How to Cut Music from Stock Music Sites to the Length You Need

Oct 15, 2018

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And that’s a wrap! You’ve finished filming your next video project, but before you can pull out the bubbly and start toasting, it’s time to move into post-production. Assuming that you are not Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan, chances are you don’t exactly have the funds to hire a composer to score your video. That means all the music magic is up to you! Not to worry. Stock music sites, like Soundstripe have made it easier than ever to get your hands on top-quality royalty free music. However, in all likelihood, the music you choose for your video won’t conveniently be the exact length that you require. Instead, you’ll need to switch out your director’s hat for your sound engineer hat and learn how to edit your music selection so that it fits your film like a glove.

Does this task sound a little intimidating? It shouldn’t be. You are a filmmaker. You embrace risk and love learning new skills. Every video is a chance to learn and to make a better result than the video before it.  In this article, we’ll give you some handy tips on how to edit your music selections for time, so your movie soundtrack will be on point. Let’s get started.

Why Music Editing Matters

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Before we get into the nitty gritty of editing music for your film, it’s worth the effort to step back and ask why music editing is even necessary. The answer is simple. Music is a key component to your film. It creates an emotional resonance in viewers and works like a bridge, connecting them to your story. (Just close your eyes and listen to the soundtrack from Lord of the Rings in your head. Is your heart rate picking up? That’s the power of great music in a nutshell.)

When music is edited correctly, it becomes a seamless part of the video, enhancing what’s happening on screen without getting in the way. Viewers may not even be consciously aware of the music, but they’ll feel their pulse race or tears gathering in their eyes. When music is poorly edited, it’s impossible to ignore. It creates a jarring contrast with the video, one that a viewer can’t help but notice.

Don’t worry, though. Even if you are not a trained sound engineer, today’s video editing tools make it easy to edit music well. With a little bit of guidance, patience, and practice, you’ll be a talented music editor in no time.

Find the Right Royalty Free Music

The first step to editing music for your video has nothing to do with editing at all. It all starts with finding the right music for the job. Get it out of your head that the perfect music track for your video exists. Unless you are ready to plop down a small fortune to hire a composure to score your film, you need to recognize that you will almost certainly have to edit and cut a piece of music to fit the needs of your video.

Rather than looking for the perfect track, search for music that has the right sound that you can then edit to perfection.

This isn’t as hard as you might imagine. Stock music sites, like Soundstripe, offer high quality royalty free music in a wide range of genres. These sites allow you to filter their song collections by emotion and instrumentation. You can even choose whether or not to view music with vocals.

Start tossing the songs you like into a playlist, and then review them carefully to pick just the right tracks for your video. It might also be helpful to review the waveform of the song as you decide which one to choose. The waveform is a visual representation of the song and will show you when the song’s energy goes up and down as well as when the refrain repeats. The waveform will help you see if a song’s emotional cadence is a good fit for the needs of your video or a specific scene within your film.

How to Edit Music for Your Film

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Once you’ve picked the right song for your video, it’s time to cut and shape it perfectly for your video. This process is as much skill as it is art, and the specific steps you take will depend on the editing software you use, the specifics of your project, and your personal preference. The steps below are a generalized form of this process that you can build into your own editing system as you get more comfortable cutting music.

A Note on Video Editing Software

Any video editing software worth its code will give you the basic tools you need to effectively cut and massage your music selections. More robust programs like Lightworks, Final Cut Pro, and Premiere Pro will give you a slew of bells and whistles that more advanced editors might appreciate. However, even more basic programs, like Corel VideoStudio, Premiere Elements, and Shotcut are more than adequate for beginning filmmakers or video makers who aren’t looking for an Oscar nod.

Step One – Use Waveform View

Once you’ve chosen your song, load it into your video editing software. Switch to waveform view, as this will make the editing and cutting process much easier. The waveform view also lets you see the full cadence of the song so you can already begin planning your cuts.

Step Two – Place Your Tabs

Most video editing software should allow you to place tabs throughout the song. These tabs work as markers, allow you to add an extra, useful visual as you begin to plan out your edit. Place tabs at each transition within the song, such as when the intro shifts to the main verse and when the chorus starts.

Some programs allow you to color and even label your tabs, which can be useful if you want to use the same color for each chorus tab, for example. However, most beginner and intermediate editors don’t need this feature. It’s just a “nice to have.”

Step Three – Determine Your Time

Before you make your first cut, determine how long you want your finished piece to be. Maybe you need to turn a four-minute piece of music into a two-minute score for your explainer video, or you just need 20 seconds of scary music to increase the tension while a character walks down a creepy hallway in your film.

Figure out to the second the length of the song. This will be your ending point and will tell you how much of the existing song you need to cut away.

[Pro tip: It may be worth making several different cuts of the song at different lengths to see how more or less music affects your scene]

Step Four – Making the Cut

It’s time to scout areas to start cutting down your music. If you only want a small sliver of the music for a short scene or a music effect, it may be easier to simply cut away the rest of the song around the music point you want to keep. However, in most cases, you’ll want to make smaller cuts throughout the song and blend the remaining pieces together to make a shorter version of the original song.

In these cases, listen carefully to the song and figure out which parts may be repetitive or less necessary to retain the overall emotional impact of the music. It’s also important to study the cadence of your video or scene and to figure out which parts of the song would connect to big moments.

One common tactic many editors use is to cut the chorus in half. In other instances, you may be able to cut a long, lingering intro or outro in the song. As you begin making your cuts, keep the time length in mind and remember that every edit can be undone. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Step Five – Smoothing the Edges

Cutting out pieces of a song is likely to create “rough” seams where the beginning and end of the cut meet back up. It is your job to smooth these rough edges so that the cuts become invisible to all but the most trained ears of your viewers.

Once you make your edits, listen at the point of each cut. If the transition is rocky, figure out what is causing the discord. Is it that two downbeats are now side-by-side? If so, zoom in on that spot and perform a micro-cut, taking out a single beat so that now the downbeat meets an upbeat.

Smoothing out these rough edges can be the most challenging part of making a song edit, especially when you need to keep the song within a specific timeframe. Have patience and remind yourself that this practice is making you a better video editor!

As you get more comfortable editing music, you’ll develop an ear for it.

Step Six -- Make the Final Edits

Once you’ve sliced and diced your song and lovingly mended its seams, it may still need some final TLC before it is worthy of your video. Here is where you roll up your sleeves (if they weren’t already rolled) and add on that extra dollop of editing.

The extra editing you add at this point will depend on the needs of your specific project. Commonly, you’ll need to mix up or mix down the music so that it plays at the right volume. In a horror movie, it might be a good idea to mix up the music so that it dominates your terrifying chase scene. On the other hand, if you are placing background music into an explainer video, the last thing you want is for the music to drown out your words and distract viewers from your message. In this case, you may want to mix down the music so that it becomes a soft, background accompaniment to your brilliant words.

Depending on the length of your scene, you may also have to work on the intro or conclusion of the song or even loop it for longer scenes (such as credits at the end of your film). Most video editing software can help you achieve all of these effects. Don’t be afraid to experiment or to even try unconventional moves. With practice your skill will improve.

It All Starts with Stock Music Sites

Before you can have a beautifully edited score for your video or film, you need to find a stock music site that offers great music. At Soundstripe, we have all the royalty free music you need for all of your video projects.  Our music comes in a wide variety of genres, making it easy for filmmakers of every stripe to find the right sounds for their project. We also show the waveforms for each song in our catalogue, so you can begin planning your edits even as you listen to a song for the first time.

Take a look at our music library today. If you like the sound of our collection, then you can have it all for a reasonable monthly or yearly subscription.

Happy editing!