Tag Archives: tips

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!

Tips for recording Voice-Overs for dance routines

voice memo app iconMore and more folks are interested in recording voice-overs of various kinds for their dance routines. Since Squirrel Trench Audio works with dance teachers and choreographers all over the world, we usually can’t come to you in order to do the recording. This means you are on your own to record your own dancers’ voices, but it’s not too hard to do that, and send us the resulting audio files.

The good news: if you have an iPhone, it’s easy to record the voice-overs that you want. Just use the (free) Voice Memo app that is built-in. Here are the tips in a nutshell, with further explanation below:

  • Record in a living room or bedroom; never in a dance studio
  • Aim the bottom of the iPhone at your dancer(s), about 1.5 feet away
  • Record three takes of the words you want

Record in a living room or bedroom; never in a dance studio

One of the most important aspects to getting a good recording is the room in which you record, because sound bounces off of walls, floor and ceiling. This is called reverberation, which is a form of echo. Pretty much the worst space to do a recording is inside a dance studio rehearsal room. Ideally, you want to be in a living room or bedroom when recording a voice-over. The more drapes or other fabric there is in the room, the better. Carpeting is also very helpful. Using the Voice Memo app on your iPhone, situate yourself with the iPhone, and the person(s) that you are recording, in the middle of the room, away from all the walls.

The iPhone’s mic is in the bottom of the phone; aim it at your dancer(s), about 1.5 feet away

Hold the iPhone approximately 1 to 2 feet from the person(s) speaking (1.5 feet is probably ideal). Aim the mic (which is in the bottom) at the person talking. It should be close to them, but not TOO close.

Record three takes of the words you want 

Record at LEAST three “takes” of the words that you want to have. That way, I will be able to choose from the best of the resulting versions. Sometimes a word might get cut off, or the speaker trips over a word. If you have them repeat their lines three times, then I can put together the best version of the words.

Here are a few Squirrel Trench Audio custom dance mixes that feature Voice-Overs:

Get more Squirrel Trench remixes at Legitmix

Don’t Let Your Audio Degrade

clean_music_by_fatihakgungorWhen editing, cutting or mixing music yourself, don’t let the audio degrade. Be careful when you do audio editing. Sometimes I get requests to fix or clean already-edited songs, and when I hear the edit supplied, it sounds like a bunch of squirrels have gotten in and trenched the music.

There are many reasons audio can get degraded, and many different types of problems that inexperienced music cutters can create. When you put degraded music on stage, it’s really not much different than putting a dancer on stage with a tattered costume.

Here are just a few things to watch out for:

  • Don’t let the volume drop. You don’t want your music to be far softer than everyone else’s. Trust me, this happens.
  • Don’t turn up the volume either. You may not hear the distortion on your laptop or iPad, but when played on a large sound system, the distortion sounds terrible and piercing. I’ve heard this in competition a number of times as well.
  • Don’t make a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of an mp3, or get the audio from YouTube. People think that you can make a copy of a digital audio file, and it will never degrade. That’s true of AIFF or WAV files, where all of the audio information is retained in the file. But mp3 degrades the audio a little bit every time it’s saved. So when you make a copy of a copy it gets worse, just like a cassette (though not as dramatically worse of course). One generation of high quality mp3 is not that much worse than the original. But several copies like this, and it sounds awful compared to the original.

There are many other pitfalls that inexperienced music editors introduce into audio they are creating, including fade-outs at strange places, pops, clicks or irregular jumps in the beat, copying bad audio from YouTube, and more.

Of course you can prevent degraded audio by taking advantage of the services offered by a professional music editor/remixer who has years of experience manipulating audio. One service springs to mind as someone who specializes in understanding the musical needs of competitive dancers. But if you already have edited your music, and you need it fixed up or cleaned, we are happy to help.

How to score better at dance competitions

Cathy Roe dance awards 2010_1Have you ever wondered what it takes to do better at a dance competition? Well wonder no more because Cathy Roe, the founder of Cathy Roe Ultimate Dance competitions has spelled it out for you. Here is the link to her recent Facebook post on this topic, How to Stand Out at Competition. Here are the most important things as Cathy has listed them:

  1. Technique
  2. Rehearsal
  3. Stage Presence
  4. Originality (including unique music!)
  5. Dance within your abilities
  6. Be classy and age appropriate
  7. Show Good Will
  8. Innovative choreography (including using music that connects with you!)

Out of the eight most important things to score well and stand out at a dance competition, TWO of the items include the musical aspect. Reprinted here is the full text of Ms. Roe’s comments on these two aspects, musical aspects emphasized in bold:

4. Our motto “Dare to Be Different” means BE UNIQUE, BE ORIGINAL! I used to tell my students that if we heard a song at a competition, that was a guarantee that we would NEVER dance to that song. There is no dearth of exquisite, exciting, original, emotional, clever, mesmerizing music. If you haven’t checked out Spotify, it’s fantastic for finding music! And as for dance themes…. we see a lot of “love gone wrong” themes, especially from our soloist. The soloist that stands out has a unique and interesting message or song that makes the judges sit up and pay attention because they haven’t seen/heard it before.

8. Bring innovate choreography. How? Be yourself. Think about your life, what you love, your experiences. Listen to music until you find that song that hits you right between the eyes and you say YES! I GET THAT! I FEEL LIKE THAT! Tell a story that matters to you. Forget about imitating anyone and especially because you think what they do what “wins”. Be in it to love it; to be an artist; to be a leader. Be an original thinker, a path finder! My judges are people (that it took me years to find) that will appreciate you for it. But just remember, with all the innovation in the world, we can’t see your vision without technical dancers that can execute it. So I must go back to #1 because it is the technique of your dancers that will display your vision like fine paint on and expensive canvas.

Squirrel Trench Audio is in the business of delivering UNIQUE, original music and remixes to competitive dancers. There are two different ways we can help you in this regard. If you have a music idea, or songs you’d like remixed together, you can use this Request Form to get a price quote from us. In addition, we have a library of unique music remixes for you to choose from on Legitmix. Just take a listen, and if you find one that connects with you, you can purchase it immediately, no waiting! Here’s our catalog of unique remixes:

Get more remixes at Legitmix

What happens if my CD won’t play at a dance competition?

For those of you who make, create, remix, cut, or edit music for dance competition, there is NO worse feeling in the world than watching your dancers get announced, take their opening position, and then….. nothing. Silence. The competition emcee then asks the dancer to leave the stage while the technical difficulties get ironed out.

At a dance competition in Worcester this past weekend, something similar, and yet worse, happened twice to a dance studio. The song played about halfway through, with no problems, and then abruptly went silent in the middle of the song. Fortunately these dancers are already pros at a young age, and finished out their dance routines with no music, with only the cheers from the crowd to encourage them in the last half of their dances.

There is NO REASON this should EVER happen to you.

Without knowing more about how this particular studio created their CD-Rs (Recordable CDs), the likely culprit is the media. You can buy cheap CD-Rs just about anywhere nowadays. Unfortunately these cheap CD-Rs often have bad batches, where something went amiss in the manufacturing process, rendering them unplayable.

To avoid this from happening to you, only use the BEST CD-Rs… which are made by Tayio Yuden, now owned by JVC. These are the gold standards. The optics are impeccable. The burn is greater. The digital data is held more distinctly. And best of all, they are the SAME PRICE per 100-pack than any other brand of CD-R. So what are you waiting for? If you inkjet label your CDs, here is a link to a 100-bundle of white inkjet printable Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs for about $35 on Amazon. If you want the silver version and label your CDs with a Sharpie marker, you can get 100 silver-faced Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs for a few bucks less. A 100-pack of Staples brand CD-Rs costs the same. Remind me how much Staples knows about maximizing optical laser beam recognition and tracking in CD-Rs again?

This CD may look cool, but it is scratched beyond playability. This is what can happen to CDs stored in dance bags without protection.

In any case, you should always burn a backup CD of all of your songs, just in case your primary CD gets scratched. If you print multiple songs on your back-up CD, burn it with four or five seconds between each song so that the emcee has time to stop the CD player before the next song begins.

If you put your CDs in your dance bag, MAKE SURE to seal it inside a plastic baggie. Otherwise, dirt from the dance bag will work its way into the CD sleeve and wreak havoc on the silver surface, scratching it beyond readability.

I have no relationship or endorsement from JVC/Taiyo Yuden, but I can unequivocally state that Squirrel Trench Audio uses ONLY JVC/Taiyo Yuden for burning competition CDs and backups.

Protect your CDs inside your dance bags

Have you ever had this experience? You are at the dance competition and the CD with your competition music won’t play. The judges ask you for a backup CD, you give it to them, and it also won’t play. You look at the underside of your CDs, and much to your dismay, they are complete scratched up.

I sincerely hope this has never happened to you, and that it never will.

I’ve previously written about using only top-quality, name-brand CD-Rs to minimize the chances of getting a bad CD-R, or a bad lot of CD-Rs. I’ve also given you the Top 5 care tips for your precious CDs.

Tip number 5 from the preceding list is DO NOT put your CDs in your dance bag! The reason why is that, while you may have your CDs in a jewel case or a sleeve, all it takes is ONE grain of sand to work it’s way into the sleeve for it to start scratching the sensitive plastic surface, making it completely unreadable.

My girlfriend, Lesley Lambert, who is a dance teacher and a dance mom, came up with a brilliant solution. Since it only makes sense that dancers are going to carry around their competition CDs, backup CDs, and rehearsal CDs in their dance bag, she realized she could protect them from dirt and foreign objects by putting the CD into a plastic baggie. A standard sandwich baggie may be too small; one size bigger may be required.

So if you are going to put your CDs in your dance bag, put them inside a plastic bag and seal them first, so that they remain playable!

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?

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.
  6. If you absolutely have no other choice but to put your CD in a dance bag, put the CD and it’s case inside a sealed ziploc bag so that dirt can’t get in and ruin the playability of it.

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.