Music In The Video Age
Video for the musician
You too can be as visually exciting as Madness and Duran Duran! Mark Jenkins explains how...
Once you've got over the hurdle of producing a demo tape of your exciting musical ideas, the next logical step is to make a video, isn't it? The problem is that, while video is becoming increasingly important to the musician, there's much less work being done in the 'home video production' field than in the home recording field. Although it's possible to achieve some useful effects on the average domestic video machine, the best solution is to book some time in a video studio, but this can be horrendously expensive. Prices for studio time can go from £50 to several £100 an hour, with editing time starting at £30 an hour. Remember that it can take, for instance, a complete eight-hour day to edit 20 minutes of simple video to a studio sound tape.
Luckily there are some more reasonable alternatives in the shape of music retailers moving into the video field. One such is Future Music in Chelmsford, who started with a sophisticated audio-only studio and have moved into video over the last 18 months or so. Originally intended to produce demos of complex instruments such as the Rhodes Chroma synth, the video facility is now capable of producing full-scale demos synchronised to a soundtrack, as Trevor Taylor explained.
"Usually we record the song first to get the audio out of the way with the highest possible quality. Assuming your original concept is to match pictures to the sound (although an increasing number of people have abstract video ideas and compose a piece of music to match them afterwards), we then play the music on a cassette or Revox and the artist mimes to it in the video studio. After that 'safe shot' is recorded it's possible to cut in at any point with another picture taken from a selection made earlier — this is called 'insert editing', as opposed to 'assemble editing' where you're simply adding on a piece at a time to the end of a video tape.
"At this stage we can add various effects. The Chromascope generator can produce coloured tints on what would otherwise be a basic boring shot, overlay effects such as coloured bars and oscillograph-type displays, and help in adding backgrounds. This can also be done with the colour key facilities on the JVC effects unit; colour key removes the lightest or darkest parts from a picture and inserts something else, so in addition to very spacey effects it's possible to insert an expensive-looking background as we did for the Roland, Yamaha and Amdek demo videos.
"The vision mixer itself, even without the use of colour effects, can provide various wipes (diagonal, up/down, left/right and so on), fades and superimposition effects. Chromakey, which superimposes new material over a certain colour in the picture (which is why newsreaders never wear blue!) can also be used to insert parts of advertising material or captions into the picture."
Although Future Music and other concerns have reasonable prices, there's no real substitute for having video gear at home and using it in your own good time. This can be, as previously mentioned, expensive enough to give grown men palpitations, but if you've got an advance from a record company, a large group of interested musicians or a friendly local college AV department it is a possibility. There are a few items of video equipment designed for home production use, and also a small amount of second-hand industrial gear on the market. Try Exchange and Mart and the classified columns of video magazines or media magazines such as the BBC's 'Ariel'.
The absolute basic necessity is a decent domestic video machine with an Edit function. Examples are the Ferguson 3V33, which occurs under various guises as the top-of-the-range VHS machine from rental companies such as DER and Radio Rentals. The Edit function allows you to do Insert Editing, so the 'mime to a soundtrack and dub over bits from another tape' approach is feasible. Note, though, that the soundtrack won't be disturbed but the sync code laid down on the video tape most certainly will. Try to edit a tape assembled in this way on professional equipment and you've had it, mate.
The next step is to add some effects such as captions, fade-ins and special treatments. This is where you have to start reaching deeper into your pocket for some specialised gear, such as National Panasonic's Home Production Console (WV J10E) on Home Telecine Adapter (WV J20E). The latter device transfers 8mm film to video — remember that, with the price of professional video editing, it can be cheaper to work in 8mm at first, transferring to video for the final stages. Eight millimetres hardware is quite cheap and there are several techniques possible with film (fast intercutting, film staining and scratching and multiple exposure) that just aren't practical with video.
The Home Production Console consists of a black-and-white camera, small mixer and colour synthesizer. It allows the user to insert captions, titles and coloured shapes over part or all of the picture, to superimpose two pictures and to add colour to black-and-white graphics. It also allows audio fade-in and visual fade to black, which simply can't be done with a domestic machine (although some cameras allow it on original material). The WV J10E is £479.95 and the WV J20E is POA.
Sony have a similar system designed for their Betamax cassette machines and also have a telecine adapter. Both VHS and Beta systems are developing compact video cameras which contain their own tapes, and these often have built-in captioning devices, but these are obviously more limited than being able to devise and shoot your own captions and effects.
Some of this type of equipment should help to produce the basic effects without which a demo video just doesn't look finished. Whether such equipment is available for sale (let alone for hire) outside London is debatable — even Panasonic themselves are reticent about it.
One manufacturer which does have a reliable source of supply is Videomatte, which is retailed through the Video City shop in London's Tottenham Court Road. At the moment there are two Videomatte products, the VM-1 vision mixer (£322.00) and the Videomatte 100 Enhancer/Duplicator. Each comes in a compact high-impact plastic casing with professional quality connectors. The VM-1 can mix together two cameras, or a camera and a VTR, or two VTR's; it can cut and mix between the two sources; it can fade to black, produce the very wonderful colour key effect, or wipe from one picture to another horizontally or vertically. The Videomatte 100 cleans up pictures during copying, does audio and video fades and feeds up to four video machines for copying.
Sounds simple, but like most things in video it's not as straightforward as it appears. We've already mentioned that editing on a domestic video upsets the sync codes laid down on the videotape, and preservation of these codes is really vital if you want to do anything ambitious. If you're striving for broadcast quality you need to work on professional U-Matic (three-quarter inch cassette) videotape, and U-Matic editing depends on the use of a 'Gen-Lock' capability. In other words, one video machine (or camera) becomes the master unit during copying and controls the slave, deciding where code pulses fall on the tape and supervising tape speed. Video City and others occasionally sell off used U-Matic machines, but even these (at £300 plus) are U-Matic in name alone, lacking Gen-Lock facilities. Some expensive semi-pro cameras have the correct facilities, but the basic domestic models certainly don't.
You can get away with quite a lot on VHS alone without venturing into the world of U-Matic though, and if your intention is to produce a promo to hawk around to venues, agents or labels this is likely to be the most convenient format for them to watch anyway. As previously mentioned, anything intended to be broadcast should be U-Matic (consult the BBC Engineering Department for exact details), although some continental stations and shows work off VHS in the British PAL format and convert the tapes to SECAM or NTSC themselves if necessary. One show interested in British videos is L'Echo des Bananes on FR3 — contact Vincent Lamy or Mickie Hazan at (Contact Details).
If you're aiming for the big time, the latest fashion is to appear on America's cable music station MTV. The technical requirements are a high-band U-Matic tape which will have its soundtrack heavily re-edited and stereo balanced. The musical requirement is presumably to sound like Toto, but don't let that put you off. High-band U-matic, by the way, is of broadcast quality — low-band only offers the precision editing facilities given by the Sony or similar editing console. If you want to contact MTV, try Brian Godshall, (Contact Details).
Lastly, if you do have any kind of video promotional or other film, or have done any electronic music scores for videos, send in a copy (returnable of course) to ES&CM for review. VHS, Beta, Philips or U-matic only please — the office budget hasn't yet extended to a BBC-style 1" C-format reel-reel machine yet!
Future Music, (Contact Details)
National Panasonic (Contact Details).
Video City, (Contact Details)
Feature by Mark Jenkins
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