Planning a Freestyle - Music

So, in addition to running 3DHobbyShop, I occasionally get to fly, too.

I started flying in 1979 (thanks to my Uncle James W) and progressed through what I call the "RCM Program" of trainers, sticks, pattern, and scale (like everybody else). The last several years, however, have been by far the most fun I've ever had flying, with always-improving aircraft, really good small practice planes, and my ever-improving thumbs.

I've been trying to become more disciplined in my flying, and have set a goal of being able to competently fly a competitive 4-minute freestyle routine during 2009. I probaby won't ever get to use said freestlye routine in any competition, but I want to do it just because I think it will be super-cool. I'll be documenting the steps in the blog here and hopefully show some actual progress.

So, in this first post about it, I'll go over the process I'm using for music creation. A freestyle should demonstrate at least a couple of different musical tempos/styles to allow the pilot to fly both graceful and high-energy maneuvers. 3 songs in the 4 minutes appears to be the concensus. Therefore, we need to create a 4 minute long piece of music out of three existing songs. I'm using a techno song, followed by a classical piece, followed by a rock song (I may change my mind along the way).

A buddy suggested using YouTube to identify pieces of music. Perfect. It seems that virutally every song ever recorded is posted as a music video or live performance on YouTube (at least for the moment). After identifying a candidate song, if I'm serious about using it, I need to purchase it, so I use iTunes. 99cents a song seems fair, I only need 3 of them.

iTunes uses a weird file format, .mp4 I think, which nothing else recognizes. Thanks Apple for making my life more difficult. So, in order to actually USE the iTunes song, we must convert it. This is a weird process, but Apple is a weird company. In iTunes -

1.Create a new playlist with the songs you want to use for your freestyle.
2.Right click on the playlist and choose "burn to disc" to burn it to a CD-R
3.Close iTunes, go to "My computer" (on PC) and open the disc you just burned
4.Open a track from the disc in Windows Media Player
5.Choose the "Rip" option in Media Player to transfer the songs to your hard drive.
6.They will be brought in as "Unknown Songs" since iTunes does not save the titles (thanks Apple) so you have to re-name them.

Whew. Finally, now, after wasting a CD-R and 10 minutes, you can actually use the songs you already paid for. Last time - Thanks Apple.

Now we have to mix them. I use a piece of software called CubaseLE. This is the "Lite" version of a very big and expensive music creation software package. It is often sent free with a variety of audio gear, and people often put it up for sale separately on Ebay. I got mine for $29. There are several other competing packages that do the same thing, but this is the one I know. I've even seen Cubase offered as a free download lately, but haven't investigated.

On Cubase, it's really easy. Select a new project in "16 track audio" format. Under "File" choose "import" and "Audio file". Your song will show up in one of the tracks. In the image above, the orange track is a song in stereo (notice the two jagged white paths in the orange trackbar - that's the right and left channel of a stereo song - that's what your songs will look like). It's intuitive, move it left to make it appear sooner in the mix, move it right to make it play later in the mix. We have to trim each song to length - again really easy. Double click on the song you want to trim, it opens in a new window. You can listen to the song while the progress bar moves across the screen. Hit "stop" when it's at the correct point (you can move the progress bar with the mouse to get exactly the right point) and highlight the part of the song you want to get rid of. Right click on the highlighted portion, choose "Edit" and "delete". Your song is now trimmed.

Trim your 3 pieces of music, slide them together on the screen, and hit play to listen to your freestyle. After a few tries, you'll see what it takes to make them end up close to 4 minutes long (or however long your routine will be). To make it sound more professional, you'll want to have a faded transition between songs. Double click on the song you want to fade out of to open it in the detail window. Highlight the last few seconds of the song, right click on the highlighted portion, choose "process" and "fade out", click the "process" button in the fade out window. Done. Go to the next song, highlight the beginning few seconds, and this time choose "process" and "fade in". Done. You now have a faded transition.

There's a LOT more power and features even in one of these "Lite" audio programs. If one of your songs is significantly louder or quieter than the others, bring that track up in the detail window, highlight the whole thing and use the "process" and "gain" command to make it louder or quiter. There's a whole lot more, too. Some pilots use their own personal sounds (like a tape rewinding or other effect) between songs instead of fades. These types of things are added just like a new song, trimmed, and put into the right location. You can also overlay sounds. A few pilots have used Nasa countdown recordings, sirens, and other effects over their songs. Just add your overlay sound and put it on a different track, slide it left or right to make it play at the precise time you want it to.

When you are satisfied that you have a freestyle mix worth flying to (you can always do it again, better, later), use "File" "Export" "Audio Mixdown" to save your mix. I save it a couple of different ways, as a Windows Media File and as a .wav file. That way I can use it anywhere I want, import into iTunes and onto my iPod, on an audio CD for the car, and for sim practice I play it as a "loop" in Windows Media Player.

There are, I'm sure, better ways to accomplish this. However, I'm not a pro musician or sound engineer, and this system works for me and my slow brain. I can sit down at the PC with an idea, and within an hour have a finished mix ready to fly to (assuming I had a good idea and the three songs actually sound good together and can fit into 4 minutes!).

Next time, I'll pass along some good coaching I've gotten about how to plan your maneuvers and the single best tool for the aspiring freestyle pilot.

Fly Low


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