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Audition Tapes Part I

February 5, 2012

Hey everyone!

It’s that time of year again… when so many harp (and other music) students start making audition tapes for summer festivals, competitions, and a variety of other musical events.

If you’ve never made an audition tape before, the process can be daunting. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help you through it (at least somewhat). Today, I’ll start at the beginning, and for making an audition tape the beginning is the equipment and setup.

You can use a variety of different devices around your home to record yourself. Most computers (specifically laptops) have microphones these days, and phones do as well. Almost any video camera will have some decent audio input, and you might have a dedicated audio recording device like I do. Needless to say, you’ll want the best audio quality possible. For the competitions I’ve entered, the basic premise has been that you want the audio quality to be good enough for the judges to hear the intricacies and subtleties of your playing, but at the same time they won’t judge your tone, since that can be quite distorted on tape, even if the tape is very good. That being said, do NOT go to a recording studio unless doing so is specifically requested by the competition/festival. It’s a waste of money. For me, since I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to making recordings, I like to endlessly make recording after recording until everything is right. You simply cannot do that in a recording studio. The ideal is that you know your music well enough that you should be able to do it in just a few takes, but recording at home affords you the same luxury even if you don’t really need it, and you’ll save money too.

Now in terms of actual recording devices, I use a Zoom H2, but you can use whatever you want if you think it makes a relatively clear recording. However, speaking of clear recordings, you’ll need to do some noise management. Ideally, your recording space will be perfectly silent. I would do a “diagnostic test” on your recording space by first adjusting the mic gain (the feature that makes your microphone more or less sensitive to loudness) so that your harp is easily heard. Next, make a recording of the silence of the room. Now listen to this recording in a different room. Can you hear any humming? Random noises? Chirps? Pitterpats? Etc.? Try to eliminate as many of these as possible, and maybe even change recording rooms if it makes a big difference. You’re also going to want to make sure that you don’t have any relatives or pets that are making any noise. You can’t always get everything exactly as you want, though, so just do your best. Also, remember that speaking and applause are usually forbidden. Page turns are acceptable, but to expedite the process I would make sure that everything is memorized – but don’t sacrifice recording time in order to memorize your music. Do whatever is most comfortable, but in the long run the most comfortable should be memorized.

Next, you’ll want to make your CD. Most audition tapes forbid editing of any kind, except between pieces and movements (and this is nice since you can do multiple takes of the same piece in a row, then). So you’ve got that covered, as there’s editing to do. The only adjustment I might make (and I do this with the free, downloadable program called Audacity) is to volume, just so that the judges can actually hear me in case the recording was too quiet by itself. Next, you simply need to burn these audio files onto a CD.

My recording device has the capability to make a file contained within the device (like a picture in a digital camera) or to save this file directly onto my computer. I do the latter. My device is also capable of recording in MP3 formats or WAV. WAV are generally better, but are much larger sized files. I go with MP3 simply because it’s standard and most definitely good enough.

Finally, what is your setup going to look like? You’ll have to do some experimenting with the placement of your microphone. You want to make sure that it’s close enough to hear your articulation, but far enough away to hear the ringing of the harp. You’ll also want a good balance of high and low tones. Distance away also affects volume – too close and the mic will be overloaded and you’ll hear a nice static-y sound. Too far away, and it sounds like you’re playing on the other side of a football field. Every harp, room, and mic is different, so this part is really up to you. Make sure to try different heights as well! The more life-like your playing sounds like, the better the placement of the mic is.

As a last, quick note, some competitions require video of your playing. The same principles go for this, and I use my audio device to record better sound than my camera could. I later sync the audio and video in Windows Movie Maker. Just remember to look nice!

Happy practicing (and recording) and remember to comment!

STK

 

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