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Editing Music with Sound Forge

Learn to edit music effectively using Sony Sound Forge By Jeffrey P. Fisher

Rare is the project that doesn't require conforming music in some way to match the visuals, enhance the drama, or support the message. Library production music often comes with alternate timings, but these tend to be of the :29 and :59 variety. That's great for some spot work, but not useful all the time. Instead of selecting a music track that almost works, make any music track do what you want by editing it to fit your precise needs.

You do not need to know anything about music to edit it well. If you can count to 4, you can learn to edit music in ways that keep the beat, make musical sense, and match your project. This tutorial demonstrates the Sound Forge workflow and how to use it with either instrumental or vocal music.

A-one and a-two
Generally, music comes in two rhythmic flavors: 4/4 (1-2-3-4) time or 3/4 (1-2-3) waltz time. This is known as the time signature or meter and is helpful for finding edit points. A song like Edelweiss from The Sound of Music is an example of 3/4 while DoReMi from the same show is 4/4. The Beatles' Drive My Car from Revolver is 4/4, but the next track, Norwegian Wood, is 3/4 time. There are, of course, exceptions to these (e.g. Pink Floyd's Money which is 7/4 time), but the majority of Western music falls into one of these two patterns.

Once you find the meter (start with 4/4 and adjust if it doesn't seem to work), you can easily count out the beats and then make your edits on those beats. It's typically the 1, known as the downbeat that matters most. Find the 1 and you are on your way. For example:

Each one of these 1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3 repeating patterns is known as a measure. That's the musical equivalent of a sentence when writing. Editing measures, based on the downbeat, allow you to make edits that sound right, don't break the musical beat, and also make musical sense.

Here is one caveat to keep in mind. Following these steps you can make edits just about anywhere in a song. However, these edits still need to make musical sense. While you can make an edit to end the National Anthem at "and the home" you would leave your audience hanging if it doesn't end naturally at "of the free."

Marker time
Open the song that requires editing in the Sound Forge workspace. It's not necessary to do the whole song, just the section(s) you need. Listen to it once to get a feel for its rhythm. Play the song again and this time tap your desk along with the beat. It's a good idea to count the beats aloud, too. Use the repeating pattern that matches your music (1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3). Place extra emphasis on the 1 in the pattern.

Go through the song a third time. While you count out the rhythm, gently tap the M key in time. Be sure to hit the M key hard enough on the downbeat only. Don't press the M key on every beat, just the 1. This inserts a marker at every downbeat. After going through the song this way, your file will look like the Figure below.

Not everybody has a perfect sense of rhythm so there is a chance that some markers may not line up exactly with every beat. Zoom in on a marker and then check the waveform. It's often simple to spot the proper beat. Instruments, such as drums, tend to stick out in the waveform as a larger transient. Adjust any markers to be on the beat. The figure below shows that the marker was a tad early and needs to move over slightly to align with the downbeat correctly.

Edit time
With markers placed at every downbeat, turn your attention to finding logical places for any edits. Most songs repeat in some manner, so editing around these repeats makes sense. Many songs, even instrumentals, follow a verse/chorus motif. Cutting at those musical transitions can be very effective.

After following the earlier workflow, the space between any two markers is a musical measure. In this example, the music repeats every four measures. Therefore, you can cut out any multiple of 4 and the edit will work. The figure below shows that by cutting out 12 measures, the end of the fourth measure fits perfectly with the start of the seventeenth measure. 

Sound Forge includes a keyboard shortcut for testing any edit. First make the selection and then press Ctrl+K. Sound Forge plays one second before the selection, skips the selection, and then plays one second after the selection. This Preview Edit is very handy when working with music. If the edit doesn't quite work, adjust the selection edges and use Ctrl+K again as needed. Also, if you accidently collapse your selection by clicking elsewhere, press the Backspace key and Sound Forge remembers your last selection, too.

If your preview works to your liking, press the Delete key to make the edit permanent. Continue working to arrive at what you need for your project.

You can use Sound Forge Pro 10's terrific Event Edit mode, too. After placing the markers split up sections and move them around as needed. With this approach, you can use crossfades to make some edits sound better.

If your goal is to shorten a musical segment consider working backwards. Find a suitable ending and then make any edits necessary before that ending to make it sound right. The ending may be the actual song ending or it may be elsewhere in the tune. In the figure below the song ending edits well with the first edits (featured above) and reduces the song from 4:00 to :25. More importantly, these edits still make musical sense while the essence of the song remains intact.

If you need to force an ending in the middle of the music, look for a natural stopping point. Start with any transition point from one section to another, a chorus to another verse, for instance. Find these points usually just before another marker (beat 1 of the next measure). However, these edits sometimes sound a bit abrupt, so smooth them out with a short fade out. Make a selection, usually under a half-second and use Process > Fade > Out. Audition the results and adjust as required.

In some cases, adding a touch of reverb to the last note(s) and letting the reverb tail decay naturally can make these ending work better. It's important to find a reverb sound that matches the song for this to be effective. Make a short selection that includes the last note (or so). Be sure the selection includes space for the reverb to decay. Just muting the next couple of seconds after the edited ending usually suffices. Click Effects > Reverb and adjust the settings until it works with the song. This should sound natural like the song ends and the last notes hang in the air for a brief moment before decaying away to silence.

Learning to edit music effectively is a skill that everyone in post production should master. Sound Forge makes it easy to find the right edit points and make them sound perfect.

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Jeffrey P. Fisher is a Sony Vegas Certified Trainer and he co-hosts the Sony Acid, Sony Sound Forge, and Sony Vegas forums on Digital Media Net (www.dmnforums.com). For more information visit his Web site at www.jeffreypfisher.com or contact him at [email protected].

Related Keywords:music editing, audio editing, sound forge editing, digital audio

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