Applications for AYO’s 2024 programs are now open, and all instrumental programs will require a video audition. Video auditions have become increasingly common across the arts industry. However, they can pose some unique challenges – so we sat down to get some tips and tricks from participants who have become experts on video auditions over the past few years, and former tutor of the Sound Production course at AYO National Music Camp, Haig Burnell.
You can find the full list of audition specifications in the audition information pack.
Applications for AYO’s 2024 programs close for string instruments on Tuesday 8 August, and all other instruments on Thursday 10 August.
Leave time to troubleshoot
Set aside some time to test your audio and video set-up. We recommend doing this to iron out any issues while there’s still plenty of time to fix them.
Please note that audition videos must be unedited – with the exception of combining the audio and video tracks together if they were taken on separate devices.
How do you choose a good room to record in?
‘They say very often with sound recording that the most important instrument is the room.’ Former Sound Production tutor Haig Burnell notes. ‘If you’re at uni and there’s a performance venue, try and use that space if you can.
‘If you don’t have access to a performance space, you’ll need to find a space at home. Take your instrument and go into that space and play, and see how comfortable you feel. You know if you play in a beautiful room, it feels nice to play.
‘You want something that’s fairly generous but not too generous. If you go into your bathroom it might not work. You want something with some space and air so the sound can travel.’
It is also worth noting that if your test recordings are sounding echo-y, soft furnishings or yoga mats can be placed around the room to absorb the sound.
There are a number of options available for you in filming your video audition.
You may choose to use your mobile phone to capture audio and video. This is perfectly acceptable as the auditions are not being judged on video quality, but mobile devices are not necessarily designed to capture the wide range of dynamics that an instrument can produce. There are some ways you can adjust the settings on your phone if you do not have access to a separate microphone, which are outlined in the next section.
It is also an option to use a separate microphone – USB microphones are able to plug directly into a computer or laptop and allow for a greater range of dynamic detail to be captured. Reputable brands for USB microphones include Rode and Yeti. Both brands can be found across Australia at electronics stores.
‘For some instruments it may not be ideal to have the video source and audio source in the same place.’ Haig reflects. ‘With instruments like trombone, double-bass, etc, it doesn’t hurt to have the microphone a little further back to avoid overloading the mic.’
Potential limitations of using mobile phones for both audio and video
Haig acknowledges that mobile phones are not necessarily designed to record musical material. ‘[These devices] have a number of things in them which make things like speech all levelled out. That can mean you might miss out on some dynamics. It also means that when things are very quiet you might end up getting a lot of really ‘hissy’ sound.
‘There’s a thing called ‘auto-gain control’ or ‘auto levelling’. You probably want to get into your device and turn those settings off. You also want to think about the distance from the device. If you’re too close, you’re going to get an overloaded, distorted sound which won’t be pleasant. If you’re too far away, you might end up hearing a lot more of the room. Just experiment a little to try and find an ideal distance with what you’ve got.
‘Have your settings on your device as such that you’re recording at a higher bit rate rather than a lower bit rate. It might have something like 128 kbps. A higher figure like 256 or 320 might give you a better result.’
No such thing as ‘the perfect take’
Cellist Noah Lawrence knows all too well that filming video auditions can quickly spiral out of control: ‘One of the main challenges that I’ve always faced with video auditions has been that concept of perfection, that you can feasibly get ‘the perfect take’. But it’s caused me quite a bit of distress over the years.
‘So my piece of advice would be to go into a recording session with a pre-determined number of takes you want to achieve in that time, and I wouldn’t go over that, for any reason at all!
‘In my experience, perfectionism can set in really easily. It’s so easy to just stop record, hit record again, and go for one more take. But on my experience, that’s led to a lot of fatigue and diminishing returns after a while.’
‘I think it’s very important to pace yourself with video auditions.’ Violist Jamie Miles notes. ‘It’s really easy to block off a whole day and spend hours and hours and hours recording the same excerpts. You can really drive yourself insane – and you lose the love and passion for the excerpts and the pieces they’re from. Even with your free choice piece as well.
‘I think it’s important to get the material ready to the point that you can have several days of recording. Make sure there’s times where you step away, go and have a tea or a coffee, and spend some time away from the camera and the light. Because it can be a bit dehumanising just spending hours in front of the camera, playing the same excerpts over and over again, ‘Oh damn that was wrong, that wasn’t good’… So be kind to yourself, block off a few days – get it done!’
It takes a village
Percussionist Leah Columbine suggests listening back to yourself and performing for other people in the lead up to the final recording, ‘because you will always find things that you can’t pick up yourself in the practice room. I feel like that’s the quickest way to improve, listening back to yourself and picking out the main bits that need improvement. Then it’s onwards and upwards from there!’