How to avoid awkward fade-outs

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Top 5 music editing mistakes heard in dance competitions, and promised you additional blog posts about how you can avoid making them.

Number One on the list is the AWKWARD FADE OUT.

As I mentioned in that earlier blog post, it’s easy to understand why this is the most common music editing mistake. Dance teachers are very busy, and most are not expert musicians in addition to being expert dance teachers. With music editing software now available for free on all platforms, the quickest and easiest thing to do is to simply fade the music out at the desired time in the song.

However, this often leads to disappointment for the dancer on stage. Let’s examine why before exploring the best methods to prevent this faux pas from occurring.

A good song, just like a good dance routine, has a structure. In the most simple terms, songs have an intro, a middle, and an ending. Unless a song fades out in the recording, the ending is designed so that the listener can tell that the end is approaching, and then it finishes in a satisfying way. Musicians who perform on stage like to deliver a good ending, because then the audience knows when to clap, and what performer doesn’t enjoy applause? (For more on dance structure, check out this article in Dance Spirit Magazine.)

It’s no different when the performer is a dancer instead of a musician. A good dance will have an intro, a middle, and an ending, and it should coincide with the beginning, middle, and ending of the music. That way, the audience can tell when the dance is over, and applaud accordingly. When the music fades out at an awkward point in the song, and the dancer holds his/her finishing pose (or starts shuffling off the stage), the audience is left hanging, and is silent for a few seconds before they realize that the dance has ended. This awkward silence makes the performer feel like he/she hasn’t done a good job, no matter how loudly the audience applauds after the silence (or even worse, after the dancer has exited the stage).

The good news: if the song you have chosen has a good ending, it’s a piece of cake to edit the song properly and deliver what the audience and performer deserve: a solid, great ending to a great performance.

As an example, let’s use Jason Mraz’s The Dynamo of Volition from the album We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things. It’s catchy, and has a great dance beat. The song as recorded is 3:36, much too long for dance competition. However, with a single well-placed edit, this song can be made 2:23, a perfect length for competition, and still retain the song’s original solid ending as well as retain a good overall structure.

If you were to fade the song out at 2:23, it would be right in the middle of a verse, creating the MOST awkward type of ending, which can’t even be considered a real ending.

In order to understand how it is possible to retain the song’s structure and still reduce it from 3:36 to 2:23, and make it sound perfect, we need to understand the song’s original structure. This song is a bit unusual in that there is no intro; Mraz starts right in on the verse.

Here are the parts of the song:

0:00 – Verse A
0:27 – Chorus
0:44 – Verse B
1:08 – Verse A
1:29 – Chorus
1:49 – Bridge
2:04 – Verse B (with extension)
2:43 – Chorus with ending

If we map this song out with parts, assigning each part a letter of the alphabet, along with a number in order of appearance, it would look like this:

A1 | C1 | B1 | A2 | C2 | D1 | B2 | C3

The easiest way to shorten it is to make a cut right before the last chorus, move the last chorus with ending to a new track, and then shift it in time so that the last chorus now overlaps with the second chorus.

In letter form, our song is now on two tracks, and it looks like this:

Track 1: A1 | C1 | B1 | A2 | C2
Track 2:                            C3

You can see that the 3rd (last) Chorus, with ending, now overlaps with the 2nd Chorus. Zoom in on the audio wave forms, and make sure that these two different audio tracks are matched up to each other perfectly in time. Play both tracks simultaneously, and move the new track so that you don’t hear any echo caused by having the two tracks out of alignment.

Once you have C3 in exact alignment with C2 timing-wise, there is only one more step to make: and that is to make a sharp, but smooth, transition at some point from C2 to C3, and voilá, you now have a perfect 2:23 version of The Dynamo of Volition! Your audio tracks will look something like this now:

When looking for the point to make the transition from one audio segment to another, what you want to find is what is called a zero-crossing point. This is where the audio wave is “standing still.” Making the edit at a zero-crossing for both audio waves is the best way to ensure you don’t get an abrupt cut in the music at the edit point.

It takes a few minutes longer to listen to a song, analyze where the verses, chorus, and bridges are, then to just fade it out, but the rewards are substantial for you and your dancer in the applause generated by the audience, and the feeling of closure at the end of a great performance. The ending is the last impression left with the judges, so make it strong instead of fading away!

Here is a video where I show you how to retain the ending:

If any of this is too overwhelming for you, feel free to send your song our way, and we’ll get it done for you! We love making perfect song edits for dancers!

See also: Retaining song structure when editing music for a look at some colorful graphs that really bring the structure into focus.

Songs edited this dance season

I’ve been busy here at Squirrel Trench Audio getting songs ready for the upcoming competition season. It’s been a blast doing the music editing for this Top 10 studio, and I can’t wait to see the amazing routines this studio will do with the music this year!

The piece I am most excited for is a medley/original creation we’ve called “Pixie Hollow.” This character piece for 8-10 year olds was envisioned by dance instructor Lesley Lambert. She supplied me with several related pieces of music, including spoken voice, which I then wove together into a spritely montage. I know this is going to win some awards this year!

Other songs which I’ve edited this season include:
Jump, Jive & Wail – Brian Setzer Orchestra
Dancin’ Fool – Ballroom Orchestra
Fabulous – Chelsea Staub
Wake Me Up Before You Go Go – Three Girlzz
Let It Snow – Brian Setzer Orchestra
I Want To Go To Hollywood – Sutton Foster
Walk This Way (a fun medley which transitions from a Ballroom Orchestra swing version of the song to Aerosmith live)
Won’t You Charleston With Me? – Harvey Evans & Sandy Duncan
I Wish – Stevie Wonder
It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) – Charlotte Swing Masters
All I Want – Bobby McFerrin
One Way Or Another – Mandy Moore
Fever – A Fine Frenzy
That Old Black Magic – Jeremy Davenport
Cheek To Cheek – Eva Cassidy
The Dynamo of Volition – Jason Mraz
Gravity – Lucy Schwartz
Dynamite – Taio Cruz

All these songs will be danced at the Headliners’ competition in Lowell MA from March 11-13, Star Systems in Worcester MA from March 25-27, and at OnStage New York competition in Springfield MA from April 2-3.