How To Add a Soundtrack in Tik Tok
TikTok got its start with a very simple, and rather odd, idea: that young people would like to create and share short videos of themselves lip-syncing pop hits of the day. The truth is that if an investor had come to you or I with this idea, we would have had our dogs bite them and drive them off the property, and that is why you and I are not multibillionaire net business tycoons. TikTok exploded in popularity, first in China where the app got started as Douyin in 2016, before being cloned as TikTok for the non-Chinese market in 2017. (The company maintains two separate apps running the same software to comply with Chinese censorship rules.)
Since its creation, TikTok (even without Douyin) has more than 500 million active users each month, and as of late 2018 had been downloaded more than 800 million times globally, with 80 million of those in the United States alone. As of late 2018, parent company ByteDance was valued at almost $80 billion. About 41 percent of the app’s users are under 25 years of age, making TikTok a huge presence in the youth market and fueling confidence about TikTok’s generational stability.
Although the video is the first thing that people perceive about a TikTok clip, the truth is that the audio track assigned to each video is probably responsible for more of the overall user experience. TikTok is still heavily oriented around lip sync and other music videos, for which the music is at least as important as the 3 to 15 seconds of video clip. While TikTok does have basic sound editing capabilities built into the smartphone app, in this article I will show you how to use more advanced tools to create richer and better produced soundtracks for your TikTok clips.
How Soundtracks Work
Think about the music videos that you have undoubtedly seen with your favorite bands playing and singing their popular songs “live” on tape. Do you think that the video crew sets up microphones and records what the bands are doing, and then pastes that right in as the soundtrack of the video? No way. What usually happens is that on-set, a much-reduced and simplified version of the song is played over speakers so that the band can play along, getting the timing and beats down correctly. Then in post-production, the sound editor(s) take the recording of the band playing along and use it to sweeten up a prerecorded, polished version of the song. The end product sounds great, but it isn’t a recording of the band’s “live” performance, and it isn’t just them lip-syncing along, either. It’s a fairly heavily engineered synthesis.
When you create a TikTok video, you can do a direct recording of your audio (usually you and/or your friends singing a song or something similar) and send it straight out onto the app unedited, raw, and untouched, and a lot of creators do just that. However, it’s also possible to adapt the techniques that the big bands and studios use, and to create a polished and perfect soundtrack for your video outside of the TikTok engine, then reintegrate it into the video clip before you upload. There are a number of advantages to this approach. One is that you can get rid of any glitches or performance errors in post, either re-recording them or using audio software to fix them. The other big advantage is that you can completely eliminate the ambient background noise from wherever you recorded; unwanted background noise is the bane of audio production. I’m going to show you how to use the professional approach and create a beautiful soundtrack outside of TikTok.
Add a soundtrack to a Tik Tok video
Audio post-production is a huge professional industry, and there are people who get paid in the high six figures (if not more) to make the soundtracks to music videos, commercials, TV shows, and movies perfect (or at least much better). Sadly, unless your TikTok channel is getting literally millions of views, you probably cannot afford the services of one of those expert sound wizards. However, you can do a remarkably large percentage of what they can do, thanks to the many software tools that have become available for sound editing in the last twenty years or so.
Doing audio post-production can get very complicated, but the basic workflow is pretty easy to understand. We’re going to “start at the end” here and show you how to integrate a soundtrack and a video clip in the TikTok app. Once you have your video file done and you have your completed soundtrack file ready in MP3 format, here is the process for preparing your completed video for TikTok.
These instructions are based on the iPad version of the app (which is easier to use than the smartphone versions because you have a lot more screen real estate to work with), but the Android version should be very similar if not identical.
- Record your video and save it in Tik Tok. Make sure to save it as Private so nobody can see it until you’re done.
- Have your MP3 file available on the device you’re using for the upload.
- Select the ‘+’ icon in the main window to open the video tool.
- Select Movie in Tik Tok and select the video you uploaded. It should load into a black window split in two with the video at the top and timeline below.
- Select Mute from the bottom to silence the video.
- Select Back and then Audio in Tik Tok.
- Select the soundtrack you want to use on your video.
- Select the three dot menu icon by that soundtrack and then the soundwave icon with the small ‘+’ sign. An audio track should appear underneath your video in the main timeline view in Tik Tok.
- Position of the audio by moving it with your finger until it is perfectly in sync with your video.
That final step may take a little while as the window isn’t that big, especially if you’re using a phone instead of iPad. You can shift the audio track incrementally but you need a light touch. Once you have it set, save it and it is ready for publishing unless you want to edit it further or add effects.
Editing the Video
There are a lot of different tools that you can use to create your video and soundtrack files. TikTok has a built-in sound editor; it’s not comprehensive but it has basic features and may be adequate if you just need to add a sound from the built-in TikTok library. For anything more than that, however, you need an external editor. (The TikTok editor has more features for video editing, of necessity, but is still not a full professional editor. If you want to use an external video editor to clean up your video clip, you might want to look into Lightworks, DaVinci Resolve, Shotcut or one of the other great video editing suites out there.
Editing the Audio
It is beyond the scope of this article to do a complete training on how to use a sound editor to create your soundtrack. We could write a dozen articles and only begin to scratch the surface; sound editing is a big and complex process. Instead, I am going to show you a bare-bones walkthrough using Shotcut, laying out the basic approach you can take. Then I’m going to show you a variety of sound editing programs that you can use to make your soundtrack sing.
As I have a copy of Shotcut, I’ll use that to show you how to add a soundtrack in Tik Tok. The program is free and has a lot of tools along with a bit of a learning curve. If you persevere with it, you could make high quality videos for any app or situation, not just for social media.
- Open Shotcut and select Playlist, Properties, Encode, Timeline and then Job.
- Select Open File and select your video.
- Select your audio file and drag it into the timeline below the video in Shotcut.
- Hold down the mouse on the audio track and drag it to sync it with the video.
- Select Encode and then MP4 once finished to create the video.
- Upload it to your device and into Tik Tok.
That is just a very high level view of how to add an audio track in Shotcut. The program is very powerful with dozens of tools, effects and more. You can cut, extend, add intros and outros, overlays, slides and a whole lot more but that takes a lot more explaining.
Sound Editing Software
You have three basic options when it comes to sound editing software. You can get and use a standalone app for your smartphone or tablet. The advantage of this is that the app is mobile, you can do your editing out there in the world where you’re making your videos, and get things uploaded almost immediately. The downside of course is that a smartphone app, however amazing it may be, is not going to have the feature set of a more sophisticated offering.
The second option is to use a web-based service (usually a website) to do your video editing. This has the advantage of still being usable anywhere, even from your phone on the road (while obviously working a lot better from a desktop or laptop PC), and the disadvantage of often being pretty slow. You’re using someone else’s cloud resources and they may not be prioritizing your work. The best thing about the website option is that it will work in environments where you can’t install software, and you can use a Chromebook, for example, to be the interface for your editing.
The third option is “the way of the pro” and that is to get a full-featured sound editing software package for a laptop or desktop PC. You get the maximum feature set and performance, at the cost of not being quite as road-warrior friendly as the other two options.
Let’s take a look at some of the best choices for each category.
Sound Editing Apps
Standing head and shoulders above the competition, WaveEditor is the undisputed champ of Android sound editors. The basic version is free and the completely unlocked full-power version is just $3.99. WaveEditor is a professional editing package that lets you do recording, remastering, and edits right on your Android phone. It can handle most every format and makes editing a snap. Multiple tracks can be remixed using a visual interface and you can import more than 30 different import formats. You can even record audio while you’re editing. The standard edit functions like zoom, pan, and selection are supported, along fades, reverses, and inversions.
TwistedWave is actually a three-in-one threat, with a desktop program for Mac, a smartphone app for iOS, and a web-based service. Here I’m just going to focus on the iOS app, however. Priced at $9.99, TwistedWave is a very efficient little app that is very fast, highly intuitive, and updates the sound display in real time to make editing quick and easy. You just drag waveforms to move them. There is an instant undo/redo feature, audio editing features, copy and paste, adjustments and normalizations, fades, filters, and strong FTP integration.
Sound Editing Websites
Beautiful Audio Editor
The Beautiful Audio Editor isn’t actually a website, rather, it’s a Chrome extension that provides an in-browser multi-track audio editor that will work on a desktop, Chromebook, tablet, or phone. BAE allows you to change the speed of audio sections, edit multiple tracks, alter volume, move and modify audio sections, create custom fade ins and fade outs, and dozens more features. It is a remarkably full-featured package. It has one weakness: it is not rock-stable with large projects (more than 300 MB of memory). However, since TikTok video segments are always short and sweet, this weakness should never really enter into operation. Bonus: it’s totally free.
Sodaphonic takes the opposite approach; instead of hosting an absolute raft of features, it does a few things and does them very well and very quickly. Sodaphonic gives you a fast and easy web interface to trim, cut, paste, and delete segments of audio. You can add fades and mute sections of the audio, or play an audio file backwards…and that’s about it. It’s incredibly easy to use and very fast. Between BAE and Sodaphonic, a mobile editing studio can run very well on a simple Chromebook and cover most of the bases. Sodaphonic is also totally free.
Sound Editing Suites
Audacity is the world-champion free sound editing program. It is multiplatform, supporting Windows, Mac and Unix, and massively powerful. The program is easily the equal of its paid competition, and for TikTok uses, there is really no reason to even consider a paid program when Audacity does everything and does it well. Audacity is an open-source program, meaning that its development is unlikely ever to stop or stall, and is currently on release version 2.1.3. The app has a huge selection of tools, yet is is easy to use and the developers have created wizards to automate many of the tools making them extremely accessible even to total novices. Audacity supports many file formats, and basically has every feature of every package described in this article, plus a great deal more. Best of all, it’s free. Did we mention it’s free? It’s free.
We’ve got more TikTok resources for your consideration!
If you want to monetize your TikTok videos, you’ll want our guide to how to make money on TikTok.
Expand that brand with our walkhrough on expanding your following on TikTok.
Spice up your videos with our tutorial on adding visual effects in TikTok.
Here’s our guide to recording and editing video on TikTok.
Of course we have a tutorial on how to go live and stream on TikTok!