On video editing and soundtrack sourcing

Yesterday [April 28 2015], I was working on a short video edit for friend and business partner Sedat Adyiamat, in order to document a creativity workshop he had been leading last saturday.

The plan was to make a 30-secs to 1 minute video out of about 30 minutes of footage. Since I am running an experiment that consists in avoiding the Adobe Creative Suite (my laptop is free of it since October 2014), I decided to use one of those alernative editing tools: iMovie (which I didn’t touch since 2002), or DaVinci Resolve (which I never used so far).

First test: file format support

The first test for each software was to open the AVCHD (.mts) files produced by the Canon camcorder (the lack of support in Final Cut Pro had forced me move to Adobe Premiere some years ago).

Positive surprise: both applications are able to import that format directly, without converting to ProRes beforehand.

Second test: usability

The second test: being able to put sequences on the timeline in less than a minute.

Here, DaVinci Resolve failed the usability test. Despite spending a minute flipping through the menus, I couldn’t figure out where the editing timeline was hidden. If I need more than a minute to find something that basic, I will probably spend hours when I need to change the tempo of a sequence. So, exit DaVinci Resolve, back to iMovie.

iMove, nice to see you again

iMovie, in version 10 on OSX Yosemite, is a pretty intuitive app that has the necessary tools to perform a quick editing job.

the iMovie timeline
the iMovie timeline


What worked well:

  • Putting clips on the timeline, and defining their in/out points.
  • Changing the speed of clips is straightforward. I remember that this was always very complicated to achieve in Motion and AfterEffects.
  • Changing the global audio volume of clips.

What didn’t work well / took more time than needed.

  • Couldn’t figure out how to draw envelope curves for the audio volume, with keyframes.
  • The text layers: the presets come with some unpredictable “effects” such as: forced uppercase, motion, shadows… without an option to turn them off! It took some research on the Internets to figure out that one of the presets (“Upper”) is sufficiently minimalistic to fit my needs.
  • Another concern: I have no control (and no idea) about where the “project”, the imported footage and the renderings, are saved. This is done automatically, so if I want to archive the project to an external drive, I will have to spend time investigating iMovie’s hidden folder structure. (Edit: it’s actually quite easy to find, it’s all in /Movies/iMovie Library/).

Searching for the perfect soundtrack

In order to make the video watchable, we needed a soundtrack, to provide some rythm and energy. I knew that Vimeo has a tool for video makers that allows to browse through creative-commons licenced music, so I decided to give it a try.

vimeo soundstore
the Vimeo Soundstore search interface

Unfortunately, this tool failed on several levels.

Our basic requirements for that presentation video were:

  • Instrumental music. We had some voices in the recordings, so having vocals in the music would collide with that.
  • A fast-paced rhythm.
  • A “positive”, “happy”, energetic mood… but not exageratedly so.
  • A “background music” quality. It shouldn’t stand out too much, it shouldn’t contain attention-capturing sounds.

In the collection provided by Vimeo, it was practically impossible to find anything suitable:

  • There are almost no instrumentals! Most of the music seems to be “songs”, with prominent vocals. Many pieces got me hooked during the first 10 seconds, but I had to discard them as soon as the vocals start. We’re not here to produce a video clip for your band! The only way to find instrumentals was to search for electronic, technoid music.
  • Among the few electronic instrumentals, the moods are too “introverted”, melancholic.
  • Most of the tempos are too slow. Even when browsing by “tempo”, and opting for “fast” or “very fast”, I got music that had a rather moderate pace.

So I finally abandonned the idea of using Vimeo to find a soundtrack. Then I remembered I had downloaded some CC-licensed compilations some time ago, and they proved useful. After a minute of listening to CC Affiliates Mixtape #1 and #CC-10 Europe Mixtape, I found a suitable piece, “Deep Blue (2005)” by Antony Raijekov (under a CC-BY-NC license). Not 100% what I was looking for, but it worked fine with the footage.

The resulting edit will be online soon.


  • iMovie is a very intuitive tool, for quick and simple editing work it’s hard to beat.
  • There is an opportunity for something like “the Noun Project”, but for cc-licensed background music. Maybe it exists and I don’t know about it? Let me know in the comments :)