Recording For Practice and Auditions
by Wayne Estes
Just recently, I spent an entire weekend video recording and editing the videos for a few of my advanced students to submit for college auditions. We discovered a few things that I feel are worth sharing…
It is never too early to start to record yourself performing and practicing with audio and video at home prior to your professional video recording date. Both audio and video recording are terrific ways to evaluate your preparation, practice and performance and listen to your technique, your tone, and your balance of melody and accompaniment. On video you want to look for your positives: your confidence, your hair and attire, did you prepare adequately and perform well in one or two takes? Make sure you look sharp: that you feel and sound relaxed and that your dynamics and expressiveness are big and bold or quiet and subtle where the song needs these expressions to be. You also should look for negatives: do you hear your nerves? Look for body, facial and eye ticks and distractions in your presentation. Did you not practice enough and needed to do multiple takes, but you never quite got the right one? Did you smile, did you sound creative and awesome and beautiful? Was the music expressive: laughing, smiling, or solemn when you played?
Listen to the tone of your video. How did your body enhance the sound quality? When did your technique and body distract from the flow of the notes and melody? Watch…do your over arched hands or bad fingerings or sitting position enhance or detract from the sound? How is your bow movement on a stringed instrument? Is your bench and music stand the right height? How is the lighting, can we see your hands and you easily? Share your home video recordings with your instructor at a lesson soon, so they can guide you to making better performance and practice choices.
As a sidebar, do you and your instructor ever watch an artist perform on video in a lesson and you both share and comment about what is working and what is not? It can even be a video of your instructor, and you two can view and critique, as I’m sure at one point they did the same with themselves. This can be a terrific shared learning experience where your instructor can point to good and bad performance techniques and good and bad tone. Use YouTube examples of some top-notch concert performers in your field, if you have no performance videos to view of your own. Back in the 1990’s one of my college piano professors used to record himself for 4 hours of practice every day and then he would watch his videos every evening to see if he liked his progress when he was learning new material and new techniques. So, after you capture yourself, please go spend some time watching and noting your errors and your accomplishments and write down brief notes as to where to find these on your recordings to refer to them in the future. Store your footage on your computer or separate hard drive and time and date stamp them or call them by the piece name for easy future reference.
Try making a video with your phone or tablet and see what kind of quality you can get at your home. You can easily purchase a cheap tripod at Amazon.com to get you started. The audio recording quality may not be the best and the lighting may need some help, but for general daily practicing and critiquing these devices should be fine. Is the audio distorting? Try playing your loudest passage first thing only for 10 to 30 seconds and then immediately listen and watch your video to notice any distortion or technical problems. To fix this move your mic and camera further away, which may diminish the image quality, or go into the microphone app settings and lower the incoming recording volume until there is no audio distortion on your video. Remember to playback your video and use good quality headphones to really detect the quality of the sound and any distortion or buzzing or high-pitched noises. You may also want to lower or remove the compression and limiting in the mic settings as this can negatively impact the tone of an acoustic recording. You might need to make signs for your doors and alert everyone in your house to avoid your practice room and avoid making noise while you are recording. No one wants dogs barking, slamming doors, talking or yelling in the background, firetrucks running by your house, or jets flying by on your “perfect take.” Or find yourself a real recording studio that is well insulated and sound proofed.
For college audition videos or professional videos to be used for other auditions, seek out some professional help. You want to capture your best performance in the best light with the best equipment, mics and on high definition video. That person should be able to adjust the mics and lighting to get you centered in the frame and have you well-lit from the front, back, side and top so you stand out and don’t look two dimensional. The pros should be able to edit your video to enhance the audio on it so that it is loud but does not distort, they want to avoid compression and delay and reverb and let your natural sound and tone be heard.
Many schools and camps and auditions are asking for video recordings these days because it is harder to cheat and fix things on a video, unlike audio recording with DAWs that let you edit individual notes and flaws and combine the best parts of a song together for what sounds like a perfect take. Video can be edited too, but it takes more skill and time and the judges on the other end are expecting you to be honest and show your best performance in one take, even if it is a little imperfect and you had to do 4 attempts on a piece to get your best performance. But this can get very expensive when it is a professional recording in a studio and you are paying $50-150/hour to practice in the studio to get the very most perfect take. Practice more at home where it is free and do not practice in the studio or in front of a professional videographer, they will smile and have you do another take, as many times as you can afford it.
If you do need to do multiple takes of a song, please keep a notebook and pencil nearby and write down your thoughts immediately after each take. This saves you time later in post-production so you do not have to look through hours of pieces and takes while on the clock at the videographers computer. I recorded 8 hours of footage recently in one shoot of 4 classical pieces which were 5-10 minutes each in length each. If we did not take notes I would be stuck listening to the full 8 hours of footage again, trying to decipher and find the best performance to edit and send away. Write down which were your best 2-3 takes and then only compare those performances or you will go crazy trying to decide between hours of individual song takes.
Remember to smile and emote as you perform and practice this way in advance. Also practice holding your instrument still for 5-10 seconds before starting your piece and leave 10 seconds of stillness and holding your position afterwards so the editor can fade in and out without distracting motions from you. Avoid noodling and any extra movement and extra notes of practice right before or after your “take” as it might be too close to the beginning or end and the editor may not be able to fix this.
Lastly…concentrate, go for it and HAVE FUN! Let your music come out of your soul and be captured in the short time that you are recording. Let the final viewers, your instructor, your family, the judges, the college audition board see and hear you as a world class performer and as an individual and not as a student of music practicing on video.