I’ve recently been doing a lot of filming at theatre schools for projects in which the students make their own music videos. One thing I’ve come across is a lot of misunderstanding about the sound. So I thought I would try and clear things up a bit…
1. The sound you hear on a music video was NOT recorded during the filming of the video. I was amazed a few years ago when out on location filming a music video to be asked if the quietness of the track (being played from a small speaker hidden being a tree) and the wind would be a problem for the sound. “But we use the sound from the record, a video is just images cut to that.” I replied, “the only reason you actually record any sound at all is to help sync the lips to the track.” I’ve since found this to be quite a common misconception – that what you hear on a music video is the performer actually singing for real. Imagine Duran Duran’s Rio video if they had recorded the sound on location…
2. If you want your video to sound good you have to record the vocals properly. Recording a bunch of kids singing along to a track being played out of some speakers will sound exactly like that. A few years ago I recorded some tracks for a theatre school for the students to make video with. The videographer had no concept of how to make a music video. He simply filmed them singing along to the track live, in a hall. The sound was awful. All that work that had gone into mixing the track, getting a good EQ, just the right amount of reverb on the instruments etc, all gone. What you heard on the final video was the tinny, quiet, echo ridden sound of the track being played trough some speakers.
So what do you need to get decent sound?
Not a lot really. A microphone, some headphones and a free program capable of recording multiple tracks (such as GarageBand or Audacity) and you’re away.
Having a microphone is important. You may be tempted to use the built in mic on your laptop or iPad but they’re so tiny that the sound will never be great. You don’t need an expensive mic – get a good old Shure SM58, you can’t go wrong with one of those (you can get them from about £25 second hand on ebay – and it doesn’t really matter that it’s a used model as I’ve found them to be pretty invincible).
Headphones. When you record someone singing along to the track coming out of speakers you are effectively recording the track again as it is picked up by the mic. This will muddy the overall sound of the track. Instead of the original track and the vocals being on separate tracks you now have backing on one track and vocals + backing on another. This makes it hard to get a good mix. If you’re singing along to the backing through headphones then problem solved. Of course you may want to record more than one vocal and this could be a problem if you only have one output for headphones. Just get a headphone output splitter – they’re only a few pounds and you can plug about 6 sets in.
Recording software. There are plenty of good free recording programs out there now and they’re very simple to use. They will give you the ability to mix all your separate tracks down to one final track to use on your video. Just hop on over to YouTube for some tutorial videos – they won’t turn you in Brian Eno but you will have now have the capability to record a good track.
When you do import your backing track into the recording software, make sure it’s a good one. Here’s an example of a track I was sent to use as the backing for Little Shop of Horrors – it should have been called AUDIO OF HORRORS and sounded like it had been recorded in a toilet by someone holding a smartphone in front of a tiny radio. Fortunately I was able to find a replacement which still fit the key and the timing of the singing.
And never forget, whatever you’re making SOUND MATTERS – don’t neglect it.