As tours and shows were being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw artists jump immediately into the live stream world in order to stay connected with fans. We also saw the emergence of another type of video, one that appears to be recorded live over a Zoom call. From the cast of Hamilton, to Dave Grohl, to the Jonas Brothers, to your college choir, these “live Zoom” videos have both charmed music fans and left musicians perplexed on how they’re made.
Turns out, it’s easier than you probably think, and it’s a great piece of content to put in your music promotion tool belt, especially if you’re a band and practicing good social distancing — which prevents you from getting together for a live stream. My band is ALWAYS practicing “social distancing,” as we’re spread out across the country.
First things first
Those “Zoom call” videos are not really Zoom calls. You can’t play together over Zoom and make anything you’d want your fans to hear. There is too much latency and it requires an extremely fast internet connection to even make it possible. That technology will arrive some day, but we’re not there just yet. Especially with the average WIFI speed we have at our homes.
If they’re not live over Zoom, what are they?
It’s simple, they are live performance captured complete by a phone or web cam, but they are just recorded individually and pieced together as one project to look like a Zoom call or group video chat. When done properly, it’s incredibly convincing and truly captures the feeling of a live performance. The best part is you can do most of it with just your iPhone.
Here’s what you need to make a Zoom music video happen:
Remember, you’re doing this individually, so each band member will need the following:
- Two mobile devices — I prefer iPhones because they have amazing cameras and mics, but a laptop, iPad, or other phone will work as well. You need more than one because one phone will capture video and audio (your performance), while the other will be in your pocket for you to monitor the guide track. If you have a long enough headphone cable, you can use your laptop for playback, but a second phone in your pocket makes it much easier.
- Guide track — This is the complete arrangement of the song for everyone to play along to. It’s how everyone will stay together. I’d recommend adding several measures of click track to the beginning so you have time to get in place after you hit play.
- Video editing software — If your band has four or less people, you’re in luck! Adobe Rush is a simple and affordable video editing platform that makes it a snap to combine these separate clips into one video. However, there might be some other free options out there. You should note that you can’t do this in iMovie. If you have more people, you need video editing software that is professional grade and allows for many video tracks. I edited ours in Adobe Premiere. Again, there are probably some other options out there, but I already had access to these, so I went with them.
What you’ll do:
1. Pick the location
Find a nice spot in your house where you are well lit and can also get decent audio. Preferably some place where the background isn’t too busy. It’s not a bad idea to discuss background color options. For our video, we all tried to get light color backgrounds to be uniform. You don’t have to be uniform, but it’s good to have the conversation so three members aren’t against a white background and one person against something that totally sticks out and is a visual distraction. Don’t overthink it though. This is supposed to look like you’re live from your house.
2. Frame your shot
You’re trying to make this feel like an up-close live performance, so you’ll want to be close to the camera. Probably within 4-6 feet. If your whole body from head to toe is in the shot, you’re probably too far from the camera. You’ll want to make sure all band members frame their shot in a similar fashion so it keeps the illusion of everyone playing together at the same time. I made some example shots for all the other band guys to match to make it easier for them.
3. Test your audio
If you’re using an amp (like I did) or are playing a drum kit, you’ll want to make sure you’re not driving the mic too hard. Do a couple test takes to make sure it’s sounding like you want.
4. Record your individual parts
Don’t forget to play to the camera and that this is a live performance. Your audience is watching you on a screen and you should be playing to them. Also, you might be recording your part alone, but the finished product will look like you’re all playing together. Remember to “interact” with each other like you would on stage. For Smalltown Poets, we knew going in that we would line up the videos just like we line up on stage. That way we knew we could look in the direction of where other band members would be.
5. Edit all the video parts together
As long as every band member played to the exact same guide track, this is pretty simple.
If done right, you’ll have a video that truly captures the feeling of a live performance even though you’re not actually playing together at the same time.
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