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Gilded Serpent presents...
Making Recorded Music Memorable
by Chandani

Jeff Johnson, a wonderful music tech, does all of my music for my shows!  Through the years we have come up with ways to make pre-recorded performance music sound better, work better and avoid mishaps. Dancers know how important music is to a successful performance; so it’s imperative that the recorded music adds quality and substance to the dance performance and vice versa.  Following are some tips and tricks to recording and arranging memorable music:

One Track for One Complete Performance
Most restaurant shows and “Belly-Grams” have about 10 to 20 minutes duration time and require multiple songs to achieve that time requirement.  Good transitions between songs will often elicit compliments for performers on their music arrangements.  Jeff knows Belly dance music well enough to make each song transition well into the next, which adds cohesiveness and flow to a performance.  For instance, adding a 10 second “fade-out” to a fast tempo song and a “fade-in” to a medium or slow tempo has proved to work out well for me. The fade technique makes the speed transitions more pleasant, less shocking, for an audience. However, dancers wouldn’t want to use this technique for a drum solo number, typically.  Often Jeff will insert one second of silence before the drum solo and then 2 or 3 seconds of silence after the drum solo to allow me to make strong ending poses and to accept audience applause before the next song begins to play.  Most importantly, he combines all of the songs onto one track for the CD musical arrangement.  (Therefore, the CD doesn’t change from track 1 to 2 to 3 for each song segment.)  All the tunes are connected as one continuous segment on one track.  This makes it easier for a DJ, and ensures that the recorded performance music will support the dancer as intended.  (Remember: older CD players sometimes paused automatically for a standard 3 to 6 seconds between each track.)

The Sound of Silence
Often, when dancing in a restaurant, there is someone behind the counter who throws on the dancer’s music and then returns to his regular work duties.  If the designated worker becomes busy, he tends to forget about the dancer and isn’t on music detail when the dance show is near its end.  Several times, my music automatically began to play from the top again after I was finished performing (and sometimes, I had already left the stage).  To avoid this jarring and awkward moment, Jeff now adds an empty track that is 2 minutes or more of silence after the complete performance track. So, if the CD does move into the next track, no one is expecting you to come dancing out onto the stage once again for an encore!

Rescue and Recover Rips
I once performed a “Belly-Gram” for a local University that had several of its staff members each do 2 to 3 minute mini-skit introductions of themselves before my performance.  Each staff member came dancing out to the song of their choice before taking a seat—off to the side.  As the main entertainment for the evening, I was introduced by the DJ and came dancing out when my music started.  However, the DJ did not understand that I was performing a 15-minute set; therefore, he cut off my music after 3 minutes—as he had for each of the staff members!  The woman-in-charge ran out to the DJ’s booth and instructed him to turn my music back on because I was hired to perform.  He didn’t know where my music had ended previously; so, he solved his dilemma by starting the music over again—from the top.  After this embarrassing scenario, Jeff came up with the idea of additional “safety tracks” on the performance CD.  Therefore, in addition to the complete performance track and the added blank sound track, we add each individual song as separate tracks after the blank sound track.  Each individual track still has all the qualities of the complete track with any “fade-ins or outs”, etc but the cd player can read them separately.  These additional tracks help prevent “DJ oops”, causing me to repeat dancing an entire set.   (The safety tracks also give you the ability to practice only certain portions of your performance without having to listen to the entire piece to find your place.)

This recording technique also helps if your CD, for whatever reason, starts to skip or refuses to play, you can skip to the next track—if need be.

Following these tips, the tracks on your performance CD will look like the following example:

Track 1: Your Complete Performance Set
Track 2: A Blank Track (2 to 3 minutes of silence)
Track 3: Tune 1 of Your Complete Set.
Track 4: Tune 2 of Your Complete Set.
Track 5: Tune 3 of Your Complete Set, etc.

Adverse Acoustics
Belly dancers understand that music is essential to a performance, but how many of us think about the quality of our CD and recording?  If you perform on a regular basis, then it’s important to obtain a good set of speakers and a decent quality sound card.  Use good media!  Don't just buy the cheapest blank CDs you can find.  The quality of the blank CD impacts the sound reproduction of your music.

Once you’ve recorded your performance CD, try it out on a several different players. (Typically, a computer CD-RW is more forgiving than your DVD player or your car's CD player.) A different CD player can catch glitches or imperfections in the recording that the computer did not (including burn errors).  Experiment with the volume, too.  Playing a CD at different volumes on different players can change the sound of the music as well.

Speaking of Volume
We are fortunate to have several generations of recorded Belly dance music; however, some of it sounds cleaner than others.  Sometimes, one must clean-up the sound of the selection, such as with Mohammed El-Bakkaar recordings, so that when the resulting CD plays loudly, it is not distorted.  Other CDs were recorded at a lower input level, such as George Adbo, so when you add that track to your performance CD, be sure to pump up the input volume so that your selection will equalize with the other selections. It is imperative that your musical selections from varied sources be recorded at about the same volume.  It’s always disturbing to be in the audience enjoying a performance, and suddenly, the music blares out loudly during a song change.

Typically, one should raise the volume of each musical selection so that even a small boom box can get the sound out to everyone.  If a song segment is recorded at a level that is too low, it will be difficult for both the dancer and the audience to hear. 

As with anything else, it takes practice and time to produce memorable recorded sets.  Don’t wait ‘til the last minute to put your set together!  Start early, and give yourself time to make any necessary revisions.  Start small, and work your way through the process, becoming more familiar with what is possible technically.  Your dancing is memorable, shouldn’t your music be as well?

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