12.11.12

demo sessions: 2. make your war list and call upon your allies


now, let's form a list of repertoire needed:

1. title, movement, composer, year, edition
2. req. staff: do you need accompanist? chamber musicians?
3. TIMING: yes. seriously. how long is it?

if multi-movement works, do timing of each mvt.  by doing this, you can now separate your repertoire into two categories: solo with no accompaniment, music with other people in it.  this is important in case you cannot book a leisurely day-long session; your pianist's probably playing for others as well.  maximize your financial means by getting him/her in only for the things that you actually need him/her.  this also enable you to book separate sessions with your engineer, as he/she's probably not able to book you a nice 3 hours chunks at a time.  more on that later.

now... here's the important thing to consider-
these tapes are usually request for 'pre-screening,' meaning if you PASS, you may be granted a live audition round.

now, why would they ask you to do such crazy things?

well, it's not to make your life miserable, but to actually help you.

by passing through the pre-screening, you are given a soft 'okay,' meaning you are suitably matched with entrance audition requirement.  some schools receive obscene amount of applications and if they were to take everyone who applied, not only it would cost everyone a handsome deal (applicants: hotel, travel, pianist fee; schools: all-inclusive-logistical-nightmare), it would seriously make the live audition to last throughout the entire year.  for reference, jacob school of music, indiana university, has 1600 students.

but you see, passing the pre-screening actually still does not guarantee a placement in actual school.  for grad studies, most land-based institutions are govt subsidized. they will try to pick the best of who they can get.  you may be at the top of their applicant, you may not be. it depends on year, applications (size, quality), available spots in the studios, even on building logistics (renovation, etc.).

and this is WHY YOU DO NOT WANT A HEAVY EDITED PRE SCREEN TAPE.
if you think 20 edits in 5 min piece will get you an audition spot, yes, it may. but you are unlikely to make it through the live round with that piece (unless you improve drastically).  and some edits are obvious. some are impossible.  this is why more school is asking for DVD/vid-aud tapes.  visual editing is expensive and almost impossible to hide.  so take a note here: if they ask you for visual demo, forget the hope of miraculous editing.

after all, they want to take you, not you through some frankenstein!

now to assemble list of useful allies:

pianist/chamber musicians:
pick the person who you have played with, rehearsed with and happy with.  if youve been working on a difficult sonata with a fellow student, this may be the time hire a professional for the session (if you both are not ready to be recorded yet).  remember, this is your demo; your sonata partner may be ready and roaring in 3 weeks. but if you cant wait that 3 weeks, you may start contacting an accompanist ASAP.  ive seen many sessions crumble into meltdowns because of difficult reductions and/or piano parts.  and realize that pianists are probably busy during these recording/demo/audition/recital times. get in touch early.

if you are going in with your fellow sonata partner, make sure that he/she is also comfortable of being recorded. if this is aud-vid rec, do tell them in ADVANCE so they can dress appropriately. i once did a session with pianist wearing a cafeteria table cloth as she wasnt aware and came up in lovely surfer shorts that was too short for the camera angle...


engineer:
please dont just take an ad or someone's word.if you have time (and with calendar, you would have MADE the time), try to look through referrals, ask someone you trust for referrals and listen to their samples, or go through school-provided list.  as there are many different type of engineers, they may focus on different issues.  i once had a 'plea' last minute call from a singer who hired an engineer and when he got home at 11pm and listened to it, the recording had no dynamic range... the engineer btw told him that he's focusing on television broadcast (where you need to 'normalize' as much as possible, meaning low dynamic range).  except this was an ADP application to a big brand nyc music school. and because they did it on the possible last day, there was no real time to fix anything *see, mark your due date EARLIER.  you want someone who is familiar and understands 'ideal' sound for classical music (which may not be quite the same with dubstep)

another way is to request list of equipment.
here's a microphone i once saw on an engineer advertisement around school:
now, you say: who hires a 'pro' engineer with that microphone?!

well, im saying when it's written: Sony ECM-DS70P, it doesnt quite look like... that, at least to the general public who havent paid attention yet.  you want to hire someone who has professional level microphone (after all, this is music demo) and who can do 16bits at least (that's CD quality. the usual industry standard is 24bits, which is then reduced down). if you dont know the engineer at all, do ask for the equipment list and do some google searches. you will soon find out who does the 'home style' and who can run with detailed and instruement-appropriate microphones to capture you at your finest.

additionally, MAKE SURE THEY RUN BACKUP.  sometimes equipments fail. power fails. things break. coffee is spilled. one way to prep for it is to run a backup.  the backup unit should have battery-power-back up and should have a separate input line (this can run from the same mixer, however); if you are running the line-in (microphone) directly from main unit to backup unit, if main fails- well, back up will also fail. going through a separate pre-amp/mixer will at least 1. guarantee power to the mic and 2. ensure line-in stays alive.

and bring BACKUP MEDIA. this may be extra CDs (if you are burning it there), or an extra SD card, perhaps a memory stick with more-than-plenty room left in it.  in this case, if your master CD gets sat on by a random dude, you still have another copy.  and with the way things go, rather than having another CD, you have a better chance of storing/finding things digitally through flash-memory stick/cloud computing (dropbox, Adrive, etc)

if you do aud-vid demo, and engineer said they will sync it later, do trust them and do check it before you send it off.  i played in many demos and often by the time i found out from my copy that aud-vid is out-of-sync, the actual application have reached the destination.  of course, they would try to understand this may not be your fault, but do not leave things to grace of others. do check the quality of the work you receive. *once again, helpful to get the stuff done in advance, so you can have couple days if necessary to request re-sync, etc.

well, the opposite view is: it's only a pre-screen!
well, feel free to go ahead and 'practice' recording with your own gears, or explore with friends. this can be a great asset and awesome experience.  and the consumer level recorders such as H2, H4 or the ZOOM series can do amazing things WHEN PLACED OPTIMALLY.  but this also takes a bit of practice- how to position, where to position, how far/close, what kind of room, too loud/too soft, etc, the challenges will creep up. but dont give up! it is possible to do an acceptable demo with self and friends.  and above mic from sony only costs 50-70 dollars, much less than an hour session with a decent engineer... yes, you can LEARN, which is awesome.  but make sure that the final quality is comparable (by the due date).  if everyone wore their best suit to the audition, perhaps you should not show up in your best pajamas...  and if you are tight on time and unsure of the approximated final result- call and engineer if this is the school that you REALLY want to get to.  it's hard for the juries to take a crummy quality recording seriously (just like resume printed in stained papers).


friend/mentor/producer,
take this one seriously. no one that i know can 1. play, 2. listen and 3. make notes, 4. manage time, 5. be calm and focused on the repertoire.  especially when the pressure may be on for the 'demo' and delivering the best.

as a pianist/chamber musician/producer, i often provide additional support as a producer in a recording session.  the role of this third person is to: simply bring out the best of a session.

this may mean running photocopies, finding tapes, checking editions, making notes during takes, suggest tutti cuts, determining what can be fixed now and what cannot be (which turns to 'what needs fixing' and 'what needs accepting'), if there's future editing plan, where the edits should take place and where to start/finish the retake (many people do retakes on the 'spot' of retake, which means it cannot be spliced without problem.  you need a bit extra on front AND back for successful splice. and depending on the context of music, some spots just cannot be mixed together- pianists: beware of your pedalling, as this often makes editing impossible), and most importantly, time management.

if your engineer is well-versed in your repertoire, please do ask them if they would be the third ear.  for me, it makes the session more interesting. however, it is also useful to not to ask anyone to be the 'producer,' as impractical suggestions (usually due to time/resource constraints) can also destruct a session.  you can also ask your teacher or mentor to be there, if it does not phase you (it often does, believe it or not- think of how your lesson goes; if you play better in lesson, you should consider asking them if they could. if you do feel pressured in your lesson, well, perhaps you should do it without your teacher).

it can even be your colleague or a friend who is IMPARTIAL and RECORDING EXPERIENCED.  the colleague thing can turn into a mini- studio class session, which you do not want.  you dont have time to ponder changes in a studio during a session- the aim is to twick and adjust, not to consider and fancy a change.  so be aware.

but i tell you, having an efficient producer (or in my case, i do my best to do double: rec eng/producer), can really save your sanity during a session.  think about this one carefully, as you can do without, but if you do find the right one... BINGO!

next topic: finding space and estimating time



















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