If you've been around dance recitals and
competitions for a few years, you've seen and heard it hundreds of times.
Dancers who have worked all year on dances for which their parents paid
hundreds of dollars in tuition and costume fees perform to music that is
tired, muffled, poorly edited, or all of the above.
Having good sounding music is not a
difficult code to crack. Here are eight ideas for how to improve
1. Start With Something Original
Why use the same tired music that gets
used time and time again by every dance studio?
Particularly if you are selecting music for a dance that might someday
be entered in a competition, think about the judges' reactions. You won't
score any originality points with them if yours is the sixth dance of
the day to "Hey Ya!"
So try something completely original.
The next time you are in a music store,
listen to the music being played over the store's sound system and
you're not likely to hear Top 40. Instead, you'll probably hear
something slightly off the beaten path by lesser known artists -- an
attempt by the store to expose you to something new. Good for
If you like what you hear, take the
bold step of asking a sales clerk to show you the CD (usually on display
near the checkout next to the sign that says, "Now Playing") and then consider
While you're in the store, take a
stroll down some aisles you don't normally visit. Breeze through
an assortment of New Age music or take a shot at the World Music section. If
you are shopping at a mega-store like Tower, Virgin or
Borders, you can actually preview a CD before deciding to buy it --
the musical equivalent to the automobile test drive. Commit
yourself to taking home a CD by an artists not currently in your
collection, then find something appealing and buy it.
Another great place to window shop and
sample music is the Internet, where music services such as iTunes permit
you to preview 30-second clips of songs. Again, skip the Pop
category and see what's appealing in Techno, Funk, Swing, Reggae or any
one of a dozen other genres.
2. Use Only Legally Obtained
Don't be stupid! Illegally
downloading and sharing music is stupid. Parents and dance studios
alike have a responsibility to teach children not to break the
law, and illegal music downloading is the perfect place to draw the
If the fact that it's illegal isn't
good enough justification for shunning services where these files are
swapped, here are a few other reasons why illegally downloading music is
The reason most illegal file sharing
services can offer music at no charge is because you agree when
downloading their software to accept spyware on your computer that
will infiltrate your privacy and bombard you with a never-ending
supply of pop-up ads and SPAM. Even if you eventually remove
your file sharing software, it's extremely difficult for even the most
seasoned computer geek to eradicate the garbage software from your PC.
Illegal file sharing is stupid because it invades your privacy and ruins your PC!
Most illegally shared music is also
of remarkably poor quality. It typically has a very hollow,
tinny sound with a hint of an echo. You may think it sounds fine
on your tiny PC speakers, but crank it up on your
home stereo or play it at the volume it will be played during your
recital or competition, and everyone who hears it will know that your
music is a bootleg copy. Illegal file sharing is stupid because
the music sounds exactly like what it is -- music you downloaded
illegally -- and everyone will know it!
Legal music costs a buck a song,
while the costs of being a criminal are much greater. The music
industry has proven time and time again that it has every intention of
aggressively enforcing copyright law. If you believe your
illegal downloading is somehow different, insignificant or defensible,
3. When Possible, Use Compact
We shouldn't need to rehash the history
of audio advancements, but here are the basics as they relate to cassette
tapes versus compact discs. Compact discs offer markedly better
quality than cassette tapes, have a much greater life expectancy, and cost a fraction of
what tapes do. Need we say more?
A pristine new cassette recording even on
the highest quality tape begins
its life inferior in quality to a compact disc containing the same music,
and the quality difference between the two widens with time and use.
are easily damaged by excessive heat or humidity,
careless handling and
tape transports that stretch or break
tapes. Even with the most careful handling, tapes simply degrade with age
and use. The backing material gets
brittle and the binders that adhere the magnetic oxide to the tape fail.
As a result, the typical lifespan of a carefully stored high quality tape
is about 1/10 that of a CD.
more, each successive duplication of a cassette tape causes generational
loss. Think of the old photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.
Each new copy comes out a little fuzzier than the previous version, while
every stray mark (or sound in the case of an audio recording) that gets
picked up along the way is carried on to future copies.
discs, on the other hand, do not degrade under normal or even relatively
harsh use. CDs have a lifespan of 50-100 years, and every duplicated
copy of a CD will be identical to the original with no degradation.
An excellent quality cassette tape purchased individually costs about
$1.50. A bargain tape may cost about $0.40. A recordable
compact disc costs less than $0.20.
4. When You Must Use a Cassette,
Use a Good One
Okay, we recognize that some dance
competitions still require that music be submitted on cassette tapes.
If forced to do so, use a high quality tape. Look for one that says
"high-bias." In the most basic terms, this means the tape has more of the "stuff" on it that
the sound "sticks" to, so you'll get a greater range of frequencies with
less risk of dropouts.
And please don't reuse last year's tape
to record this year's music. That tape has been played over and
over again for rehearsals, recitals and competitions. It's been
rewound as many times, it's been banged around all year, and it may have
lived for a while in a dance bag. That tape has earned a break...
and it's likely to break.
Come on, it's a buck and a half.
After investing hundreds of dollars in the cost of dance lessons and
costumes, don't be cheap about your music. Rerecording on an old tape
is never as good as recording on a fresh tape, so avoid doing it.
Record Your Tape on a Decent Tape Deck
When you must use a cassette, record your tape on the highest quality tape
deck you have at your disposal. Don't record it on a cheap boom box.
If your system has a digital readout and
the ability to control the recording level, listen to the music before
you record it to tape and adjust the recording level so the music never
peaks in the red. You want the music to be loud enough, but if
you're hitting the red, you're getting distortion.
6. Minimize the Tape Leader
A leader on a cassette tape is the
non-recordable portion of the tape (usually white in color) that you
will find at each end of the tape. Using your finger or a pen cap,
advance the tape so enough of the leader has passed to make just the
tiniest bit of the recordable tape (the brown part) visible.
Now insert your tape, press "play" on
your source component (hopefully a CD player), then hit "record" on the
tape deck. You want the music to begin as soon as possible after
you've started to record. Why? Because every second it takes
before the music starts is one second more your dancer(s) will need to
hold an opening pose on stage waiting for the music to begin. Five
seconds of unnecessary silence can be very unnerving for dancers waiting
to perform. Unnecessarily long leaders will also not endear you to
competition organizers, who want to move acts onto and off of stage as
quickly as possible.
Of course, while working to minimize the leader, make
sure you don't cut off or garble the first few notes of the song.
And here's a bit of recording trickery if your
tape deck is able... Once you insert your properly cued blank tape, press "Play"
on the recording deck, then
immediately (absolutely as fast as you can) press "Pause." While
paused, press "Record," then start your source component and immediately
release the pause on the recording deck. The benefit of shifting to "Record" while
paused is that the recording heads can be engaged before the leader tape
runs out. That helps to prevent some of the "thud" you often hear
at the beginning of a tape.
Consider Digital Editing
Few modern songs are less than three
minutes in length -- the maximum allowable length of music in most
categories at most dance competitions -- so
editing is likely necessary
for much of your music.
Avoid at all cost being one of those acts
whose dancers strike their final pose or dance of the stage while
the music continues to play. You should leave the audience wanting
more, not wondering if there was supposed to be more.
Digital music editing software
continues to become more powerful, easier to operate and less expensive,
making it an ideal solution.
With digital music editing software,
you have all the tools you need to copy a song from a CD into your
computer, move verses around, eliminate portions of a long song, loop
(repeat) portions of a song that may need to be lengthened, edit out
objectionable content, adjust the speed and pitch of the song, fade a
song up, fade a song down, cross-fade from one song to another, and so
It takes some amount of patience,
practice, time, and the ability to recognize an eight-count, but before
long you'll wonder how you ever got along without it, and you'll cringe
when you hear "crash edits" made on a tape player.
When you gain some editing proficiency,
you can create elaborate medleys and layer in sound effects to create
truly original music.
Make Multiple Copies from the Original
Source, not from Each Other
So you're all set up to record your
music CD or tape. Now is the perfect time to make all the copies
you might need for the year. You want a classroom copy for the
teacher, a take-home copy for the student(s), a recital/competition copy
that you put away to avoid having it banged up, and a backup copy for
when the unexpected occurs.
When making tapes, be sure to record
all of them from the original source. If you make one tape and
record your other copies from the first, you're already down to a third
generation recording, and you will probably be able to tell the
difference in sound quality immediately.
Making all of your copies at once also
ensures that the recording levels will be consistent on each copy.
Of course, once you've made your
recordings, be sure to listen to each one to be sure they are perfect.
The middle of the recital or competition performance is not the time to learn that your
tape has a dropout.