Student Recording Advice

October 16, 2019, 9:10 AM · My son occasionally has to record videos of repertoire for local competitions and auditions. I was wondering if people had suggestions for video recording equipment. We just did a session this week and purchased a new Sony Handycam (mid-level model) and the quality was appalling. Video was blurry, audio had a constant whirring sound throughout the video, audio seemed to suppress dynamics. I did a backup recording of the session with my (older) iPhone and both video and audio were significantly better, which seems kind of shocking to me. I'm not sure if the camera was defective or that is just how cameras are these days unless you spend $2000 on one.

What do others do for these types of recordings? While we have a recording engineer his program works with, it ends up being about $500 a pop once you add up his fees, hall rental, accompanist, piano tuning, etc. Obviously, we can't usually do that unless it is for something major that requires professional level recording, and my son isn't really doing that level of competitions yet.

Thanks in advance.

Replies (12)

October 16, 2019, 9:29 AM · I'd suggest returning the Handycam if you can.

I use a Zoom Q4n, which is marketed as a musician's camera. If you look up "Q4n" in the archives you'll find plenty of feedback on it. The Q4n's audio is pretty decent, and I haven't felt the need to get an additional standalone microphone for it. Most of my YouTube videos were filmed using it.

If you're entering the sort of competition where a YouTube private link submission is the way that you submit a video, you do not need a standalone microphone in my opinion. If you are submitting video on a DVD at full resolution (i.e. there will be no compression of the audio, either), I'd get a standalone microphone.

(Good thread on microphones here: LINK.)

October 16, 2019, 10:15 AM · I have a Sony Handycam, a couple of years old. It does a decent job, focuses fine, no extraneous whirrs. I mean, there are no moving parts, so there is no reason for there to be whirring of any kind. I think you have a defective unit or are doing something odd with it. Yes, separate microphones are a fine thing, many options there.
October 16, 2019, 10:36 AM · Or along similar lines you can buy a Zoom audio recorder and sync the audio to the video from your iPhone in a video editor, but it's more work.
October 16, 2019, 11:12 AM · It seems you might be on a similar path to my son who is now a Senior in high school. He has made many recordings and we invested in equipment a few years ago. We use a digital SLR with external mics. I record the audio with Audacity into my computer and then stitch the video and audio together with FinalCut pro. We have also added LED lights to the mix.

I believe the sound quality with the external mics is quite good and considerably better than my iPhone. The competitions he enters are a mix of YouTube links and direct video uploads. Now that he is making prescreen recordings, it is nice to have all the equipment ready to go and the learning curve behind us.

October 16, 2019, 11:46 AM · We are returning the Sony for a full refund -- Sony thinks it is defective. I will look into the options described. Thank you for the feedback!
October 16, 2019, 12:16 PM · Steve - can you override 'volume compensation'(dynamic range compression) with that system? Most recording soft/hardware have it built in and the result is flat-dynamics, most infuriating when you've been expressing your heart out!

October 16, 2019, 12:49 PM · Elise - there is some dynamic variety. Our equipment is not "pro" enough to make a huge difference. Here is a recent recording that he made back in May. I just listened again and there is definitely some dynamic contrast - not as much as it seemed when we were in the room.

October 16, 2019, 1:07 PM · I have an older Handycam that I've used for music videos of my kids (including videos for college) and it was fine for that. Whatever you use it's helpful to mount it on a tripod. What I've found is that the room you record in is more important than the gear.
October 16, 2019, 1:33 PM · If Steve is putting audio and video together in Final Cut Pro (fancy :-), any sort of compression depends on his audio interface and not the camera, which like you say Elise often has this. And I agree with Paul, a good room makes a big difference, like in the very nice video that Steve linked.
October 16, 2019, 3:02 PM · That's nice playing in that Shostakovich!

Note that for works with orchestra, a player shouldn't change their raw decibels of output very much, so it won't really impact the dynamic range captured by the audio equipment. What they will change is the color of the sound, which alters the listener's perception of volume and the amount of projection you end up getting through the texture, and will get captured fine by the equipment.

(If you want to be heard in that Shostakovich you are going to be loud pretty much all the time. Balance in that recording seems to favor the piano much of the time, and one might argue that the violinist could be a little more forward in it.)

October 16, 2019, 3:12 PM · @Steve Hancock your setup sounds really good! We have many years (my son is only 14) so hopefully by the time we get to prescreens we will have it down, though I will likely have the recording engineer do his prescreens. He has a million dollars worth of fancy equipment!

P.S. My son loves to play the Shostakovich as well!

Edited: October 16, 2019, 5:19 PM · Well;

I don't know much about auditions. But for competitions most of them would have a policy on editing or proccessing both the sound and the footage.

Now i am not sure how flexible they are at exercising those rules but i wouldn't want to take risks using equipment which have some noticable altering tools and gimmicks blended in as default.


I have been in sutuations where i wasted the time and a top notch performance of my daughter capturing too much ambient noise with professional gear. Probably due to incompetence on my part just to reschedule for another day.

On the other hand i have been in situations where i was nearly able to achieve professional quality by just recording at the right spot with my cell phone.

As she is 11 and just started attending international competitions(1.5 years and 3 times so far) we do not have much experience to come up with meaningfull solutions.

Nevertheless external mics combined with a compatible solid camera seems to be the logical way to pursue quality. Any home studio grade equipment would do just fine. To be honest, anything above that would be over the top and a job for a professional to handle unless you are an enthusiast in sound engineering who knows what your doing.

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