Tips for Making a Great Conducting Video

orch-recording-titleWhether you’re applying for a conducting position with a professional ensemble, a graduate program or a summer festival you’re going to need to produce a high-quality video recording.  You can Google “how to make a good conducting video” but the results are…well, you know, not that helpful.

Let’s start with the end goal:  You need 20-30 minutes of total footage, at least 10-15 minutes of rehearsal footage, and  15-20+ minutes of performance footage. The application verbiage goes on with the attributes the ideal candidate should possess, but no one tells us how to make this video.  It’s like we should just know…so here it goes:

The required materials needed are:

The required personnel/logistical items:

  • an ensemble (as small as string quartet w/piano, though an orchestra is preferable)
  • music
  • rehearsal space (chairs and stands and equipment)
  • performance space

Let’s talk about the personnel/logistical items first.

If you’re going for a professional position or advanced graduate degree, you’ll likely have plenty of footage to select from — just be certain that you have the rights to use those videos (this is a concern with some professional ensembles or recording licenses).  If you’re trying to get into a conducting program/assistantship, this next section is for you.

When you’re starting out, your ensemble is likely to be made of up friends/colleagues.  They’ll be happy to help you make your audition video – just make the experience worth their while with great music, detailed planning, efficient rehearsing and some pizza at the end of the whole experience.

Again, your ensemble can be as small as a string quartet w/piano or

Repertoire, pick at least two works to conduct, varied by musical period/genre.  Here are some ideas that would use a reasonably-sized ensemble:

  • Classical – first movement of a late Mozart/Haydn symphony, or overture
  • Romantic – a movement of a Beethoven or Brahms symphony
  • Opera – an accompanied recitative and/or aria
  • Late 19th/early 20th century:  Debussy (Faun) Stravinsky (L’histoire)
  • 20th century: Prokofiev (‘Classical’), Copland (Appalachian Spring, 13 instruments)
  • Solo: any concerto/vocal work (the more standard, the better)

*I’m omitting wonderful composers from the neo-tonal repertoire.  It’s not because the footage isn’t valuable, but the music may need to be rented and it may be too difficult to accomplish in the short time you have to prepare this recording.  If you do have Schoenberg, Stockhausen or Carter in your rehearsal/performance repertoire, that’s great.  Just check to see if the program for which you’re applying wants to see you work in that genre or more ‘traditional’ genres.

Hardware/Software:

I’ve included links to recommended cameras, tripods, pocket recorders and video-editing software above.  There are lots of great options out there to suit any budget, but I would encourage you to invest in quality equipment.

The most important piece of gear is your camera.  Here are a few must-haves for your camera:

  • Optical zoom
  • Removable storage (SD card)
  • Decent sound

Sony and Zoom have both put out cameras for musicians that include high quality mics – but these cameras don’t have a zoom function.  This might be a great option for a soloist looking to record their practice, but this isn’t a wise investment for conductors.  Hopefully the next generation will incorporate an optical zoom. (For this same reason, I can’t recommend the GoPro for conductors).  Your best course of action is go purchase a camera and a good portable recorder.

Now it’s time to make your video.  You’ll need a computer with video-editing software.  If you’re in the market for a computer, I’d recommend getting a Macbook with at least 16gB of RAM.  Is it expensive?  Yes…but…you need to ask yourself how much time do you want to spend wrestling with technology?  Technology is supposed to work for us, not against us!  If you’re using a piece of clunky software with slow-processing speeds, that’s time consuming.  Having the right equipment makes things time efficient.  (Let it be known that I have been a PC-guy my whole life, until I had to get into making my own videos).

For video-editing software, Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is the best.  My favorite feature…syncing external audio with your video – literally just a click of a button and voilà! sync-clips

There are plenty of other software options out there, but you’re busy and you want to spend time with your music, not with your computer, right?  iMovie is a much less expensive alternative, but trust me, Final Cut Pro X is worth it.

Selecting footage

Be wise in your selections – you don’t need to do a full symphony, select music that you can really make sound its best in the short time you have.  Reviewers are looking for how you use yours gestures to facilitate the ensemble and its music making.  We’re looking to evaluate your basic technique, how you navigate transitions and how you lead the ensemble.

In your rehearsal, we want to see you make the ensemble better in the most professional and efficient way possible.  You don’t need to say much to make things better — no one needs to know how much you studied, or the woes of the composer’s life in the biography you recently read.  Be calm, perhaps repeat the passage a second time to see if the problem was an accident or needs rehearsing, say no more than 2-3 comments and work the passage.  Did you make it better?  Excellent – that’s great footage!

Regarding the performance, if you’ve already got an ensemble, this is no problem, but for undergraduates that have put together an ad-hoc ensemble, you may not have a scheduled performance in the calendar.  If you can get in a performance hall, dress in your performance attire and invite some friends to attend your brief performance, that’s just fine.  The point of the performance is to see you from start to finish.  Get your head out of the score as much as you can, and make music!

Exporting and Uploading

I would recommend making each selection a separate video file.  Your files should be unedited – you can include a title screen or text overlay that says your name and the repertoire, but there’s no need to get fancy.  In fact, I’d advise against it.  The focus should be on you, not your video-editing skills.

You should export/save your final files in a high-resolution format (in Final Cut Pro X, I export using the Apple 720p format — I’d only go higher than that if I were going to make a physical DVD or Blu-Ray.

Keep one copy of the video on your hard drive, keep another copy on an external hard drive and upload your video to YouTube (Vimeo is also a good option).  I’d recommend uploading the video as ‘unlisted’ as your default, unless you have the rights to upload as ‘public.’

While you have compiled roughly 30 minutes of footage, my experience has been that the average viewing time by interested parties is somewhere between 30 seconds to a little more than 2 minutes (you can see how long people view your videos with YouTube analytics).

One of the options you have with YouTube is to start the video at a specific time:

start-youtube-video-time

This way, viewers will be directed to exactly what you want them to see.

Sharing your video

You’ve got a lot of options here:

You can upload your final video files to the desired application server (DecisionDesk, acceptd, etc.), add all of your videos to a new YouTube playlist, embed your video or playlist into a personal website or simply share the URL and you’re done!

Hopefully you this article offers you clarity and guidance into this conducting-video process.  I realize this can be very daunting, but it is now a necessity for aspiring conductors.

I invite friends and colleagues to jump in with any advice below, or feel free to post questions here too.

 

 

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