27 PM
Most thorough definition I've found. Well done!
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