Musical Discovery – behind the scenes

On Labor Day 2022, the Tonehaus team headed out to Addison Grove to create about 20 music videos for Musical Discovery. The entire shoot went without a hitch, and was pretty chill and fun, quite an achievement for something with so many moving parts. This kind of thing could easily have been a stressful nightmare, but since John and I had planned it all out in pre-production, and this was our second shoot together, we were able to enjoy ourselves while working. In addition to John’s excellent management, everyone in front of and behind the cameras were very well prepared and talented.

Let’s talk about some of the technical elements and logistics. 

The sound was recorded using our pair of Schoeps mics, two of our very best available. If we were making an artistic video, we would have fed those into some premium hardware, but as the goal of this shoot is simply to provide John’s clients a quick musical reference, we kept it simple and recorded straight to our Tascam location recorder, which has become so much more of a useful tool than I ever through it would be when I added it seven years ago. This is the recorder that we use for music recordings that are archival in nature, and also for TV, film and commercial sound. 

We used up to five cameras on this shoot, three of which were all synchronized to a master clock, along with the sound, making the bulk of post production quite snappy. If you’ve been around me at all, you’ll know that I talk about synchronization a lot, and there’s a reason why. When I produced the virtual season for the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the cameras could not be synchronized, nor record timecode, so after a taping when I was looking at four hours of footage with 4-6 cameras plus the TriCaster recordings –  post production time was extremely time consuming and a huge added expense. And, if I may add, spending all that time manually synching such a huge volume of media was no fun at all. Once that season was over, I swore I would never spend so much of my time on such a preventable issue.  

On this shoot, we did have two additional cameras that weren’t synched, but in the end I think I spent only 5-10 minutes per song lining things up, and that was maybe five songs total. Before I get ahead of myself, though, you need to know that the very first thing that happens after a shoot is that all of the media needs to be transferred from the cameras and sound recorder into the computer. In this case, that took one studio hour. If it’s a two hour concert, that can take a couple hours. 

Something else happens at this point in time as well: transcoding. Since the SD card media has a speed limit to how much data can be written on it, most cameras compress the video on the fly so it can capture higher quality than the card write speed would normally allow. While this incredible feature enables producers to save on media costs and economizes taping, actually using those compressed files now requires heavy computing in order to playback on the editing computer. Once we’re using three or more cameras simultaneously, even the most powerful computers will stutter and choke while trying to uncompress all of these frames on the fly. The solution is to transcode the video to a codec that requires no processing power for the computer to play back. Once that is done, editing between five cameras is a breeze. When there isn’t a rush on the job, all of these files can be transcoded in a batch, overnight. 

Next in the workflow, the video and audio files are assembled into a timeline for each song. Since we’re using timecode, this is as easy as finding the starting time, then inserting each piece of media into the timeline from there, so that all 5 camera recordings line up with each other and the audio track. Once assembled, the timeline is played back, and the editor gets to decide which camera to use when, which is really a lot of fun! This is done in real-time, but then we circle back to refine the cuts, and then watch all the way through for quality. 

Overall, to get the first drafts done, we averaged fifteen minutes per song, an incredible pace. These first drafts were submitted for review, and from there we will see what sound or image needs to be replaced or substituted. 

Another very important thing to mention here is that we spend very little time in post matching the looks of the camera together. Back in the pandemic, when we were mixing and matching cameras, brands, and lenses – getting the look to match was sometimes a nightmare. We did as much matching on set as possible, but often needed to use the powerful tools in post to finish the job. In the Spring of ’21, when we invested in the multi-camera system, we chose the Panasonic Lumix system, which allows us to exactly match color profiles and settings from camera to camera, even by remote control, and also take full advantage of synchronization and time code features. I’d have to say, Panasonic has provided some absolutely incredible tools at such a low price point, allowing us to get these professional results at a mere fraction of the cost of this kind of equipment even just five years ago. Perfect for artists! That savings is passed on to you, so I think it’s important to point out that as a company focused on the performing arts, the time we have invested and the decisions we’ve made about equipment, brings incredible value to the table and to you.

Back to the shoot, here’s how we did the cameras: Christopher got close-ups on a tripod, and I got handhelds and managed the slider. The slider is a super cool device that gives you what’s called a parallax view. This smooth back and forth motion adds a lot of production value. Lastly there was a wide, static shot and a camera for the harpist, trumpeter, and cellist. 

Since there was a lot of ambient light in the venue, all we had to do was add a little punch and some hairlights. Finally, I added some haze to the room using a fog machine. The room was so big, the haze immediately left the area where the players were and gathered up in the upper windows – which turned out to be fine – the texture in the air catching the sunbeams through the windows enhanced the atmosphere and added a texture that is more interesting to look at. 

Thank you for reading! I hope seeing these pictures and reading a little bit about some of the technologies and process helps give you a better idea of the kind of things that go into a production like this. Please reach out any time if you have any questions or even if you just want to say hi!