Oberlin Blogs

1, 2, 3 … ACTION!

October 23, 2020

Ryan Dearon ’18

Performing in an audition is already enough to think about (see my last post for more details), but now given our current circumstances, I feel like I've turned into a mini audiovisual editor. I don't know about you, but I can barely use simple editing tools in Canva without crying in frustration, so thinking about recording for auditions has been a bit daunting. However, I've done a couple recordings now and conducted some research, so I want to share a few ideas to help you be successful in making your videos! Also, I was lucky enough to get some wonderful feedback on audio tips from Andrew Tripp, Associate Director of Audio Services in the Conservatory, that are included below.

**Note: these are all suggestions or things to keep in mind, you don't (or won't) need to do each little thing. Find whatever works best for YOU**

Know that you don't need to head to a studio to make a great screening video.
You could use either your:

  • Phone/Tablet - most camera apps have good audio and video quality OR you can adjust the settings, so that your mobile device records a higher resolution video. If you go this route, be sure to use the rear camera, that there is enough storage available, the battery is fully charged, and that your phone is in Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode while recording. Also, plan to use either a music stand or a tripod for your phone or tablet, because no one really likes shaky videos :)
  • Computer - requires a bit of extra tech (such as a USB microphone), because audio is spotty, especially if using Zoom.

I've seen applicants submit recordings on these devices with great success.

General tips

  • Do a test recording with excerpts from your pieces if you're working with equipment you've never used before. 
  • Have a few rehearsals beforehand, or various takes of your pieces to choose from if at all possible, so that you place your best foot forward in your submission.
  • If recording at home, let your family/friends know when you are recording, so they don't make a lot of noise.
  • Also, try to record in a space with reduced external or exterior noise (traffic, air conditioning, etc.). 
  • Have someone in the room with you (if they're a musician, even better!) - they can help you set up, find the best angles and framing, and help you in checking acoustics and balance in the space you record in.
  • If you're going to "slate" for the video audition, which isn't required in most areas for Oberlin's screenings, practice introducing yourself and your pieces.
  • Review the recording before you leave the space/upload it. 
  • Familiarize yourself with basic editing software (iMovie or Movie Maker are probably best/easiest to begin with) to adjust background noise or overall volume afterwards–this is especially important if using a background track or pre-recorded accompaniment. 

Audio tips
Overall, make sure the audio is clear, with no obtrusion of microphone. 

  • Test the acoustics by playing or singing the parts of your repertoire that are the most challenging, or the loudest part, or the softest part, etc. Larger rooms with little reverb usually work best. For recording device placement:
    • Brass instruments - perform off-axis to your device to prevent any sound from being clipped or wind blasts from overpowering the device. Make sure the device is in the direction your bell is facing though, a couple of feet (4-6) away.
    • Singers - sing as loud as you would performing and place the device where the sound is clear and there’s no feedback or diffusion of sound. If in a large space (such as a hall or a church), a general suggestion is to keep your device about 15-20 feet away to capture your full sound and vibrancy. 
    • Woodwinds - place the device about a foot away from you. If possible, angle the device towards the lower half of the instrument, so you clearly catch the sound coming out of the bell AND the keys.
    • Strings: Have the device a couple of feet away facing the instrument. This way we can hear your instrument clearly (and see you!). If using a separate microphone, point it near the bridge of the instrument.
    • Piano - having the device close enough to clearly see your hands and feet, but also far enough away to allow the sound to develop is probably best.
  • If using Zoom or just your laptop's camera app to record, having an USB Audio Interface or USB Microphone is helpful (there are some affordable H1 Zoom microphones out there). Again, smartphones have a pretty good microphone most of the time, but if using a USB device with your smartphone, an adaptor may be required. 
  • On Zoom, use the Original Sound setting and ensure High Fidelity Music Mode is enabled.
  • If using a USB mic, make sure the gain level (the input of the sound received by the mic) is set to properly accommodate louder dynamics. 
  • Do not over-edit or manipulate the audio! This means no added reverb or acoustical changes (believe me, I know singing in a concert hall sounds good, but it’s a no-no, unless you actually did).

Visual tips

  • Good lighting is a must; having natural light shine on you from behind the device is best. Light coming from behind you makes you a silhouette.
  • Related to the tip about over-editing, don’t string your best clips together. One, this takes so much more time... and two, it’s not honest. Practice well beforehand so that you can get a good take. 
  • Get a good frame and angles where you are clearly visible (i.e., singers make sure your upper body is seen).
  • Your space for recording should be uncluttered.

Many things to think about! Have any questions? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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