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Beware the Pitfalls of Video Editing with Temp Music

Editing with a popular track as your temporary music bed can create a lot of unnecessary heartache for you and your team. Here’s what you need to do.

Video editors, we need to have a little talk. It’s about music. I know you’re busy, you have a tight deadline, and you need to present something to your clients or bosses ASAP. This first draft needs to look dynamic, be somewhat polished, and hit that perfect tonal mark.

So, naturally, you reach for your favorite popular track to edit to. You tell yourself, “This is just temporary. We’ll swap it out later, no problem.” You love this song, you know it’ll set the right mood, it’ll impress the team, and most of all, it’ll make editing a breeze. It’s here where I’d like to interject — BEWARE THE TEMP TRACK.

Although expedient at the outset, editing with a popular track as your temporary music bed can create a lot of unnecessary heartache for you and your team. Here are some things to be mindful of before traversing the minefield of editing with temp music.

Explaining That It’s Only A Temp Track — Again

Temp Track

Make the editing process easy on both you and your team.

Communicating with clients and higher-ups is challenging enough to begin with. While it’s important to keep the team in the loop, presenting an early draft of your work demands that you provide clear and concise notes at every step — including constant reminders that this is not the final product. Editing and presenting a draft with temp music will only add one more annoyingly tedious caveat for you to explain.

Even if your client gets it, decoding your process simply isn’t their job. They just want to know that the project is going well before moving on to their next meeting. If you need to explain that the music you’re editing with is only temporary, they’ll at best forget that detail and, at worst, struggle to wrap their heads around it. If you really want to present an item with temporary elements, be warned that you’ll need to jump through some hoops.

Falling Short of Client Expectations (That You Set)

Client Expectations

If the client falls in love with the temp track, you’ll have trouble convincing him/her to change it.

So, you’ve successfully managed to explain the concept of “temporary” to your client. Great job. However, your team now has a new challenge to meet — that being the client’s specific expectations.

When presenting your edit with temp music, your client may really love it. They see your vision clearly and have approved everything you’ve shown them. Then, when it’s time to present the final product, they’re suddenly, well, less impressed. Sure, they understood that the music was only temporary, and they know the final music is just as high-quality, a team effort crafted and composed by your killer audio pros. However, it just wasn’t what they were expecting.

Remember, when editing with a temp track, your client may feel married to the track they first fell in love with, distracting from the sum of great work you and your team have poured into that project.

Don’t Sacrifice Flexibility

Study Your Edit

When using temp music, study your edit with the audio muted.

It’s great to have a finished track to edit with. You can block out your segments easily, measuring the pacing against the track’s tempo and matching the music’s energy. Nonetheless, you may be tying your hands unintentionally. If you know the music is going to change, why would you tether your edit’s pacing and energy to it?

If you still insist upon working with temp music, take some time to study your edit with the audio muted. This will help you gauge whether or not your edit is adaptable. If the edit works well without music, it will work great with music.

Moreover, be mindful of what you may be passing along to the rest of the team. If you’re passing your edit to a composer or sound designer with temp music, you’re again presenting arbitrarily specific expectations to be met. Similarly, if you’re presenting temp music to motion designers or visual artists, you’re effectively asking them to match the mood or energy of the music that may not match quite as well with the final product.

Choose the Path of Least Resistance

The Path of Least Resistance

In the long run, it’s easier on you and your client to use the music intended for your product.

If you know you’re ultimately going to purchase stock music, use the watermarked sample of that stock track. Personally, I’d much rather explain to a client that the track is watermarked than explain that what they’re hearing will change altogether. Once you’ve found that perfect music, you can then purchase the track and finish the project.

If your team is creating original music, try working in tandem with your composer. Start with an idea and begin editing with a click track. You and your colleague can work simultaneously, share progress, and graduate the music — from click track to rhythm section  to demo — until you reach a final product. In the past, I’ve found that this process works quite nicely, providing more robust communication between the editor and the composer. It also allows the composer to contribute greater creative input. Why force a talented musician into a corner when together you can create space for one another?

It may be tempting, and it’s certainly expedient, but editing with temp music may become more trouble than it’s worth. If you insist upon it, be mindful of the challenges. That said, just don’t.

Here. Have some more video editing content. Enjoy:

All illustrations by Enrique Echavarria.