Favourite Editing Techniques: No.1 Feel the Beat

Mixing music and video can be highly engaging

I love cutting video to the beat of the music. There’s a little squirm of joy when images change with every thud of the beat of the soundtrack.

Here’s how I do it.

Every piece of NLE (none linear editing) software has the capacity to place markers on a time line. I start the process by placing my choice of music on the timeline and listening to it. Then I scrub back to the beginning a play through again, but this time I click the marker placement button on each beat. It’s just like tapping your finger to the music as it plays. When I’m done I start to place my shots. When you place your shots normally you are looking for the natural change in the scene to decide when to cut. With this process your ability to choose when to cut is severely restricted. You can only cut on one of the markers you have placed. This means this is going to take more time than normal, and that you have to be a lot more careful about exactly what snippets you take from any one shot, your video still has to make sense. This means this technique is a lot easier when you are creating a montage of images rather than following a narrative structure.

Once you’ve placed your shots in line with your markers, even though you’ve been watching the video continuously as you cut, go back and watch it all again. This time through you will be painfully aware of just how far off the beat most of your cuts are. So now you have to go through the time line and adjust every single cut. Most NLEs will display the waveform of your music but this isn’t always a help as the waveform may peak on sounds that don’t fall on the beat you’ve chosen for the cut. Most of the time however there will be a nice peak in the waveform that will give you a helping hand, but there is no substitute for listening and looking at your cut over and over again. You won’t necessarily be cutting on every single beat of the music but every cut you do make should be on a beat for the effect to work. However, you don’t have to stick rigidly to this throughout your whole video. This is a technique that you can dip into and out of using it for some sequences but not others.

Here is a video where the technique is used between 16 – 24 seconds, before slowing the pace of cuts down a little.

I hope you have fun with this, and good luck with your videos.