Saying “Thank You” – A Christian Music Video

I’ve recently finished making a Christian music video to a song called “Thank You”. This is different from usual in that the singer would like to stay anonymous and keep the attention on the song itself. She is aware of the feedback it has generated and thrilled it is reaching many people for Jesus.
I and others had to put a lot of planning into making it as it was the first performance music video we’d done and care needed to be taken to ensure we looked after individuals. I first heard the song being played during the Winning Festival in August 2014:

I was struck then by how genuine the song came across, and thought it would be great to turn it into a video as it would communicate to everyone, especially young people.

Many months later Chris (the Jesus Army sound engineer) recorded and mixed the song in the music studio, with the decision to play it on piano rather than guitar:


Hearing the song on piano immediately made me think of the song being sung with a piano on The Deco stage with some spot lights on her. After a bit more thinking I had the image of a projector in the auditorium showing sequences above her head. Before we started filming I worked through any issues with senior Church leaders, safeguarding, and pastoral covering.

There were two videos to make – the video projected over the singer’s head and the final performance video. We shot the first video in an afternoon and had various angles of her writing the song in her book, singing to the camera, and outdoor shots. This was quickly edited and then we were ready to film the performance.

Using VLC Remote Control to playback the track and projector sequence

Using VLC Remote Control to play the track and projector sequence

JC Projector

Filming at The Deco with the laptop playing the music and video, out of sight next to the projector

I had drafted a rough storyboard for the shots at The Deco and had lighting cues ready for Tim to follow behind the lighting desk. As I wanted the video to retain the simple nature of the song I didn’t want to overcomplicate filming with lots of extravagant shots, so I mainly used a tripod and then a couple of slider shots close to the piano. It’s important that the visual direction is in keeping with the song and its message. We filmed the song around 20 times covering many different angles – something I’m used to when I make videos for my video production company – Upbeat Image.

I used a Sony A7s camera to film it (thanks Viv) with 21mm and 50mm lenses. With a 2.35:1 aspect ratio you must have a wide field of view to get everything in. Recording profile: 25fps 50mbs S-log2.

When it came to editing there were three ways to do it:

  1. Go through all the footage and mark the best bits, then cut the best bits together
  2. Have all 20 recordings displayed in the timeline
  3. Go through the footage cut by cut and choose each one that fits

I used the last method and that seemed to work well, though the second method would have saved time as the audio would have been synced first.

Editing in Adobe Premiere - a neat timeline and using a plugin called Film Convert to stylise the look of it.

Editing in Adobe Premiere – a neat timeline and using a plugin called Film Convert to stylise the look

Once I had completed the first edit and colour grade I sent it to a few friends to see what they thought and invited feedback:

The feedback was helpful to see what didn’t quite flow and what needed changing. There were four or five sections that needed more work – it’s a mission being told your work isn’t quite right but it makes for a much better piece in the end. I’d recently gone to an event called Film Northants and met a guy called Denis (yep that’s spelt correctly) and his suggestion was to completely change the colour grading.

Denis's colour grading idea showing much less saturation resulting in more mood and feel

Denis’ colour grading idea showing much less saturation resulting in more mood and feel

Once I’d made the changes I then showed it at a video training day I was running and opened it up for more feedback. It was the second time we were together and another great day.

The real reason for the video and audio training days - pizza!

The real reason for the video and audio training days – pizza!

Once all the comments were in, changes made, and the video was approved by the song author I posted it online and the feedback has been very positive. One comment which really stood out has to be:

“In my faithlessness, that’s the most moved by a Christian song I’ve been in a long time.”

May it reach many more people like that who need Jesus.

Video production by Upbeat Image. Audio engineering by Chris Hunt at Pigsty Studios. Lighting by Tim Gregory.

Creating A Song – He Is Stronger

 

Thursday Evening

Every Thursday eve, at our community house in Norwich, we have a big nosh-up. For quite a while our Thursday evenings lacked people. So we prayed. Now we have lots of people come; friends, family, work colleagues and the rest. Before we tuck in, I normally say a little word (like radio 4’s ‘Thought Of The Day) we sing a song and each week, someone is asked to wrap things up with a prayer before we eat.

It was during one of these lively evening meals that I turned to Ore (a regular attendee), five minutes before my thought for the day, and said.. “Lets make a song to sing in the next five minutes.” So we did. It went:

I’m getting rid of distractions,
looking to Jesus.
For He is stronger,
He is greater than the world.

He is stronger,
He is greater,
He’s the ruler of my heart (repeat)

IMG_20140828_212949

Jude, Mark and Ore

Jude, Mark and Ore

Jude happened to record the song on his phone:

[audio:http://colourfulchurch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Memo.mp3]

The tune was catchy and Ore said it reminded him of a Nigerian song he knew. After the meal, Ore and my sister Abigail helped to write a full on song with a middle eight and everything.

Whilst constructing the melody of the the song, Ab realised that some of the melodies were similar to other Jesus Fellowship songs. I said lets change it. In the end we didn’t change anything. There’s always going to be some other melody from somewhere that’s similar to the song you’re writing.

Don’t let your creativity be bullied by familiarity; If you do, they’ll be nothing of your originality left. Plus, people can relate to it more if they feel that they’ve heard it somewhere before.

We wanted the lyrics to be simple. We didn’t want to use any clever metaphors. There is nothing more powerful than the revelation of God’s love for us and the realisation that there is a completely different way to live.

Part of the finished product went like this:

C
I’m getting rid of distractions,
Am
looking to Jesus.
Dm-F
For He is stronger,
Dm-G
He is greater than the world (x2)

F
He is stronger,
C
He is greater,
G, F, Em, Dm, C – G
He’s the ruler of my heart.
Am
His name is Power,
F
Blessing And Honour.
G, F, Em, Dm, C – G
He’s the ruler of my Heart.

No words can express,
Nothing can compare,
To the love you’ve given us.
So free, So pure. 

Dm
Come,
F
Unblock our ears,
C

Uncover our eyes.
G
Reveal Your truth,
C

Set us Apart (repeat)

G
Set us apart…

 

We played the song in D-maj on a guitar that had been tuned down to the key of D. That means you’re still playing in C-maj. Just sounded nice really.

We decided to record the song Friday evening due to the fact that we’d spent quite a while constructing the song after the the Thursday meal.

Friday Evening

I set up the recording equipment in the lounge, stuck a sign on the door and hoped that people would read it before they ambled into the middle of a recording. Ideally you would want to record somewhere quiet but in community, that’s pretty difficult.

In the knowledge that I was recording three people (myself included) I would liked to have had each person with headphones listening to the timing of the song. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough inputs on my M-Audio interface. 

In the end, we each sat around my Behringer C-3 mic and did three different recordings. I listened to the timing of the song on Ableton that I had prepared earlier and played the guitar to help keep Ab and Ore in time.

Everything went to plan and all three recordings went perfectly.

Here you can see the mic somehow covering Ore's face.

So this was the basic set up. Gather around one mic. One mic to rule them all

The different pick up patterns

The different pick up patterns: Fig 8, Cardioid & Omnidirectional

So why do three?
Because I’m not a mastering magician, I had to rely solely on my equipment to provide the warmest sound before I started mixing it.. We recorded three times on three different pick-up patterns that my condenser has.

  • Cardioid – This picks up sound waves that travel directly into the front of the condenser.
  • Omnidirectional – This is more for an ambient recording that has a spherical pick-up. Basically it picks up sound from every possible angle.
  • Figure Eight (or as my teacher calls it ‘The butt’) – picks up sound from both sides of the mic.

All of this was in order to create track that sounded like a dozen or so people were having a sing-song as opposed to three people.

Because I was utilising all of these different pickups, I wanted to limit the sound waves bouncing around the room. So I shut the curtains and threw a load of blankets over the piano. Poor piano.

The piano is full of strings and hammers that are full of tone, if you spoke near it your voice would hit these internal instruments and project and prolong that sound around the room. The blankets were placed to try and absorb most of the sound before it reached the highly sensitive strings and hammers and stuff. I’m boring you. Sorry.

Piano covered up

Piano covered up

Aaaaanyway. This is what the finished audio sounded like:

[audio:http://colourfulchurch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/He-is-Sronger-1.mp3]
La, la la la laaa

La, la la la laaa

If you’re listening to this with anything other than your mobile phone, you’ll notice that there’s a strange high-pitched sound that coincides with the kick. This was because When I mixed down the track I was limited to what I could actually mix. This was all because I had to play the guitar on each of the recordings. I was also stamping my foot whilst playing to help keep the rhythm for the guys. This created the squeaky thump on the kick and it was so frustrating. Because the guitar was on all the recordings, I couldn’t EQ it out. There are many ways around this but the night was definitely not young and I had to have a track completed for Ab to take back with her the next day.  In the end I finished at 2:30am.

It's late...

Ab, Me and Ore. It’s late…

When recording vocals I can select the high pass filter input on the mic. This cuts out any unwanted low end hum-drum.

When recording vocals I can select the high pass filter input on the mic. This cuts out any unwanted low end hum-drum.

Saturday (Mens Day)

Some of the lads from our community house called ‘Saving Faith’, went to a Jesus Fellowship meeting/seminar bash called ‘Mens Day’. I saw my older sibling Gideon aka Sunshine and  played the track on phone. He said to “stick it on Soundcloud init”. I said “OK”. Riveting stuff.

Sunday

After our morning meeting, the food and then the washing up, I decided to have another crack at recording the song. This time with a cleaner mix worthy of the critical internet people.

But not just because of that. Ahem.

I choose a room upstairs that had recently been vacated for the week and set up my recording gear. Ab had gone back to Northampton by this time so I made do with my younger sibling Esme. Of course Ore was around and he was more than happy to re-record.

M-Audio Interface

M-Audio Interface

Midi keyboard

Midi keyboard

This time I found a split aux lead thing that could go into my interface and have two head phones attached. Wahoo! Esme and Ore wore the headphones while I looked at the visual cues on the laptop to help me know when to come in.

Yet again we did three recordings on the different pick up patterns which are called… ? Quick-fire test. If you failed, give me twenty. Pounds. Give me Twenty Pounds. I digress!

So we did the three recordings again but this without the guitar. NOW I was able to EQ the individual voices. I recorded the guitar separately. I also recorded myself singing the main bits and I also recorded one harmony.

This was all in aid to add width to the track. I wanted to include Abs vocals on the new version so I incorporated a harmony that she had done on the original. I also added in Ores harmony.

All in all, not including my lead vocals, there were 6 background vocal tracks. I panned all the tracks to the left and right outputs. This is what provided the width and punch.

I played some piano using a midi keyboard, stuck on some bass and spent a good few hours of  EQ nit-picking, decibel dropping and compressing.

I cleaned all the vocals up by dropping out the low end and allowing the high frequencies to come through. This made the track sound less muddy and allowed lower frequencies sounds such as the bass and the kick to push through.

I did some basic mastering by sticking some EQs, Compressors, Glue Compressor onto the master track.

Then I just thought. Like most people would:

“Pffft… that’ll do”

Making a Lyric Video – Take Me To The Edge

More and more people are using YouTube as their primary means of finding and listening to music, and lyric videos and covers are central to this growing culture. There are countless artists who’ve built up a following from nothing to millions just by posting simple videos on YouTube (e.g Walk Off The Earth, Daniela Andrade, Kurt Hugo Schneider, CDZA, Pentatonix; their latest videos may be very fancy but they all started very simple) and simple fan-made lyric videos can rack up squillions of views. The media’s changing and in our church’s creative department we want to move with the times.

Not that we’re deluded about the possibilities of overnight viral success but we decided a good place to start would be to turn some of the tracks we’ve published on our Jesus Army Soundcloud into YouTube lyric videos.

So we decided to kick off a new lyric video series by starting with our most popular track, giving it extra effort to make a good starting splash (pun intended). And so, ladies and gentlemen, here it is:

Take Me To The Edge lyrics

Developing a Concept

The song is all about following God’s adventure, going to ‘the edge’ where our maps run out and faith is compellingly vital. The song uses mountains, sea, fire and venture as metaphors so coming up with a basic concept was easy, but it was harder to write a tight storyboard without making it too direct in interpretation and therefore predictable.

To construct a loose storyboard I started with a printout of the lyrics. I listened to the track over and over, keeping my ears and imagination open to different things in the song each time: changes of mood, metaphors, scene-setting phrases and other images not used in the song that could express the song’s concepts. I also thought of what I wanted to express through the video while staying true to it’s core message, as every piece of art is a collaboration between artists, after all. The lyrics are voiced in a personal manner but I wanted the video to express brotherhood, of going on God’s adventure together.

That gave me plenty of ideas, images and progression plans which took a bit of working out to thread together, but in the end I was left with a list of about sixteen core shots I wanted to capture, some sketched, and many more ideas to work out on the ground.

Locations

Now I don’t know whether it would be honest to say we went to Wales to make a lyric video or whether it would be more accurate to say we made a lyric video so we could go to Wales! Anyhow, I knew we needed to go to Wales.

Sam with a washing up bowl.

Sam washing up at the campsite. It’s hard work making videos.

I looked up over twenty campsites across Wales and found one near Cadair Idris in South Snowdonia with pitches priced at £5/night (Owen Tyddyn Farm, if you’re interested). None of us had been up Cadair Idris before and being Wales’ ninth highest mountain it looked pretty stunning with clear steep slopes, a lake and good views so that sealed it.

On the way to Wales I realised we’d be staying on the other side of the mountain to a really quaint and friendly bunkhouse I’d visited last year in which I’d experienced an amazing God-incidence. That meant we were also very close to a set of caves and mines we’d stumbled across (fortunately not literally) by chance that same day while climbing a small mountain nearby.

Thursday 11th

After setting up camp and having lunch we took the drive to explore the cave I’d found, and it was splendid. I attached a GoPro to the bonnet to capture the journey there and that trip constituted most of my ‘scene setting’ filming, which you can see at the start of the video.

On the climb up the mountainside I used a handheld camcorder and the GoPro on a head-mount, which made for some interesting POV shots.

Here’s a pano of the cave I took during last year’s visit:

IMG_20140911_163217

The cave entrance was via a manmade tunnel at the base of a small waterfall on the mountainside, with part of the waterfall’s stream flowing through it. I entered the cave first so I could film the team’s reactions as they came out into the cavernous space, and that’s when disaster struck. As they were climbing through the tunnel I decided to hop over to the other side of the stream, I slipped, got a dead, bruised arm and the camcorder in my hand was completely submerged in the stream. For some reason the GoPro attached to my forehead also stopped working at that point although it didn’t even get slightly wet.

From then on we had to resort to using my phone’s camera, which although is HD and pretty decent for a phone still wasn’t wonderful for moviemaking, having a small iris, and being a phone. This was adventure after all, so setbacks were all part of it.

This year as we had more time than I did last year after exploring the ‘natural cathedral’, as I called it, we climbed back around the outside of the mountain and reentered on the floor of the space. Ian followed the stream down into deeper caves but when the stream plunged through a small hole into an even darker and wider space with a 50′ drop we thought we’d better not attempt to go further.

Back at the bus and as we still had time we decided to explore the other side of the valley as we could see some pretty big cavernous holes on the surface. We weren’t disappointed.

The edge

PANO_20140911_175808

Pano of the second cave taken from a hidden entrance just above half way up. It’s hard to judge the scale from this photo, but it’s huge.

Friday 12th

Friday was our biggest day. We had to tackle Cadair Idris with lunch on the peak then film something to do with water, somewhere. More on that in a bit.

Cadair Idris lake, good for lyric video.

The lake nestled among the peaks.

Cadair Idris panorama

I think we picked the right mountain.

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the view.

After lunch we decided to save time by taking a shortcut. Those words are usually said by other people telling how some unwise mountaineers got themselves killed, but we were here for adventure so caution wasn’t part of our plan.

The shortcut involved scree surfing, a sport I was new to but which came naturally. It’s a good way to test the ruggedness of your boots, trousers, hands, legs and behind and is not much different to sliding ungracefully down a tree while people throw sand and stones at you. I was still using my phone to film at this point.

Feet in the stream

A well needed rest.

One massive bonus of our campsite was that they allowed campfires. As we wanted to express something of brotherhood a campfire was simply mandatory, and this would go very well with the darker shots taken in the caves and provide a calm backing to the bridge before the finalé, the big splash.

Lyric video. Around the campfire.

Speaking of a big splash, during a Google Maps browse of the area beforehand I’d seen photos of a beautiful small lake surrounded by sheer cliffs. I didn’t make proper notes of where it was so we were extremely fortunate to find it, and not only that, to have it to ourselves and for the sky to be clear. It was stunning, and not too cold.

I knew the GoPro would be very useful for this part of the trip as it had a waterproof enclosure. I’d tried everything to make it work: left it on charge for ages, swapped batteries (and that’s about all you can do with a GoPro) but just before we headed out from the bus I decided to pray for it. It worked instantly! I don’t know why I hadn’t tried that before.

PANO_20140912_184722

It was a fun challenge filming on and in the water:

My cameo role

My cameo role

Final Thoughts

Well we’d set out for an adventure and we weren’t disappointed. We’d asked God for help with the weather, arrangements and locations, and all of those worked out brilliantly. In some ways, though, if everything goes absolutely swimmingly it can be a bit boring, so I welcome the challenge of kit not working, of camping, travelling, mountain climbing etc. Incidentally, I left the camcorder in a tub of dry rice on the boiler for two weeks and it came back from the dead, works fine now.

An adventure’s only an adventure if you don’t know where you’re going. A planned route, comfortable journey and certain destination aren’t really important, what matters is why we’re going, who we’re with and who we’re following, who in our life’s adventure is Jesus.

Just don’t stay in bed.

 

You can listen to or download the track from Soundcloud for free: