Audition Videos, Devices

February 6, 2020, 8:04 AM · 11 year old is auditioning for summer programs. I have always used iPhone
(8+). I have looked at various Zoom cameras online. I would prefer something that does not demand editing besides length. The iPhone is alright, not sure what the other kids would be doing at her level (in terms of quality production). Looking at the junior sessions of places like IU Summer String, Greenwood, Luzerne.
Looking for best sound. I know the response will be record separately
but I’m close to crossing the line to “Geezer” and busy in my own self employed studio work. So resistant to learn melding the music and video together. Thanks.

Replies (31)

February 6, 2020, 8:14 AM · One option is to just pay someone. It will cost less than good equipment and the time you save is worth it. At least price it out. That said, the video and audio on a point and shoot camera should be sufficient enough for what you are looking for, you could also ask the program what they prefer.
February 6, 2020, 9:27 AM · I agree with the advice to hire a professional rather than invest in your own equipment.

For what it's worth, I listen to audition videos on occasion. They run the gamut from simple unedited iPhone videos to professionally produced recordings. Short of avoiding some sort of awful background noise (loud air conditioning system, traffic through an open window), none of it matters. We can discern how people play, which is the point of an audition video.

I mean, dress professionally--all black is good--and look for the least busy and least noisy background possible--a church or stage is better than a cluttered living room--but at the end of the day what matters is the level of the playing.

Edited: February 6, 2020, 9:40 AM · I think that the Zoom Q4n does a good job of capturing the audio. My teacher prefers the camera placed roughly where the second row of the audience is, so you hear more of the direct sound of the instrument without a lot of reverb from the room. (Of course, many people like more reverb, and the Zoom will capture reverb just fine, but I deliberately place the camera at a distance to avoid the reverb).

Here's an unaccompanied video I used for a (successful) audition where a home casual setting was expected and fine. You can hear that the tone of the violin is captured well, with some vibrance despite deliberate minimization of the reverb (and with heavily padded, thick carpet in the room, too). Zero edits. Video and audio settings at maximum, but reduced by YouTube's compression (the original is a little bit better quality). Saved it off the camera and just trimmed the clip: LINK

Here's a performance one with piano. Same thing -- no edits, max settings, YouTube compression. LINK

The Q4n has its own software, which you download and install on a PC/Mac. This helps you manage the camera's files more conveniently than using the camera's tiny screen. I simply download the file (MOV) from the camera, bring it into QuickTime, use QuickTime's clip trim to cut off the beginning and end junk, use QuickTime's function to export to 1080p HD, and take the resulting file and upload it to YouTube, which autodetects it as HD and processes it accordingly.

For competitions and auditions, keep in mind that you CANNOT edit. It is almost always entirely against the rules, and if they detect any editing, you will be disqualified, period -- and frankly, it's unethical. You are allowed to trim the beginning/end of the clip, of course, but you may not trim anything within the clip (or otherwise alter the video). You are not allowed to alter the audio in any way, either -- you cannot edit, post-process, etc.

Edited: February 6, 2020, 9:44 AM · I want to echo Mary Ellen on the subject of video. My community orchestra allows video submissions for our competition. For violinists, I want to see the whole body, or at least knees up, and for the violin to be audible without distortion, and the camera should be tripod-mounted and not hand-held to ensure it is kept rock steady, but other than that, quality doesn't really matter. Oh yes -- if shooting from an iPhone, make sure that the video isn't mirrored!
Edited: February 6, 2020, 9:54 AM · I have always hired someone to do it for me, but I would in any case recommend against using an iPhone recording for an audition video (for details on the Zoom, Lydia's post is great). The video is alright, but iPhones are not great at recording audio. I use it to self-record when I practice, as the audio is acceptable, but it does not register subtle dynamic differences and the audio quality can add a little edge, depriving the sound of some warmth. I agree that you can tell how well someone plays from any type of recording, but it's one of those things (i.e. recording with an iPhone) that will not help your child, and it could hurt them. If I'm listening to 150 audition videos, I don't have the time to account for audio quality in judging applicants. I simply have to go with what sounds the best based on the material I've been sent. I think the Zoom is great, but I would recommend recording in a professional studio or hiring someone to do it for you, especially if you have never done this before.
February 6, 2020, 10:19 AM · I've had the good fortune to have my concerto performances with orchestra professionally recorded, onto a CD, as part of my orchestra's standard archiving of every concert. That's given me the opportunity to hear, over multiple occasions, what the delta in audio quality between that and my camera's raw file is.

There's a detail difference that's readily perceivable with headphones but much less obvious through my Macbook Air's speakers. There's also a difference between the raw file and the YouTube compressed version, although that's just a general subtle different of quality rather than a the loss of detail. (And the detail loss is primarily orchestral; the violin itself is pretty similar.)

If you're ultimately going to be putting this onto YouTube (as many places now accept YouTube links for auditions), I don't think you'll find that a professional recording will make a discernable difference. If you're intending to submit a DVD, the professional recording will make a difference but I wouldn't expect it would be alter any outcomes for an 11-year-old who isn't competing at an international level.

If I recall correctly, you're on a budget, so you're not in a situation where the money spent on recording professionally is trivial for you. I'd buy the Zoom, and tuck the money that you'd have spent on a studio into the future violin-and-bow fund.

February 6, 2020, 10:20 AM · Thanks everyone! Lydia, perfect as it’s Mozart 5, among others, we are recording!
I would agree that my daughter sounds a bit “edgier” on iPhone than real life.
February 6, 2020, 10:25 AM · Any thoughts about Q2 4K or Q8? Seems mostly what is on Amazon.
February 6, 2020, 10:30 AM · And Lydia, no music studio, I am a artist/craftsman and work in a studio.
Hence, the time and $ issues.??
My general sense is what Mary Ellen says- most folks in the position of selecting can hear and see past the recording level.
February 6, 2020, 10:55 AM · I think there are decent mics you can plug into an iPhone that will have a similar benefit as a dedicated Zoom camera. Also, if you have access to a good sounding hall, that will give a better result than recording at your house.
February 6, 2020, 1:52 PM · For the programs you mentioned, I think iPhone video and sound would be perfectly acceptable. They're all moderately competitive programs but not so competitive that the difference in video quality will make any great significance.

Having said that, we've been kind of in a similar place with recording and this is what we have settled on.

For every day recording we use the iPhone plus a tiny plugin Shure microphone.

For regular video (studio class, audition that is not highly competitive, things my son wants to put on YouTube, etc.) we use the Zoom that Lydia recommended. The audio quality is excellent. The video is just so-so, but I think it could be improved if I tinkered with it. I can show examples if you would like to see the quality.

For highly competitive things we use a professional. He has a literal million dollars worth of equipment and tons of experience recording classical music. He is pricy (about $300 a pop) so we only do this for really, really important stuff. If we piggy-back with someone else so he only has to set up once, we can bring the price down a bit. The quality is amazing.

February 6, 2020, 2:03 PM · Susan, are you using same model zoom as Lydia?
Edited: February 6, 2020, 3:53 PM · Yes, the Q4n. But I haven't figured out how to get the video as nice as hers. Edited to add -- just looked and her video quality is similar to ours. I remembered it being better. Here's a recent video taken with it on a tripod, no mike, no editing.
February 6, 2020, 6:50 PM · Lighting, distance and focus makes a difference in video quality. Those two videos are shot in dim lighting. I think the videos in brighter conditions are sharper. And those use auto focus and a camera lens that has not been cleaned in ages.
Edited: February 6, 2020, 9:56 PM · The Q4n is preferable to all other Zoom camera for music, afaik, if you don't want to use a separate audio device. It can handle higher decibel levels than the Q2n without distortion. (I'm not sure if the microphone was improved when Zoom released the Q2n-4k.)

The Q8 has higher-quality video than the Q4n, I believe, and it's designed to be combined with one of Zoom's audio recorders (like the H6).

February 7, 2020, 7:38 AM · Just don't get the Zoom Q2. I bought one for a recording project a few months ago (Just a Suzuki teacher training audition video), and I found the sound and video no better than my iPhone and I have a cheap iPhone SE (the video was actually considerably worse).
February 7, 2020, 8:09 AM · Thanks for sharing the vid, Susan. Your son is impressive! He’s 14?
I just ordered a Q4n.
Daughter has a live audition in MA this weekend if the weather doesn’t
get in the way!
February 7, 2020, 8:19 AM · And I have heard those who said hire a professional.
I don’t think that is needed now, but will look into it in the future.
My wife teaches at a university art program. So grads in
Video probably needing cash. Right now, hard to make time to investigate and organize.
February 7, 2020, 9:21 AM · Yes, he is 14, 9th grade. :) Thanks for the compliments.
February 7, 2020, 9:42 AM · "I’m close to crossing the line to “Geezer”...

Just curious, just where is that "geezer line?"

Edited: February 7, 2020, 11:20 AM · One thing about doing a pro video is that then you've got a nice pro video of your daughter -- regardless of the ulterior purpose.

However your money is better spent on a pro accompanist in my opinion.

Scott: about the geezer line -- if you can't see it, look behind you.

February 7, 2020, 12:13 PM · I became a dad at 48, and have an 11 year old so you can do the math.....
We are lucky we have a young teaching adjunct piano at my wife’s school
who just finished DMA at Eastman who plays for her. So, lucky there.
February 7, 2020, 12:19 PM · I'd recommend getting a microphone for the iPhone.

You can get a decent standalone microphone like the Blue Yeti, and use the USB-to-lightning connection dongle to connect it to your smartphone. Generally this is what I use for recording individuals or string quartets. Rode also makes an excellent shotgun mic that will work with smartphones in a simple mounting rig, with excellent audio quality.

Edited: February 20, 2020, 10:59 AM · So, I am trying first vids with Q4. Teacher says she finds recordings “nasally”.
I am using presets for solo. Mice facing inward toward camera, rather than splayed outwards. Any thoughts from users ( Susan, Lydia, others)?
She played back on phone and laptop from YouTube upload.
February 20, 2020, 11:13 AM · Difficult to get the mice to stay still! Mics.
February 20, 2020, 11:26 AM · How far away are you? It doesn't sound as good up close. Also make sure to set the room mode correctly -- we usually use Concert Hall. And make sure that the feature that changes the volume automatically is off or you will not get dynamics. I can't remember exactly what it is called...something like Auto Gain maybe?
Edited: February 20, 2020, 3:03 PM · Set the camera about 6 to 10 feet back from the violinist. I use the HD1080/32fps setting, the max audio setting, room lighting set to Auto, and Auto Gain set to Solo. I put the microphones in the X/Y position.

If the mics are wobbling, your Q4n is defective and you should return it. They should psuedo-lock into the X/Y or A/B position; you can turn the mics easily but once in X/Y or A/B properly they should not move without your trying to deliberately move them.

You should have the teacher listen to the raw MOV file produced by the camera, as well as what it sounds like on YouTube. Make sure you are uploading to YouTube in the best HD format you can, and that you are actually getting HD playback (look for the little HD icon).

You cannot possibly judge the quality of the sound if you're listening to YouTube from a phone without any form of headset. Smartphone speakers are really just Right Out. Laptop speakers vary in quality but sound should be fine assuming you don't have incredibly awful laptop speakers. To properly listen to HD audio, use decent headphones.

February 20, 2020, 8:36 PM · Thanks very helpful.
February 20, 2020, 11:00 PM · On thought, I will also note that I typically set the camera at a relatively low height -- using the standard Amazon Basics tripod, I pull out the lower legs of the tripod, but not the upper and I don't crank up the height. The distance back is generally just about perfect for framing my upper body at that height.

However, I have also recorded from greater distance back (which requires raising the camera height). Further back will give you more "room sound", which can add reverb. My teacher seems to feel that "room sound" is undesirable on a recording -- that you want to hear the more direct sound from the instrument, especially when recording for auditions and competitions.

February 22, 2020, 7:20 AM · Moved further from daughter, turned off auto gain and set
to 9. All seemed to help.
February 22, 2020, 8:25 AM · It's all a balance. Ideally, you'd have 2 mics - one right on top of your daughter and one further away. However, with one mic, I'd recommend averaging that distance. If you are too close, you lose a lot of warmth and reverb (i.e. what the room gives you). Too far, and you lose clarity, articulation, and many small details. If you're doing it yourself, I'd definitely recommend experimenting with different positions throughout the room.

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