‘The Journey’ – A Live Music and Stories Event

The Vision

I was tasked to help bring to life a vision that a few guys had for a music event which brings out our churches history with songs, and stories why those songs came to be.
At first I was a little reticent as I didn’t want it just to be a nostalgic throwback, but Rob, Chris, and Aidan assured me it would reflect how God uses everyday people to shape his church. And they were right as the time together was deep and inspiring. It’s well worth a watch.

Choosing Kit

These days you can get a good looking image for comparatively little money, and I’d had plenty of experience with using Sony’s A7 series mirrorless kit whilst working for Upbeat Image. These full frame cameras give you a lovely shallow depth of field and hold up well in low light – two essentials for recording the event. I was able to borrow a couple of these cameras (thanks Viv) and only had to hire a small amount. All the kit I used was able to record at 50 frames per second in full HD, as YouTube now supports that feature and makes for smoother playback compared to 25fps.

Kit List

  • 2x A7S – one on a moving gimbal, one on a tripod
  • 1x A7R – handheld with inbuilt image stabilisation
  • 1x GH3 – wide angle view
  • 2x GoPro – drums
  • 1x JVC camcorder – for a live feed to Chris in the engineers recording lounge

Working out how to set up the Came-TV mini2 gimbal with a little help from YouTube

Filming

During the event the audio recording was being handled by Chris, who was monitoring it in a separate lounge adjacent to the main room. Viv was roaming about on a tablet doing monitor mixes for the musicians.

I was aiming for an intimate feel with the filming, so it’s like you’re there among the people. The gimbal was important to achieve this so I could take the viewer around the room in a smooth way. When it came to the event it was hard not to get into the music and just concentrate on filming. Songs like A New Revolution especially!

The Cameras

Simon’s interview. My wife Anna was on the main camera for interviews and singers. This was an A7S with 70-200mm f2.8 lens which is brilliant for head shots

Anna had an external monitor with focus zoom so she could tell what was in focus, as it’s hard recording in HD to get such a shallow depth of field right

David was on the A7R with a 50mm f0.95 lens, perfect for getting artistic shots

David also captured the testimonies from a different angle

I was using the gimbal with an A7S and a wide angle 21mm f2 lens. Try using one for 3 hours!

The Panasonic GH3 was at the back getting a wide angle shot of the whole room

1st GoPro stuck on the side of the floor tom

2nd GoPro overhead

One of my favourite songs from the event:

Editing

There was a lot to work through – over 350GB of data! The files from the cameras were sorted into folders named after who operated the camera, and then backed up twice.
Due to David and myself moving about it was hard to edit keeping us both out of shot. But I just about managed it, though there are plenty of times you see one of us!
The pace of the edit depended on the tempo of the song, so slow songs had shots which lingered on the singers more, and fast songs had quicker cuts. Once I had done an initial edit of a track I sent it to our sound engineer Chris so that he could mix with video, and bring out certain instruments when they appeared on screen if need be. Once he had mixed the music he sent me a high quality file which I then aligned to the right place in the timeline.

The hardest part was the difficulty I had trying to colour grade the five different types of cameras so they matched! I got there in the end but still a lot to learn with this skill.

To add the finishing touches Aidan came up with some superb graphics to introduce each song and testimony. They were created in Cinema 4D and exported as a PNG sequence with alpha channel so I could just put over the top of the footage in the edit.

The best thing was that the event itself carried depth and meaning. Hearing the stories of why each song came to be, and then singing it give it significance and meaning. The worship songs near the end really lifted off as people were fully relaxed and able to blank out the cameras and mics.

Improvements

I’d make some changes to improve the filming. For starters I’d have only one moving camera with the rest on tripods or monopods to minimise crew in shot. I’d plan the event in more detail to work out who is singing beforehand and make sure one camera is on them the whole time. It would be better with a larger room so we can film looking past people onto the musicians, and have the foreground and background interest. Here’s to next time!

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:https://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:https://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”