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Hi all, complete beginner at recording, here. I kind of need everything :/

I'm a classical pianist needing to submit video+audio pre-screen recordings for a graduate degree at a conservatory. I missed the deadline for the school's student recording program, so I'm looking to DIY this whole thing. I figured I might be more comfortable at home on my own piano anyway. Deadline is Dec. 1, but I'd wanted to get it in a couple of weeks early. Not much time, I know. First question: Feasible? Or should I find a studio?

It'll need to end up in MP4 format, and I'm looking for the minimum equipment needed.

Software: What can I use to sync video and audio? No editing allowed. I'm looking for something preferably free, and easy enough for a first-timer. Does Audacity do that?

Video: All I have is a GoPro Hero3 and an iPhone 5 (lol). Probably not going to cut it. Recommendations for a decent video recorder?

Audio: Again, I have zero equip. Recommendations for mics? How many? Again, looking for bare minimum. Help with placement would be nice too ...

Acoustics: I have (am spoiled with) a Steinway concert grand, and my tuner says our acoustics are pretty good for a home. Here's a rough sketch:

Piano in the corner, left side parallel to wall. If I leaned far back enough on the bench, I could touch the wall behind. The house is very open, hardwood floors, lots of windows, high ceilings, few walls between rooms. Where I drew squiggles (top, left), there is a sort of sound-proofing carpet-like material that came with the house so the neighbors aren't disturbed by noise. There are small windows up by the ceiling on the left side, which I guess would bounce back some of the sound. I tried to draw the piano in rough proportion to the room size, but I can get measurements later.

Other questions:

Can I get by with one video+audio device or will I need separate?
I have the feeling the answer is the latter - I'm guessing most video devices have poor audio, plus I feel like where I might get the right video (couple ft. to the right of and/or hovering over keyboard) I'll get sub-par audio, and vice versa (good Micing = video of piano insides). But I thought I'd ask.

What other accessories do I need? e.g. mic stands, tripods, headphones, cables, things to connect things to a laptop ... I'm clueless!

I'm looking to rent equip because I don't plan to use it again (until I've done more research). So with a $150-200 budget (and something like $25/3days for a Zoom H4 rental, $40/3days for a Canon EOS), again - feasible? I'm willing to increase the budget, but again, I'm looking for the bare minimum.

Any kind of help would be much appreciated! I know absolutely nothing and am kind of desperate for advice. I took a year off after my BM so I'm out of contact with my teacher and don't have much guidance. I thought I would kind of wing this recording, but as I'm reading about equip and Micing techniques and DAWs etc., I'm finding it's kind of overwhelming and not wing-able. I've been spending my time practicing the actual content, counting on the school's recording service, but I didn't read about their limited availability until it was too late. I figured I'd come here where people actually know things :P

Thank you!


kmetal Thu, 10/29/2015 - 14:56

Just rent s couple hours at a studio that has a decent piano, and make life easy on yourself. There's just a steep and expensive learning curve to what your proposing with a DIY route. If you take notes and pay attention to the engineer you'll be well known your way next time. Especially given a deadline, I'd want to take out as ,any variables as possible.

pianocat Fri, 10/30/2015 - 00:14

The conservatory website doesn't specify, but I vaguely remember the admissions guy mentioning iPhone quality ... or better? I agree, video is less important than audio. Thanks for the Sony link! So such video+audio single devices exist ... I'm trying to do under $300 because that's the minimum quote I got from a studio, no mention of what I get for that price. I saw some reasonable rentals in the SF area by the day. Can't find the Sony you mentioned, but I'll keep looking.

pianocat Fri, 10/30/2015 - 00:34

The rental place closest to where I am has only: Sony DCR-DVD610 and Sony DSR-PD170, nothing in between.
Am I looking for a small camcorder with an extra mic? (Like the HDR?) In that case, could I use an iPhone (or the Sony DCR) + one of these shotgun mics?

What about Canon Vixia HF G10A AVCHD Camcorder? (Boy, these names are a mouthful.) This looks like a pretty good deal, comes with shotgun and lav. mics, tripod.

I'm wondering whether the quality of these options would be worth the investment, or whether iPhone would really be the best route in terms of simplicity and usability.

Again, much thanks.

dvdhawk Fri, 10/30/2015 - 09:08

I'm with kmetal on this. One chance, first impression, blah, blah, blah. No matter how much they say production values don't matter… they always matter. Whether they are aware of it, or not, they are judging the music you present based on sound quality. Save yourself the headaches, and distraction of worrying about the recording, and free up your mind to give the performance 100%. If this is important I would either hire someone, or find a studio. If you go to a professional studio, you're not just renting the equipment. You're renting quality gear, what should be a sweet sounding room, and the services of someone who knows how to get the most out of them. Even if you could rent state-of-the-art equipment for $300, it won't do any good if you are completely new to the whole recording process.

You'll get the best results if you're comfortable, so if you'd rather play your own piano in your own home, there's definitely some value in that. You could look for someone who offers mobile recording services, but the truth is, you don't really need to multi-track record the piano. It's not like you'll be doing any fancy editing after the fact. They'll want it to be one continuous take.

You could get this done with someone skilled at live mixing who knows how to mic and mix a grand piano. They'll need an assortment of good mics, stands, cables, and a decent mixer - and preferably an interface along these lines that allows the camera to take line level from the mixer. Feeding that live audio mix straight into the video camera will eliminate the need to sync the audio and video in an NLE (video editing software), saving you a lot of time / expense / bother.

The video's only purpose is to verify that you are in fact the person playing the piano they're hearing. So the camera will have to be someplace that shows your hands I assume. Video for this should not be cut either. If you're renting the camera, the rental house will surely have the appropriate audio interface to suit the camera. In any case, that should be a lot better than the camera's on-board mic from 10-15ft away.

If you go to a studio, shop around. Ask to hear some piano work they've done.

kmetal Fri, 10/30/2015 - 09:44

Yeah agreed. I think iPad iPhone video of you playing in the studio is the way to go. The iPhone video is just fine for that. It costs $100 just to have a piano tuned where I am on the other side of the states. $300 st the studio I work at gets you a Yamaha grand, a pair of 414s on it, c-12 for the room, thru 2 neve pres, or the Manley, into apogee conversion. Plus a guys to get you drinks. Thats not the type of gear I have at my home. Try an Wurlitzer upright, and 1 414 through an Maudio interface lol.

Oh yeah, your gonn want the pro studios accurate monitoring when your quickly trying to judge the he quality of the performances and sounds. There's nothing like mixing with confidence in the room. Who knows where and when people will me listening to this?!?

If this was a scratchpad or a school project it'd be different, but this is a competition among applicants to get into a school, and your each going to be judged. Get a solid performance and a nice recording of it, and you'll have something you can shop to other schools, use as your demo on your Facebook, and for potential people who want your piano playing talents.

DonnyThompson Sat, 10/31/2015 - 03:29

dvdhawk kmetal pianocat :

I'm with Kyle and Hawk on this one. You should be concentrating on giving the best performance you can, and not be worrying about whether the piano is too "heavy" at 250hz and may require a hi-pass filter... or if there's a sympathetic ring in the room, or if a mic needs adjusted in placement or even swapped out for another...

Let a pro worry about that stuff for you. That's what we do, PianoCat ... it's our job to listen for and correct that stuff, so that you don't have to.

I also agree with Hawk mentioning that on the "surface", while the people who are listening may say that quality of the recording won't influence them, you can betcher' you-know-what that it very likely will matter... maybe not on a conscious level, in the way that pro audio people would hear things, but they very likely will be effected in some way by the quality - or the lack thereof - whether they say they won't or not. Even if it's on some lower subconscious level, if the recording quality suffers, it's probably going to effect the way they listen... whether they are consciously aware of it or not, it might end up having an influence on their decision(s).

You only really ever get one chance to impress people, so why not put your absolute best foot forward? So, yeah,'s $300, and that may seem a bit steep to you, but it's really just a drop in the bucket if you consider it for what it is:
it's an investment into your future. I know college students who spend way more than that in one month on clothes alone. This recording will both show - and more importantly, let people hear - what kind of player you really are.
It will represent you in the best possible light. Three hundred dollars for a high quality, permanent record of that skill and talent seems like a pretty small price to pay, when compared to other things that don't matter nearly as much.

If you do decide to use a pro studio, go to the studio first; ask them to play you recordings of similar music that they have recorded. Ask them for references. Any truly pro studio won't even blink at those questions... they'll probably be expecting you to ask them for those things. If they are hesitant to do these things, then be very cautious.

It's even possible that some studios might agree to doing an audio-only "demo" recording; say of 30 seconds to a minute in length of you playing; not all but some - I personally would have been approachable to the idea, but with no cameras or recording devices of any kind allowed in the studio, not even iPhone - and then if you don't like what you hear on playback, then you simply leave ( but with nothing of course, they're not gonna give you anything you can take away and play), but if you do like what you're hearing, then you pay them a deposit and book the time to do it for real. You might even be able to do it that same day, depending on their schedule.

(Now, if they play you recordings that are similar to what you're doing and you like them, then don't go though the whole thing I mentioned above. Just book the time, as it would then be obvious that they know what they are doing).

The other benefit of having your performance professionally recorded, is that you'll end up having a pro quality recording - a permanent record high quality representation of your talent and skill; to have on hand should a situation arise in the future where someone important asks you for a demonstration of your abilities as a piano player. If you do it right - and you only need to do it just one time - and use a pro room, with a pro engineer on pro gear, and in a great sounding room, you'll knock the listener's socks off - in comparison to what they might hear from others who have been asked to submit projects or portfolios, and who had perhaps done the recording themselves "on the cheap".

It's been my personal experience over the years, that generally, people will only ever take you as seriously as you take yourself. ;)

IMHO of course.

Chris Perra Sat, 10/31/2015 - 13:46

They are listening to dozens of auditions in a sitting. As long as the fidelity is good enough to hear dynamics and articulation and they can see its you and your technique you'll be fine. It's not like a record demo or promo video.

Be for video was everywhere people sent auditions on mono cassette tapes or vhs if they had one. An IPhone video in the right spot in a decent room will be fine for an audition tape.

OBrien Sat, 10/31/2015 - 18:10

"Steinway concert grand, and my tuner says our acoustics are pretty good for a home."

I would move that beast into the room and get your head out of the corner (with low end buildup causing you to adjust hand technique below middle C) and the wall away from the piano.

What exactly does your tuner know about room acoustics? If he suggested this position...he is wrong.

kmetal Sat, 10/31/2015 - 19:10

If I were entering a modeling contest, I would not make my clothing, do my own makeup, buy a camera, learn to use it, print the picture myself, then send it in with high expectectations. Just sayin. My first punk bands recordings were done by seasoned local musicians/engineers at there home studious. A luxurious adat affair, and a Sony 900mhz and cool edit on the other.

It took me about 8 years along with the technology advances, for me to match those good quality professional project studio recordings, on my own. I can't help but feel that experinxe was positive, and worth far more than its $ value.

Sean G Sat, 10/31/2015 - 19:32

Brien Holcombe, post: 433490, member: 48996 wrote: I would move that beast into the room and get your head out of the corner (with low end buildup causing you to adjust hand technique below middle C) and the wall away from the piano.

I am in no way as knowledgable when it comes to room acoustics as @Brien Holcombe or kmetal, but in my experience owning a parlour grand, not a Steinway :(... but I found when I had it in an untreated room of approx 25 feet by 30 feet the optimal spot was smack bang in the middle of the room on a 45 degree angle in the "box" of the 4 walls.

It was a PITA as it took up the space and everything else in the room had to work around it, but damn it looked good and worked well as the centrepiece of the room, especially when the missus donned a red cocktail dress and lied on top and sang for the whole Baker Boys thing...;)

kmetal, post: 433493, member: 37533 wrote: If I were entering a modeling contest, I would not make my clothing, do my own makeup, buy a camera, learn to use it, print the picture myself, then send it in with high expectectations. Just sayin

I have to agree with those that say head to a studio that knows what they are doing therefore you only have to worry about it once & do it right and reap the rewards....take out all the variables to get the optimum result(y)

Chris Perra Sat, 10/31/2015 - 19:38

It's not a demo. It's an audition tape that will literally be listened to once by someone who doesn't care about fidelity at all. Just the thay the student can play. If you don't want to worry about quality then go to a studio. But if you think it will matter. It won't.

I've done auditions to get into music college. They last 10 minutes tops. I've are audition tape the quality is irrelevant to whether or not the applicant gets in. Unless it's so bad the cat hear what the playing. Like for drums I'd get something better for handling volume than a iPhone, piano should be fine .

pianocat Tue, 11/03/2015 - 23:29

Thank you all for your input. It's nice to hear different perspectives.

I found that they do suggest devices - on the generic help page of the online application website, not on the college-specific admissions page. They have tiers:

"Lighter budget (
"Mid-range ($300-800): Zoom H4N, H2n; Sony HDR-CX620V
"Higher (>$1000): Rode Stereo Condenser Mic, Focusrite interface, Avid Pro Tools ...

Right now I'm thinking of going with a studio. I agree, it'll be good to spend my effort on preparing the content, and I'll be investing in some high quality videos for future use as well, not just this one time. The scholarship for the entirety of my attendance depends on my live audition, but I'm sure this recording also weighs heavily on their impression, so I need all the help I can get.

I'm just worried because the studio people haven't been getting back to me, so it's nice to have an absolute back-up. It's getting really close to the deadline, and scheduling might be tough because of Thanksgviing ...