Video Production on the Cheap

I'll admit it: I'm an audio guy. Not a huge fan of watching videos or making them. But for a working musician in the digital age, having some sort of presence on YouTube is essential. And at last, I've found a relatively painless way to make videos that look decent—and more importantly to me, sound great—on a shoestring.

As it says on the Hamburger Helper package, you will need/il vous faudra:

  • Webcam that's better than the one that comes with your laptop
  • Microphone, same; ideally one that records in stereo
  • Reading lamp
  • Basic video editing program (I use Windows Movie Maker)
  • Basic audio editing program (I use Audacity)
  • CD player separate from your laptop
  • As plain and uncluttered a background as you can manage
  • Plenty of patience

I found this article quite helpful in terms of basic tips and cheap workarounds. I'd recently bought a Zoom H1, which solved the mic issue, and following the article's advice purchased a Logitech C270 webcam for $30. Now, the Zoom will work as a USB mic attached to your computer, and its quality was markedly superior to the webcam's built-in mic. But I wanted the best audio possible for my videos, and this entailed recording high-quality audio separately and overlaying it later. Without going into arduous detail, here's an overview of the process:

  • Record your audio, upload it to your laptop and burn it onto a CD (I used the Zoom H1 for one song and previously created studio recordings for the others). Tip: add a good, long count-in (at least four bars) before your song starts. This gives you enough time to press "record" on your webcam and "play" on the CD player, get yourself situated and come in when the music starts.
  • Turn on your reading lamp and position it behind and a little to the side of your webcam.
  • Point the lamp toward where you'll be positioned in the video. Check for odd-looking shadows and readjust accordingly.
  • Position your webcam such that both you and your instrument are visible and as close as possible to the centre of the shot. If you're like me and not visually inclined, this may take some time.
  • Double-check that your background is neutral and uncluttered. If possible, move extraneous junk out of the way before shooting.
  • With the CD playing (on a separate player; your laptop will be otherwise occupied) record your video, remembering to disable your laptop's built-in mic and/or the webcam's built-in mic. Your webcam software will likely give you "do you really want to do that" warnings; ignore or override them. Yes, you really want to do that.
  • Import your video into Movie Maker. Import your prerecorded audio using the "add music" function.
  • Trim the video start and end so what you're left with is just your performance, give or take a second or two on either end.
  • Sync the music to the video. This is easier said than done. For some reason—your mileage may vary—I find that when I import my audio and video into Movie Maker and line them up, the sync drifts. This is where Audacity comes in (see next bullet point).
  • Audacity's "change tempo" effect will alter the speed of your audio but not its pitch. After much experimentation, I've found that changing the song's tempo +0.2% ensures good sync with no drift.
  • Once the audio and video are in sync, use some of Movie Maker's built-in features to create a more polished, professional look. I chose to add a title card and credits with basic transitions to and from.
  • In Movie Maker, you have to save your video twice: once as a video and once as a Movie Maker project (in case you want to do further editing, and trust me, you will). So: Save Movie, Save Project. If you'll be posting to YouTube, click "YouTube" under "recommended settings."

Lip-syncing tip: for me it's easier to actually sing and play instead of pretending to sing and play, but either approach will work because no audio is being recorded. Choose what suits you best. And what does all this end up looking and sounding like? Well, in my instance, you can enjoy the results on my YouTube channel.

I hope this helps you shoot your own videos should you feel the inclination, and as always, comments are welcome.

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Photographs by Carol Witwicky. Instrument illustrations and GZ logo © 2017 Grinning Zone Studios.
Album and lyrics page artwork © 2017 Gabriel Altrows. Web design by Vern Nicholson.
Sour Landslide and Benvereens archival footage courtesy Neil Whitlock.
All pages and contents © 2017-2019 Vern Nicholson.