Tips for Preparing Video Auditions
By Barbara Hopkins
In the competitive world of college entrance auditions, a growing number of schools are accepting video auditions. Videos offer some distinct advantages over audio CD’s; viewers can observe the applicant’s posture, hand position, and embouchure, and with videos you can’t edit out mistakes with the same ease as audio files. This offers a truer picture of the applicant’s abilities.
In spite of these advantages, it is always better to play a live audition if possible. The audition committee will be able to interact with you, and your live playing will convey your sound and expressiveness better than even the best quality video can.
However, there are many valid reasons to submit a video audition: it may be required as a pre-audition screening, there may be several auditions on the same day that can’t be rescheduled, or you may simply live very far away from the school you’re interested in.
Assuming that you’ve decided that a video audition is the best choice for you, how can you make your best possible recording? The tips below are designed to help you.
Before the Recording
Be Prepared. Prepare your materials as thoroughly as you would for a live audition. Even though a video means that you can record a number of “takes” and choose the best one, recording can put almost as much pressure on you as playing live. The audition committee will assume that you have recorded a number of takes to achieve your best performance, and may be expecting an even higher level of performance than a live audition, where you get only one chance to play your best.
Check Deadlines and Audition Requirements. Make sure your video is received by the due date. The audition committee will be meeting shortly after that date, and must have time to watch your video beforehand. If particular repertoire is required for the live audition, make sure that you include it on your video.
Choose Your Recording Equipment and File Format. The most important element of your video is the sound quality. While colleges don’t expect you to hire a professional videographer, your video must convey your tone and dynamics accurately. Many home video recorders don’t handle flute tone well, especially when used in small, low-ceilinged rooms. Make practice videos with your equipment, preferably in a large room. Experiment with the different microphone settings available on your recorder, such as a Zoom microphone or noise reduction. If your recorder has a setting that equalizes dynamics, sometimes called “automatic gain control,” turn it off; the committee needs to hear your full dynamic range. These videos will allow you to both practice the recording process and to assess how well your camera records flute tone. If the sound on the video does not represent your tone accurately, borrow, rent, or buy better equipment. Video cameras offering an external microphone input will allow you the option of using a better quality microphone than the one built into the camera; however these cameras tend to be more expensive. Your school may own good video equipment, or a community TV station might have a professionally equipped studio that they would let you record in. Recording audition videos with basic equipment, such as your cell phone, is not recommended.
Your video audition does you no good if the audition committee can’t play it; do your best to make it easy for them to play. Make sure you edit your videos in a computer file format that will play well on a variety of players, not just your own computer or Smartphone. Videos recorded in QuickTime often do not play well on PCs; videos recorded in Windows Media Video may not work on Macs. Use a program that makes movies, not data encoded DVDs. For the Mac platform, the recommended program is iMovie, which is available at the iTunes Store. For PC’s, use Movie Maker, which is a free download from Microsoft’s website. Movies made with these programs will play on a wide variety of players.
Choose your Recording Room. In choosing the room you will record in, consider the acoustics, background noise, and how the room will look on camera. Look for a large room with a high ceiling. This could be your band room, an auditorium, a large classroom, or a house of worship. Consider the amount of background noise bleeding into your room—the microphone often hears things your ears simply ignore. The audition committee will not expect the absolute quiet of a commercial recording, but sounds from others practicing, traffic, airplanes, or loud ventilation systems should be avoided. Make sure the visual background is neutral: a tangle of chairs or music stands, or religious imagery, will detract from the professional image you want to project. A clock on the wall behind you will tell the audition committee exactly how much time you spent recording, and that’s information you want to keep to yourself. A highly personal space, such as a dorm or bedroom, is not appropriate.
At the Recording Session
Dress Appropriately. Consider what you might wear to a live audition, and wear similar clothes on the video. You want to show the committee that you are respectful and serious about this audition. You don’t need to wear formal concert wear, but extremely casual clothes, such as jeans, t-shirts, or shorts, are best avoided.
Record as Many Takes as Necessary. Make sure that you have plenty of time to record; trying to cram a recording session into a short space of time will only make you feel more pressured and nervous. Use a tripod or put the camera on a level surface so the picture is stable. Start by recording and playing back a few test takes to check the sound and picture quality. The audition committee will prefer to see your entire body in the picture, so that they can assess your posture and playing position. Make sure that your embouchure, hands, and arms are visible in the picture and not hidden by the music stand. Record as many takes as you feel necessary for each piece, and submit the best one. Each selection should be recorded in one complete take, without editing. It may be helpful to start by recording the most difficult pieces first, while you are fresh. While it is possible to record yourself, you may be more comfortable and efficient with someone you trust running the camera and providing feedback. Since this is not a “blind” audition, it’s fine to talk on the video in order to introduce your pieces. If you do, make sure you pronounce the piece titles and composers’ names correctly.
Preparing the Final DVD
Watch all of your takes and choose the best recording of each piece. If you have recorded yourself, trim off the beginnings and ends that show you walking towards the camera, or any other unnecessary frames. Do not attempt to edit out mistakes. Save your files in the highest quality possible. Make each copy from the original, not from a compressed file; every time you compress a file you lose quality. For example, a file which has been compressed for video streaming will not be high enough quality for a DVD. Rename each file with the title of the piece. The committee will want to know at a glance which track contains each piece, and if you don’t rename the tracks, the numerical file names the camera assigns to them will tell everybody exactly how many takes you recorded! Burn your final choices to a DVD-R (as opposed to a DVD+R). Make labels for both the DVD and the case with your name, instrument, program you are auditioning for, pieces, and the format it was recorded in. Finally, play your DVD all the way through on a variety of equipment. The committee may play your DVD on a DVD player, Mac, or PC. If your DVD only plays well on one type of equipment, the committee may not get a clear idea of your playing. Mail your DVD in plenty of time to reach its destination by the deadline.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2013 issue of Flute Talk magazine.
Copyright 2003-2017. All rights reserved.
Barbara Hopkins, Flutist