I recently worked on distance recording of an original song by Peter Lavenson. The song started with Peter recording himself using his iPhone and then sharing it with me. Using a video editing program (Movavi), I removed the audio track and then imported it into StudioOne — a multitrack audio editing software.
Once in StudioOne, I added the piano and harmony parts as different tracks through my Digital Audio Interface (Audiobox 44VSL). I set up my phone to record the video at the same time so could use the good audio from StudioOne and sync it with the video in a video editing program later. The quality of the video isn’t great, but it’s good enough for this type of project. The key is keeping track of what video goes with which take. I this case I did only two takes and just said “take one” and “take two” so I’d be able to match them later.
Sarah Joy, the other vocalist, used her iPhone to record her vocal track while listening to Peter and me. We’ve learned that having reference vocals — in this case Peter’s melody and my harmony — makes adding a harmony easier. Sarah could hear where her harmony would fit best. And luckily her phone recording was high enough quality to fit well into the mix.
The bass player, Bob Salitsky used a similar approach to what I did — recording the video on his phone and recording his bass directly into his multitrack. He sent me his video and audio files separately. The flute player, David Stimson, also sent separate audio and video files with his flute audio recorded on a higher-end hand recorder.
And finally, the cellist, Steve Laven, used his iPad with a Blue Yeti microphone connected directly. Steve is a member of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops and has been recording with these more formal groups regularly and I believe uses this set up to submit his parts for projects that he’s worked on during this time of social distancing.
In this case, we didn’t bother with count-ins, clicktracks or anything that would make it a more formal production. It was just Peter playing casually in his living room. That casual feel comes across in the video. The song has more of a jam feeling with nice little embellishments being added at various points by Sarah, Steve, and David. The rhythm isn’t as solidly “locked in” as a result, but it’s pretty close to what it would be like if we played it live.
After mixing all of the audio tracks in StudioOne, I exported a master mixdown and then used that as the only unmuted audio track in the video editing program.
The biggest challenge with this more organic approach was finding a good way to exactly sync each video with the audio. There were luckily key points in the song that were easy to “see” as peaks — most notably the stop-time section in the middle . I was able to focus on that for the bass and congas. Most of the other videos I sync’d at the end first because that was clearer than when people started playing.
The end result has a nice feel of an unplanned, unrehearsed accompaniment. The song has a warm and comforting feeling that fits well with these odd times.