Audio Editing for Dance
[This is adapted from an article that was originally published in Dance Manitoba‘s Dec 2011 edition of Footlights]
They say in filmmaking that you can have a bad picture, but you can’t have bad sound. Our ears influence us more than we think. Even a flashy high budget movie cursed with a poor soundtrack will seem amateur, regardless of picture quality.
The same thing is true of dance performances. Having worked at the Manitoba Provincial Dance Festival for about ten years, I have heard the gamut of possible sound problems. Every time the audio skips or there is some strange hiss in the background, I am taken out of the performance. I wish to present in this article a few basic principles that should help dance professionals and enthusiasts create the best possible sound for their performances.
Audio editing can be done on any home computer nowadays. Free and affordable software is available to download on the Internet, and there are tutorials and forums galore to help you with all of your concerns. I recommend Reaper, because it’s free and relatively simple to use.
STEP 1: Find and maintain a high quality file. It is best to use source audio off of a store-bought CD. If this is impossible, purchase the highest quality file you can off the Internet. Never go below 192 kbps (kilobytes per second) unless you have to. I generally scour half a dozen possible sources before settling on one version.
STEP 2: Make your cuts. Whether a fade or a hard cut, there is a smooth way to transition from one part of a song to another, or to tie everything up. I notice a lot of edits that don’t perfectly keep to the meter of the music. Not only is this difficult for the dancer to deal with, but it’s also jarring for the audience. When using a visual waveform editor, it is possible to investigate each peak and trough to measure where a musical phrase ends. You can use a crossfade over the clip for a seamless effect.
STEP 3: Next, it is important to maintain this high level of audio information at all stages of the process. Export (or “render”) out AIFF or WAV and burn that file to CD. Save and back up your project file and source materials. Never reimport a burned disc if you can avoid it – the compression and re-compression of an audio file causes gradual degradation and distortion.
So far, I have presented a few basic rules that should help with your audio woes. There is still much work to be done before everyone in the dance world is on the same page with regards to audio quality. If you are still struggling to find a system that works for you, I encourage you to contact every tech-savvy person you know. And remember, Google is your friend! Or you can just hire me. 😉
Kayla Jeanson, a dancer and video producer, has been digitally editing music in Winnipeg for many years. She has taught courses audio editing at Video Pool Media Arts Centre and The Dance College of Manitoba.