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Capturing Live Music for Video

From The Creative COW Magazine


Creative COW Magazine presents Capturing Live Music for Video



Michael Hanish

©2007 Michael Hanish and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:

People write long and detailed books on this subject for good reason: it is complex, infinitely variable, and much more an art or alchemy than a science. But even artists and alchemists have a starting point which varies depending on the intended outcome. So with that in mind, here are a few questions you can use to help you find your own starting point for capturing live music for video.


BEFORE THE GIG:

Have pre-production meetings. Pre-production should be the place you start for every kind of shoot, but it's especially important when shooting music. Just a few minutes of conversation will often make the difference between production success and failure.

Talk to the Performers
Start by talking with performers to get a sense of the nature of their performance. Performers will also tell you how they feel about cameras. Some won't care about roving shooters on stage getting a close-up. Depending on what kind of performance it is, they may not even notice. In other cases, they very much will.

Related to that, you need to consider what impact your camera position will have on others besides the performer. Especially if the performers will be stationary, the audience is going to have fixed sightlines. This will dictate whether you can use a single handheld camera, or whether you need to be on a tripod. It will also start to shape your decision about how many cameras to go with.

Talk to the Sound People
Also feeding into this is that whoever runs the soundboard is going to insist on an unobstructed view of the stage. Talk to the mixer about the PA configuration. You may be able to take a line level feed from the mixing board if every instrument and performer is being mic'd through the board. You'll learn a lot about what to expect from the show if you've gotten even these few answers from the mixer.

Consider the Lighting
Of course, you'll need to consider stage lighting. Will you be able to use what's available? Do you only need to augment what's there? Or do you need to handle the lighting yourself?

Scout the Location
Scout the location as the preproduction conversation may have taken place somewhere besides the venue. If so, verify your set-up decisions. If all else fails, you can use your camera's microphone, but you don't want to be surprised by camera and lighting requirements.

You'll want to scout proposed camera locations and confirm sight lines. Confirm mic placement, also. Often the room itself determines whether you can use room sound or will need to use close mic-ing.

In any case, room sound will influence the recording. Start by checking the obvious - air conditioning and heating ducts, fans, or pinball machines.


Electrical Power
The venue is the right place to pin down whether power is available, how much and where it's located. If you're going to be using house power, check for AC power hum.

Take a Test Run If You Can
If at all possible, record during the sound check or dress rehearsal - not just to check tech details or for backup, but because often there are pleasant performance surprises. Knowing what's coming will help shape your decisions.


At THE GIG:

Set and secure all of your microphones and/or cable runs. Distance, direction, aim, and type of microphone will all influence the sound quality and color. Use your ears to determine the best/ most appropriate stereo mic-ing technique. Stereo mic placement is a whole article by itself, and I'll talk about it next time. For now, note that mic placement is usually a variation on one of two themes.

You can get a more spatially accurate stereo image with a pair of crossed directional cardiod mics, 55 degrees left and right of center, roughly 5 feet in front of an acoustic group or 15 feet in front of an electric group. For a warmer, more diffuse stereo image, try a spaced pair of omnidirectional condensers aimed at the performance area.

Place either array high enough off the floor/ground to avoid direct audience noise.

Secure the camera set up. Secure a perimeter around each camera set up; sand bags and razor wire can help (depending on the nature of the gig).

While you're at it, secure the mic stand and all cable runs; otherwise, it's a guarantee they'll get knocked into and tripped over.

Monitoring
Monitor! Needless to say, you need to be able to hear clearly and in detail what is going to the camera. As importantly, you need to be able to hear those details over the ambient noise and amplified sound of the performance space.

Listen Up!
The bottom line for all of the above is to use your ears and brain. Listen!! If you set up the mics in a certain way and the sound you are monitoring is distorted and muddy, vary the directionality and distance, and see how it sounds.

Experiments and experience are the keys. All the guidelines in the world can give you only a starting point to build your own ways of doing the task. But they're a starting point. Tune in next time for where to go from there.


Michael Hanish is a noted writer who has written over the years for many industry publications. We first met Michael over a decade ago when he penned one of the very first articles that we ever published online.



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