So, you’ve found the perfect music for your next video. Now it’s time to get splicing! Some marketers and video editors prefer cutting video to music and others like their music to be dropped in after the initial edit. Whichever you prefer, the abstract, yet important technique of ‘pacing’ is what sets your video apart from the bad, good and amazing!

We just need to get this pacing thing down right. I’d like to share with you some tips for getting your video’s soundtrack just right.

What is Pacing?

First of all, what is pacing? Pacing is arguably the most important technique in editing. It’s the sequencing of footage in order to create a cohesive story. A story that ebbs and flows has arcs, excitement, drama, tension, release, and of course, emotion..

It’s the crux of video editing and therefore music editing! The two go hand in hand, they are yin and yang.

How To Use Pacing In Your Video Soundtrack

1. Understand The Story

This definitely has to be number one!

Use music to clarify what’s happening in the story. Determine what feel and mood is being conveyed. Music can deliver a dramatic emphasis and foreshadow events or reinforce the intent of antagonist or protagonist characters.

The viewer will become confused and pulled out of the story if the mood of the music doesn’t match the feel of the story, so this is important.

2. Pacing is situational, it’s not all about speed

In my experience and in my research, I wasn’t surprised to learn that most editors equate pacing with speed., thinking faster cuts equals better pacing. But this is simply not true! Speed does not matter and the pacing can be set perfectly for either fast or slow tracks. It all comes down to the mood and feel that is desired. Pacing is ever changing! The music should move with the flow of the story and support the feel of the scene.

3. Know how the pacing of your music will influence the viewer

Now that we’ve touched on the misconception that fast means good pacing, we can discuss what different paces convey to the viewer. Here are some general ways that you can pace music to a video edit. Keep in mind that these are general starting points…there are always exceptions to the rule.

Slow = Building tension and suspense: Think of slowly evolving and droning high register strings with cuts that are longer. The viewer has time to think about what’s happening. This is an effective dramatic pacing technique.

My example below demonstrates a slow build of tension and suspense. Notice the space between the organ chords and how long the chords are held for while they are hurrying to board the ship.

I should also mention that depending on the subject matter, slower music can also be relaxing.

Normal = Neutral: No drama here. The music is a perfect balance of tension and release. This is perhaps the most common type of pacing in a video. Picture everyday tasks and average conversation. The pace of your normal heart rate is effective in these types of scenes.

The pacing in this example is really great. Feel how it breathes and flows so perfectly:

Fast = Intensity: This could also be tension or suspense (exceptions to the rule). Fast and driving drums are typically characteristic in music that works for a fast cut action scene. Check out the example:

4. Utilize key elements of pacing: Pattern, Timing and Flow

Now that we’ve talked about what pacing is and how it is applied, let’s look under the hood and see the inner working of pacing. In my opinion, pacing as it relates to music and video can be broken down into three different aspects: pattern, timing and flow.

Good pacing doesn’t mean all of these things need to be happening simultaneously, but at least one element should be involved at all times.

Pattern: Recurring music cues can act as themes for characters or subjects. It creates structure and cohesion in a video. Listen to the opening and closing music cues in this video. They act as bookends, which give the video full closure.

Timing: A change in the music at exactly the right moment. The music should hit important cues within the story. I really like the timing between the music and the action on screen in this ad for Jetta

Flow: The sense of the music moving with the picture and reflecting the emotion and feel of the story. The feeling of breathing should come to mind when a piece of music is paced well with video. The neutral pacing example above is an excellent demonstration of flow.

5. Practice! Know the difference between good and bad pacing

Having excellent pacing in your video isn’t something that comes over night. You develop a feel for when the music is paced well and when it isn’t. Listen to what your instincts tell you. You’ll know when the music should keep going or stop, change or not even be there at all.

It takes lots of practice, but it’s something that when done right can make your video stand a cut above the rest.

Jason Cliffen