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See How Easily You Can Edit Videos to Music

Mark to the Beat Technique People Video EditingCreative Commons License photo credit: vancouverfilmschool

The first instinct you have when listening to piece of music you’ll be using for a video is to visualize the cuts. A smash cut here, a jump cut there, fade out at the end.

By cutting to the music, you enhance the audio-visual relationship of the project while also “hiding” the edits from the viewer — in short, a win-win.

There are many ways to approach editing video to a piece of music — you can use the waveforms or scrub frame-by-frame, for example — but many of those methods can be cumbersome and time consuming. After all, some musical montages or music videos will have hundreds of cuts in only a few minutes.

So then how do you edit the video to be in sync with the music without it being some arduous task?

Well, there’s a simple trick to help you do just that.

The Mark to the Beat Technique

Whenever I know I’ll be editing a video to sync with a piece of music, I use this method I taught myself and it has served me well. While it’s not ideal for any and all projects, it works amazingly well on many of them.

I call it the “Mark to the Beat Technique,” which I made up because it’s catchy and rhymes — sort of.

When I edit, I use Final Cut Pro 7, so that’s how this method will be outlined, but really you can adapt it to work with most NLE (non-linear editing) programs like Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas.

To make use of it, follow these step-by-step instructions:

  1. Place your piece of music into the editing timeline. There doesn’t have to be any video at this point, you only need the song.
  2. Find the key on your keyboard used for marking. In Final Cut Pro, the key used for marking is the ` in the upper left hand side of the keyboard. It essentially places a little icon on the timeline to give you a visual sign.
  3. Play the song within the timeline.
  4. Using the “Mark” key, make a mark on every beat there should be a cut.

It is crucial when you use this technique that you already have a firm grasp on the project you’re editing and a general idea of how it should be cut. Will there be quick edits or more lethargic cuts? Will you cut on the sound of the bass drum or the squeal of a guitar? Is an edit point every measure of the song too little or too much?

Once you have those and other questions answered, you can sit down, play the song, and simply tap the keyboard every time you think there should be an edit point.

By the time you get to the end of the song, you will have a timeline full of these little icons. Here’s a screenshot I took of a recent project I did in which I utilized this method:

Mark the Beat Technique in Final Cut Pro

Fill in the Gaps with Your Video Clips

Now here’s where the real brilliance of this method comes into play.

Once you’ve listened to the song and marked up the timeline, all you have to do is fill in the gaps made by the marks. You can just pull clips from your bin and drop them into the timeline, shorten them appropriately, and you’ll already have an edit point designated.

After filling in the gaps, you’ll find you have a fairly decent rough cut that is synced with the music (assuming, of course, your rhythm is up to par!).

While this first edit won’t be perfect and you will still have to tweak, it’s a great starting point. Doing this has also helped me overcome particularly tough projects where I didn’t know where to start and used the mark to the beat technique as a basis.

Let’s hear from you now: What methods do you use when editing to music? Is it something similar to the “mark to the beat” technique? Or are you more meticulous in your approach?

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