How can global artists make a simple video for promotional purposes? What are some easy, inexpensive, widely applicable ways to get good footage?
Michal Shapiro knows, and knows what works best for artists who fall outside the mainstream. She grew up listening to what was then called “International Music” on LPs; it was the start of a passion for musical traditions from across the planet that endured, even through her days as a rock and country singer. As she became more knowledgeable, she left behind the world of design (Shapiro is also a visual artist whose work many have seen on Mad Men, and was once a textile designer by trade) and leaped from music performance into the music business, first as a publicist, and then as a producer at Ellipsis Arts and later as Director of Music programming for Link TV.
“Why is it important to know about all this music?” Shapiro explains. “Each kind of music can take you to a wonderful, different place. It’s like if you don’t know Chinese food exists you’ll eat steak your whole life and not know what you’re missing. These days people have to search harder and harder to hear these other sounds, to learn about these other artists, and that’s just wrong, and I want to change that.”
Now Shapiro uses her decades of experience and familiarity with global music as an independent videoblogger/artist, traveling the world and hitting the major hubs of world music activity. She documents artists she loves and scenes that intrigue her; helps artists edit and polish their video presentations; and shoots great live footage -all with a point and shoot camcorder. She went from editing in iMovie, to Final Cut Pro (“and I’ll probably have to switch to Premiere soon” she notes). Her work and her tales appear regularly in the Huffington Post, as well as on her own vlog, Inter-Muse.
“I’m able to make my own decisions about the music I think is important,” Shapiro explains, who might profile the master of a rare instrument or the musical life of an unsung region. “I don’t have an editor or producer who is assigning/forcing me to cover something.”
Following her own enthusiasms and curiosity, Shapiro taught herself the ropes, starting on a simple Flip cam. The basic equipment didn’t interfere with her ability to capture musical forms in Taiwan or powerful live performances from Morocco. Her guerilla techniques and her well-trained eye (and ear) have guided Shapiro and helped her come up with some strong, actionable advice for artists.
Here are Shapiro’s six tips to boost your video savvy:
A photo montage screams “Amateur!” If you’re posting a song on YouTube don’t just do a photo montage. But if you must, here’s a great example of how to use photos with an easy live shoot: Jazz singer Perez initially wanted this whole video to be photos. Instead I filmed her lip synching at three different angles, against a simple backdrop, and then intercut the “live” performances with the still photos.
Mix up your camera angles:Using only wide live shots are death. No one wants to look at them for more than 10 seconds. Try to have at least two cameras. I often use one static camera on a tripod and one camera I can move around with, when capturing a performance. And remember, your zoom is gold. It lets you get close ups and follow the musicians around more. It’s different from what the audience sees, and makes the video more special. As a musician myself, I tend to be interested in the internal interactions on stage. As this videodramatically shows, zoom can help you capture that.
Cozy up on stage: A. Players, if you know your performance is going to be videotaped, don’t stand too far apart. When you stand far apart you’re creating nightmares for the person holding the camera. Let your videographer input the stage setup.” B. If you are the one holding the camera, and the band is lined up in a row, set up your tripod shot on the diagonal; it’s more interesting than from the center.”
The light giveth, the light taketh away: If your videographer is using a point-and-shoot camcorder, try not to play in front of a window or a glaring spotlight. And try to avoid red light. If you are performing in red light, then your footage will look like what you see through night vision goggles. If you have the option, ask the light person not to use it, or to use white light as often as possible.
B-Roll, B-Roll, B-Roll! Remember to shoot lots of footage of the audience, the venue, whatever will give the viewer a sense of where the performance was taking place and what it was like to be there. You aren’t just trying to capture the musicians; the excitement and the mood they create will give your viewer a sense of participation.
And about the audio…..Most camcorders have pretty good microphones built in, these days but some situations will be too rough to expect a good result. Certain sounds will simply blow out your mic: drums or bass in a rock band, even the brass in a Balkan Band! So whenever possible try to get an independent audio source to synch up to your video.
Michal Shapiro can be contacted via her website, http://inter-muse.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter, which keeps you posted on everything is she doing, is planning to do, and has done.
Some of Shapiro’s strongest videos (and why):
1. Master Mbira player GarikayiTirikoti: “My first excursion with my Panasonic TM55 camcorder after using only a Flip. The mbira is usually seen from the audience’s perspective, inside of a large gourd, so it looks like someone playing a pumpkin. Very boring. I was able to shoot from over Garikayi’s shoulder so you can actually see his fingers at work. This video was recently used to promote Garikayi’s show in Japan.”
2. Electric Kulintang at the Atrium, Lincoln Center. “How do you deal with an ambient computer-driven act, where very little movement is actually happening on stage? Catch the laptop screen wherever possible, and bring in architectural elements in their most abstract features, creating an environment that matches the music.”
3. De Temps Antan at WOMEX. “An oldie but a goodie. What can I say; for one camera I seemed to be in the right place at the right time all through this performance. It helped that it was only a trio, and that they signaled each other so much, but still, even with a few shaky passages and less than perfect framing, it stands up, and the band got plenty of use out of it for promotional purposes.”
4. Catalonian Culture at the Fira Mediterránia de Manresa. “I think I kept the pacing good, and managed to pack a lot of music and info into just under 22 minutes. My reward? Someone who watched the video said ‘I gotta go there!’”
5. Veronica Ferriani and Douglas Lora at the Living Room. “So intimate, and such good sound. The Living Room, which started out as a recording studio was broadcasting this performance, so I had access to professionally recorded sound files. While my camcorder audio was ok, the Living Room’s files absolutely sparkled. It made a huge difference.”