Top 5 song editing mistakes

I just got back from a spectacular regional dance competition, where my original remix Pixie Hollow premiered. The dancers were truly spectacular and brought a tear to my eye. I can’t wait to see them perform it again in two weeks.

It was truly a pleasure to watch so many fantastic dances, and hear the wonderful music that the dance teachers had chosen for their students. I could see how much hard work had gone into each number to bring it to fruition on stage.

Being a musician and not a dancer, I paid special attention to the music, and how the dance and music worked together in the performances. I was very happy to hear no major squirrel trenches in any of the songs I heard. However, I couldn’t also help but notice that there were minor glitches in the music editing of many songs. So in my quest to help eliminate bad music edits from all dance competitions, I present to you the top 5 music editing mistakes I hear in songs played at competition. In subsequent posts, I will explain in detail how you can avoid each one. While most judges won’t deduct points for these mistakes, any one of them takes away from the musicality of the dance that you are striving for. Any of these mistakes takes attention away from the dancer and makes the performance less enjoyable to watch.

1. Awkward fade out

2. Mis-matched phrase edit

3. Abrupt cut

4. Drop-out edit

5. Frozen statue intro

Let’s discuss the first two in a bit more detail. Again, future blog posts will explain more about each one of these pitfalls, and more importantly, exactly how to avoid them in your own music editing.

The awkward fade out (and its cousin, the abrupt ending) is by far the most common music editing mistake I hear in dance competitions. It’s easy to understand why it happens. You find a great song, and virtually all popular songs are too long for competition. So what is the easiest thing for a time-pressed dance teacher to do? Fade it out at the proper length for competition. But while it’s easy to do this, it’s very much worth the time to avoid this practice. With the awkward fade out, your dancer is usually left either holding their ending pose or begins to exit the stage, while the auditorium falls into silence. The audience doesn’t start applauding and cheering because they aren’t sure that the performance has actually ended. There’s nothing worse for your performers’ self-confidence than the nervous silence, followed by the too-late applause created by the awkward fade out. Often these strange fade-outs occur in middle of a verse or some other equally unexpected point in the song. As I’ve said in an earlier blog post, if your song has a clear ending, use it. [Update: Here’s exactly how to do it.]

The mis-matched phrase edit is another common song editing mistake, and one which can be quite problematic from a dance point of view. Most dancers love a strong groove, a catchy or funky beat, that propels them to dance. And most dance music (though certainly not all) is in 4/4 time. Dancers learn to count in 8s, which corresponds very nicely to most musical phrasing, which usually occurs in groups of 4-beat measures. While musicians learn to count in 4s, these groups of measures often occur in even multiples, such as 8 and 16, and these patterns usually can also be lumped together in groups of 24 and even 32. How strange then, when the editing of music occurs in mid-measure, and sometimes even in mid-beat. Here is what this pattern looks like in written form, from a dancer’s point of view:

8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 11.3, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8.

No wonder your dancers are having a hard time with this section of their song- it not only has an odd number of beats, it also has a partial beat! OUCH! It’s nearly impossible to get your dancers’ moves clean when the music itself is not clean in this way. Inevitably, this type of editing flub kills the groove and pulse of the music.

Well, that’s all for this blog post. In future posts, I will give you some very specific guidance on how to avoid these most-common song editing mistakes in your competition routines. In the meantime, if you have a song that has one of these mistakes in it, and you want it fixed in time for your next regional or nation competition, send me an email.

11 thoughts on “Top 5 song editing mistakes

  1. Pingback: How to avoid awkward fade-outs « Squirrel Trench Audio

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  3. mochazina

    LOLOL @ 8, 8, 8, 11.3, 8, 8, 8, 8

    That is by far the worst music edit possible! Trying to choreograph/teach/dance, heck even LISTEN to that is torture! 😀

  4. Morriss Partee

    @mochazina I’m glad you pointed that out! I showed this blog post to my girlfriend who is a dance teacher, and she said “there IS no 11.3 in dance, it’s all eights!” To which I replied, “that is EXACTLY the point! As a dance instructor you’re trying to fit 8 counts where there is something other than 8 counts in the music. And you wonder why your students aren’t understanding it or getting it right?”

    The thing which is funny to me, and is a shame, is that dance instructors who mismatch beats and measures in their own music edits don’t even realize that they doing it. They get used to hearing it with the glitch, and they just choreograph using the jolt in the timing.

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  9. Melissa

    Hi! I just discovered your blog & I really enjoy it. I am a ballroom dance instructor & frequently find myself editing songs for student’s routines. As an instructor, dancer & just someone who loves watching others dance, I also despise the awkward fade out ending as well as the equally as awkward endings that inevitably go with it. Like you said, such a let down for all involved. But what would you suggest if you are using a song that has a natural fade out at the end? I still really would not rather use it even though it is original to the song, but I also don’t want to end up with an abrupt cut from just trying to somehow make my own ending in the music. The song is “You Should Be Dancing” by the Bee Gees in case you’re wondering. I’ve listened to it a million times to try to find somewhere that I could make a graceful ending but to no avail. Thanks in advance for sharing your professional opinion & again I really enjoy your blog!

  10. Morriss Partee

    Hi Melissa! Thank you so much for this question! It’s quite wonderful, and is a problem that I’m sure many dance instructors face. In fact, I’m going to make a blog post about this very subject, so thank you again. I will give you a few pointers to get you going in the right direction. There are potentially several ways to solve this problem.

    1.) Sometimes, a fade out in the music is okay, especially when it’s intentional. Sometimes, a choreographer might want to purposefully have the dancers exit the stage as the music fades out.

    But if you, as choreographer really want to have an ending in the music where the song as recorded fades out, there are a couple of routes you can take. Some of these methods are advanced, and that is where you would want to utilize the services of a professional music editor such as myself, or someone else, because indeed, there might be no way to make it sound natural with just a cut.

    2.) The first thing I’d do is check to see if there is an alternate version of the song by another artist that does have a non-fade out ending, and use that instead if it exists.

    If there is no cover version of the song with a non-fadeout ending, or if you have your heart really set on using the version of the song that does have the fade out ending, then here are some tricks you can use:

    3.) See if there is a way to use a part of the intro to create the ending. In this case, the intro starts out with a basic bass/kick drum pulse with some other light percussion. With some creative editing, this could become a way to create an ending.
    4.) One of the reasons why it never sounds natural to “chop off” the music using a basic audio editor is that most instruments in a recording have reverb. This is the natural “echo-y” sound of a room. Even if you are not consciously aware of reverb, it exists in every room, and is one way we can tell if we are in a big room or a small room even with our eyes closed. (A big room has more, longer reverb as the sound travels away from a source, bounces off the walls, and reflects back to our ears.) When editing music, adding just the right amount of reverb (with the correct room size and amount of reverb) can go a long way in making an audio cut sound natural and not chopped.
    5.) There are various audio gimmicks that could be employed to create an ending. It’s a little gimmick-y, but you could use a giant “slam” or “thud” sound, with a healthy dose of reverb, at the ending point of the song.

    One of the reasons that it’s really hard to find an ending point in this song is that we have the phrase “You should be” as a pick-up to the downbeat of “Dancing, yeah” repeating constantly as the song fades out. The downbeat is on the first syllable of “dancing”, so it will always sound unnatural to try to make an ending that goes “you should be dan”.

    So the bottom line is that it can be done, but it requires a bit more than just a simple cut to make it sound smooth and natural.

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