In this three part series, I provide a guide that helps you do an effective video audition for post-secondary music programs, on a budget. I’ll dive in to the differences in sound quality between premium recording equipment, dirt cheap audio recording, and the mic that’s on your iPhone. You will be guided through the step by step procedures of how to set up this equipment, buy or borrow it cheaply, and edit it quickly with great results.
Part 1: Overview + Audio
Recording video auditions can be a super stressful affair for senior students. The seemingly endless array of options when it comes to recording equipment or the uncertainty of whether or not your recording is of a high enough fidelity adds a lot of unnecessary stress. To address this, I’ll be going through exactly what equipment you’ll need, where to find it affordably, and how to shoot and edit your audition. At the end, I’ll be comparing the audio fidelity of a premium Shure SM7 mic, a cheap SM58 mic, and an iPhone mic as they record the same audition. Finally, I’ll point you to a free service that you can use to share your audition with the schools you apply to.
This is by no means a totally comprehensive guide to audio recording; instead, it’s a quick and dirty guide to getting your audition together on a budget.
THINGS YOU WILL NEED
1. iPhone (or Android, or whatever else. If you’re using your phone for audio, skip this section).
2. Digital Audio Workstation.
§ This is software that allows you to record and edit audio.
§ Many of them are free and have great trial offers. I’ll be focusing on the ones you’d look at as a beginner.
§ Garageband (Mac) is super easy to use and Ableton Live (Mac and PC) lite gives you an incredible set of capabilities
3. Audio Interface
§ This is a magical box that converts the audio from your playing to information that a computer can understand.
§ You get what you pay for here, but a cheap second hand 1-2 input interface like an M Audio M-Track will do just fine.
§ The interface takes the XLR or 1/4 inch cable that attaches to your mic/instrument and then sends the signal into your computer.
4. Microphone (if you play anything other than guitar/bass/electric keyboard).
§ If you have a good interface and use your DAW effectively, a cheap condenser mic will do. In particular, an indestructible workhorse like a Shure SM58/SM57 is great and you can find them for around $50 on Craigslist or a garage sale if you look hard enough. Here’s a guide: https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/best-cheap-mics/ . If you get one, it’s worth keeping.
§ I would strongly recommend against a USB mic like Blue Snowball – they leave out a lot of the depth and dynamic range you’d get from a condenser. Only go for a USB mic if you’re on a very, very tight budget.
§ For drummers, one well positioned mic will do reasonably well if you spend more time editing on your DAW. More on this below
5. 1/4 inch or XLR cable
§ connects your instrument or mic to the interface. XLR’s for microphones and 1/4 inches for electric instruments.
Plug in the Audio Interface to the USB port of your computer. You may have to download a free driver for some interfaces. For this example, we’ll be using the inexpensive M Audio M-Track, whose driver can be found here.
Vocalists and acoustic instrumentalists will plug the ‘female’ end of your XLR (the one with three holes) into your mic and the other end into your interface. Electric instrumentalists can plug one end of their 1/4 inch to their instrument and the other to their interface. If you wish to capture the sound of your amp, set up your mic 6 inches away from the middle of it.
Vocalists and horn players can simulate soundproofing by singing/playing into a stack of towels or a few thick sweaters. You’re not looking for sharp studio quality here – you just want to capture your tone as cleanly as you can and minimize background noise.
I’ll be covering an extremely basic guide to EQ and compression here. In Lehman’s terms, compression makes your playing’s dynamics (loud vs quiet) more even and smooth while EQ cuts out or boosts certain frequencies.
For the sake of this tutorial, turning on the stock compressor on your DAW software will do just fine. You can find it under (plugins -> dynamics -> compressor).
Reference the EQ screenshots below for an idea of what frequencies to cut and boost depending on your instrument.
Leave your EQ totally flat (don’t touch it) if you’re playing piano.
Horns & Guitar
Click here for part 2 of this series to learn how to edit and sync video to your audio with speed.
Stay tuned for part 3, where we compare the audio fidelity of cheap, mid-level, and premium recording setups.