Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Secrets To Making A Great Live Band Video

Most of the time when someone wants me to check out their band, they send me to their website or MySpace page where they have a video that they shot at a rehearsal studio or a gig. Invariably, it's so bad that I can't get a real idea of what they really sound or look like.

So here are some tips from chapter 16 of my band improvement book, How To Make Your Band Sound Great, that will take your videos from the unwatchable to the "Now I get the idea" category. In fact, I just signed a publishing deal to write a book specifically to address issues like this called "The Musician's Video Handbook." Look for it next year.

There are basically two things that you need to make a great live band video (assuming that you play great and put on a great show) - great audio and a tripod. Forget about camera quality, resolution, format, or any kind of specs. If your video sounds bad or is shaking like crazy - it’s just a bad video although there are a few exceptions that we’ll touch on in a minute. Let’s look at the audio first.

Audio is 50% of the Final Product
Despite what anyone tells you, audio is always looked down upon as the poor stepchild of picture by video people, mostly because they don’t understand it. That being said, if the sound is bad then the picture always seems worse than it really is, so it’s really important to pay close attention to the audio when making a video.

Here are some rules of thumb regarding audio for video:
Bad audio + good picture = bad video

Good audio + bad picture = bad video

Good audio + good picture = maybe a good video
(still depends upon how you played and looked and how it was edited)

So you see that the only way you stand a chance to get something decent is to make totally sure that the audio is at least on the same quality standard as your picture.

Audio Recording Tips For Video
There are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that the audio quality is a lot better than what you can get with just the mic on the camera.

Use an external mic. You probably have some extra mics laying around already or at least you can borrow a couple, so let’s put them to use. The problem is that most consumer cameras have mini-jack mic inputs that won’t readily interface to an XLR or phone plug. No problem, buy an XLR to mini-plug adapter. They’re cheap and just about any mic you choose is going to be better than the $2 on-board camera mic. It will make a world of difference. Another possibility to to use a feed from the mixing board, or a combination of board feed and microphone that you can balance later.

Turn off the limiter. Most cameras have a built-in audio limiter to try to keep audio overload to a minimum. While this might work OK when shooting those nice vacation movies, it’s horrible for band use, squashing and twisting your audio into a heap of crap even on the most expensive professional cameras. In all but the cheapest cameras, you can defeat the limiter by diving into the software menus and finding the Defeat selection in the audio section. You’ll hear the benefits of this action immediately.

Turn the input level down. Just about any band will easily overload the audio inputs of a camera since they’re usually designed for capturing the noise of a family outing rather than the level of any number of instruments playing. If there’s a level control knob on the camera, turn it as low as it will go without turning it off. If it’s in a software menu, do the same. If you’re still overloading the input (the overload indicators are flickering red), you’ll have to get an attenuator pad to lower the microphone’s output, but these are pretty inexpensive (less than $20) and can come in handy for some every day audio purposes as well. Remember, it’s a lot better to have audio where the level is too low than too high.

Get A Tripod
If you’re shooting a gig to just see how you’re doing or shooting a music video, you’ll need a tripod for at least some of the things you shoot. If you’re shooting a gig, get a tripod and set it up as high as it will go so you won’t see audience heads and people passing in front. A nice stable image will make viewing a lot easier later.

If you’re shooting something for a music video, hand held shots can look exciting and hip, but you’ll need at least some tripod shots for things like B-roll, establishing shots and anything where you need more than a couple of seconds of a steady shot. Although tripods can run as high as a couple of thousand dollars, even a $25 cheapy is better than none at all. As with most everything, the more you spend the better it will be in that it will last a whole lot longer, be sturdier, and lighter, but anything is better that nothing.

Just paying attention to these 2 things will make your band videos so much easier to watch for both you and your audience that you won’t believe it.

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