Clark Media Productions

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Filtering by Tag: recording

Does YOUR engineer run a backup???

You have probably heard the old adage, “Two is one, one is none”. Or maybe another thing my mom used to say to me, “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

How does that apply to the recording arts? And what does it mean?

I have had the pleasure of getting to know, and learn from, some excellent engineers over the past few years. Backing up computer data, and audio files, is always on their minds. File management, and being able to FIND the audio you’ve recorded, and avoid unnecessary duplication of tracks is a large topic. For the engineers I’ve learned from, it all starts with the initial capture at the live concert or session. Both Christian Amonson and Mike Ducassoux have different systems, but they both serve the need to stave off any visit from Mr. Murphy very well.

So, after listening to these gentlemen for a good amount of time, I decided it would be prudent to incorporate some of their methods in to my own workflow. So, I took their advice and developed my own backup system.

A backup system is, simply, a 2nd recording that runs in parallel to the primary recording equipment. In my case, my microphones run into both my laptop, as well as a Zoom 8-channel SD recorder. Why does this matter? Well, in case of catastrophic laptop failure, the Zoom captures the source audio, even if my laptop is turned off completely.

So, when you book an engineer to record your concert, ask them, “do you have backup”? If their answer is “no”, give me a call! ;)

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American Conical Ensemble records James Curnow

There’s a new brass group on the block! This summer, at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, Kentucky, a new “super group” of brass musicians took the stage. Trumpeters Chris Martin (New York Philharmonic), Mark Ridenour (Chicago Symphony), and Matthew Harding (U.S. Marine Band), were joined by alto horn virtuoso Nathan Miller (Asbury University), Hiram Diaz (U.S. Marine Band) on euphonium, and Christopher Tiedeman (U.S Marine Band) on tuba.

Long time brass band supporter and world renowned composer and arranger, James Curnow, arranged a new piece for this virtuoso ensemble, which they premiered at GABBF. The group returned from Kentucky and really wanted a chance to record Jim’s wonderful arrangement of Appalachian fiddle music.

This recording features Amy McCabe and Anthony Bellino on trumpet (both members of the U.S. Marine Band), as well as Matthew Harding on piccolo trumpet, Nathan Miller, Hiram Diaz, and Chris Tiedeman.

Posaune Decuple, Trombone "super group", Performs near Philadelphia

I had a wonderful experience this past April. Wonderful in many ways, not the least of which was a chance to honor my former teacher and former Principal Trombone of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the late Glenn Dodson. While Glenn was alive, he nurtured a passion for trombone choir music among his students and colleagues. Glenn spearheaded the ensemble Posaune Decuple. The choir consisted mostly of Glenn’s former students at the Curtis Institute, but was also honored to have colleagues and friends perform on many occasions. Since Glenn’s passing, the group has endeavored to keep performing, even if they are only able to gather once per year or so. Joseph Alessi, Blair Bollinger, and Darrin Milling have been stalwart supporters, organizers, and performers for many years with the ensemble, and they are continuing the hard work of organizing concerts and coordinating the schedules of so many busy performers. I was fortunate to be invited to play this year, and due to an abundance of players (and having some pieces off on the concert), I asked if I could record audio and video for this year’s concert. I’d like to share the first video I’ve put together of the concert. There was so much fantastic playing, it was hard to choose what to showcase! I hope you enjoy!

Posaune Decuple 2018 Roster:

Tenor Trombones:

Joseph Alessi - Principal Trombone, New York Philharmonic

Eric Carlson - Second Trombone, Philadelphia Orchestra

Chris Clark - "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band

David Finlayson - Second Trombone, New York Philharmonic

Nitzan Haroz - Principal Trombone, Philadelphia Orchestra

Mark Lawrence - former Principal Trombone, The San Francisco Symphony, currently faculty at The Colburn School

Carl Lenthe - former Principal Trombone, Bamberg (Germany) Symphony Orchestra, currently faculty at Indiana University

Jim Nova - Second Trombone, Pittsburgh Symphony

Matt Vaughn - Co-principal Trombone, Philadelphia Orchestra

Colin Williams - Associate Principal Trombone, New York Philharmonic

Bass Trombones:

Blair Bollinger - Bass Trombone, Philadelphia Orchestra

George Curran - Bass Trombone, New York Philharmonic

Darrin Milling - Bass Trombone Principal, São Paolo State Symphony

Music by:

Anthony DiLorenzo

G.F. Handel/arr. Carlson

Steven Verhelst

John Williams/arr. Glenn Dodson

Audio/Video recording: Clark Media Productions

Photography: Steven Osborne, Matthew Lynch, Chris Clark

Economics of Audio Recording (or why you should pay good money to record your performance!)

 

A couple of years ago, I was interested in applying for a college teaching job near me, and I started combing through recent recordings I had of recitals I had done while I was a DMA student at Catholic University in Washington, DC.  I did five recitals as part of my degree program, and I felt like I had played quite well on most of them.  To my surprise and disappointment, I discovered that I had one pretty good recording of one recital, a very mediocre quality recording of another recital (that was also missing a couple of pieces), and a terrible quality (audio AND video) recording of my lecture recital.  To be fair, I had attempted to hire someone to record one of the recitals, but he never showed up!   Sigh.   

It’s no surprise that a recording engineer and producer would want to sell you on RECORDING.  I mean, that is, after all, how we afford all these cool microphones and all the other stuff that audio people drag around everywhere with them….!  However, I feel pretty passionate about WHY we make recordings, and especially when I relate it to my own experiences as a performing musician.  I mean, music is built on live performance, for better or worse.  The recording arts has given us so many different versions of performance, through all the “magic” that engineers can work, and the way that contemporary music is recorded and assembled.  But, what does that mean for you as a musician?  

Why spend hundreds of dollars recording a live recital?  I mean, if you’re like me, you don’t have money to burn, especially for something that doesn’t always seem critical to our growth and musical career.  Well, I’m here to tell you, you’re missing out! 

I’m sure you’ve heard about the “gig economy” until you’re blue in the face.  I know I have.  I get it.  But, one thing classical musicians haven’t done, at least not to a large extent, is to build a portfolio, at least one that is easily visible to the general public.  Portfolios are for visual artists, photographers, and graphic designers, right?  I would say that most classical musicians would even sneer or make derisive comments if you admitted you were putting together a “portfolio” of your best work.  I would also guess that those same musicians have little or nothing to show for their best performances, other than a nice memory. 

So, we can address the obvious question of why assemble a portfolio, or RECORDED HISTORY of you as an artist.  But, I think if you are reading this, you are already far enough ahead to know the many reasons that can be important.  So, let’s talk about what I think of when I think of hiring someone to record an important live performance….

A guy or girl with a Zoom recorder!  Yay!  That’s all I need!  

Well, OK, maybe that will suffice for you.  The above-mentioned recordings of my own recitals?  All recorded on a Zoom.  Now, I’m not knocking the venerable Zoom recorder.  These devices have a prominent place in the toolbox of many musicians and recording engineers. They serve a great purpose, and they have some amazing capabilities for such a small package.  But, after all the hard work, sweat, and tears you have shed over your instrument, don’t you want something worthy of sharing with the public, something that will still sound great 10 (or 50) years from now, and something that you can really use to show yourself in the very best light?  I know I do.  

"But Chris, I don’t have 300, 400, 600 dollars, or more to spend on a recital recording!!!"

Well, let me ask you a few questions:

How much did you pay your accompanist?

How many hours did you practice JUST for this one recital?

How much are you spending to get that crazy expensive degree from that amazing school?

How much do you stand to earn, OVER THE COURSE OF A CAREER, from getting hired for that tenure-track teaching gig, or getting invited to that audition, or winning that life-changing competition?  

Often times, recordings are the key to the gate.  The very first barrier to entry you come across.  Want to get invited to interview on campus?  Send a tape.  Want to get invited to that audition?  Send a tape. Want to get a spot at that prestigious summer festival?  Send a tape.  I’ve judged a number of high level competitions via recorded entries, and let me tell you, a quality recording puts you at a SIGNIFICANT advantage!

Here’s the basics that I offer when I record a live performance, and what I consider the best way to make FULL USE of the tremendous amount of work you have done:

  • High quality equipment.  That goes without saying.  Microphones that are complementary to the type of music and the instrument that you play.  You don’t have to know microphones yourself, but ask the prospective engineer about their sound concept when they record your instrument.  They should have a well articulated concept about how to begin, and be willing to have a dialogue with you about what you desire to hear from a recording.

  • Knowledgeable placement of those microphones!  Where should they go?  What kind of space are you performing in?  What are its limitations?  Should we try multiple things so that we have sonic options in post production?

  • An engineer that has a musical ear, and can also act as your producer.  

  • An engineer that shows up on time, without fail, and is set up long before you are ready to play.

  • A backup recording system...in case Murphy’s law strikes, your performance WILL be recorded, no matter what.

  • Reference video of your performance, recorded in a high quality format, with the final audio synced to the video

  • Recent examples of completed work for other clients, easily accessible for you to judge for yourself

  • Can the engineer remove excessive crowd noise, or HVAC system noise?  We’ve all had the person with the hacking cough or crinkley plastic bag making noise through the whole concert....

Those are just the basics.  Let’s talk about some other ways you can get the most out of your recording…

One excellent option to consider is to spend the extra money on a dress rehearsal recording.  While adding to the cost, this can have significant benefits.  First of all, this gives you flexibility to have both an un-edited live album or your performance, as well as a second edited performance using material from both the dress and the performance.  Most of us feel way more comfortable at our dress rehearsal than we do at the actual performance, and I find that many artists can have some quality backup material to use for their edited album, all recorded in the same space, with the same piano, and at the same level of preparation.  Again, you’re spending more up front, but in the end, you have more material and much more flexibility with what you can create from the one live performance.

Now, that takes care of the audio!  What about video?!  You know as well as I do, that video is THE medium for social media and internet presence.  If you are developing a Youtube channel, website, or Instagram stories, or you simply just want to send grandma a video of her precious baby to watch, you ought to consider video capture as well.  With high quality video gear, we’ve reached the point that you can pull still photos from the video footage, making it even more valuable.  

So, with audio recording, video recording, and recording the dress rehearsal, we’ve reached a fairly high price point, no?  Yes, we have!  But, consider all the time and energy you’ve put in to making a recital program performance ready, especially if we’re talking about the culminating performances of a degree program.  You may not be in this kind of shape, or have an opportunity to play a recital again for some time.  Take advantage of all that you can, and get the most out of your hard work and musicianship.  I guarantee you will create something that you can look back on with pride for years to come.  

 

 

My view from the other side of the bell - recent audition comments

Recently, I sat on the audition committee for two days worth of auditions for a trombone opening with the U.S. Marine Band in Washington, DC.  73 candidates came to the audition, and as always, it was a very educational experience for me.

First of all, if you are a performing musician, and you can find a place to sit on some sort of audition or competition committee, I highly recommend you do it!  Especially with band and orchestra auditions, where everyone is playing the same short excerpts one after another, you get a vivid sense of what works, and what doesn’t.

I’m not here to poke holes in anyone’s performance the day of the audition.  Auditions are very difficult situations, one of the most difficult you can experience as a performer.  Nerves, environment, bad luck… many, many things affect the outcome of an audition.  To be successful, you must be prepared to take a lot of them!  Auditioning is a skill, and it’s one that gets better the more you do it.  I have colleagues who won their audition on the first try.  Others, like myself, took multiple auditions.  I took 6 auditions for military bands, with three being for the Marine Band alone, before I was hired.  What follows are my observations about things that I feel can be corrected, or at least minimized, by preparation and habits, based on what I heard from a large majority of trombonists at this audition.

First, time and rhythm is critical.  I have written about this before, here.  The very first, and most noticeable thing, to me, is a person’s time.  I’m not talking about playing correct rhythms, but the consistency with which you apply tempo and subdivision to everything you play.  Truly subdividing, and applying that subdivision consistently across the entire span of a round of excerpts, is what gets your foot in the door.  Most people would be surprised at how few players are able to actually do that… It was very evident to me that very few auditionees record themselves, and listen to the recording focussed on their time consistency.  I mean, record everything.  I feel that in the final weeks before an audition that there are only two ways to practice.  Slow practice working on any technical aspects of an excerpt that need work, ingrain pitch relations, and making certain that every note is centered is critical.  Second, you should be performing the excerpt just as you would in the audition, and you should record it and listen back immediately.  99% of players won’t do this, especially the recording part, because it’s tedious and it takes a lot of time.  One very real benefit of this kind of practicing is that you can play for much longer periods.  When practicing alone, the playback time serves as built in rest, and the constant alternating between playing and listening gives you enough rest that you don’t get tired nearly as fast.  

 

Finally, put yourself into multiple mock audition situations, using all the visualization skills that you possess to develop some stress and nervousness.  Perform the excerpts exactly as you will in the audition either by themselves or as part of a set or “round”.  Immediately listen back and listen for ONE thing.  In this case, time.  If it’s not exactly right, it’s not right.  There is no close enough.  It must be metronomic.  If it’s not, and I’m listening to your audition, I will think that your time is not very good, and I’ll wonder how it will be to play a concert with you in the section and whether you will make my job easier.  Of course, no one is perfect!  Everyone will have inconsistencies, but you have to do everything you can to minimize them.

Let’s talk about pitch.  We opened our first round (and semi-finals) with Mozart Requiem.  The relative intonation of the opening B-flat statement is critical.  If the first 3 measures aren’t in tune, it’s very hard to recover the confidence of the committee.  Again, record and listen.  This applies throughout the round, but especially in the beginning.  Another place there was a lot of “pitchiness” was in the eighth note runs of Hungarian March.  Practice them slow, record, and listen.  Yep, you are gonna get REAL tired of hearing me say that!

Articulation is often a very telling aspect of a candidates abilities as well.  “Breaking up” and “frackiness” are signs that a player may not be centering each note, or that they are playing beyond the point of controlling their sound at higher volumes.  Being able to transition from the more forceful articulations of something like Hungarian March to the lightness of Brahms Academic Festival, or the quiet touch needed for Saint-Saens Organ Symphony is a skill to develop.  Hearing what you want those articulations to sound like in your head is critical.  We play what we hear in our head, and if we aren’t thinking about anything in particular, then we leave to chance what exactly is going to come out of the horn.  Again, listen to your recordings to see if what you THINK you are doing is what’s actually coming out!

Speaking of higher volumes…. volume and tone quality work together to present a total picture of your characteristic sound.  They give the listener a real sense of your musical goal, and your sensibilities.  Everyone has a unique sound, and I know I don’t expect anyone to fit in to a narrow definition of “great sound”.  However, many players play louder than they have to, all the time.  In most cases, it seems to be an awareness issue.  I think we get so used to playing loud in ensembles, that we don’t realize just how loud we are playing when we’re by ourselves.  Many people’s preliminary round sounded like they were simply trying to play too loud.  If it’s a loud excerpt like the Ride, or Heldenleben, then great.  You have to leave yourself some room to show some dynamic contrast, as well as show the committee that you are a conscientious (and conscious) musician.  Pick your places for both loud and soft dynamics, and you will show greater contrasts and sensitivity.

Finally, remember that you are playing for a group of people, not just one individual.  Many people I have sat with on audition committees have different things they are listening for.  We all have our individual biases and dislikes.  Cover as many bases as you can, and do your best to showcase your excellent musicianship within the context of solid fundamentals.  It’s always eye opening to see how far great fundamentals can take someone.  I think we sometimes trick ourselves into thinking we have to offer something unusual, or musically out-of-the-ordinary to set ourselves apart.  Time and again, the thing that gets people noticed is doing the basics exceptionally well.  

I would like to offer my encouragement to the many players that came to this recent audition, and maybe didn’t progress as far as they had hoped.  It is a life-long battle, this art we call music and this piece of plumbing called the trombone.  Persistence is key.  Glenn Dodson told me he auditioned seven times for the Philadelphia Orchestra.  He also used to tell his students, “there’s always room at the top.”  So, so true.  I remember reading somewhere that the late Jerome Ashby took around 30 auditions before he joined the French horn section of the New York Philharmonic.  Among the ranks of the great players, you will find many (all!) that just didn’t give up.  Continue your hard work, know that it never gets easy, and accept that you will have to continue the uphill battle if you want to reach your goals.  Thanks for reading, and happy practicing!

 

 

 

 

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