Auxiliary skills for musicians: shooting video

video camera stock photo

Even before the pandemic, video was becoming a necessity for musicians. You need audition videos for festivals and grad school, and you need to be on YouTube and social media (video or it didn’t happen).

If you are able to hire someone to make a video, please do so—they’ll know way more than I can convey here. But if you need, or want to learn, here are a few musician-centric tips for making videos:

Play in a well-lit room

Most cameras these days will look okay—with proper lighting. The reason is that most phones or consumer-grade cameras have fairly small lenses. Larger lenses let in more light, so they are more forgiving for dark spaces. You could look into a DSLR camera, but you’ll get decent results if you just make sure you’re in a well-lit room.

If you’re recording in a recital hall, a bright stage wash will generally make you look good. Fancy theatrical lighting is going to be trickier. If you’re doing this yourself, go simple!

Think about angles

Find a good angle with the proper distance to let people see what’s going on. Some auditions will request “full body” shot, so make sure you can see your feet!

If it’s possible, you could shoot two or three videos simultaneously, perhaps with a camera and a phone. This will give you more variety when you edit. You might want:

  • Wide shot (“full body”)
  • Medium shot (waist-up)
  • Close-up (face only)

Read more about different “shots.”

Wide shot (photo from Nataliya Vaitkevich)
Medium shot (photo from Nataliya Vaitkevich)
Close-up (photo from Nataliya Vaitkevich)

Use external microphones

Most cameras and phones do have microphones, but they are not high quality. If at all possible, record with decent mics. Some cameras will let you plug in XLR cables, or you can get an adapter box

If you don’t have those options, you could record audio to a laptop or Zoom H4n or similar, then sync the audio to the video.

One thing to think about with the mic on the camera. Sometimes the camera needs to be way farther away than the optimal microphone placement!

Camera settings

If you are going to edit footage from multiple cameras, make sure your different videos are in the same resolution, frame rate, and audio sampling rate.

Resolution: the number of pixels across the screen. “Full HD” is 1920×1080. You might see 2K or 4K…those are even bigger. More pixels = clearer picture. If you’re doing this yourself, HD is likely fine. Read more…

Frame rate: how many pictures are flashing in a second. Original film had separate photos, called frames, which were shown at a certain speed to convey motion. The standard frame rate in the US is 30 frames per second (technically 29.97). Standard in Europe is 25 frames per second. Video programs can transcode this, but it will make your life easier if you shoot your footage at the same rate. Read more…

Audio sample rate: how many “samples” of sound per second. A whole other topic. Like frame rate, just make sure you’re consistent across your cameras. 44.1 kHz has been standard for a long time, but I often find that cameras default to 48 kHz (which is a slightly higher resolution for sound).

Editing

Two major programs for editing include Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Adobe’s Premiere Pro (I use Final Cut, personally. There are plenty of tutorials online, so I won’t get into nitty-gritty here. 

Some basic recommendations:

If you have the benefit of multiple cameras, I would lay the “takes” on top of each other and move them around until the audio is synced. From there, it’s pretty easy to cut out chunks and switch among the cameras. 

Always fade from black and to black. The fades can be really short (like 10 frames). And it should go without saying: cut out extraneous footage before and after.

Titles

It’s easy in these programs to add some titles. You can overlay these on black before the video itself starts, or you can overlay them on the video. They come with some standard formats.

Be careful with the color and background. White letters are pretty standard, but you may want to include a black outline or dropshadow to help the letters stand out on light-colored walls or floors.

Examples

Megan Ihnen

This is from a live streaming performance. It’s a medium-close shot. The lighting nicely complements the intimate nature of the performance.

Anna Feucht and Steve Kolb

This is a professional production, set on a stage with theatrical “front” lighting.

Caitlin Jones

Here is a great example of using multiple camera angles. I also like the violet backlighting, which makes it unique. Notice how there is a shot with most of the marimba, another shot highlighting the performer’s hands.

Elizabeth A. Baker

You might aspire to do something more artistic with your videos. Thinking beyond simple documentation of her performances, The Honourable Elizabeth A. Baker creates audio-visual pieces like this. In Meander, you can see some performer-view footage of electronics, superimposed with very slow footage of the artist moving expressively out in the world.

Beo String Quartet

This video takes some cues from rock music videos (like “Enter Sandman“), with tight closeups and quick cuts among members of the quartet. The DIY touches like the white dropcloth and “Beo” lights, plus black&white footage and strobe effects, give it a distinctive aesthetic.

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Welcome and thanks for checking out my work! -adam

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