Category Archives: Audio Editing Tips

Two ways in which poor music editing can lead to students who quit dance

Recently, there was a great conversation about the value of music editing as it pertains to dance studios in the Facebook group Dance Teacher Network. As I’ve outlined previously, there is much more to quality music editing for choreography than simply making a cut and calling it a day. Good music editing for choreography takes into account song structure as well as employs a variety of audio engineering techniques when needed. But there are two specific cases where poor music editing can completely frustrate a dancer, and in extreme cases, may even lead a student to quit dance entirely!

There are two kinds of poorly executed music edits that can lead dancers to quit: Awkward fade-outs and too much repetition

The first kind of poor music edit is one that robs the dancer of the applause that he or she so very much deserves after performing a routine. This poor choice is when a dance group or soloist’s song is simply faded out without any thought as to how the music should flow from start to finish. These type of fade-outs usually have the performer(s) dancing off the stage at an awkward point in the song; at a point where the audience isn’t expecting the routine to end because the music does not sound like it’s supposed to end. So the dancer is all the way off stage before the audience realizes that the routine is over, and there is a hesitation before they start to applaud. AND, the dancer is now not on the stage to properly feel, and fully receive, the audience’s applause. In extreme cases, this leaves a young, fledgling dancer who is timid, or a little bit uncertain of their dancing abilities, feeling like the audience may not have really appreciated their routine after all. Instead, always put a button on the music to ensure the dancer(s) receive the applause they deserve while on stage!

The second, and even more direct route where a bad music edit can lead to a dancer quitting entirely is when there is too much repeating left in the music edit for a young soloist. This can happen no matter whether it’s a competition solo or a recital solo. When too much repetition is left in the music, it is extremely easy for a dancer to lose track of where they are in the song and thus where they are in the choreography. When the music repeats over and over (especially choruses that repeat and verses that repeat), the dancer doesn’t have the “help” of the music or lyrics to serve as auditory cues as to where they are in their choreo and what comes next.

Properly edited music for dance has all possible repetition removed. This is an aspect that the vast majority of DIY music editors (and even many audio professionals who have not studied the intersection of dance and music) fail to realize. Music with too much repetition retained leads to students who more easily lose track of where exactly they are in their choreo, an especially big problem in solos where you can’t cue off of another dancer. In these cases, the person creating the music edit doesn’t even realize that the repetition in the music is a big contributor to the problem. And if a student doesn’t not have the “help” of the music to help them remember their choreo, then that leads to frustration, which can lead to quitting dance entirely.

I’m sure you have viewed hundreds and hundreds of solo routines in competition as I have, and therefore you know that at a large comp, there will ALWAYS be at least one young soloist who runs off the stage sobbing because they forgot their choreo under the bright lights of the stage. I have come to the conclusion that poorly edited music containing too much repetition is a major contributing factor to these breakdowns.

Of course, sometimes a dancer who forgets their choreo returns later to the stage and performs triumphantly, but some of these dancers decide to quit dance forever right then and there. Why risk it? Why lose young dancers forever due to poorly thought-out music edits? Sure, there are sometimes when a student forgets their choreo, even with perfectly edited music. But no one wants their students to experience these kind of choreo-forgetting melt-downs.

You, as choreographer and teacher, pour your heart and soul into your choreo, into teaching your students, and cleaning their routines. You spend hours picking out the perfect costume to match your choreo. You deserve to have perfect, optimized music to match the effort you put into every other aspect of the dance, and you deserve to have music that actively helps your dancers remember their choreo instead of being a stumbling block.

This is why Squirrel Trench Audio music is created with the UTMOST care and precision — with song structure analysis to eliminate all possible repetition, ensuring that each music edit is a complete soundtrack, start to finish, that is ideal for choreography. Squirrel Trench Audio even has more than 1,000 clean song edits and remixes available in our archives. Check the listing for the songs that you want and email me or use this form to send me your music requests or for more information.

Three common problems and fixes when editing or mixing music

clean_music_by_fatihakgungorI love helping dance teachers and choreographers have the most outstanding, powerful, and impactful music possible. It’s an honor that so many dance teachers and studio owners entrust me to fix and clean the mixes they create. When DTs send me mixes, I hear three problems most often. They are relatively easily avoided. Here they are with their easy fixes:

  1. Problem — Timing hiccups
  2. Problem — Volume drops
  3. Problem — Poor audio quality

 

  1. Fix for Timing Hiccups — Determine the tempo of every song and align your work to the tempo grid. That means all cutting, moving, etc, is done precisely rather than via guesswork
  2. Fix for Volume Drops — One reason I receive many song edits or mixes with a reduced volume is that when the audio file is created during the Export process, the “Normalize” option is turned on by default. When there are internal peaks in a song that is bounced down with the Normalize option turned on, this results in the ENTIRE mix being reduced in volume. Do not leave the Normalize option turned on! Instead, make sure Normalize is turned off. To avoid digital distortion in these cases, put a peak limiter on your output bus. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry, because in most cases, a short digital over will not be very noticeable on most sound systems.
  3. Fix for Poor Audio Quality — Use only original sources. Never import an mp3 into your audio program since an mp3 is a reduction in quality. Always save your mixes at at least 256k bit rate mp3, because to go less than that also results in an audible drop off in quality.

Hope these tips and fixes help you as you put together your edits and mixes! Please feel free to ask me any question about any of this since I truly love to help you have the best music you can possibly have for your amazing choreo!

Squeaky clean HandClap by Fitz and the Tantrums

fitz_and_tantrums-home1A new release from Squirrel Trench Audio on Legitmix: HandClap by Fitz & the Tantrums, cleaned of objectionable lyrics. The words “sex” and “lovers” have been removed. This is the full-length version, which is 3:10.

Get more Squirrel Trench remixes at Legitmix

Importing songs from iTunes into Audacity

audacity imageFor dance teachers who need to edit their songs for length, it’s not always clear how to get songs from iTunes into Audacity. There are several ways you can do it:

  • You can drag-and-drop the song file from where it’s located in your iTunes folder onto the Audacity program icon.
  • You can choose File -> Import and then select the song you want to edit
  • You can drag-and-drop the song file icon from where it’s located in your iTunes folder straight onto the open blank Audacity edit window.

If you haven’t done so before, you will also need to download and enable the FFmpeg import/export library in order to convert the m4a file. There is no cost to do so, and it can be done quickly and easily by going to Preferences -> Libraries and clicking “Download” under the FFmpeg library listing.

If you want to export your edit as an MP3 file, you will have to download and enable the MP3 library, which can be done from the same place as mentioned in the previous paragraph, namely Preferences -> Libraries, and then click Download under the MP3 library option.

For more information, check out this Audacity Importing help page.

If you want to save the time and hassle of editing songs yourself, be sure to check out the Squirrel Trench Audio library of more than 300 edited songs and remixes (almost all of which have been cleaned of objectionable lyrics), ready for purchase and instant download on Legitmix. Below is a small sampling of what is available. Click through to the Squirrel Trench catalog on Legitmix to see more selections:

Get more Squirrel Trench remixes at Legitmix

Protect your hearing at dance competitions

hd-bw-solo_1024x1024We all love the music that our routines are choreographed to, and that’s why dance competitions usually play your music really LOUD. Sound pressure levels of greater than 95 decibels are common in competition venues. You can easily get an approximate measure of the sound pressure level of any environment you are in with a free smartphone app. (I use Decibel Meter-Free for iPhone.)

Most dance teachers and choreographers are unaware that exposure to sound sources at these volumes (94 db or more) for more than 60 minutes consecutively can cause permanent hearing loss (source:National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)).

That is why I ALWAYS use hearing protection at dance competitions. You can use the cheap, foam type found in pharmacies, but that type tends to muffle the sound, and is therefore not enjoyable to use. I use Ear Peace protectors, which reduce the volume uniformly across all frequencies. The result is that the music sounds just as good as without the ear plugs, but the sound pressure is reduced so that you don’t damage your hearing or leave the competition with a splitting headache. I find that music actually sounds BETTER at competitions or rock concerts with the ear plugs than without, because at super-loud volumes, music actually distorts in your ear drums. Best of all, you can get a pair of HD Ear Peace protectors, with carrying case, for less than $20.

The other great thing about Ear Peace protection is that you can still have conversations with people that are next to you.

Just as you wear sunglasses in bright sunlight situations, consider hearing protection to be the equivalent device for your ears in loud settings. Do yourself a favor and protect your ears the next time you are at dance competition, especially when the solution is quite inexpensive.

How to convert a song to MP3 in iTunes

apple logo with headphonesiTunes is non-intuitive when it comes to converting a song from one format to another.

iTunes can convert audio into any of five different formats, AAC (which has an m4a extension), AIF, Apple Lossless, MP3, and WAV. But right-clicking on a song only shows you one choice to convert to, and your conversion option is only whatever you have your CD import settings set to! (It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but it is what it is.) To change it to MP3, just go to Preferences -> General -> Import Settings, and select MP3 Encoder.

When you do, be SURE to set your MP3 import settings to:
• Stereo Bit rate: 256 kbps
• [check] Use variable bit rate encoding (yes)
• Quality: Highest
• Sample Rate: 44.100 kHz
• Channels: Stereo
• Stereo Mode: Normal
• [check] Smart Encoding Adjustments (yes)
• [check] Filter Frequencies Below 10 Hz (yes)

(Click for more information on the proper settings for MP3 files.)

If later, you need to convert music to a different format that iTunes supports, then follow the steps listed above, but select the destination format that you want to convert to. For example, if you need a WAV file, then select WAV in your Import Settings, and once you do that, Convert to WAV will be an option when you right-click on a song.

When saving edits as mp3s, always choose 256k or higher

11882514-ear-and-sound-waves-Stock-Vector-hearingFor all of you fabulous choreographers who edit your own music: When saving your music as an mp3, NEVER save it at anything less than a 256k bit rate. Why is this important? Because when you save it at 128k or lower, you are telling your computer to throw away some of the detail in your music. You may not hear the difference on your laptop or iPad’s speakers, but when played on a good sound system (like in your studio, or at comp or recital), it won’t be as clear. And it just gets worse if you open up that same low-res file and re-edit it again.

Also worth noting: once you save an edit as a low-res mp3, re-saving it at a higher rate later does not fix it. Once you’ve saved it as a low-res file, then it will always be low res.

I know all the “export” or “save as…” options that are presented in most audio processing programs are greek if you don’t know the details or reasons behind the choices. Way too many of the music edit files I get for repair are saved as 128k mp3 files, and it makes me sad to know that dancers are not dancing with the cleanest version of their music possible, for no good reason other than the choreographer was not aware that saving at a 128k rate (or lower) degrades the audio noticeably.

Also, if you are not sure what the quality of an mp3 is, there’s a fairly easy way to tell, by checking the file’s size in Mb. A 2.5 to 3-minute edit saved as an mp3 or m4a should be roughly 5 to 6 Mb in size. If it’s only 2 to 3 Mb in size, then you know it’s low-res, and too much audio quality has been thrown away.

I can easily understand why this is such a problem. While you are working on the file, it sounds fine, because it hasn’t been saved to a low-res format yet. And when you save it as a low-res mp3, you can’t immediately HEAR that it doesn’t sound as good as what you have been working on. In other words, the quality gets reduced when you save it, but you don’t even know that that has happened. So I am very happy to help spread the word. Now you know!

Bottom line: When doing a “Save as” or “Export Audio” to an mp3 file, always choose the 256k rate or higher!

Find the EXACT best tempo for your routine

tempo slomo screen568x568I’m sure you’ve noticed that there are some songs where your dancers are constantly being held back by the tempo of the song. When this happens it’s almost like there is an invisible force subtly sapping the energy out of the routine. Conversely, there are other songs where the dancers are always rushing to keep up with the beat. Adjusting the groove of the song, by even as little as 1% slower OR faster, can make a huge impact on how well your dancers perform with the music. Use the Tempo SlowMo app to dial in EXACTLY what the tempo should be for every routine you choreograph. Spin the jog wheel WHILE your dancers are performing to find the exact tempo that FEELS just right!

Tempo SlowMo is just one app that allows you to change the tempo of songs you are playing. Another one is BarreNotes.

Don’t forget to “print” a new copy of each song that you are using at the new tempo that you’ve dialed in.

Tips for recording Voice-Overs for dance routines

voice memo app iconMore and more folks are interested in recording voice-overs of various kinds for their dance routines. Since Squirrel Trench Audio works with dance teachers and choreographers all over the world, we usually can’t come to you in order to do the recording. This means you are on your own to record your own dancers’ voices, but it’s not too hard to do that, and send us the resulting audio files.

The good news: if you have an iPhone, it’s easy to record the voice-overs that you want. Just use the (free) Voice Memo app that is built-in. Here are the tips in a nutshell, with further explanation below:

  • Record in a living room or bedroom; never in a dance studio
  • Aim the bottom of the iPhone at your dancer(s), about 1.5 feet away
  • Record three takes of the words you want

Record in a living room or bedroom; never in a dance studio

One of the most important aspects to getting a good recording is the room in which you record, because sound bounces off of walls, floor and ceiling. This is called reverberation, which is a form of echo. Pretty much the worst space to do a recording is inside a dance studio rehearsal room. Ideally, you want to be in a living room or bedroom when recording a voice-over. The more drapes or other fabric there is in the room, the better. Carpeting is also very helpful. Using the Voice Memo app on your iPhone, situate yourself with the iPhone, and the person(s) that you are recording, in the middle of the room, away from all the walls.

The iPhone’s mic is in the bottom of the phone; aim it at your dancer(s), about 1.5 feet away

Hold the iPhone approximately 1 to 2 feet from the person(s) speaking (1.5 feet is probably ideal). Aim the mic (which is in the bottom) at the person talking. It should be close to them, but not TOO close.

Record three takes of the words you want 

Record at LEAST three “takes” of the words that you want to have. That way, I will be able to choose from the best of the resulting versions. Sometimes a word might get cut off, or the speaker trips over a word. If you have them repeat their lines three times, then I can put together the best version of the words.

Here are a few Squirrel Trench Audio custom dance mixes that feature Voice-Overs:

Get more Squirrel Trench remixes at Legitmix

Don’t Let Your Audio Degrade

clean_music_by_fatihakgungorWhen editing, cutting or mixing music yourself, don’t let the audio degrade. Be careful when you do audio editing. Sometimes I get requests to fix or clean already-edited songs, and when I hear the edit supplied, it sounds like a bunch of squirrels have gotten in and trenched the music.

There are many reasons audio can get degraded, and many different types of problems that inexperienced music cutters can create. When you put degraded music on stage, it’s really not much different than putting a dancer on stage with a tattered costume.

Here are just a few things to watch out for:

  • Don’t let the volume drop. You don’t want your music to be far softer than everyone else’s. Trust me, this happens.
  • Don’t turn up the volume either. You may not hear the distortion on your laptop or iPad, but when played on a large sound system, the distortion sounds terrible and piercing. I’ve heard this in competition a number of times as well.
  • Don’t make a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of an mp3, or get the audio from YouTube. People think that you can make a copy of a digital audio file, and it will never degrade. That’s true of AIFF or WAV files, where all of the audio information is retained in the file. But mp3 degrades the audio a little bit every time it’s saved. So when you make a copy of a copy it gets worse, just like a cassette (though not as dramatically worse of course). One generation of high quality mp3 is not that much worse than the original. But several copies like this, and it sounds awful compared to the original.

There are many other pitfalls that inexperienced music editors introduce into audio they are creating, including fade-outs at strange places, pops, clicks or irregular jumps in the beat, copying bad audio from YouTube, and more.

Of course you can prevent degraded audio by taking advantage of the services offered by a professional music editor/remixer who has years of experience manipulating audio. One service springs to mind as someone who specializes in understanding the musical needs of competitive dancers. But if you already have edited your music, and you need it fixed up or cleaned, we are happy to help.