If you have ever watched a concert on the telly or online and was curious about how it is all done, read on 🙂 Like all professions, what is visible to the public is the tip of the iceberg – so it is for the Videographer. This wee missive sheds a little light on the preparation that is done before the ‘Record’ button is pressed. Parts of the account border on ‘technical’ but it is all kept, hopefully, within the bounds of ‘normal’ human speech 🙂
When I was offered the chance to produce a video recording of a classical concert by The Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra, I jumped at it. The venue was to be The Apex – an excellent venue in the Suffolk town of Bury St. Edmunds. It was an exciting prospect – many times have I seen a production from the audience perspective but not since my school and college days, have I worked on a stage. To add to the fun, I would have to understand how to use the venue’s audio infrastructure – there were microphones to set up and their signals returned to the other end of the auditorium where the camera would be.
This is The Apex without a soul about – apart from me.
It is a great venue. Being on my own in the auditorium was an experience in itself. All that space and the hushed quiet.
The reverie quickly dissolved. The thought of having to complete as much of the setup on the stage as possible before the orchestra arrived was enough to bring me back to the present! The main tasks were twofold. First, the initial placement of microphones – ‘initial’ because their final location could not be set until the orchestra’s seating arrangement has been fixed. Second, the routing of cables to the microphones. On each side the stage, cables can be passed through wee doors allowing access between the stage and ‘patch panels’ and from there, to the rear of the auditorium. As for the cables on the stage, trip hazards were identified and dealt with.
Once the players had arrived and had organised themselves on the stage, the slack provided at the mic end of the cables allowed me to position the mics and their stands appropriately. In this shot, the rehearsals had finished and the microphone on the left placed close to where the soloist, Benjamin Baker would stand. To its right, another can be seen – this one was to pick up the sound from the Cellos.
Ideally, I would like to have positioned them closer to the instruments but this was to be a public performance. Positioning microphones to gain best sound quality had to be measured therefore, against the reasonable expectations of a paying audience.
Of the 8 recording channels I had available, six originated from microphones on the stage. A channel each for Violins, Horns, Percussion, Cello and Bass. One additional channel allowed me to record any announcements made over the auditorium’s PA system. The remaining channel was used for a synchronisation signal – an aid to quickly link the audio to the video when the time comes to edit the recording.
All the wires that carry the microphone signals pass to the rear of the hall. There, setting up the audio was reasonably straightforward. That said, there were a number steps in the process and each one could make a mess of your labours if not done properly. First, the feeds from the stage were connected to a seriously clever box of tricks. Under the control of a laptop, each microphone input from the stage was labelled, the sensitivity of each input adjusted, a stereo mix from all the inputs created and passed on to the video camera and last but not least, all 8 channels routed to the software that was be responsible for recording the concert audio.
“..the sensitivity of each input adjusted..” What’s that all about? Well, the incoming signals need boosting to a useable level – a level that will vary depending on what instrument a microphone is close to. A cello usually needs more ‘oomph’ than a kettle-drum 🙂 This process can only be done once the rehearsals begin but during the concert, a beady eye will need to keep watch on how the levels are looking. Too high and you have ‘clipping’ – an awful sound that you can do little to correct. Too low and you run into the risk of other unwanted noise.
You may have spotted two recordings are made.. “Why so?” you may ask. If the multitrack recording fails, then there will still be a stereo mix laid down with the video as the recording progresses. If all records OK, a higher quality mix can be created and then added to the video.
On the video front, the videographer has to take some essential steps. First, to set ‘White Balance’. Under stage lighting, video and stills cameras need to ‘know’ what white looks like. Once this is established, the recorded video has a better chance of representing colours faithfully. It can be possible to correct a degree of colour imbalance in the edit process but if what ‘goes in’ is as close to correct as possible, this makes the edit process that much simpler.
Next, a series of simple house-keeping measures: Make sure the video camera was fixed to a levelled tripod – sounds a minor thing but panning can look very strange if this simple step was not made 🙂 Next, video recording settings checked and sound levels from that ‘clever box of tricks’ also checked.
So. There you have it. I hope this has given an interesting insight. From arrival to a state of readiness had taken about three hours. I had time to grab the stills camera and take some shots of the orchestra as they rehearsed. For me, this is a great time.. to be so close to the musicians as they rehearsed is a memorable experience. While I was on stage with them, the sound was all around me – something that does not happen when at the back of the auditorium.
There are shots of the event in one of the galleries on my Facebook page… you are welcome to check them out:-)