A quick way to make a music performance video

A quick way to make a music performance video

In May 2020 during COVID-19 quarantine, some of the violinists who play in the Michigan Opera Theatre orchestra collaborated on a version of Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin:

Each participating violinist selected one or more blocks of measures from the Chaconne and recorded them using their phone. I then took those contributions and combined them into a single continuous performance.

People have asked me how I did it, so here’s what I did. You could use this as a rough how-to guide, if you want to make something similar.

Disclaimer 🍕

Our Chaconne video was really well received, and I’m really happy about that! But I was learning as I went along. I think someone with more audio/video editing experience could’ve made a more polished product and done things more efficiently.

Before you begin 🎻

It might make things a little easier, at first, if you start out by testing the whole process in miniature. Just work with a couple of very short videos first. Maybe record yourself playing a couple of scales, say 10 or 20 seconds long. Then follow the steps using just these small videos. Some of the steps in the process take way less time when the videos are smaller.

Once you’re more comfortable with how things work, then follow the steps with with the videos you’re actually interested in.

Software you will need

You will likely need two to four different pieces of software. I used four programs, but:

  • You can probably get away without Audacity if your video editing software (see below) has the ability to export a movie to audio.
  • You can probably get away without Melodyne if your DAW (see below) has good pitch and rhythm editing capability.
  1. Audacity with the FFmpeg add-on

    Audacity is a general-purpose digital audio editor. It’s great for recording and processing individual sound files, normalizing volume, sample-rate conversion, and in general just messing around and playing with audio samples.

    With the FFmpeg add-on, Audacity can also extract the audio from an MP4 movie and save it as a WAV or MP3 file. That’s one of the things we’ll use it for here.

    While Audacity can with effort be used to create multi-track arrangements and masters from pre-existing music clips, that’s definitely not what it’s best at. (Specialized multi-track Digital Audio Workstation recording software like Bitwig Studio is best for this. See the next item.)

  2. Bitwig Studio, Reaper, or a comparable Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

    These days, you can pretty much accomplish the same things on any good Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

    Comparable programs include

    Not all of these are available on both Windows and macOS. Some are cheaper than others, due to which and how many “professional-level” features, plugins, and music samples are available out of the box. Which one you’ll prefer is a matter of taste, and how much you’ll be using it for live electronic music performance.

    I am a big fan of Reaper and Bitwig Studio, and have used Studio One in the past.

    A note about GarageBand

    GarageBand is like a lightweight version of Logic. I haven’t used either one. See this video about the differences between Logic and GarageBand. My guess is that you can make GarageBand do what you need it to do, but possibly with some extra effort.

  3. Melodyne or a comparable pitch-editing/time-stretching software.

    Melodyne is available as a standalone software, and also as a plugin for Digital Audio Workstations. I have been using the standalone version.

    zplane Elastique is another software which does this. I think it’s available only for use inside Digital Audio Workstations, either built in or as a plugin, and not as a standalone software, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

    Some DAWs whose paid versions as of 2020 include pitch/time-shift built on zplane Elastique include:

    • Ableton
    • Cubase
    • FL Studio
    • Reaper
    • Studio One

    I’ve used Elastique inside Reaper, and it works great.

  4. OpenShot or a comparable video editing software

    Again, not all of these are available on both Windows and macOS, and some are cheaper than others. Some are more sophisticated than others.

    I like OpenShot because it’s free and really easy to use. So far I haven’t needed a more sophisticated program. Video editing is definitely not in my wheelhouse yet!

Step 1: Record some videos 🙂

Use your phone, or a camera with a mic, and record some videos.

Step 2: Get them to your computer 💻

First, make a new folder on your computer called something like My Recordings. The name doesn’t actually matter.

Then, get your recordings into this folder.

There are a few different ways to do this, and which one you want to use depends on how you recorded the videos and how big they are.

  • Put your camera’s MicroSD card into your computer and copy the videos to a folder.
  • Use a USB cable to connect your Android phone to your computer, then copy the videos.
  • Use iTunes and a USB cable if you used an iOS device to record.
  • Pass the videos from your phone to your computer through Dropbox or similar.
  • Use your phone to email them to yourself, then use your computer to download them from your email.
  • Use your phone to put them on YouTube, then use something like 4K Video Downloader to download them from YouTube to your computer.

Step 3: Extract the audio ♠

Make a new folder called something like WAVs original.

Option #1: Use Audacity

One by one, use Audacity (with the FFmpeg add-on installed or it wont work!) to open the videos:


Then just choose the Export as WAV menu option:


Save the resulting WAV files into the folder WAVs original.

Option #2: Use video software

If your video editing software can export to audio (it probably can), then this might be a good option for you instead of using Audacity. I didn’t do it this way, mostly because I’m really comfortable in Audacity.

Make sure you save/export the resulting audio files into the folder WAVs original.

Here’s how it works in iMovie: iMovie Tutorial – How Extract Audio From Video

Step 4: Fix major volume problems 📢

Sometimes, for one reason or another, some recordings are way louder than others. In these situations, it’s often helpful to “normalize the volume” at this point in the process. You will also usually fine-tune the volume later in the process, when you mix inside your Digital Audio Workstation.

Make a new folder called something like WAVs normalized.

Again use Audacity, to open the extracted audio WAV files which are in WAVs original. Work with them one by one.

In Audacity, highlight all the audio (“Select All”), and then pick the Effect->Normalize menu item:


Choose these settings for the Normalize effect:


As before, choose the Export as WAV menu option:


Save the resulting WAV files into the folder WAVs normalized.

Step 5: Fix pitch and rhythm gently 🔬

You can do this either:

  1. Using Melodyne, before you pull the audio files into your DAW.
  2. Inside a DAW such as Reaper which has a decent pitch and time streching feature or plugin available.

My steps for Melodyne

Make yet another new folder to save the results in.

One by one, open the normalized audio recordings in Melodyne. Make sure Melodyne is set to use A=440 or A=441 or whatever you decided to tune to.

Set Melodyne’s algotithm to Melodic, because this has a better sound quality than Polyphonic:


Set Pich Grid to No Snap, otherwise you can only make half-step adjustments instead of intonation adjustments:


Click on notes and move them up and down to change pitch:


Click on notes and move them left and right to change timing:


Export the audio to new WAV files and save in your new folder, like you did in previous steps.

A note about Melodyne’s Melodic and Polyphonic modes

The Melodic mode seems to my ear to have a better sound quality, but it can’t deal with chords well. The Polyphonic mode does an absolutely amazing job breaking out chords into notes that you can individually tune, but I don’t like the sound quality. If you need to tune individual notes in chords relative to one another, then Polyphonic is the mode to use.

With (maybe not minimal) extra work, you can get the best of both worlds:

  1. Use Melodic and export the results.
  2. Use Polyphonic and export the results.
  3. Do surgery using your DAW or Audacity to replace the problem chords in the Melodic export with the better chords in the Polyphonic export.

Using Reaper on the Chaconne

The Digital Audio Workstation Reaper is inexpensive and powerful.

I used Reaper to make a four-player-only version of the first Chaconne tutti. It wasn’t included in the final Chaconne video because I did it weeks later.

Reaper has ReaTune to fix intonation, and Stretch Markers to fix rhythm. These are automatically configured to use Elastique by default. Using ReaTune and Stretch Markers in Reaper is just as easy as using Melodyne.

Anyway, here’s the resulting first tutti. If you look closely, you can see little red and blue triangles. These are the Stretch Markers, which I dragged around to line up with the quarter = 58 metronome beats.


Step 6: Combine audio clips 🔨 🔧

Now you will use your Digital Audio Workstation.

The goal is the same no matter which DAW you have: get the audio clips you made earlier into the DAW and arrange them into a coherent piece of music.

But how exactly you’re going to do this depends on which DAW you have. They are all comparable in features, but they look and behave slightly differently from one another, and so you interact with them in accordingly different ways. YouTube and Google are your friends.

The upshot is that you need to take the audio files that you made in 05: Fix pitch and rhythm gently, and get them into your DAW, so that the result looks something like this:


In Bitwig and Reaper, and probably most of the others, you can drag them from the folder on your computer onto the track/timeline/arranger area of the DAW window:


The next thing that you’ll want to do is make sure that the playback speed of your imported audio clips is not affected by the DAW tempo BPM setting. How you do this is completely dependent on which DAW you are using. The reason that you need to do this, at least for something like the Chaconne, is that the audio will likely never perfectly match up with any given metronome marking. And for live classical recordings, you likely wouldn’t even want it to.

Now your audio clips are living somewhere in the DAW’s timeline window.

Next, drag your audio clips around and arrange them to create the piece of music that you’re trying to create. In the Chaconne, I gave each player their own track; see the screenshot above.

You will likely want to set your imported audio clips so they Fade in and Fade out. It works just like a video crossfade, and is how you make a smooth transition between audio clips:


Effects! 🤘🏻

This is the fun stuff.

You might want to make sure that you’ve already made a decent piece of music before you start adding effects. It’s easy to go down an effects rabbit hole. Also, it’s harder to make sure that you’ve precisely aligned and faded your clips if you’ve already added reverb or delay.

Here’s a video where I’m using Bitwig to 1) adjust a Chaconne player’s volume using their track volume slider, and then 2) adjust their tone quality by adding EQ:


Here’s a video where I’m using Bitwig to add reverb to the Master track:

Step 7: Render an audio master ✅

Use your DAW and Export Audio to output a shiny new complete audio file of the music you just created!

Here’s how you do it in Bitwig:

Step 8: Make a new video 🎵 🎥

You now have your completed audio master.

Next, you need to make a composite video by combining the videos you started with.

Open your video editing software, and import the video clips you want to work with, as well as the audio master file that you made in your DAW.

This is how you import files in OpenShot:


Your video editing software might feel kind of similar to your DAW software: you’re just organizing and blending video clips instead of audio clips. But again, the details totally depend on the particular video editing software that you are using.

Generally, here’s what you will do:

  • Add a track for your audio master clip.
  • Add your video clips into one or more new tracks.
    • Make sure to mute the sound from these video clips, since you already have an audio master track.
    • Actually, it might be helpful to temporarily keep the volume on, since the video sound can help you line up the video with the audio master track.
  • Drag video clips around until you have a coherent movie and they line up with your audio master clip.
  • Add crossfades between video clips for smooth transitions.
  • Add any special video effects from your software that you like.

This should give you a feeling of the process in OpenShot:


My computer is too slow! 🤬

If you have a complicated or long video, or a lot of video tracks, a lot of effects, or an older computer, your video editing software might grind to a halt. You might not be able to successfully preview your video or export it in a reasonable amount of time.

This happened to me in the Chaconne video, because of the tutti sections and the number of effects I was using.

The Solution

Work in stages, with smaller projects:

  1. Start a video project in your video software.
  2. Add some video clips and the audio master.
  3. Work with these clips and make a coherent paritial movie.
  4. Render/export to a new video clip.
  5. Then start a new project. Import the video clip you made in (#4), your audio master, and additional video clips.
  6. Go back to (#3), and repeat until you’re done.

Step 9: Render a completed video 💯

Export a completed video.

Here’s how you do it in OpenShot:


Congratulations!

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