How to create Shelter-in-place videos:
What worked

As I said in the last blog post, a lot of people have asked us about how we completed a recording while everyone is in lockdown at home. There are lots of bands and musicians out there that would like to do something similar, both for their fans, as well as to keep the band occupied 🙂

In the last blog, we outlined some things that won’t work. My goal for this post is to outline what did work for us, that allowed us to create something reasonably Good quality.

When thinking through the technical issues of doing this while everyone is remote, there are 2 major issues:

  1. Synchronization – For a band to play together, there has to be single clock, usually the drummer, that everyone uses as a time reference. Recording studios will use a click track for players to record against individually, if needed, to ensure everyone is on the same time reference. Similarly, recording everyone in your band separately also requires every one of the players and singers to have a common time reference. Beyond time, its also really important for this reference to have some sense of how the band plays the song, i.e. the roadmap of the song. Everyone could just use a click track, but you run the risk of variations in the roadmap – guitar lead going too long, people ending the song differently, starting at different places in the song, etc. So, the best reference to use for all your players is a common recording, such as the original recording of the song you’ll be playing, or your band previously playing this song. Also, if you do use original, make sure that you’re all using the *same* version of the original. One person using the studio release, and another person using a live version is never going to work.
  2. Audio Mix – Having everyone record on their cell phones, with some people closer to their cell phone mic, some people further away, some of their amps turned higher/lower, etc is going to give you volumes for each track that are all over the place. Just dropping these into a single video (with no audio editing) is likely going to create a poor mix. Interestingly, the solution to problem 2 (tangentially) also will help to solve problem 1


What we did:

  1. For the Hurricane and Separate Ways videos, I first created a version of the original track recording, adding an eight-count click track as a lead-in. This not only made sure everyone was using the same time and roadmap reference, but everyone was coming in on count one of the song at the same time.
  2. Using this original track recording, each member of Arena recorded their part using their cell phone in video mode while listening to the original track recording in their ears. This resulted in separate, but synchronized tracks, or at least tracks that could be synchronized. Since we did not want the original recording in our video, we obviously can’t put that on the video as the single time reference. If each person’s cell phone had a video recording app that did multi-track audio (original on track 1, their audio recording on track 2) that would be great, but most of these solutions were not going too work well. So, I had each member of Arena give me a finger snap, a clap, or a verbal count off for the eight-count click-in. This gives a nice reference in the video and audio editors to be able to align things.
  3. After receiving each of the individual video files, I ripped an MP3 audio only from each one, and dropped these into a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). in my case, I used Reaper, but you could use ProTools, Reason or any other DAW. In the DAW, the tracks were first time aligned to synchronize everyone’s playing and singing. Then, the tracks were mixed down to provide a good band mix — this addresses problem 2 above.
  4. Once we have a good audio mix, I exported that to MP3 or WAV format. We then leveraged a feature available in most pro-level video editors (Final Cut Pro (FCP), Premiere, etc), that allows you to synchronize multiple video and audio clips based on their audio – This allowed us to use the solution to problem 2 (audio mix)  to address problem 1 (Sync). In my case, I’m using FCP X, which allows you to make a synchronized clip, joining the multiple instrumental and vocal video clips, along with the mixed down MP3. Creating a synchronized clip will (almost) automatically time synchronize all of the clips in the editor timeline for further editing. I say almost because some of the instruments might be buried too deep the mix to be heard clearly by the editor, and are not synchronized correctly. So you may have to tweak the timing on a few to get them in line.
  5. Once all of the synchronized clip components are, well, synchronized, I  dropped the audio level on every one of the video components, so that the only audio playing for our new compiled video is the mixed down MP3 track.
  6. We then added some basic video edits — split-screen, transitions, titling, intro, outro, etc
  7. Once that was all done, we basically have a video ready for publication. Since Arena has a YouTube channelSubscribe here – we published the video to our YouTube channel, then shared that YT link on Facebook and other locations.

That’s it! It’s not as simple as everybody downloading an app, but it’s also not rocket science – I should know, my dad was a rocket scientist 🙂

Let us know in the comments below if you tried this, or if you have questions, or if you have ways we can improve this process or anything else that crosses your mind. We’d love to hear it!

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