The stage is set. You’ve choreographed a kickass routine, trained hard, got the perfect costume, and your hair and makeup are on point. You’re not going out there and dancing in silence are you? So let’s talk music, because I can’t help you with any of that other stuff anyway :)
In this post I’d like to offer some advice for what you can do to set yourself up success to have your moment on competition day.
TIP NUMBER 1: GET IT RIGHT AT THE SOURCE
We have a saying in audio: garbage in, garbage out. The most important thing you can do is start with a clean audio file. Straight talk, that means buying your music. Ripping music off YouTube or streaming sites compromises your music’s quality from the get go. One of the telltale signs that a track has probably been yanked off of YouTube is that it will be much QUIETER and full of harsh compression artifacts. Translation: when your music plays at the venue, it will not be as loud as the tracks that came from clean downloads or CDs (does anyone use these anymore). Of course, our Music Managers will try to compensate for that at the board, but trust me, only so much can be done at that point. In addition, cranking up the volume on a highly compressed and compromised track means all those nasty artifacts get a lot louder too. So I’ll say it again: start with a clean file of your track. If it’s truly impossible to find on iTunes or other download services, that might be a good time to, ahem, contact a pro for help rather than proceeding with the DIY route. Speaking of....
TIP NUMBER 2: EDITING
I am all for DIY, in many many arenas. That said, even if you start with a great source, it’s really easy to make a mess of things in editing land. Especially when trying to add in other recordings, special effects, or just mashing multiple tracks together. If you’re going to do your own edits, please be extra mindful of tip #1, and pay attention to level matching. For example: you record a voiceover for parts of your routine. When you listen to the track with your voiceover edits, is there a big change in volume between the pieces? Try to get all material as close in volume as you can so there aren’t large jumps as that can be a tricky thing to handle during your performance. If all you need is a simple fade or to cut out a bit of time at the beginning or end of your track, and you just want to get your hands in there and do it, I am here cheering you on! But as an alternative, we audio nerds spend a gazillion hours learning our tools and nerding out about our trade— SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO :)
TIP NUMBER 3: EXPORTING AND DELIVERING YOUR FILES
Audio is all about signal path, so here’s the next step in the chain. If you’ve made any changes at all to your original file in any kind of editing program, you’re going to need to export that file. Check your preferences/settings and export at the highest quality possible! I recommend a high bit rate mp3 or even a .WAV file. WAV files are lossless, meaning there is no degradation in quality. Mp3 files are lossy, but higher bit rates will result in less obvious compression artifacts. Next, CHECK your music on multiple systems, including headphones! One thing I see happen sometimes is files get delivered in MONO. This should be obvious in headphones as you’d only hear sound in the left ear. If you find that you’ve accidentally done this somehow, please go back through your signal path and see if you can find out what happened. Because it would probably not be fun for only the left side of the audience to hear your music, I do fix this pre-show when I find it (we usually run in stereo). However, the fix only changes it so the file plays back in both speakers. The music itself has still been compromised by being converted to mono, so you’re not hearing it the way it was meant to be heard. You should also listen and COMPARE your track to other tracks on Spotify or iTunes. Is there a sizable difference in your track’s volume? Enough that you need to adjust the volume up or down to compensate? If there is, it’s also going to be there come show time.
*A brief technical interlude...There’s a thing called “perceived loudness.” This is a complex subject, but even at the same output volume, some tracks just sound louder to us than others. Like I said, the reasons are complex, but differing uses of dynamic processing, harmonic distortion, energy levels, mixing choices, and genres of music all play factors in this perception. Obviously that is not something you nor the person running your sound has control over, so keep this in mind.*
Fast forward to competition day… You’ve done your due diligence, your track is uploaded, and now it’s show time! Please remember that a live performance has its quirks and there will always be things beyond anyone’s control. As a Music Manager, I do my best to ensure that things run smoothly and sound as good as possible given the limitations I am presented with. But humans, systems, and machines are fallible — I assure you that bumps can and will happen along the way. Lean into the imperfection of a live performance, get out there, have an amazing time on stage, and don’t sweat the rest, OK?
Hopefully this has been enlightening and helpful. Should you ever want help crafting the perfect track for your performance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to myself (email@example.com), or any of our other friendly PSO Music Managers. I truly love working with dancers and enjoy combining my musical skills with an understanding of your unique needs as a performer. Looking forward to experiencing your moments and I’ll see you from the booth!