How to avoid clicks and pops when editing music

I’m in the middle of doing a couple of fun song remixes for the talent portion of a state pre-teen pageant, and I thought I’d take a second to explain how to avoid those annoying clicks and pops when editing music for competition or recital dance routines.

If you’ve ever taken the grill off of your speakers, you’ve probably seen the cones of your speakers move in and out. This is how we hear sound; sound is vibrations traveling through air. If you’ve ever looked at the waveforms in your audio editing program, you can see that the squiggily lines representing sound move up and down over a center line. You can think of this center line as the “rest” position of your speakers. To make sound, the speaker cones travel in and out, and that can be thought of as the audio signal moving above and below the center line of your waveform.

A click or pop occurs when there is an abrupt “jump” in the way the waveform moves up and down. Basically, you are trying to avoid a straight vertical line in the transition point between the two audio segments you are splicing together.

In the image below, the audio segment on top is cut at a point where the waveform is far from the center “at rest” line. It is joined to a waveform on the bottom that is at the center line. It is the jump from one spot in the waveform to the other that causes the pop. Click on the image to enlarge:

There are two main ways that this can be avoided. One way is to only make edits at what are called “zero-crossings”…. that is, the waveform is “at rest”. In the image below, both audio segments are cut and joined together at a spot where they are both at the zero-crossing:

The other way you can avoid clicks and pops is to make a relatively short (but not ultrashort) crossfade between the two pieces of audio that you are splicing together, such as in the image below:

Here are some key points to understand why the above is a seamless edit:

  • The peaks are lined up in both tracks.
  • The crossfade occurs at a low point in the audio signal.
  • The crossfade transition between the two tracks is extremely fast, but not so ultra-fast as to create a square-wave click or pop.
  • There is never a point in the crossfade where the volume dips. (The lower track has reached full volume before the upper track begins to fade out.)

As always, your ears are the ultimate judge of the success of the crossfade.

For more audio editing tips, check out this video on how to avoid awkward fade-outs, or view all of the articles here containing audio editing tips.

Happy editing!

Behind the scenes of a Beatles remix

It’s been a pleasure, a joy, and labor of love creating the Beatles remix called Somehow Someway. I can’t wait to see the choreography for this routine performed at Regionals and National dance competitions in 2012.

I’d thought I’d give folks a sneak peek at what went into the creation of the music for this piece.

More behind-the-scenes peeks of this remix will be posted soon. Let me know if this is useful to you, and I’ll do this for other remixes I’ve made. Questions? Comments?

Basics of music editing

We understand that not every dance routine needs to have the song professionally edited. Personal computers have put audio editing tools within reach of everyone. But even with great tools, unless you really understand what you’re doing, it’s easy to botch the music up when cutting down the music to dance routine length. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been at competition and heard a squirrel trench (a scar on the music)- taking not only the audience out of the moment, but also the judges.

So here are some things to keep in mind when editing music so that you don’t leave a big ole flub on an otherwise great song.

First: Really listen to, and understand the song all the way through. Understand the parts that make up the song: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, ending is the most common song structure. There are certain parts of a song where the performance is almost exactly the same every time it occurs: this is most often true of the chorus of the song, so one of the easiest edits to make is to remove the second verse out of a song. Line up the 1st and 2nd chorus so they are overlapping exactly, and make your edit. This way, you leave the bridge intact, which gives the song (and therefore the dance) more interest over the course of the routine.

Also, watch out for exactly how you make the edit. Many folks try to make a long smooth edit… where one part of the song fades out for a few seconds while the other part of the song fades up for a few seconds. This is usually a mistake and sounds funny (unless there isn’t much going on instrumentally), and can even cause distortion. Better to make a very clean and crisp edit, where one part of the song ends very nearly abruptly while the other part of the song begins nearly abruptly. I usually employ an ultra-ultra-quick crossfade at the edit point, but it happens so quickly (usually a few milliseconds), that you can’t tell that it’s there. The important thing is to line up the beats (and the measures) at the edit point. This brings up another part of successful music editing- make sure you have full measures lined up. Dancers count in 8s… which is usually two measures of 4/4 time. I’ve heard plenty of songs where the edit is in a funny spot and the measures don’t line up.. which produces an “extra” two or three beats, which always sounds unnatural.

Well, that’s all the tips for now. I’ve got more that I’ve developed as a professional musician and music editor, but I’ll post about other techniques later. Here is how to avoid awkward fade-outs, and here are the other Top 5 music editing mistakes heard in competition.

Now that we’re about to enter competition season, take a listen to the songs you’re using for your dancers. If you notice that any of the songs you’ve edited have a squirrel trench or two in them or a funny beginning or ending, send it my way, and I’ll see if I can fix it up for you, retaining the original timing (or as close as possible) so that you don’t have to re-choreograph! My email is: morriss@squirreltrenchaudio.com. Or check out the Services link in the header of this site.

Best wishes for a successful competition season!
~Morriss Partee
Squirrel Trench Audio