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Cutting A Music Video?

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anna holck
Cutting A Music Video?
on Jan 15, 2015 at 2:47:19 pm

When editing a music video, what would you say the rules are to cutting on the beat, lyrics, and other stuff?
Like, what if you want someone in your music video to run or something like that.. do you still have to cut to the beat or lyrics?
I am really confused on this topic.
What i really just wanna know is how to cut a music video properly?

And also how do you plan a music video? How do you write down when to cut to the next angle?

Thanks in advance!


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Bill Davis
Re: Cutting A Music Video?
on Jan 15, 2015 at 6:10:09 pm

Hi Anna,

BIG topic!

Here's my 2 cents. First, music videos are works interpreting other works. The music performance is the core. So the best music videos, create visual environments that honor the song. That's the start.

As to stuff like "cutting on the beat" - is the song rhythmic in nature? Most are. But rhythm is not always as simple as it seems. For example, in forms such as jazz it's standard practice for soloists to anticipate or lag behind "the beat" in order to be more expressive. Think about that. If all you do is CUT every 4 beats, that's all well and good MAYBE. But it's also risks becoming predictive and boring. It implies that every scene has to be reduced to 4 beats in length. Poppycock.

My advice is to start by getting to know the music intimately. I used to actually create a timeline map of the songs I was cutting video to. Draw horizontal lines on paper then start at 0:00 and increment ticks for each progressive second of time - then put markers and notes where every single change occurred on that performance. Music changes, solos, lyric ideas, themes, whatever. Then think about what the song was implying might be good places to introduce new visuals, or characters or style changes.

Dream wildly. Plan relentlessly. Think creatively. Then dump what you can't pull off.

And above all, be prepared to let the edit evolve. You might have planned to do THING A at measure 24 - but some accident happens and you do something totally different at measure 24. Accept that. Embrace it. Create your own rules (YES HAVE RULES YOU CAN ARTICULATE!) but be prepared to break them.

Art doesn't always happen in even measures.

And above all, have fun with it.

Good luck.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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anna holck
Re: Cutting A Music Video?
on Jan 15, 2015 at 6:17:17 pm

Thank you very much for that :)


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Mark Suszko
Re: Cutting A Music Video?
on Jan 16, 2015 at 4:32:15 am

There are many ways to cut a music video, but before you start, do you have any specific directions from the band/management on what the presentation style and/or "message" should be? Are they wanting it to be a performance-only video: shots of them playing... or a mixture of performance and narrative (classic 80's/90's style band shots inter-cut with a visual story), or pure narrative, where the band is just the sound track, and never seen? A variation on that is, pure narrative, with the band playing roles instead of instruments, as they sing the soundtrack.


As to cutting on the beat, this is what beginners should learn to do, if only because the music then imposes some structure to the cutting, and they can learn how that beat can influence a cut and make it stand out - example, on a drum or cymbal hit.

But you need not be a slave to cutting on the down-beat - as has been said, that can become too obvious at times, or if done too long. And even when you're trying to emphasize the beat with cuts, what you often are actually doing is cutting a few frames ahead of the beat, so that say, the motion of a hand strumming a chord, or hitting a drum, is up long enough to register that the hit is associated with the musical beat.

If you can imagine the music in paragraph form, you may see and hear places where it is obvious a cut should happen, or a dissolve. Something you might do as an exercise, is watch some TV with the sound off, and just make note of the rhythms of the cuts in a talk show dialog, in commercials, and in any soap opera or drama. It's not important to know what's being said: what you're studying is how long a shot holds on one guy's face after he's spoken, before the shot changes, and to see where such changes overlap the dialog. Is the cut made on a pause for breath, on a turn of the body, on a blink of the eyes? When it cuts to the reaction of the other actor, does it come early, so the face has time to register understanding and recognition of the message and the accompanying emotion?

This stuff can happen over just a few frames, but where in those frames makes all the difference between nuanced cutting, and what they call "Dragnet" cutting. I'm talking about dialogue scenes now, but you can think of cutting music video in a similar way.

Decide for yourself, which element, the visual, or the audio, should be conveying the emotion at each point, and that also can guide you to general cutting concepts. If you have lyrics, the visuals should synergize with them and not just duplicate them the entire time.

When the music, the lyrics, and the visuals all synergize, and make a whole larger than the sum of the parts, is when the video gets good.


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Jonathan Wing
Re: Cutting A Music Video?
on Jan 28, 2015 at 8:47:59 pm
Last Edited By Jonathan Wing on Jan 28, 2015 at 8:51:20 pm

I agree with what others said. All in all I would say there aren't really hard and fast rules. Yes, it is exciting and a generally normal technique to cut to the beat; sometimes a big change happens in the song that calls for it. And of course it does depend on the genre of music and the style of video.

But in my opinion, some of my favorite videos do not over cut to the beat at all. It gets to be a little expected/cliché/obvious, especially when you over do it (like for example, cutting on every single kick drum or snare in a dance song that is 4/4 gets tiring really fast, unless the concept necessitates it). For example, this highly conceptual video relies on cutting on every beat and using repetition to get its point across, which uses visual elements as rhythmic elements:



Which in this case, cutting on the beat makes sense. It IS the language of the video and what makes it work.

But it wouldn't make sense for many other video concepts out there. I think a lot of time it requires a bit of intuition, and understanding that sometimes restraint is better—just because there is a beat to cut to, doesn't mean it's always the right time to cut.

Also important to keep in mind, is that when you do cut to the beat, it's sometimes more interesting to not make it about the actual edit point but more about the action in the shot. For example, if I were to use a shot of a volcano exploding coming in on a beat, it might be more interesting to make the explosion itself what we see on the beat, and not cut to the shot right on the beat. In other words, this means you might consider coming in on the shot half a second or more before the beat and before the explosion occurs for example, thus establishing the scene, adding a sense of suspense, and then a surprising relief when we see the explosion paired with a a huge beat or big moment in the song.

A good example of a video that doesn't always cut to the beat, but does in surprising places (thus making the moments more effective) is this one:



Note how it lingers on slow-motion long takes but intercuts the occasional quick shot to punctuate a moment, which is very musical: for example at 0:52, 1:18 (dog bark, which is a good example of what I meant about the volcano example above; note that the bark is the action matching the rhythm, but they cut to the dog early to establish it), etc. They often cut to the beat in this video, but there is no rule how long, there is no rule for cutting on the one or the four, the upbeat or downbeat, etc. In my opinion this approach can make for a more musical edit because it allows for moments to breathe and surprise without making the viewer assume there will be a new shot coming at them on every downbeat, for example.

And then of course there are some even more conceptual videos that require a bit more planning in production to allow for long-takes, roving camera techniques, etc. In this case, sometimes it's nice to barely edit on the beat at all, such as seen in this weird video:



Yet somehow it still comes off as very musical! I think part of this is because rather than cutting to the beat with each edit point, they let subtle things occuring in the shots match the music, like the little water droplets landing on the snare after a slow take.

I do a lot of music video editing and these are just a few of the things I've observed and learned over the years. I hope that helps you think of different ways of looking at it. Good luck!


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Richard Herd
Re: Cutting A Music Video?
on Jan 23, 2015 at 11:46:36 pm

Hey Bill, please post your multicam jazz one. It's a good example!


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grinner hester
Re: Cutting A Music Video?
on Jan 31, 2015 at 5:19:31 pm

there are no rules. period



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