Fresh dance music requested

Warning: the following message is a rant about using worn-out songs for dance routines. If you want to use the same-old-same-old songs for your dance routines, stop reading now because I may offend you. (I originally wrote this message as a follow up to conversation about overdone songs on DanceMom.com)

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There are absolutely NO excuses for using the same, tired out old songs over and over and over again. Dance is a living art form. Music is a living art form. Dance is an art form based on the foundation of music. Can an exceptional dancer overcome a tired-out song? Yes, of course. But why put that kind of a burden on the dancer?

In general, if you are going to use tried-and-true songs, it’s better to give them to the youngsters, because everything is new to them, classics are classics for a reason, and it’s very cute to have little kids performing songs that were written before they were born. But once you get past that 7 or 8 year old range, it’s time to give your dancers FRESH, INTERESTING material to work with.

I’m very proud of the character music remix called Pixie Hollow that I created for my girlfriend who is the assistant director at a first-class dance studio. She wanted a fresh, new music track that was based on a Tinkerbell theme, and Pixie Hollow is the result. You’ve NEVER heard music quite like this before. When parents, judges, and an audience hears something new and original like this, they sit up and take notice, and know that they are in for a dance number that is refreshingly new and different. This routine and performance is something that these dancers and their parents will never forget. At Headliners, Pixie Hollow was even invited to go on to the US Dance Team Finals at their Nationals.

Even when you are using tried-and-true classics and standards for music, there is no excuse not to use FRESH versions of them. Cover songs are often better than the originals, and will certainly be more exciting and more interesting to the judges AND audience than something they’ve already heard three million times. I’ll follow up this message with many examples of FRESH covers of the dance classics.

We’re trying to generate excitement, enthusiasm, even PASSION for dance in these youngsters. When it comes time to perform, you want the audience (which includes, fellow studio dancers) to be excited for the performance! You are hurting your chances at generating that excitement when you use music that puts the audience to sleep because they’ve heard it many times before. You are keeping your audience on its toes when you use music that NEW, FRESH and DIFFERENT.

You wouldn’t DREAM of putting dancers on stage in costumes that are ragged, torn, threadbare, tattered or stained. Why would you put them on stage with music that is ragged, torn, threadbare, tattered, and played to death when there is a universe of new songs itching to be performed? Who’s with me on this?

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Okay, time for me to get off my soapbox now. You might be able to tell that I’m passionate about music, and passionate about delivering THE BEST MUSIC POSSIBLE to dancers. If you or your studio is ready for first-class music, I am ready to deliver.

To find some great cover versions of classic dance songs, check out Fresh Alternatives 1 and Fresh Alternatives 2. For some completely fresh songs for your next routine, we have them here: Jazz | Tap | Lyrical | Contemporary | Musical Theater | Kid Friendly Hip Hop

Fresh takes on classic dance songs, part 2

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There is NO excuse to use the same old worn out songs when selecting music for your dancers. Classic songs are wonderful, and they are even MORE wonderful when you choose a fresh new version of them. These cover songs are usually at least as good, and often better, than the original, and have the added benefit of KEEPING THE AUDIENCE INTERESTED in the dance performance they are watching. (Judges too will be more perked up by something FRESH and NEW.)

To aid you in this quest for music FRESHNESS for your dance routines, here are a number of outstanding covers of classic songs:

I’ve Got The Music In Me – Sing Off Contestant Ensemble; Boogie Pimps; Jump 5; Paul Cacia; Le Freak; Miguel Olivares-Alvarez

Footloose – The Bacon Brothers (live); The Madison Project (a capella)

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it ain’t got that swing) – The Hula HoneysBubbling Brown Sugar; Randy Greer & Robin Nolan Trio; Lisa Ono; Joscho Stephan (fast!); Real Group

In an earlier post, I link to some fresh cover alternatives to It’s Raining Men.

Check out more Antidotes to worn out hits. Also, there is a set of pages on this blog devoted to giving you song ideas for dance competition, grouped by dance category: JazzTapLyricalContemporaryMusical Theater, and Kid-Friendly Hip Hop.

What alternative cover of a popular dance song have you enjoyed using? Post your favorites here in the comments!

Top 5 care tips for your CDs

In today’s world, often the best way to store and play your dance and competition music is on your iPod, iPhone, mp3 player, or laptop. But CDs haven’t gone away just yet, and is still the most reliable source for playing music at competitions, because society has not yet quite embraced cloud computing.

So many dance teachers, studios, and dancers still rely on CDs for their music, as well they should. But many people also don’t realize that these shiny discs that play your music beautifully with no hiss are NOT indestructible. So here are my Top 5 tips to make sure your CD plays right every time, and does not start skipping at the worst time… like in the middle of competition!

  1. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS keep your CDs in its sleeve or its case.
  2. NEVER NEVER NEVER stack CDs on top of each other… this can cause circular scratches, which are the worst kind, much worse than scratches that go from the center out to the edge.
  3. ALWAYS handle a CD by its edges; avoid fingerprints on the shiny part
  4. DON’T expose a CD-R (a custom burned CD) to direct sunlight. Too much exposure to a strong light source will render a CD-R unreadable.
  5. DON’T keep your CDs in your dance bag. Dance bags can collect dirt and other abrasive particles as they travel around, and this debris can work its way into your CD sleeves which will rub around and cause scratches.

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.

Clipping distortion

Most of the music at the Headliners Competition in Lowell this weekend so far has sounded really great. However, one song had quite a bit of distortion throughout the entire song. Perhaps it wasn’t enough for the judges to lower the dancer’s marks, but it was still very noticeable and distracting. This distortion sounded like a buzzing coming through the speakers. It was most likely a phenomenon known as clipping distortion.

For folks who are new to audio editing, you might be tempted to “turn it up” once you discover that you can make the song louder in your mixing/editing software than it was originally. This is almost always a BIG MISTAKE. Why? Because there is an upper limit to the volume possible to record in a computer audio file (an mp3, aiff, wav, aac, etc), or on a CD. If you try to make your song go louder than this upper limit, you are simply introducing noise and crackly distortion into your song.

Without getting too far into the technicalities of this maximum level, let’s just say that 90% of the time, raising the volume will result in nasty sounding distortion. The judges have a long enough day as it is without assaulting their ears with this noise.

Older recordings that sound soft or any music which has soft passages CAN be made to sound louder through expertly applied mastering techniques such as upward compression and judicious use of peak limiting, but this is best handled by an audio professional. Too much peak limiting (a form of compression) can result in a squashed sound, leaving your track lifeless, dull and weak; which is exactly the opposite of your intended result of creating a cranked and pounding track.

Bottom line: DO NOT INCREASE THE VOLUME of your songs and tracks when editing them on a computer, unless you are okay with a crackly distorted sound for your music. In most cases, your songs are already as loud as they can go without further professional enhancement. Once you create clipping distortion in an audio file, there is NO WAY to remove it. The only way to get rid of it is to trash the distorted version and go back to the original version.

If you’re using a song that needs its volume goosed up a bit, feel free to email me and I can likely make the track sound louder without causing any clipping distortion. This is especially true if the song is an older song, or even a modern song with passages that are too soft when played over a typical sound system that dancers perform with.

For more on the dangers of trying to get your audio tracks louder, check out: The Losers of the Loudness Wars

If you are looking to get your track louder without suffering clipping distortion, check out my mastering services.

World Premier of Pixie Hollow

The world premier of my song remix titled Pixie Hollow will happen tomorrow afternoon at Lowell Auditorium at the Headliners Regional Competition. Lesley Lambert, Assistant Director at nationally recognized dance studio, is leading her group of mini’s in a character dance. The Pixie Hollow medley features several parts, including spoken voice, light & airy synthesizers, and a couple of rocking Selena Gomez tracks. The effect should be magical! I’m extremely excited to see this debut tomorrow.

Update:  You can now hear Pixie Hollow and get a few glimpses backstage at the costumes here: Pixie Hollow unveiled

Fresh takes on classic dance songs

As we enter full swing of the competition season, it’s a great time to reflect on song choices for the dance routines. Out of the millions of songs that have been written since the dawn of mankind, why is that some songs get completely worn out at dance competitions? Often it’s because they are used in a hit movie or a memorable episode of SYTYCD, and suddenly everyone thinks that they are the only person to have the idea to use it for their own dance routine.

Well, popular songs are popular for a reason. Something about them connects with us, and has an emotional appeal that is hard to explain. But when they are over-used, it creates boredom for the judges. You want to present the judges (and audience) with something as fresh as your beautiful choreography deserves.

Even when you decide to go with a popular song, there are usually many ways to keep the song fresh for your dancer(s) and the judges. One way is to look for alternative versions than the most popular one. You could see if the original artist has a live version of the song. Often these live versions will have more energy than a studio-recorded song because it was performed in the presence of an audience. Often times if a song is extremely popular, other artists will do their own interpretations of it. Usually the best of these “cover songs” will be in a style that is very different than the original. If the song sounds nearly identical to the original, than why bother using it?

When looking for alternative versions of popular songs, check out the Vitamin String Quartet. This prolific recording team has made classical string versions of hundreds upon hundreds of popular songs. In fact, they have more than 370 albums in the iTunes store.

Here is one example of an overly popular dance competition song that has alternative versions that are very different stylistically from the original:

Original: It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls
Fresh Versions:

Check out more Antidotes to worn out hits. Also, there is a set of pages on this blog devoted to giving you song ideas for dance competition, grouped by dance category: Jazz, Tap, Lyrical, Contemporary, Musical Theater, and Kid-Friendly Hip Hop.