To produce concert video, think like a TV director

Recording and producing video of a live concert performance as a one person crew is challenging. I recently worked with electric harpist Deborah Henson-Conant to record her annual “Lose Your Blues” show at The Center for Arts in Natick, MA (TCAN). TCAN is a wonderful facility in that it is an old firehouse that was renovated into an intimate, flexible arts facility. There’s not a lot of room for cameras though and the lighting setup is great for the live audience but not perfect for video.

The first song I edited is “Cosita Latina”. You can see in the video that I use two cameras, one fixed and one manually operated. I did a little scaling and panning of the fixed camera (the center angle) to improve the shot and add a little life but it is otherwise from a fixed location on a bracket that was already on the wall at TCAN just below the camera they have permanently mounted for their Concert Window live-casting. The second angle (from the audience’s right) is on a tripod in front of the small concession area and has more variation as I was operating that one live. Both cameras were Canon digital video cameras. Since I was recording the entire show I didn’t want to use the DSLR with its 20 minute maximum segments. There was a 3rd Canon on the audience’s left but it ended up reseting to auto exposure during a power cycle and was overexposed for the first set. Here is “Cosita Latina”:

There was some color grading to do since the contrast from black curtains and piano to brightly lit skin on the artist’s face, back and arms was greater than the camera’s range. The DSLR is much better in low light than these small camcorders but I don’t have three of them and they have the 20 minute recording limit so I went with the camcorders.

Production was much like directing a live TV broadcast. The advantage, of course, is that the editing wasn’t live and I could be pickier about the exact timing of cuts. I tried to make them make sense in the context of the song, within the lyrics and with the actual beats of the music. Final Cut Pro X’s multicam feature makes it pretty easy to edit this way. I assigned one camera to always be the audio track so there wouldn’t be odd changes in the sound and then I switched cameras from the angle viewer. When the cut came out a little off where I wanted it, I was able to just grab the cut with the mouse and slide along the timeline to put it where it belonged. Compared to cutting up the tracks and trying to drop in just the right pieces, this was a very productive way to edit.

The second song I put together is “Bonnyrigg Me Baby”:

If you’ve never seen and heard the electric, body-worn harp before and aren’t familiar with Deborah Henson-Conant’s work, watch the videos then visit her at HipHarp.com. Deborah is a talented musician and composer and, more than that, an entertainer and storyteller. I enjoyed recording her show and putting these videos together.