Oberlin Blogs

What I’ve Learned from Recording at Oberlin

December 21, 2021

Ben Smith ’24

To preface: recording yourself is hard. I am not going to pretend that I have the ins and outs of it figured out. But I have learned a lot from recording at Oberlin. Whether the recording session was for a specific purpose (competitions, summer festivals, professional auditions) or whether it was just a practice run-through, I now have a better visualization of what a "good recording session" looks and feels like. Spoiler: I’ve never submitted a "perfect recording."

Before we get into the thick of it, I have to acknowledge the logistics of recording. At Oberlin, this comes in the form of booking a specific concert hall at a specific time on a specific day. And, this involves... yes, you guessed it! Planning. The decision to record is not something you can make on a whim; hall time is valuable and, because the process of even getting to the point where you are recording is quite involved, you have to go in prepared to make the most of every minute.

Some things to note before we begin your adventure: 

  • Requests for reserving a hall begin every Friday at 9am for the FOLLOWING WEEK. So, if you want to record on a Saturday, you need to book it the Friday before (8 days) in advance. Making a reservation the week-of is going to be very difficult. If you don’t get your request in the Friday before, there will be limited availability. 
  • As an individual, you can only book 1 hour per week in the concert halls (of which Oberlin has 4–each with its own unique quirks). A caveat to this is to have an upper-class friend book a hall under their name that you can use (but you didn’t hear it from me). Generally, though, you should go in with the expectation of only having one hour to get the job done–them’s the breaks.

Now, with all that out of the way, here is a basic overview of the journey you’ll embark on to book a recording session (as of the 2021–22 academic year):

  1. Email the Concert Productions Office (referred to as “ConPro”) at 9am on the Friday BEFORE your desired week of recording with your preferred space and time. I would suggest sending some back-up options in this email in case your first pick of time and place are unavailable. If you email at 9am, you won’t typically run into this problem, but best to be safe. ConPro’s Administrative Assistant, Heather, is super quick to respond to booking requests–truly a god-send!
  2. Wait to receive either: 1) an email confirmation from ConPro with the exact details of your successful booking or 2) an email from Heather in which you’ll discuss backup options (perhaps the specific concert hall you wanted was booked at that time or maybe you’ll have to go to another day entirely). If you receive option 2, the good news is that you can check Virtual EMS and see what spaces are available when.
  3. PRIOR to the day of your booking, you need to watch the Audio/Video Self-Recording Instructional Videos. There is one for each concert hall, so watch whichever is applicable to you. For video recording, you will need your own USB flash drive (which they have available for purchase at the Conservatory Audio Services–buying one there is the easiest route in my opinion). The recommended one is a SanDisk Extreme Go USB 3.1 Flash Drive 64GB. For audio recording, as long as you have a SanDisk USB bigger than 8 or 16GB, you should be good to go. It is paramount that you watch these videos–multiple times even. For the first couple times you record, ask a friend *with recording experience* to help you set the audio levels and make sure everything is running smoothly. Here’s the reality: there will not be anyone in the hall to help you record. It is truly up to you to figure it out. With there only being an hour to complete the whole mission, the faster you can finagle the recording equipment, the more time you have to actually record. It is not a difficult process to figure out, but it is daunting the first few times; not quite a boss fight, but a formidable foe nonetheless. If you are prone to second-guessing (like me), it can be a real challenge to trust you are doing it all correctly. But, I assure, if you bring a friend and have watched the self-recording videos, you’ll be okay!

With the logistics out of the way, now we have to face the end-all be-all of recording: ourselves! Coming face to face with the realities of how you sound–wow is this quite the mental hurdle. It’s all about how you approach it, though. Be compassionate to yourself. This isn’t always easy, so I would bring my favorite stuffed animal with me to the practice rooms and use her as a reminder. After I’d get done with a run, I’d look over to her and tell her what I could have improved on–like I was talking to a friend. Another option: if you have any experience with a sport, I think it’s helpful to equate a recording session to a game/match/meet/whatever you call it. With a recording session as a goal, you can steer your practicing to what would be most beneficial each day. Trust me, I’m the last person that would ever make a sports analogy, but I’ve heard it helps! 

In the practice room, I’ve found it helpful to get real comfy with hearing myself play at all steps of the learning process. I record myself every day– just a snippet here and there–to glean another perspective of how I’m doing. It’s a method of being honest and has worked wonders at desensitizing me to the dreaded ‘recording anxiety.’ I’ve found I’m more efficient in my practice and, when getting ready for a recording session, I’m equipped with a good idea of what I’m sounding like from an outside perspective. 

When I was really struggling with performance anxiety, I found that doing practice run-throughs of whatever I was recording was also very helpful. No stopping was allowed; once the recording started, I had to get to the end. I did these every day for a week leading up to the recording session. Knowing that I was recording was enough to get me anxious, so this method forced me into a position where I just had to cope with it. I didn’t enjoy listening back to the recordings, but by the seventh day, I had a grip on what I tended to struggle with and what felt pretty solid. I don’t feel the need to do this anymore–but I do still allocate time to doing a run-through every now and then as a check-up before I’m getting ready to record. 

That’s about all the tips I have. At the end of the day, recording is a learning process; it’s not going to be smooth sailing and, though the ideal finished product is wrapped up in this idyllic image of perfection, this is just not realistic. Oberlin is a place where you have to take some real ownership over the projects you want to start–and recording is one of them. So, while cheesy, I’ll leave you with this: enjoy the process as much as you can. You got this! 

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