By Joshua Ian Elder, Minister of Music at First United Methodist Church
As you begin the process of creating a virtual choir performance, you must bear in mind that your final product will only be as good (more or less) as the recordings your choir members submit to you. Preparation, communication, and clarity are keys to laying the groundwork for a successful outcome. This step-by-step tutorial focuses on recording and collecting the best recordings from your choir members.
Live Q&A with Joshua
Don’t miss the Q&A session on November 18 at 10 AM Arizona Time via Zoom.
Begin by creating the practice videos.
The first step is to create two separate conductor/accompaniment videos; one will be a rehearsal video, the second will be a recording video. Both of these videos should be uploaded to YouTube as unlisted, so only singers with the link can access them.
1. Create the Rehearsal Video
Your rehearsal video should include a walk-through of the piece (hymn, anthem, etc.), explaining the musical details, going over any tricky spots, and finally running the entire piece (under tempo if appropriate) with piano/organ support of the singers’ notes. The rehearsal video will give singers an opportunity to get comfortable with the piece before they begin the recording process, and will give you the opportunity to include singers who may have missed your virtual rehearsal (more on that later).
To gain a better understanding of what the Rehearsal Video is like, watch the First Church Chancel Choir Rehearsal Video for “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me”, arr. K. Lee Scott.
2. Create the Recording Video
Your Recording Video is the one singers will follow as they record their videos. This video should look nice, as you may decide to include it in your final performance video. The video should include a slate, (see the slate in the 8th second of the video) which is a place where everyone claps with you on a specified beat, well before the music actually begins. This slate will help line up the audio/video tracks later in the process and can be removed once all audio/video has been synced. Be as precise as you can with your conducting, going out of your way to show phrasing and dynamics.
Watch First Church Chancel Choirs’ Recording Video for “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me”, arr. K. Lee Scott to better understand how this video differs from the first one.
Once you have created your conducting videos, it is time to hold a virtual rehearsal. When you invite choir members, make sure you include a PDF of the music you will be working on.
Step 3 – How to run a virtual rehearsal
Plan to have at least 1 virtual rehearsal via Zoom or other digital platforms. The purpose of this rehearsal is to sing together. Make sure all musical details are covered (dynamics, breath marks, ritardandos, etc.), and make sure everyone in your choir is clear about the process, expectations, and deadlines for your digital performance. You may even want to rehearse once or twice with the actual Recording Video (you can share your screen to make this happen) they will use for their recordings.
After you have held your virtual rehearsal, send a follow-up email to your choir members that includes the YouTube links to your rehearsal and recording videos, a PDF of the piece (in case they misplaced it) and a concise review of the musical details, recording processes, expectations, and deadlines.
Now the ball is in their court! As you communicate this information to them, you must be as encouraging and clear about the processes and deadlines as you can possibly be!
Step 4 – Recording Processes and Outcome
You want your choir members to send you a video that contains ONLY their voice – no accompaniment, click track, metronome – just their voice. They must play the recording video on their computer through HEADPHONES, and record themselves with a second device (smartphone or iPad) singing along to the recording video. Or Vice Versa – whichever way works for them, just make sure they use two devices and headphones! Stress that their video should include ONLY their voice, as the accompaniment will be mixed into the audio on its own track.
You will also need to consider and communicate the screen orientation (landscape or portrait) you want singers to use and may want to consider a dress code. The sample follow-up email below includes those considerations. Feel free to use it as a template for your own communication. It is the email I sent to the First Church Choir for “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me.”
Hello Chancel Choir Members,
Thank you for attending the rehearsal last night. It was so much fun to see and sing with all of you! Regarding, “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me”, the plan is for each of you to make an audio/video recording of yourself singing the song as we rehearsed. Please read the instructions below carefully!
- Print the PDF of “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me” (if you haven’t already done so).
- Open this YouTube link https://youtu.be/mVRcIft5GMo and PRACTICE with the rehearsal video.
- Go through the rehearsal video with me at least 2 times. Get really familiar with your part, paying special attention to all the markings (carry-overs and cut-offs) and the text.
- Open this YouTube link https://youtu.be/cM2YcLjR0pY and practice with the full organ/conducting video. Make sure you practice the CLAP – that’s an essential piece to the success of this recording project.
- Make a PRACTICE RECORDING! Play the full organ/conducting video on your computer through HEADPHONES, and record yourself with your phone or iPad (video/audio) singing along to the YouTube video (that is playing through your headphones). Or Vice Versa – whichever way works for you, please just make sure you use two devices and headphones!NOTE: You MUST play the video through headphones. The recording you make should have your voice only, not your voice plus the organ part – if the organ track is audible in your recording, I cannot use it.NOTE: Your recording should be portrait (not landscape) from the chest up. Please wear deep jewel tones.
- After making a practice recording or two, make your real recording. If it doesn’t go well, just try again. Take your time. Walk away. Come back later.
Submitting your video – Once your video has been recorded and saved, you must send it to me. Here are a few options:
- Preferred method – wetransfer.com – There’s an online service for sending large files, westransfer.com. It’s free, requires no registration, you just enter the recipient’s email address and upload your file, then they send the recipient a message that the file is ready for download.
- Upload and send it to me via Dropbox (if you have an account)
- Upload and send it to me via Google Drive (if you have a Gmail account, you should also have a Google Drive account, though you may not know it.)
- Upload and text it to me at: […]
Important note: Whether by Google Drive, Dropbox, or wetransfer.com, you have to allow time for your upload to finish — it takes quite a while — Get confirmation before you click away from it. Otherwise, the upload won’t be complete.
Deadline for submission is
Wednesday, September 30 at Noon
Once they have successfully created and saved their video, they must send it to you. You will want a deadline of 10 days to two weeks prior to the day it will be shown in service. Here are a few file-sharing or file submission options:
- Wetransfer.com – There’s an online service for sending large files, wetransfer.com. It’s free, requires no registration, you just enter the recipient’s email address and upload your file, then they send the recipient a message that the file is ready for download.
- Upload and send it via Dropbox or Google Drive.
- Upload and send it via text message. Text messaging is a very good way to send large files.
For your enjoyment, below is First Church’s video performance recording of, “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me.”
Register for the Q&A Panel on November 18 at 10 AM
Ask Joshua your questions about his process for recording a virtual choir during the live Q&A session on November 18 via Zoom. Registration is required.