"Recording yourself or your ensemble can be as simple as taking a video on your phone to as complex as a full studio album and can cost as little as nothing to the sky’s the limit." Laoise O'Brien
Music producer Laoise O'Brien shows us that with a little bit of planning, some clever use of software, and a small bit of investment you could have a wonderful recording to use as a publicity or fundraising tool.
Recording yourself or your ensemble can be as simple as taking a video on your phone to as complex as a full studio album and can cost as little as nothing to the sky’s the limit. The most important thing to consider is the purpose of your recording and the quality of what you want to capture.
For a quick and easy recording there are a number of ways of capturing material inexpensively. Where you have a budget you could purchase or hire some audio and video equipment and the tech companies are always happy to advise on the best gear to use. In terms of audio recording, different microphones serve different purposes. A microphone that works well with strings may not be the best option for a vocalist, so do ask for help and advice on this.
Where you have a larger budget still you could hire someone to come and do the recording for you. If it is a video, make sure that you emphasise that the job is a music video so that the quality of your audio matches the quality of your video.
Recording on your phone
Phones are increasingly more sophisticated and the camera quality is improving with each new version. It is possible to capture and film higher quality material, and then to add filters, effects and so on. While this is great for purposes of social media and capturing memories, the big drawback is that the audio quality does not match the video. The in-built microphones are not designed to capture the full spectrum of sound so what you end up with is a squashed audio with no bottom end and distorted higher frequencies.
Musicians can do themselves a bit of a disservice by putting out videos with poor audio as they are not giving a true reflection of their ability and in some cases can actually counteract what they are trying to achieve. A way around this would be to invest in a microphone that attaches to your phone such as the Apogee Mic+ or equivalent. This would be particularly useful to solo musicians e.g. guitarists or smaller ensembles, and an excellent way of keeping track of your own development.
Dedicated recording devices
If you plan on doing a fair bit of recording then it’s worth investing in a portable recording device such as a Zoom recorder.
This easy-to-use hand-held device with built-in stereo microphone allows you to record a range of sounds from spoken word to a larger ensemble.
To marry your audio with good quality video you could invest in or borrow a camcorder which could be used in conjunction with your audio recorder to create a higher quality video recording. You will definitely need to use video editing software in this instance but more on that below.
The final ingredient is some software to allow you to sync your audio and video and to edit the material. It will also allow you to include titles, images and any other effects you desire. There are lots of good applications and websites that range from basic free versions to more complex subscription services. Many computers will have built-in editing suites e.g. iMovie, and there are many well-known subscription services such as Adobe Premier Pro or Final Cut Pro, but in-between you have lots of options. One word of caution- some free video editing suites allow you to do everything you need to do until the very final step where you go to export your video and realise you need to upgrade to the professional version in order to be able to do this. It’s a good idea to research applications before downloading. For audio alone there are a number of options e.g. Pro Tools, which is popular amongst professionals, and worth the investment if you plan on doing a lot of audio recording.
Noun: an effect whereby the sound produced by an amplifier or an amplified musical instrument is made to reverberate slightly.
You may want to add reverb if your room is very dry. Some software will come with reverb and it is possible to download reverb from the internet. Watch some online tutorials or ask for some help with this if you do decide to use reverb. What you don’t want is to be playing in a small room and sounding like you are in a giant cathedral!
- Be sure to focus on the quality. In terms of audio, you may need to adjust the settings depending on what you are recording e.g. if you have the option to record in stereo. Check afterwards that the file you upload is also stereo and not mono. For video, film in the highest resolution you can, bearing in mind that the higher the quality the bigger the file size. You many also have a limited amount of time to film on your device or SD card so check it out before you start and perhaps look into getting more space.
- Be organised with your work- date everything and store files in folders on your computer as you go. If you are recording things multiple times or plan on chopping up what you record you will save yourself a lot of time by keeping good notes- keep a notebook handy, you really can’t beat old school!
- Wear headphones when you record so you can hear how it is going to sound. Don’t put microphones or other devices too close, especially with a singer or spoken text as you may get some explosive pops from certain words (e.g. words beginning with p or b).
- Listen out for noises: chair movements, doors banging, people talking in the next room. You don’t have to be too strict about external noise, you may have passing traffic or an overhead plane, but it is amazing what a mic can pick up so your brilliant take may be ruined because someone’s phone rang in the room next door.
- Make sure to leave 10 seconds of silence before and after your recording. You will need to create fades in and out of your recording (this is easy to do). You can cut tighter into the video/audio at the start and the end but it is useful to have ‘air’ either side of the track.
- For video, consider the lighting. It’s not necessary to bring in specialist lighting but you don’t want to be watching a video where you can’t see people’s faces so have a look through the lens and if it is very dark, turn on a light or move people so the natural light from the window is catching them. Remember that what looks good through the eye may not necessarily work well through a lens so play around with it first.
Syncing audio to video
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of syncing your audio to your video. There are programmes that can do it for you but your best guide are your eyes and ears.
Colour grading is how you enhance or alter the colour of a motion picture, video image, or still image. It's how videographers adjust the colours of their footage to achieve a visual mood or tone.
When you have edited your video, your video editing software may allow you to grade the picture. That is the video equivalent of adding a filter and will greatly enhance the look of your film.
Once your audio or video is ready it is a good idea to upload it to a platform such as Vimeo or Youtube or indeed directly to your website. For music with no imagery, Soundcloud is a useful platform. Video files are very large so if you want to send someone a link or publish on social media it can be handy to have the video online. Upload the highest resolution you can for the best visual experience.
When uploading to online social media platforms, check the length of time you are allowed to post. Also check the settings when posting so that you are not cropping your video. Beware that some sites automatically compress uploaded files so always check your settings when uploading.
Credit where credit’s due
It may seem like an obvious thing to say but ask people’s permission before recording and publishing their work. Also, it’s a nice idea to credit the people who have done the work. Often times you will stumble across beautifully shot videos with no mention of who has created it. Even if you have done it yourself- give yourself the credit!