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Recording a small concert

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Ilya KonstantinovRecording a small concert
by on Apr 19, 2010 at 10:10:59 am

(I hope this is the right forum, as most discussions here seem to be about filming weddings.)

I'd like some tips about filming shows: less-known bands, performances by friends, etc. Of course you cannot safely bring filming gear to a Madonna show ... nor can you hope to match her own tour videos. I'm talking about times when, by filming, you'd be doing a favor to the performer.

So far I don't have anything except for a decent HD camcorder, and I'm looking for el-cheapo solutions -- well, to an extent :)

Here are some things I thought about, but I'd welcome any tips.

1) Standing in the front of the crowd, I cannot get the whole band in the frame. Standing behind the crowd, the crowd obscures the band. Is there some solution, like extending the camera on a monopod high in the air?

2) How about recording a separate audio track straight from the mixer (assuming you're on good terms with the sound guy)? The camera might record the crowd cheering and even use the directional property of the microphone, but eventually you want to be able to put over clear audio over all the noise when needed, no?

Are there any popular portable solutions for recording "bootleg" audio off the mixer?


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Joel ServetzRe: Recording a small concert
by on Apr 19, 2010 at 3:50:15 pm

I'm assuming from your post that this could be any number of venues and not just one fixed setting. Since this is a single camera recording, your best bet is to visit the venue in advance to establish the best camera location. Ideally, if you can set up at the back from an elevated central position this will eliminate any audience interference and will allow you to pull back the shot to include the audience when desired or zoom in for close ups of band members, especially when someone has a solo.
Establish a rapport with whoever is doing sound and arrange to take a feed from the front of house mixer. If running a cable is not feasible, it's good to invest in a reliable wireless system, but make sure it is frequency agile and full diversity, and does not infringe on the 700 Mhz. band. Also, make sure you get a system that does not infringe on fequencies in use in your area. The FCC website can guide you there.
Don't rely solely on the feed from the house mixer. That can fail for any number of reasons, and always at the wrong time. Have a backup, usually in the form of a shotgun mic at the camera position. This can also be used to mix in some ambience at just the level you want. In any case, the sends to your camcorder should go through a good external mixer so that you can indidually control them for the right balance and to deal with any sudden changes. Make sure you have a nice kit of pads, ground lifters and phase reversers to deal with any signal issues from the house send. And by all means, always use good headphones to monitor the sound from the mixer and from the camcorder to immediately pick up and deal with ay issues.

Joel Servetz
RGB Media Services, LLC
Sarasota, Fl

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Ilya KonstantinovRe: Recording a small concert
by on Apr 19, 2010 at 4:33:00 pm

Thanks! That was very informative and I'm glad to receive such attention as an amateur :)

So you're proposing to feed the audio into the camera via a wired/wireless solution?
What I had in mind is something akin to a sound recorder separately plugged into the house mixer. I've heard Sony MiniDiscs were the ubiquitous bootleg recorders in the 1990s: Anything recommended from our days? (I guess syncing can be achieved by a simple start/end clap or simple manual syncing.)

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Mark SuszkoRe: Recording a small concert
by on Apr 19, 2010 at 4:36:17 pm

Monopod could work, but you'll upset the people standing behind it. I think it is betetr than hand-holding the camera all night though.

You could also put an add-on wide angle lens adapter on the camera and get a wider shot of the stage. Be ready for a drop in light sensitivity with the extra glass, but being close, with good stage lighting, may moderate that problem.

You need to define what you want to accomplish with this project. Is this just meant to document the performances, witha locked down wide shot and good audio, so they can review themselves later, or something more, some kind of promotional use?

To document the show, you could just get to the venue early and lash a camera mount somewhere in the lighting grids or front of house area up above the crow and level with the band, and let it roll. If you want to shoot something more active and dynamic than that, you're going to have to invest in more gear and likely a second camera shooting wide shots and cut-aways, so you have a way to edit. That, or count on shooting many takes of the same live performance over and over from different angles, then good luck trying to cut that together in post later.

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Chip ThomeRe: Recording a small concert
by on Apr 19, 2010 at 5:48:16 pm

What we do is place the cam we refer to as the "static full view cam" on one of our Manfrotto 3246 which we can get up to 7 feet in the air. We also use the "Manfrotto 561Bs", but a monopod is pretty much only the best for our B Roll.

We now have one cam elevated to the point where it clears the crowd and because this is set up in the back, we also have a full view of the entire stage.

A board feed is only good enough, if the venue is big enough where the sound people are not relying on guitar amps etc pumping out enough of their own sound. In smaller venues, typically the sound people will tame down the guitars and amp up the vocals, drums and keyboard giving you a strange mix when listening to it by itself. For this reason, you need an alternative source, such as a camera mounted mic, we use the Rode Stereo Videomic. We then mix the pair in post, to give us the clarity of the board feed for vocals etc, along with the ambient of the room and the guitars that is often buried in the board feed.

You can grab the board feed to a recorder and mix that later in your post. Many use a Zoom or Edirol, but I have read of some loosing "sync" after a period of time. Research your specific selection thoroughly before assuming it is going to do the job.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Recording a small concert
by on Apr 19, 2010 at 6:17:50 pm

Chip makes a vital point on the sound mix issue.

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grinner hesterRe: Recording a small concert
by on Apr 19, 2010 at 8:59:17 pm

Filming these events would in no way be the cheap route. Telecine alone makes it a mismatch for most uses. Stick with your HD camcorder. Rove around so you have shots to edit with. Do grab a board feed if you can.

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Micah McDowellRe: Recording a small concert
by on Apr 19, 2010 at 10:13:30 pm

Honestly, to get any kind of quality results recording a concert, you need multiple cameras. I'd save up and get at least one camera similar to what you have. Set one up at the back of the venue as a wide master shot and use another with a monopod or handheld as a roving B-roll cam for closeups. If you're stuck with a single cam, do as the others have suggested and hope for the best.

There will be audio issues as already mentioned. If you wanted true pro results, you'd have to have a multitrack recorder recording everything that's coming to the board on separate tracks, plus several room mics in the venue. Then you'd do your own mix later. Anything less won't ever truly sound very good. Multitrack recorders are the cheapest they've ever been right now, with a suitable TASCAM 2488 under $700 new, and much cheaper used.

However, if you're really working with no budget, the best you can do is try to get a feed from the board to the wide shot camera and record camera mic audio with the other camera as some have suggested. Or, you could just record with a stereo pair of room mics, which may turn out great or horrible depending on the room's acoustics and other factors. Remember, you're shooting a concert. The whole point is the music; poor video will be much more forgivable and less distracting than poor audio quality in this situation.

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Chip ThomeRe: Recording a small concert
by on Apr 20, 2010 at 3:43:39 am


There are lots of good suggestions going here, but let me describe for you when I started out doing bands.

I had one single chip Panasonic camera and an old Slik tripod. I set up the tripod and didn't extend the legs to their widest stance, which got my camera 6 feet or so in the air. Because the band was on an elevated stage, it was good enough. For audio, all I had was the built in mic. This at least "got me in the game".

From there I used that set up for several months, and learned and read all I could about video and doing live shows. Each time out I'd try something a bit different and made a ton of mistakes, but learned from most all of them.

My next improvement was a Panny GS500 and then a Rode VideoMic. I learned real quick, the shotgun Rode VideoMic is garbage for live music. Next came the stereo VideoMic. some time later, a second Paanny 3 chip camera, and a monopod. Then I tried a board feed, and ended up buying cables to go with those possible set ups. Then more cameras, and more and better tripods. Inside of two years, there was a boat load of gear that I had to drag to a show, compared to one camera bag and a tripod when I began. I also ended up having to bring in a second shooter, to man the second B Roll.

But... I started out just like you, one camera and a desire to shoot some bands.

My best advice to you would be to just go in there and shoot your first one and go home and critically evaluate how it looks and sounds. The two biggest offenders of quality have been discussed, stabilizing the cam and getting good audio. Start with having your cam stabilized, and learn from what you encounter in your first shoot.

If you want to go the recorder route, spend a lot of time investigating each model to make sure it will do what you want. You probably could find a lot of uses for the recorder other than just this.

What you have to go learn is most of these shows have garbage lighting for video. Most will light for the effect it will add to their performance and not care what a camera needs as far as light to capture good footage.

What else you have to learn is how placement can't always be the best, and sometimes you just end up with a lousy view of the stage.

You will find some performers are relatively stationary, and some are all over the place during a gig. I have found some performers I just can't pull a real tight close up on them, because inside of three seconds they are often out of the frame.

There are a ton of things to learn about shooting these type gigs....and experience is going to teach you 90+% of them.

Be forwarned though.... if this gets "in your blood" you aren't going to stop buying stuff because you are going to find you drive yourself to newer and higher levels of quality and need more and more stuff to get there. :-)

My brief list of my "collection" now is:

2 Manfrotto 561B
2 Manfrooot 3246
2 Manfrotto 3130
2 Panasonic GS 500
1 Panasonic GS320
2 Panaasonic DVX100B
1 Slik Master
1 Manfrotto Modo
1 Rode Stereo Videomic
1 Rode shotgun Videomic
Filters for all of everything
1 duffel bag full of cables

And probably a ton of other stuff I can't recall right now. :-)

It is fun to go do..... but the gear buying gets VERY ADDICTING !!!

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Chris WilliamsRe: Recording a small concert
by on Mar 10, 2013 at 5:47:31 am

I realize this is an old thread, but it seems the most relevant, so I hope you folks won't mind me reviving it.

I shoot concerts pretty much exclusively, and Micah McDowell's point is very accurate - you need multiple cameras. These days, I'm shooting with five myself.

I had a wide camera set up dead center to capture the whole stage. That was a go-to camera if everything else failed. I hand-operate two cameras, a Canon HF-S100 set medium width to capture an alternate view and my Canon XH-A1 main camera on my best tripod to get close-ups. I have two other HF-S100s on remote pan-tilt heads to get additional alternative angles. I monitor four of the cameras via a quad-split device normally used for security video (I don't need to monitor the wide-angle shot). I'm constantly adjusting the two main cameras, and less frequently adjusting the two pan-tilt ones. Good pan-tilt systems are way out of my budget, so I never use them for moving shots.

I always get a board feed, supplemented by a pair of audience mics on a very high microphone stand. But I also always record audio on all of my cameras - mostly to for syncing the video, but occasionally it has saved my bacon, especially if a chatterbox has stationed him or herself near my audience mics. The cameras I use all have manual audio level controls, and the sound can be surprisingly acceptable as long as you place the cameras carefully.

I shoot in HD on all of the cameras, bringing them into my editing program to synchronize them (manually - I've never gotten the PluralEyes demo to work.) I make an SD proxy of all the cameras to be able to edit them on my laptop, but finish the full show in HD and put HD samples on YouTube.

I don't want to reveal all my tricks, but I have produced a pretty impressive work-flow if I do say so myself. For instance, recently I shot two two-hour shows in Chicago on a Saturday, traveled on the red-eye, and shot another two two-hour shows on Sunday in Kansas City. And I delivered all four finished HD masters in a week. And all my equipment to do this fits into a backpack.

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