Tag Archives: mistakes

Video Tutorial: How to Avoid Awkward Fade-outs (Part 1)

In this two-part video, I explain both WHY you should avoid awkward fade-outs whenever possible, and HOW to do it. Here is Part 1, WHY:

If you already know WHY you should avoid fade-outs, here is Part 2, where I show you HOW to do it.

For more detailed information on how to avoid awkward fade-outs when editing music for your dance routines, here’s a web page about it, in written form. Here’s more about the Top 5 song editing mistakes I hear at dance competitions.

I would love your feedback about this video. Was it useful to you? Did you learn something? What audio-editing-for-dance tips would you like to learn about next?

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.

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.