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electronic MUSICIAN

You Ought to Be in Pictures (Bonus Material)

By Mike Levine | September 24, 2008

CATCH A RISING DIRECTOR

Probably the best way to get your music video produced is to have a professional director do it for you. He or she will know the ins and outs of scripting, lighting, shooting, and editing. Although it''s not financially feasible for most musicians to hire a big-name director, it''s definitely possible to find a director in training who will work for little or no money in order to be able to use your project on his or her demo reel. Just as there are innumerable musicians striving for recognition, there are also countless budding directors who are looking for material for their reels. Many bands have taken advantage of that by seeking them out at film schools and through mutual connections and allowing these newbie directors to produce their videos.

Find local film schools (obviously this will be much easier if you live near a major metropolitan area), seek out the students, and try to find yourself a director that way. Post on bulletin boards or craigslist, or use any contacts that you have to try to find your Scorsese or Spielberg wannabe. This person will likely have a much higher degree of training than you do and could help you produce a video with high production values.

SHOOTING A LIVE VIDEO

Although a live-performance video seems pretty straightforward—you play at a club or another venue and have somebody shooting—in reality there are a lot of logistical issues. One of the big differences between a live video and a concept one is that for the latter, the audio is already taken care of: it''s a song from your CD. For the former, you have to capture not only good-looking video, but good-sounding audio as well.

If your band has a dynamic stage show, a live video of that might be the most effective promotion for you. If you''re using the video to secure gigs, you may need a live video to convince venue owners that your act is suitable for them.

One issue to consider: for a live video to be visually interesting, you generally need it to be at least a 2-camera shoot. At the risk of stating the obvious, that means you''ll need access to two cameras and two camera operators. Although doing a 2-camera (or more) shoot may sound like a complex endeavor, it''s eminently doable.

In a live-performance, multicamera shoot, one camera is designated to take the master shot. The master shot doesn''t vary during the show—it''s aimed at the full band and stays on for the entire performance.

The master-shot camera should be on a sturdy tripod and be located far enough back to get a full-stage shot of the band (generally by the back wall). Make sure the camera is high enough up so that it has an unobstructed view of the stage. Not only does this camera give you a full view of the band that''s likely to be central to your video, but because it shoots the entire song and shows the whole stage, it also provides “save-your-butt” footage that can be cut to at any given moment of the video during the subsequent editing session.

The second camera is a roving handheld one that moves around closer to the stage, getting close-up shots of the various band members performing. (The operator of the second camera should try not to be visible on the master shot as he or she goes around shooting.) The footage from both cameras will be synced with the music track during the editing session. (I''ll explain how later in the “Sound Off” section.)

THE FIRST CUT

Another important type of shot to get in any video situation is the cutaway, which consists of footage that you can cut to for interest or to cover up a problem on your master shot. These shots will be wild; that is, flown into the edit without needing to be synced to their correct spot in the song.

Petersen recommends getting cutaways in a live-performance video scenario during sound check. “You have to tell the band what you''re doing,” he says. “You say, ‘Look, during the sound check, act like you''re really into it. Act like you''re performing while they''re setting the levels and stuff.''”

He suggests trying for the following types of cutaways: “Get close-ups of the kick pedal hitting the bass drum. Another good one is a close-up of the bass player playing,” Petersen says. “There are only three people on the entire planet who can tell that the bass player is not playing what you''re shooting. It''s perfect.”

Other good cutaways that can be taken during sound check are the drummer hitting the hi-hat and the crash cymbal (from over his or her shoulder), and even a guitarist strumming rhythm guitar. “You can also do long shots down from the side of the stage where everybody''s singing but you''re not close enough to tell what they''re singing,” Petersen says. Don''t waste your time going for wild shots of lead guitar or keyboards, because you''ll never be able to make them look in sync.

You need to let the band know in advance that you''re going for sound-check cutaways so that they can dress the same as they will at the performance. Also, you need cooperation from the venue so that the lighting is the same.

SOUND OFF

Another important consideration for a live video shoot is, how will you capture your audio? It''s beyond the scope of this story to go into the ins and outs of live recording, but suffice it to say, you''re probably going to want more than just a stereo mic in the room recording the audio.

One simple capture method is to have a stereo mic pair in the back of the room (by your master-shot camera) that''s augmented with a board feed. Record this audio into a portable multitrack or, even better, into a laptop running multitrack software. The room mics will give you a good overall sound but due to their distance from the stage and P.A. stacks may be a bit indistinct. By adding in the board mix (which will feature close-miked sounds), you should be able to get a better-sounding overall mix.

Obviously, if you have the facilities to take discrete sources from the soundboard and record them to separate tracks, you''ll have additional mixing flexibility later. One issue to be aware of when mixing back-of-the-room room mics with off-the-board sources is that due to the difference in distance between sources coming off the board (which are close-miked) and the room mics, you''ll have to do some delay compensation when mixing them.

Although you''ll be recording your audio into a multitrack, you want to make sure to capture audio into the camera''s mic as well. You won''t likely be using this audio, but it''s imperative to have it as a reference track for lining up the multitrack audio with the video. Import your master-shot video (along with its reference audio track) into your video-editing software and put it aside for the moment.

Go into your DAW and make your final mix from the stereo room mics and other sources (I''ll refer to this mix hereafter as the “Live Mix”). Then open a new session and import the audio from your video camera. Make sure to place it exactly at bar 1, beat 1 of the new session.

Next, import the Live Mix into the session and line it up with the audio captured by the camera''s mic (not vice versa). One way this will be a lot easier is if you had the drummer do a stick-click count-off at the beginning of the song (or songs). You can use those clicks, which will be on both the reference audio and your mixed audio track, as visual anchors in your waveform editor for lining the tracks up.

Once you''ve lined up the audio, make sure that your Live Mix begins at bar 1, beat 1 of the sequence. If it doesn''t, paste a tiny bit of blank audio to that location and merge it with the rest of the track. That way, the Live Mix file will start at the same place as the camera-captured audio. Export the Live Mix from your multitrack software as an audio file, and import it back into your video-editing software, placed at the very beginning. It will now line up with the video.

Finally, do the same thing with the footage shot by the second camera. When editing, you can switch between the master shot and the handheld, and add cutaways where needed. The audio you mixed in your DAW should be the only audio track you use.

ACTING ANIMATED

Simple animation is another element you can add to your music video, assuming that you have some graphics chops and a lot of patience. Alexander Preston, from the band Mittens on Strings, did an entire music video for the song “The Flaming Piglet” (see Web Clip D) using stop-motion animation (including Claymation) that he shot in his home.

“I would go to the dollar stores in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago and just wander around looking for things that would be interesting visually,” he recalls. “I bought a lot of wrapping paper and hologram gift bags and things like that, which I used to build my sets. I bought a scrap piece of sheet metal that I thought looked cool from the hardware store, and some clamp lights with 200W bulbs. I made the characters out of modeling clay I got from the dollar store for $1.67, or from these $1 packs of toy animals.

“I used green and blue screens for some of the backgrounds. You can buy these from camera stores, but I just went to the Goodwill and bought the biggest shirt I could find in those colors and cut it to fit my sets.”

Preston shot the video a frame at a time and slowly assembled his animated story, which at one point uses a lit-up photo of a big-city skyline as a background for a clay-molded newscaster. “The fact that my shots were all set up in a 2 x 2 x 2–foot area saved me a lot of money but cost me a lot of time,” he says. “I didn''t need actors, so I could do everything myself, but it required a lot of patience.

“I used a program called iStopMotion [from Boinx Software, boinx.com; Mac, $49] at first with a DV camcorder, but then I got this Aiptek AHD that shoots videos in 720p and takes 8-megapixel stills. It didn''t work with the program, but I got to the point where I could tell how many pictures to take and what the movement would look like. The camera is $150 and I have started shooting our next video on it. I would say that without the camera the video cost me about $60 including the program, which I bought used on Amazon.com.

“I guess making the clay figures might take some talent or practice, but you can use toys or whatever. People make videos like this with Legos all the time. I used a pretty high frame rate—from 15 to 20 fps—most of the time, which might be too much for some people.”

Petersen, who has Adobe Photoshop chops, describes animation that he did for a recent music video made in support of Hillary Clinton. In part of the video (which you can see at youtube.com/watch?v=IPBLKNpJld4), an animated version of Clinton''s signature was needed. “We took [scanned] a signature of Hillary from one of her books,” recalls Petersen, “put it into Photoshop, made it into a black background, and turned the signature into glowing pink neon. Once we had the image captured, I did it backwards from the end and erased it with black. I erased a little bit of the end with black and saved a frame, erased a little bit more with black, saved a frame, and did it for her whole signature. Then I created all those frames and I put them together in the reverse order. So then it looks like it''s coming across the screen and she''s writing it. That whole scene took about 1.5 hours to animate.”

For the same video, Petersen also describes animating a scene where the heads at Mount Rushmore appear to be singing. “I did it in Photoshop. I started with an image, and I figured out how many frames it would take for them to open their mouth all the way up and close it. And the whole scene is only 5 seconds long. There are only about 100 animation images in it. A lot of them are repeated.”

Petersen explains this technique in more detail: “The easiest way to do it is to take a close-up of somebody singing the words, using your video camera. Then you just put it into your video and you do a frame analysis. Then write it down: this syllable, this word, the mouth goes down; this one it goes up; open; close; open; close. I manipulated each image slightly in Photoshop and saved it as a new file name. What I found out was that I only needed about ten different images that repeated.”

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