Tag Archives: quality

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!

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!

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!

Dance Competition Survey

There are more dance competitions to choose from these days than ever before. If you are a dance studio owner, how do you pick which ones to attend? Which ones are well-run and have the most fair scoring?

Squirrel Trench Audio is jumping into the void by presenting a survey of your satisfaction with dance competitions you’ve attended. This 10-page survey asks you to report your satisfaction level overall, and then breaks it down by asking your satisfaction with several aspects, such as judging fairness, dressing room accommodations, quality of photos and videos, etc.

Take the survey and find out how your results stack up with others’ experiences!

Squirrel Trench Audio’s Dance Competition Survey

The first question must be answered for at least one competition; all the rest are optional.

The competitions represented in the survey are:
West Coast Dance Explosion • Nexstar • OnStageNY • Starquest • Dancers Inc • Hall of Fame • Showstopper • Starpower • KAR • Legacy • Star Systems • Candance • Elite Dance Challenge • Headliners • USTD • Bravo • Groove • Power of Dance • Starbound • Turn It Up • Encore Dance • On Stage America • Step Up 2 Dance • Ticket to Broadway • I Love Dance • Spirit of Dance • Sophisticated Productions • Dance America • Access Broadway • NYCDA • Jump/Nuvo • Creation • Tremaine • Dance Makers Inc. • Dance Educators of America • Countdown • Dynamite • Revolution • Showbiz • Primetime • Masquerade • Beyond the Stars • ADA • Dance Machine Productions • Star Talent Productions • Encore DCS • Applause Talent • International Dance Challenge • Platinum Dance • Legacy Dance Championship • Odyssey • VIP • Talent on Parade (TOP) • Thunderstruck • Spotlight

Soloist’s CDs are ready!

It’s that time of year… when the anticipation reaches a peak with the first dance competition of the season coming up in just days or weeks. The students have been rehearsing for months. Costumes have been selected and have arrived. Now it’s time to make sure that all of the studio’s music is perfect too. Squirrel Trench Audio has been busy burning-competition ready CDs on high quality Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs, complete with competition-ready labels. Note the nine rectangular spaces on the lower part of the CD; these spots enable the studio to write the number of the routine on each CD for every competition entered.

Competition CDs are ready to go

If you are a studio owner, and you want to make your music prep this easy, contact me about our Studio programs— a full service where you simply select the music for each dancer, and receive a set of rehearsal CDs for each student, as well as competition-ready CDs for performance. With this program, it is possible for the studio to make a small profit on their music each year instead of incurring an expense.

For more information, email me. The sooner the better, because the 2012-2013 dance season will be here before you know it!