By Craig Anderton
We’ve officially entered the video era, with sites like YouTube offering major promotional options for your music or band, and videos serving as the ultimate business card. Making videos used to require a huge budget, a big-time producer, corporate backing, and expensive gear – then again, so did audio recordings! But times have changed. For less than the cost of putting together a four-track tape studio back in the 70s, you can create a very cool video editing suite for doing your own productions (and maybe some for other people when you start to get really good).
So, what do you really need to do a video? Not much:
That’s really not a lot of gear, and it probably won’t take too long for it to pay for itself. Just to show how times have changed, for the Frankfurt Musik Messe 2007 highlight videos posted here on Harmony Central, I used the Panasonic PV-GS250 camcorder, a Rain Recording Windows XP laptop running Sony’s Vegas Movie Studio + DVD video editing software, and a USB mic for the audio (along with a flaky internet connection that made uploading videos to the HC server a nerve-wracking process…but that’s another story). For 2013, it was a collection of three flip cams (Alesis, Zoom, and Olympus) which took up less space than the PV-GS250, along with a PC Audio Labs laptop and Vegas Pro software. The mic was an Audio-Technica AT2020USB.
So much for the gear; here are some tips to get you started on making your own videos.
Big-time movies shoot the picture, then add the audio. For your video, get the music right, then add the video. Trust me, it’s a lot easier. This also explains why you can’t use traditional host sequencers (Digital Performer, Cubase, Logic, Sonar, Acid, Live, etc.) that import video tracks: They’re designed to leave the video track pretty much intact, and let you cut audio to it. You definitely need to be able to edit the video track.
You want the best audio, so if at all possible, record a direct feed from the mixing console. Record to stand-alone hard disk recorder, solid-state recorder (like those from Roland, M-Audio, Zoom, etc.). Don’t depend on your video camera’s audio, but leave the built-in mic turned on so it records audio. We’ll see why in a bit.
And what if you can’t get good audio? Well, any audio is better than none. I’ve often “mastered” camcorder audio so that it is at least useable. Click here for a video example of my band EV2, captured with a fan’s camcorder dozens of feet from the stage. It gets the point across, despite the low audio fidelity and non-pro zooming.
Ideally, you’d have multiple cameras shooting from different angles – one dedicated to closeups, one doing wide shots of the band, one getting audience reactions, and so on. You’d then edit in different bits of video to your audio, thus creating a seamless, award-winning experience. You’d also have a big budget, and Steven Spielberg would direct. Dream on!
But if you’re stuck with a one-camera shoot, don’t despair…there are ways to give the “look and feel” of a two-camera shoot.
If it’s not a live concert, no problem: Run through the song several times. Shoot wide during one run-through, do closeups next, etc. Record the audio for each shoot and take the best version (or edit various bits to make the best version). The band should play to a click or rhythmic reference, but that’s not absolutely essential as long as the versions aren’t too different, and you need to splice in only short takes from different shots.
A concert situation is more complex. Pick a few songs out of the set for the video. For these, do wide shots that take in most of the band. During the songs that won’t be used, take potential cutaway shots – face shots, audience reaction shots, shots of musicians where you don’t see their hands moving on the instruments too clearly, etc.
After the show’s over, before the band breaks down, run through the songs you plan to use and take closeups of the lead singer singing the song (always useful shots to have). Not possible? Then shoot the singer singing against any non-descript background (preferably one that looks like the background while the band was playing), with or without the band – it doesn’t matter. Really, you’re just looking for close-ups you can cut to the audio later.
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED
Once musicians get started working with video, they tend to understand the workflow because it’s like working with audio: You mix video tracks together, splice, crossfade, add effects, etc. (Fig. 1). The main difference is you’re using up a whole lot more space on your hard drive; an hour of video takes about 13GB, as opposed to the 600MB or so for an hour of stereo audio. It’s worth splurging around $100, getting a Terabyte hard drive, and dedicating it to your video projects. Then, back up the project data to DVD-Rs or Blu-Ray when you’re done.
Now import the mastered audio track into your video editing program, then the video with the wide shots (include the audio stream too). Next, monitor the camera’s audio and the mastered audio track, and slide the video track (with its audio, of course) until the two audio tracks line up. SMPTE sync? Who needs it? If you made any cuts in the audio track, then cut the same places in the video track and line them up with the audio before proceeding.
Odds are the two will line up very closely as long as the tune isn’t too long. But let’s say there’s a little drift, and by the end of the video, the audio track is behind by 15ms or so. Slide the audio track so that it starts 7.5ms ahead of the video track. Now any timing error will decrease until the middle of the song, then start to increase. Don’t worry about it! You’re monitoring the camera audio only as a reference; you’ll mute or erase it later. And if the visuals are off by a few milliseconds compared to the audio, believe me – no one will know.
Video is all about editing, even more so than audio. Anything goes and usually does. So, let’s learn how to fake reality.
Play the video, and consider where you’re going to add variety. Let’s say that after the keyboard player finished a great solo, you panned the camera back to the lead singer but shook the camera a bit while panning (next time, use a tripod). Is the video doomed? Of course not! Right after the keyboard solo, cut in a shot of the audience clapping and cheering. It could be from a different song, or even from a different concert.
Also, you don’t have to go back to the wide shot of the singer. Cut away to some of the video footage you recorded of the singer singing away while the band was breaking down. Match up the video as best you can to the audio. Let’s suppose worst case – the singer sang without a reference, and rushed a bit. That’s when you apply a “velocity envelope” to the video clip, and slow the motion down. Not even the singer will notice. Then to add more interest, crossfade from the close-up back to the wide shot.
And remember the face shots you took while the band was playing other songs? Let’s say the guitarist is about to take a solo and you’re zooming in from the wide shot to frame the guitar a bit better. Throw in a face shot to cover the transition. As with the audience reaction shot, it doesn’t need to be from the same song…a grimacing guitarist face is going to look pretty much the same anyway. As long as there isn’t a close-up of the fingering, you’re probably okay.
Now it’s confession time. I’ve not only used close-ups of hand motions from players playing different songs, but even different players. If you’re zoomed in or out enough, and the part is short, no one can tell.
No problem! Certain effects, like pixellation (where you can change the pixel size to make the video “blockier”), “glow,” and “light rays” remove detail from the shot (Fig. 2).
Use any clip of the keyboard player when the solo begins, and if you process it enough, no one will know you missed the solo’s real intro. Then return to the original footage when it’s past the point where there were any problems. Special effects can look cool, but they can also help gloss over inconsistencies.
Just like politics and the music industry, videos are all about smoke and mirrors, deception, and trickery. Remember that you are not shooting a documentary. Your job is to provide a pleasing, and hopefully exciting, visual experience. If the audio is great, you’ve already won two-thirds of the battle – get the eye candy right, and you’ll have the audience in the palm of your hand.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.