Making Your Own Song Tapes

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Title: Making Your Own Song Tapes
Creator: Mary Van Deusen
Date(s): 1986
Medium: print
External Links:
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Making Your Own Song Tapes is a six-page article about VCR vidding by Mary Van Deusen.

It was printed in Consort #2.

Also see What are Literary Music Videos? and My Background in Making Song Videos.


Song tapes have been popular in other fandoms for a number of years. Up to a year ago, there were few song tapes available for Star Trek. That seems to be changing now and an interest in the creation of song tapes spreading. This article is in response to those people who have asked how song tapes are created.

First, choose a song that brings pictures of Trek to your mind. For example, when I hear Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" or Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way", I think of Kirk. Have a clear copy of your song on a medium that will allow you to copy it to your VCR through audio cables. Have a written set of lyrics of the song, ideally written only on the left half of the page to leave the right half available for notes. Give yourself at least a few hours over showers and driving to think about the song to see if there are any natural patterns which will lend the song to becoming something more than just a composite of random video shots.

Think all the time about the fact that you are working in a very different medium. With a book, you can always go back and check what you just read. With a song tape, the music and video pass through your mind and you can't go back to check. This means that some levels of subtlety will never be visible to your audience.

An example is in the song "Making Love Out of Nothing At All". To me, the lines "I can make tonight forever, or I can make it disappear with the dawn" make me think of a pain which seems to last forever and which can be lifted as though with the dawn. I have come to believe I am the only one who gets that meaning out of those words. The more obvious meaning seems to involve holding someone through the night. It does no good whatsoever to argue with people about the semantics of a phrase. The phrase passes so quickly that direct meanings are the ones which work most effectively and, in this case, the majority rules.

What is your story? Sometimes, the song words carry the story and you use pieces of video to make the story seem true. In the song "One More Night" by Phil Collins, for example, the words describe someone trying to hold onto a relationship. By running the scene of Spock breaking in on Kirk kissing the lieutenant at the end of "Dagger of the Mind", followed by Spock storming around Kirk's quarters in "Conscience of the King", you can make the song imply a jealous relationship which is not in fact the meaning of the scenes. As you watch, however, you find your knowledge of the real scenes suspended by the fantasy which you create through the video. Video lends itself to reinterpretation and, for the duration of the song, you can make your audience believe almost anything.

The most ideal situation, however, is to have the video actually show scenes which are consonant with the meaning of the story told by the song. In the song "Home Again" by Carole King, the words can be nicely carried by a set of videos showing one of our heroes in a difficult situation from which they would ideally like to be removed, for example, Spock on the Galileo Seven, trying to return to the Enterprise.

Some songs are simply words which your song tape can implement phrase by phrase. "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers fits into this category. "You have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run" lends itself to four separate scenes, none of which need to be related to still form an effective song tape.

Some other songs, especially rock, utilize long music bridges. If you have set up some meaning to the song through what words are available, the music bridges can be used to reinforce that meaning

by emphasizing video demonstrating that philosophy. "Brothers in Arms", for example, has its title as its philosophy. Over a long ending bridge, this song tape can use scenes of one of our heroes protecting the other from some danger.

Classical music lends itself to music tapes as well. Here you have no words to give a theme, but can create one yourself. It is important with words without music to make the emotional tone of the music consistent with the emotional tone of the video. You can either create a simple medley of scenes associated with the various phrases, you can use consistent philosophical themes (danger, love, feeling sad), or you can take an episode from beginning to end using just enough scenes to fit the music. "The Empath" makes a particularly beautiful ballet.

A simple, but effective, idea is to use visual brackets at the beginning and end of the song to set the meaning of the song. This is most effective if you can carry the same brackets into the middle of the song as well. A song with a refrain allows you to use the refrain to carry this bracket. For example, the song "Slipsliding Away" by Simon and Garfunkel can take the theme of the uneasy relationship between Spock and Sarek. By breaking the refusion scene on Vulcan, from beginning to end, into pieces and using them during the refrains, the entire song has a greater visual consistency.

Using Audio/Video Dub: This section describes the mechanics of creating your own song tape. The machine I am using is an RCA 900. Your own machine might differ in details of button pushing, but the conversion to your equipment should be straightforward.

Choose the first Trek scene which will go with the first phrase of music. Try to find one which has some slop to it, that is, you shouldn't be relying on a particular note occurring on a particular piece of action. We are looking at three machines: the video source, the audio source, and the video/audio sink. The video/audio sink is set to your fastest speed, SP.

We now assume you have a good start on your song tape and are ready to continue adding pieces of video. You can put away your audio source and even disconnect the cables. From now on, only work with video dub. (If you have single button record on your sink, you might want to tape a cardboard over the button so you don't hit it inadvertently.)

Rewind back to the start of the song on the sink and when the phrase which is appropriate to that scene is exactly finished, push pause on your sink. Now set the sink machine to VIDEO DUB. Find the next piece of visual material you want and put it on the video source machine. Let it start playing from before the scene you need. Have another instinct on how much of the video will be lost from the time you lift pause to the time the scene begins copying onto the sink.

The knowledge of the number of frames involved in rollback is obtained by experimentation. Position yourself at a dramatic scene change, count the number of frames you single step forward, press VIDEO DUB and let the dubbing run for a short while. Now go back and watch the scene and count the number of frames left between the first original scene and the newly dubbed scene. The original number of frames minus the number left is your rollback number. If your new video piece sounds good, go to the end of the newly laid in video and pause again at the end of the music phrase* then hit VIDEO DUB and you're ready to put in your third video piece.

Obviously, this process continues until you have video clips for the entire song. How long will it take? A song of moderate cuts and moderate length will take over six hours to do if you're working off tape video source. With experience, you can shorten this time. I use a laser source, 40 seconds to scan from one end of an episode to the other, and so I can get away with doing much of my planning while I'm creating the song tape. I probably average about three hours now for an average song and six hours for a long song filled with fast cuts.