Category Archives: Audio Editing Tips

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.

The reason you don’t want audio from YouTube videos

youtube logo (6)There are many reasons why it’s a bad idea to extract audio from YouTube.

1) It’s illegal.

2) Even pristine audio is somewhat degraded since YouTube uses mp3 encoding of any audio submitted. In many cases, it’s an mp3 of an mp3 of an mp3….. and the audio gets worse every time it’s re-encoded in this manner.

3) But if the above reasons are not enough to convince you it’s a bad idea to extract audio from a YouTube clip, then realize this:  In many cases, what you are listening to on a YouTube clip is the room in which the audio was played. Even if the clip doesn’t have audience noises, like coughing, moving around in seats, and other assorted venue noise, the audio is playing back over a sound system, and being picked up by a microphone, along with all of the reverb, reflections, and echoes of the room in which the music is being played. All of these things combined downgrade the audio, sometimes a little bit, and sometimes to the point of pure garbage. But it’s never as clear as it could be. And once degraded in this way, there is no practical way to restore it, except to go back to the original source. That is why, when creating music edits and remixes for dance teachers, Squirrel Trench Audio always goes back to source audio whenever possible.

If you want GOOD, CLEAN audio, DON’T get it from YouTube!

CD-quality versus mp3-quality – What’s good enough?

A recent comment on a dance facebook group asked for some further explanation on the differences between CD-quality audio (lossless or uncompressed) and mp3-quality (lossy or compressed) audio.

I thought I’d share my explanation on the subject here.

cd.gifBecause mp3s were created when the internet was new, and slow modems were used to connect with it, they have gotten somewhat of a bad rap because early mp3s were at such low bit-rates, that they truly sounded awful. However, as bandwidth has increased rapidly over the years, it’s possible today to get high quality mp3s that are virtually indistinguishable from CD-quality audio.

The audio quality in stores like the iTunes store or Amazon mp3 store are now quite good. Not CD-quality exactly, but on virtually all sound systems that the music will be played on, no one will be able to tell the difference.

I have had the misfortune of working with some really cruddy music sources supplied to me, and once music is degraded (which I will explain more below), it can’t be returned to its original form. It would be like ripping up a costume and then trying to put it back together with duct tape – yuck. So here’s what you REALLY want to watch out for: DO NOT USE MUSIC SAVED FROM A YOUTUBE VIDEO.

CD quality is a very high standard of music quality. Even better forms of digital audio exist, but this is irrelevant for the dance world and dance purposes. Here is a list of format qualities, from fantastic to poor:

  1. CD quality (usually stored as either AIF or WAV format)
  2. m4a/AAC — iTunes store quality, 256k bit rate
  3. mp3 — 256k or higher, variable bit rate – this is nearly as good as iTunes store quality. Most people on most systems won’t hear a difference between this and CD quality
  4. mp3 — 128 k or lower bit rate—- this is where you start to hear what are often called “swirlies” especially in the high frequencies of the music.
  5. The worst possible digital music is music that is saved as an mp3, and then saved as an mp3 again (possibly more than once). This is how audio from YouTube gets to be so bad.

Bottom line: For dance studios, rehearsal, recital, competition – mp3 at 256k or higher variable bit rate, or m4a at 256k or higher bit rate, are going to be fine, with one very important caveat: as long as the song has not been resampled/resaved in mp3 format more than once. And this is precisely why music taken from YouTube ranges so wide and far in quality…. it can be nearly pristine, or it can be severely degraded, depending on how it arrived there.

Just like cassettes in the old days: if you recorded a CD onto cassette, it didn’t sound too bad…. just a small amount of hiss was added. But as soon as you start recording cassette to cassette — you are left with practically nothing but noise after just one or two such transfers. The hiss becomes nearly as loud as the music!

Well, that’s exactly the same thing that is happening with an mp3 to mp3 copy, and this is where compression comes in that you mentioned six comments above (lol). When you save music as an mp3, indeed, you are compressing it, compared to CD-quality which is uncompressed. The mp3 encoding throws away some of the “less important” details of the music in order to save space in the storage of the file. If you take a CD, and save it as a 256k-rate mp3, you can barely even notice any difference. But if you save a 256k-rate mp3 as a 256k-rate mp3, now you are throwing away even more detail. And low-quality YouTube videos have music that is encoded as a 128k-rate mp3. So if a person takes an mp3, and then uploads that as the music of their YouTube video, now you are listening to the same thing in essence as a cassette-to-cassette transfer. If you then save the music track from the YouTube as an mp3 on your computer, and remix or edit it and save the result as an mp3, now you are doing the same thing as a cassette-to-cassette-to-cassette transfer. So if the music sounds awful at that point, well, now you know why.

Here’s an example of audio that sounds terrific on YouTube. Especially if you click the quality setting to 720p HD or higher. (Switching the YouTube video to an HD setting increases the audio quality to the highest available.)

 

Here’s an example of music that has been pretty severely degraded, as a 48k bit rate mp3. This would be similar to saving a 96k-bit rate mp3 more than once:

On the above clip, if you go back to the start of the video, you can hear what it sounds like as a very high quality mp3. Every 30 seconds, it’s played as a lower and lower quality mp3.

If you have any questions about CD-quality, m4a/AAC, or mp3 audio quality, please comment, and I will answer to the best of my ability!

Put a button on it

button48221navyDefinition of Button, from a Broadway Glossary:

Button: The payoff moment in a song; the moment when the song is “buttoned up” and finished.

On Broadway, music composers know that nearly all of the time, they need to deliver a button on their songs…. that point in the music when the audience knows the song is over, and it’s time to applaud. The same concept applies when editing music for performance dance routines. When a song fades out, your audience is robbed of the routine’s button. That’s why Squirrel Trench Audio retains the ending of the original song so that the button is delivered to your dancer. The audience knows the routine is over and it’s time to clap.

There are times when a song might have a big musical finish that lasts 20 seconds or more. These type of endings, while great in a music performance, are too long for a dance performance. In such cases, we will edit down the big finish into an appropriate length for the dance routine.

If you need your music edited to retain the button, either look through our catalog on Legitmix, or fill out a custom music edit request form.

For further reading, here is an earlier article that describes how to avoid awkward fade-outs. And here is more information on retaining song structure when editing music.

Clean your dance, clean your music

clean_music_by_fatihakgungorCompetition season for dancers is here in earnest. This past weekend featured two studios utilizing Squirrel Trench music for their routines at the same competition (27 routines!). We’re thrilled to report a slew of 1st Places, Platinum, High Golds and Overalls were garned by these dedicated and hardworking dancers and choreographers.

Now that we’re in the competition phase of the year, don’t forget to clean your music at the same time you’re cleaning your routines and costumes. If there is a hiccup, jump, skip, mis-matched beat in your music, or section of music that is too soft, or not punchy enough, too fast or too slow, it’s not too late to get it fixed in time for the next regionals competition.

Already, Squirrel Trench Audio has helped dance teachers and studio owners get higher scores for their routines in a number of ways. For one tap number, the dancers were rushing too fast for the music. Solution? Speed up the music. For another studio, the routine was receiving deductions for inappropriate language. Solution? Inappropriate language obscured through clever remixing by Squirrel Trench. For another studio, the music they were using was too soft compared to all the other music being used. Solution? Brought up to current loudness levels by Squirrel Trench through a process known as mastering.

We know that many dance teachers and studios cut their own music. One of the potential pitfalls to self-cut music is that in the course of rehearsing the number five hundred times, any mistakes or hiccups eventually sound normal, just because you become used to hearing it that way. Of course, the judges will be hearing it for the first time, and if there is a hiccup, skip, jump or any other strangeness in the audio, it detracts from the polish you’ve worked so hard to achieve with your students.

So find a friend who can listen to your competition music with fresh ears. If they hear something that doesn’t sound right, send it my way to get it fixed in time for your next Regionals, so that you’ve got it the best it can be in time for Nationals. If you have something that needs fixing, use this Online Request Form, or email me at: morriss@squirreltrenchaudio.com

Related articles: Time to Fix Things UpPump Up The VolumeFix Your Music in Time for Nationals

Pump Up The Volume

Just finished bringing up the volume of another movie soundtrack song (based on a Broadway show tune) for a dance teacher in Tennessee.

We can raise the volume (without distortion) of any tracks that are playing too quietly compared to commercial releases today. This service is quite different than simply raising the volume in your audio editor of choice, which will invariably cause a harsh kind of distortion called clipping distortion. I’ve actually heard this kind of clipping distortion blasted over competition sound systems. It’s not pretty.

Raising the volume in this manner is most commonly needed for show tunes, movie soundtrack songs, and some older songs. These type of songs actually sound fantastic, because they retain their dynamic range, but in the world of dance competitions, the people responsible for the sound systems expect a certain volume from the CDs they are playing. You can’t rely on them to raise the volume of a soft song because they don’t know if a loud section of music is still to come. (However, if a song is too loud, you can count on them to turn the volume down.)

Bringing a song up to the proper level without distortion is currently being offered for only $19, and if the song is being edited by Squirrel Trench Audio, then this aspect is included in the regular price. What a bargain!

More info about Mastering your Dance Track and Fixing your Music in time for Competitions

Time to fix things up

Most group music is probably now finished for the season. Perhaps a few solos still need to be created. In any case, with the bulk of the primary music editing season behind us, now is a great time to fix any glitches that might exist in the music you are practicing with. Better to fix it now than just before competition, so your dancers have a chance to get used to the fix!

So to put the finishing touches on your music stylings, we can fix any unnatural sounding transitions, skips, hiccups, pauses, or drop-outs. In addition, we can perform Mastering services, which will ensure that the volume of the music is at the expected level, without introducing distortion, which is what would happen if you simply increased the volume using music editing software. Read more about that here in Mastering the Loudness of your Dance Competition Music.

Determine the tempo first

Here’s a tip that will make all of your music edits (or cuts) much, much easier.

I just got an emergency assignment to edit a popular remix/dubstep song down to the routine length of 2:30. The dance teacher just couldn’t make it happen. This is very understandable; there are a lot of echoes and the dynamic range is pretty compressed, making it difficult to make out the downbeat in the waveforms.

However, if you start your editing projects by determining the tempo, and then lining up the downbeats to the tempo grid, doing the edits becomes a piece of cake. I am almost embarrassed to say that by lining up the music to the tempo grid, I had about 8 seamless cuts done in about 15 minutes. Boom, done, because I determined the tempo was exactly 140 bpm before starting to make transition points.

Not every music edits goes that quickly. Freeform jazz, or any music done without a click track can be really tricky to edit seamlessly. But for modern dance music, figuring out the tempo first can make the difference between hours and hours of waveform alignment (and still not getting it right), and a perfect precision job that is done in minutes.

If you are tired of pulling your hair out trying to get your music cuts to be seamless, send me an email instead. Let me know the name of the song and the length that you need the finished piece to be, and I’ll make it happen for you for only $39!

What is possible in music editing for dance?

I realize that there are many people coming to this site who may not be aware of what can be done to music to get it into shape for a dance routine. So here are just a few of the things that can be changed or re-shaped in getting a song ready for choreography. If you have any questions about it, don’t hesitate to send me an email with your questions!

  • Edit the song for smoothness – Many amateur music editors will cut a song in a spot that doesn’t make sense for a smooth flow. We have an in-depth understanding of music structure that enables us to deliver a polished edit that flows best for choreography. Just let us know how long the routine will be, and we will deliver your song at that length. Email me for more info; pricing is $39 per song.
  • Speed up a song – Advances in digital music processing enable us to speed a song up (or slow a song down) by a little bit or a whole lot. Tempo is usually measured in Beats Per Minute (or BPM). Many dance songs have a tempo in the ballpark of 120-126 BPM. Faster songs that are danceable are 132-140 BPM, and there are other songs that work at 90-100 BPM. It’s all about the groove. Since most dancers don’t know the BPM of a song, it’s okay to tell us that you want a song sped up by 5% or slowed down by 10%.
  • Slow down a song – see above. Any music can be sped up or slowed down. We can even deliver several versions for you at different speeds, for rehearsal purposes.
  • Create a unique remix – Given the right parameters, we can come up with a unique remix of a song or combination of songs. This takes some collaboration, so if you are interested in something like this, this or this, then send me an email, and we can talk further on the phone or via email. Usually this process starts with a concept for the dance, and continues from there.
  • Make a song louder – Dancers often want their music to sound as loud as every other song that is being played on a sound system. If you are using a song from a movie soundtrack, or an older song from many years ago, and it’s not loud enough compared to other songs being used, send it my way and we’ll get it just right for you. Sometimes older songs could use more bass, and we can increase the bass as well. (more on Mastering for Loudness here).
  • Remove swear words or other objectionable lyrics – Many songs have a clean version available, but many do not. Some songs have objectionable lyrics throughout, and should not be used for family-oriented dance. Sometimes a song will be perfect, but have one or two objectionable words or phrases. I have successfully removed such words from many songs, even ones where it seemed impossible. I am proud to have helped one dance group improve their score because competition judges were deducting points because of the objectionable lyrics in a Christina Aguilera Burlesque song. I removed the offending lyrics that were repeated six times throughout the song, and the routine no longer received deductions due to the content of the music.

That covers the basics. Happy dancing!

What happens if my CD won’t play at a dance competition?

For those of you who make, create, remix, cut, or edit music for dance competition, there is NO worse feeling in the world than watching your dancers get announced, take their opening position, and then….. nothing. Silence. The competition emcee then asks the dancer to leave the stage while the technical difficulties get ironed out.

At a dance competition in Worcester this past weekend, something similar, and yet worse, happened twice to a dance studio. The song played about halfway through, with no problems, and then abruptly went silent in the middle of the song. Fortunately these dancers are already pros at a young age, and finished out their dance routines with no music, with only the cheers from the crowd to encourage them in the last half of their dances.

There is NO REASON this should EVER happen to you.

Without knowing more about how this particular studio created their CD-Rs (Recordable CDs), the likely culprit is the media. You can buy cheap CD-Rs just about anywhere nowadays. Unfortunately these cheap CD-Rs often have bad batches, where something went amiss in the manufacturing process, rendering them unplayable.

To avoid this from happening to you, only use the BEST CD-Rs… which are made by Tayio Yuden, now owned by JVC. These are the gold standards. The optics are impeccable. The burn is greater. The digital data is held more distinctly. And best of all, they are the SAME PRICE per 100-pack than any other brand of CD-R. So what are you waiting for? If you inkjet label your CDs, here is a link to a 100-bundle of white inkjet printable Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs for about $35 on Amazon. If you want the silver version and label your CDs with a Sharpie marker, you can get 100 silver-faced Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs for a few bucks less. A 100-pack of Staples brand CD-Rs costs the same. Remind me how much Staples knows about maximizing optical laser beam recognition and tracking in CD-Rs again?

This CD may look cool, but it is scratched beyond playability. This is what can happen to CDs stored in dance bags without protection.

In any case, you should always burn a backup CD of all of your songs, just in case your primary CD gets scratched. If you print multiple songs on your back-up CD, burn it with four or five seconds between each song so that the emcee has time to stop the CD player before the next song begins.

If you put your CDs in your dance bag, MAKE SURE to seal it inside a plastic baggie. Otherwise, dirt from the dance bag will work its way into the CD sleeve and wreak havoc on the silver surface, scratching it beyond readability.

I have no relationship or endorsement from JVC/Taiyo Yuden, but I can unequivocally state that Squirrel Trench Audio uses ONLY JVC/Taiyo Yuden for burning competition CDs and backups.