Not all video editors are musicians. Most musicians aren’t editors. And that’s okay.

But it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other. Music is, and always will be, an extremely important component of any type of video. Whether creating infectious commercials and catchy jingles, tense drama, or emotional underscores, you need to be comfortable editing music for your videos.

man in front of a PC, editing in premiere pro

Coming from a musical background, I have found that being familiar with music production consistently boosts my creativity and efficiency while editing video. I truly believe that understanding the basics around music will help you not only in your specific craft, but also in your ability to communicate with other collaborators such as composers, directors, or even clients.

 

Must-know Music Terminology

Here is a quick jumpstart guide to musical terms and ideas that can help you edit.

 

Equalization (EQ)

equalizer

Equalization is one of the most popular tools for making, mixing, and editing music. EQ tools are designed to manipulate the frequencies of a certain sound. For video editors, EQ is useful to change how certain elements are perceived, such as dialogue, music, and sound effects.

For example, to make a voice sound like it was recorded through a telephone, an EQ tool is used to reduce the high and low frequencies, while boosting the mids. This adjustment is convincing because small phone speakers aren’t capable of producing big bass sounds or super high pitched frequencies.

A large part of our jobs as video editors and filmmakers is to recreate realism in a scene, and EQ is usually a good place to start with audio.

 

Bar

A bar in music is a little less exciting than the one you’re headed to this weekend. But it’s just as dependable.

A musical bar refers to a group of beats. Popular music usually has four beats in a bar. That means if you count along with each beat, you can count: 1, 2, 3 4, then repeat 1, 2, 3, 4. Musically, bars denote segments of time that can be counted. As a video editor, recognizing these segments can help you identify where melodies and rhythms will start to repeat. This offers a great blueprint for figuring out where to cut music tracks.

 

Downbeat

A downbeat in music is usually the first beat of a bar. It is often accented in some way. Sometimes the drummer will add an extra cymbal.

Downbeats are the easiest place to cut music tracks for your edits. Using your knowledge of the audio waveform, look for kick drums at the start of a bar. Cut right on the downbeat, and then splice in a different section of the song that also starts on a downbeat.

Add a small crossfade and your audience is none the wiser.

 

Tempo (BPM)

The tempo is something everyone can feel when listening to music. It is the rhythm of each beat that forms the tempo, or pace, of a song. Tempo is often referred to as BPM, which stands for beats per minute.

When exploring music to use for your edits, it can be helpful to have a rough BPM in mind. Is your edit a hyped up sizzle reel with electronic music? You can bet that you’ll be using a song with around 128 BPM. Maybe you want a slower piano instrumental, which would most likely be under 90 BPM.

Many music libraries have a ‘sort by BPM’ feature. Use this to help find appropriate music much more efficiently.

 

Song Structure

a man with a guitar

Songs are built out of different sections, like the intro, verse, chorus, bridge, and outro. It is a good idea to become familiar with the common characteristics of each section in order to know which parts to use for your edit.

Intro: the beginning of the song. Often softer and slower than the rest.

Verse: the part where the vocalist starts singing lyrics. Verses usually are steady and slowly build in instrumentation and intensity.

Chorus: the refrain of the song, or the part that gets repeated multiple times at different points. This is often the loudest, catchiest, and most impactful part of the song.

Bridge: a section between two other parts of the song. Bridges are often used between a verse and a chorus to get the listener ready for the impact of the chorus.

Outro: after the last chorus, bridge, or verse, the outro is where the song ends. Many bands end on one last note or chord. Placing the outro of a song at the end of your video can add a satisfying closure to your edit.

 

Stems

sound stems

Audio stems refer to isolated elements of a song or mix. For example, the “guitar stem” would be just the guitar parts of a song, isolated on their own track.

Some music libraries offer stems with their downloads, allowing you much more control over how you arrange music in your edit. You can now choose when to bring in each element of a song, like the beat, melody, and vocals.

 

Reverb

reverb

Reverb is all around us, at all times. Reverb is essentially the sound of a space. Have you noticed how your voice sounds different in a large empty building than it does in a small space with a bunch of furniture or objects?

This is because the sound waves produced by your vocal cords are reverberating around your environment, changing how you perceive the sound.

Using reverb effects on your audio clips can change how they sound to the audience. For example, if you wanted to take a regular voice and make it sound like it was on stage in a big amphitheater, you’d need to add a lot of reverb!

 

Delay

Delay is the effect of repeating certain regions of audio at a determined rate or pattern. This can be applied creatively for a variety of effects, like dream states or paranormal happenings.

Delay is also a useful tool to simulate PA speakers, megaphones, or to create echoes.

 

Wrap-up

Understanding these concepts and tools is extremely valuable for video editors and filmmakers. Use these ideas and terminology to make creative choices on your edits and communicate clearly with your team.

 

—-

AUTHOR
Jason Brandel,

Filmmaker/Video Editor

Jason is currently offering the Soundsnap community a 95% discount on his top-rated online course, The Complete Audio Guide for Video Editors, which includes 4.5 hours of in-depth video tutorials. Clicking the link automatically applies your discount.