How to Create a Virtual Choir Part 3: Video Editing in Final Cut Pro X
Updated: Jan 27
I am very excited and eager to share with you the final and (in my opinion) the most thrilling part of the whole virtual choir process. If you've been following along, this is Part 3 / 3 of the "How to Create a Virtual Choir" series. Be sure to also check out:
Part 1: How to Create a Virtual Choir: Organization is Key
Part 2: How to Create a Virtual Choir: Audio Editing In Logic Pro X
This is just a taste of our content, so be sure to subscribe to our email list for more virtual music tips.
As another resource to you, I have recorded a basic walkthrough of my process, bringing this three-part-series to a visual format. If you learn something from it, consider subscribing to our YouTube channel for more helpful tips.
I will finish off this trilogy of posts by keeping it in the Apple family product line: Final Cut Pro X. Our editing team here uses both Final Cut, Adobe Suite, and Da Vinci Resolve to edit videos, so definitely stay tuned for future blog posts and video tutorials featuring a variety of software! (Did I mention that you may want to subscribe for updates?)
Editing virtual choir videos can really be overwhelming, especially if you have no prior experience editing in NLE (non-linear-editing) software. If this is indeed the case, I strongly recommend that you spend a bit of time watching more general Final Cut Tutorials first. And even if you have edited a video before, but never with quite as much footage as a virtual choir video, then brace yourself. Your computer will likely have a difficult time processing all the videos at once, and this can certainly affect your playback. Even with my Macbook Pro 2017, which runs a 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 Processor, 16 GB memory (recommended), and a GPU of 2 GB, I start to run into problems at about 40 + singers. If you are working with fewer participants and your specs are similar to those of mine, you should be fine.
In this post, I will cover the essential (and a few non-essential) steps for creating a video in Final Cut Pro, from organization, timeline, syncing tracks, maximizing computer playback, grids and layout, to compound clips and basic key-framing. Okay, let's get started!
Organization, Timeline, and Syncing Tracks
Yes, this is another section about organization.....
Just like every other step, ensuring that your editing session and all files are organized is really unbelievably essential. You don't want to know how much of a hole you can dig yourself into if you are not careful. So here are some essential tips to stay organized.
Keep track of your footage. Remember to store all of your videos in your Footage folder. This is a self-created folder that you place inside your project folder, along with your final cut library. This was discussed in greater detail in Part 1, Organization is Key. This is important, especially if your files need to be relinked. Knowing where your footage is stored only helps you, and doesn't take that much time to set up.
Make 1 library for your video. Then, within that, use events or projects (I tend to skip events) as scenes that you are working on. For example, if you have one beautiful choir shot featuring the whole ensemble, create that in a project (⌘N). Then, if you have other scenes, titles, etc, create a new project for that. It's fairly easy to copy data between projects, and it's easier on your computer to work this way. Make sure to save your library in the same folder you keep your footage.
(Optional) Create a Gap for your timeline. Make sure to set it to 1080 X 1920 at 24 or 30 fps. While I'm a big fan of the magnetic timeline for more traditional edits, I prefer to steer clear of it for virtual choir videos. You can create a gap by hitting ⌥W. Remember, this step is completely optional.
Import Audio. Drag or import your bounced final audio track and place it underneath your gap. The alternative is to put the audio on your magnetic timeline, but I prefer to do it this way.
Drag your clips onto your timeline. You can drag them directly from your footage folder, or you can import them by hitting ⌘I. By this point, your timeline should look something like this:
6. Sync those clips! From there, similar to the way that you matched your audio, align your videos to the music. When I do this, I like to disable all of the other clips that I am not syncing by hitting the letter V. If you forgot to include your clap sync point in your final audio, I use a marker to indicate the entrance of the choir, and then sync to the marker. You can use a marker by hitting the letter M while your track is selected. Finally, to sync your clips, use the nudge function in Final Cut Pro (, and . for left and right).
7. Remove audio from all clips. Leaving the master track alone (we need that), select all of your tracks and disable the audio. You can achieve this by right clicking and then selecting "Detach Audio". This action will separate all audio from your original clips, allowing you to delete them quite easily.
Computer Optimization and Playback
Man oh man, have I struggled with this component for quite some time. Here is the matter of fact truth about virtual choirs: most computers cannot handle playback of 25+ clips of footage all playing at the same time. Especially when you get into the higher numbers, your computer will likely experience quite a few slowdowns. Here are a few tips to improve (but not fix, sorry) your computer speed while you are editing.
1. Turn off Background Rendering. While editing, you want to limit the amount of tasks your computer can handle, so definitely make sure that while you are editing, your computer isn't also rendering tracks in the background. Go to System Preferences (within Final Cut), go to Playback, and then uncheck "Background render" if it's checked.
2. Proxy! Proxy mode will lower the quality of your playback while editing, but will improve the speed of your project playback overall. By default, all your clips are displayed as Optimized/Original. While this quality is essential for sharing/rendering your project, do not work in this mode. Final Cut now has Proxy Preferred, which is my personal favorite. Under this display, you can still view your footage and even edit while your files are being rendered to Proxy. Under view at the top right corner of your video editing pane, select "Proxy or Proxy Preferred". Your clips should automatically start to render into Proxy format.
...But what if they don't? Yes, I experience this frequently. If— for some reason— your footage doesn't automatically render into proxy mode, you have to go to your individual clips, displayed above your timeline under your projects. Right click, and then select "Transcode Media". Finally, make sure "Create Proxy Media" is checked.
3. Render sections of your project. If you have a set layout that you have created that you'd like to keep, simply share or render that shot across the whole project! Then, reimport the newly rendered clip into your timeline while removing (or disabling) the other tracks. This doesn't mean that you will be displaying that shot across the whole project. This just gives you one scene to work with.
Grids and Layout
About time. Finally, we can get to the fun part.
Yes, this is my favorite part. Seeing smiling and singing faces together (virtually on my computer screen, at the least) brings me tremendous joy, especially during this era of social distancing. I hope that by the time you get the hang of it, you'll enjoy it as much as I do :).
Make a decision. There are loads of ways to format your singers onto a screen, from gridless to grids, video walls to custom made 3D spaces. Know what your vision is before you start laying out your choir!
Let's go with a grid. For the purpose of this article, I am going to describe one simple way to layout the footage. Eyeballing/using the position tool in the inspector window to format your musicians alone can be difficult, especially if you're new to video editing. So... away with a grid. Final Cut does NOT have a default grid in the software, so I downloaded a free one called Simple GridX Pro. You can download it here. Once you follow the instructions to download, save, quit, and restart your application. It should appear under Generators. Once you drag it to the timeline, you are able to determine your grid color, line thickness, and layout in your inspector window.
Scale, Crop and Place your Musicians onto the grid. On your timeline, your grid should be placed above your singers. From there, find the appropriate scale percentage that fits with the grid. In this example, I used a 4 X 3 grid. Setting each singer to 33% ended up being the perfect proportion.
Each video may need an additional crop to fit in the grid perfectly. I cropped this singer on both the left and right sides to fit him square on.
Tip: Paste your attributes! This is a huge time saver, and definitely an early game changer when I was first starting. To paste your attributes, hit ⌘C while your track is selected (the one with the values you want), and then Shift⌘V while selecting the track(s) you want to copy the attributes (the clips you want to designate these new values to). I selected all of my tracks! You'll see a popup window displaying the following:
Choose the attributes you'd like to include by checking the according boxes. In this case, I opted to choose the position, scale, and crop. Click Paste!
Just drag them into place! It's that easy.
Once all of my footage was transformed, I simply dragged each video into their appropriate box, making any additional crops necessary. You can drag each video into their place by either using:
a. The Inspector Tool. This is located on the right of your timeline. You can manually type in the new x and y coordinates of each clip, or drag with your mouse over the number value.
b. The Transform Tool. You can find this function on the bottom left corner of your video display pane. You can choose between transform, crop, or distort. To move clips into place, select "Transform".
The final grid may look like this:
(I changed my grid to black after I dragged each clip in place - it's just a preference)
Extra Tips for a Better Video
Compound Clips and Basic Key Framing
The technical applications to creating a virtual choir are fairly simple (once you get over the video and audio editing learning curve, which could take some time!) Where things can get way more challenging lies in the hands of your own creativity. To wrap up this topic, I'm going to cover 2 simple tricks to help you on your creative journey. Let's start with...
1. Key framing. In this particular song, 3 of these singers have a quick solo line. As an editor, it is my job to spotlight the soloists when it is there time, and Key framing can be your friend here. So.. what is key-framing? All this means is that over time, any attribute of your video will change within your set parameters. In this case, we are focusing on movement, as we are seeking to bring out a video clip from within the grid to front and center. To set your parameters (start and end point), just click on your track, and go to your transform tools. To the right of your coordinates, there is a little button (shaped like a diamond) that will turn yellow upon selection. This is your starting point.
In this example, I chose to select both position and scale. Once you see the yellow diamond appear, decide the point in time to which you want the clip to change. You are now in key frame mode, and any change you will make will automatically be in motion over time. Go to the timecode where you want your motion to be changed, and adjust your new position and scale! To see your changes and adjust them, just click on your track and hit ⌃V. This will display your animation.
You can see the key frames you made, and even adjust them if you didn't nail the timing. Below, I have my animation displayed. My marker is currently set my ending point. You can see my points of transformation under the "Transform: All" row.
2. Creating a Compound Clip. By this point, you may be asking yourself, "but what if I wanted to key frame the entire choir?!" Anyways, back to the first question: well you're in luck! By creating a compound clip, we can make any group changes on a larger scale. So, for example, if we wanted to pan across the whole choir, or start with a closeup and zoom out, you need to create your compound clip first. To do so, just highlight the tracks you want to group (in this case, all of them, including the grid), and. hit ⌃G. A popup will display:
Name your compound clip whatever you want, and then bam, there you have it! Compound clips are so useful, and the more you get to know them, the better off you will be. So many ideas can flood from compounding your clips in different ways, and the options are literally endless.
That's a Wrap! Here's a Summary
We covered a lot of ground here in these 3 articles, so a quick review:
Organize! I feel like I'm a broken record here, and maybe that's because I am. But seriously, organize the heck out of everything you do. From your vision, to your recording instructions, file management, and editing display, everything should be organized. It may feel like it takes an unnecessary amount of time to get things organized, but 9 times out of 10, you'll end up saving time.
Mix your audio separately from the video. And take the much needed time editing and polishing your track. Good virtual choir videos always fall on the back of a good audio recording. An impressive video in my eyes always stands second to a really tight sounding audio master track.
Add your video clips and master audio to your video editing timeline. Take the time to render your tracks in proxy, work smart, and choose your style of layout. From there, use keyframes and compound clips to get your creative brain going!
I hope that you found these three articles helpful. Please remember to be patient with yourself, as this process is not easy. Remember to have fun with it- if you feel like you are just getting frustrated, take a breather and don't come back to your computer for at least a few hours. Then try again.
Stay tuned for more articles on file exportation, a more detailed approach to both key-framing and compound clips, more video effects, mixing and mastering tips, and more.
If you need any additional help, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com. If you are interested in collaborating with Auri Productions on your virtual choir project, learn more about our virtual choir services.
Finally, be sure to subscribe to our email list for upcoming virtual music content.
Part 1: How to Create a Virtual Choir: Organization is Key
Part 2: How to Create a Virtual Choir: Audio Editing In Logic Pro X
Ariel Wyner is the founder and creative director at Auri Productions. He is an established arranger, composer, producer, mandolinist, and vocalist based in Boston, Massachusetts. His musical works have pushed the boundaries of pop, bluegrass, jazz, and every style in between, all stemming from his strong foundation of classical training. In 2020, Ariel arranged and orchestrated a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado (a Wild West adaptation that he arranged for bluegrass instruments and piano), scored music for independent films, and has worked on and produced over 110 virtual videos during the pandemic.