This is a case study walking through the entire process of this project from beginning to end. The goal is to give you a good feel for everything that goes into a project like this, and to help them decide if this is something that would be a good fit for your group.
Snapshot of the Project Timeline
Initial Consultation/Approval from Administration
Music Rights Licensing
Planning the Capture
Audio Capture (3 hours) - Dec 5th
Video Capture (3 hours) - Dec 7th
Audio Mixing, Editing, and Mastering (6-8 hours)
Video Editing (4-5 hours)
Delivery & Release (officially released on Jan 11, 2024)
Initial Consultation & Approval
This project was initially conceived by Austin Pelella, instructor of the FSU Marching Chiefs Big 8 Drumline. He had written a drumline cadence set to Polyphia's ABC, and inquired about turning it into a music video. During the initial consultation, we were provided with a MIDI mockup that he had made. This was MORE than enough to give us a SOLID idea of what he was looking to accomplish (much better than what we receive from most clients for a project of this magnitude).
After confirming the vision of the project, we pushed a quote up to the Marching Chiefs administration, which was quickly approved - Proof that a strong proposal (the strength of the MIDI mockup) goes a long way...
The administration agreed to take care of the Music Rights Licensing (BMG Rights Management). This process always takes some time, but thankfully we (TPV) were not involved in that process.
When deciding how to go about capturing a project like this, obviously audio is a VERY high priority. Since the Polyphia track is already set in stone, a method had to be devised to sync the drumline audio to the Polyphia track. In studio recording situtations, each member of the ensemble would be provided with a click track delivered via IEMs (in-ear-monitors). In the case of a 30-member ensemble, however - this isn't possible unless done wirelessly. Therefore, we were presented with the following options:
Route wired click tracks to every member in the ensemble (not possible)
Route wireless click tracks to 8 members of the ensemble (out of price range)
Record without a click track.
In any musical situation, it is essential to find an approach that allows the musician or group sound their best. As the group was preparing, Austin was in frequent contact with us, giving us updates on the progress of the group as they prepared for the recording session. It may surprise you to hear that we went with Option 3 - Recording without a click track. It turns out, the drumline sounds much better a few clicks slower than the original Polyphia recording. After consulting with one another, we both agreed that we would make it work in the editing process.
Having done a similar project the previous year with this group (but without the addition of the music track), we decided to shoot audio and video separately. This gave us more time for each sessions to produce the highest quality possible, and provides a break in between each to maintain focus.
The audio for this project was recorded at Marching Cheifs field on the FSU campus in Tallahassee, FL. This consisted of a matched pair of sE8 microphones with omnidirectional caps as the primary stereo pair, about 40-50 feet from the ensemble and 10 in the air, and a pair af AKG C414 XLS as outriggers at the same height (set to omni).
Rather than recording full takes (beginning to end), the audio was recorded in several, smaller chunks. This allows for manipulation during the editing process, giving the client the opportunity to choose the best take from each chunk for themselves. Each segment is labeled in the recording session, and takes that stand out are labelled with a rating out of 10. This helps the client determine the best takes quickly when the editing process begins.
Drumline Mix & EQ
The mix ended up sounding best with a hard L/R pan on all 4 mics, with the AKGs set to -2dB and the sE8s set to 0dB. As far as effects are concerned, I started with a hard limiter on each track. This cuts off the top end and allows the overall mix to be brought up, prevents clipping, maintains consistent levels and, in general, gives me more creative control of the mix. Next was bringing out the frequencies associated with the top 2 basses.
The tuning made it more difficult for them to resonate as much as the others, so I raised the frquencies from 200-250Hz by 4-5dB on both the right channels. To help widen the mix, I mirrored that change by LOWERING the frequencies in the left tracks from 200-250Hz by the same amount, but moved the curve slightly to the right to avoid affecting the lower 4 basses too much. Once the mix was ready, I bounced it at -2dB and began the patching process.
I sent the mixdown of the entire session to Austin, where his job was to map out the "keepers." He did this beautifully, notating the segment, marker number, measures, and time stamps.
Patching refers to "patching" together each of the individual segments of audio that you want to link together into the whole. Using this edit map, I went through the mixdown and exported each of the segments, leaving 2 full seconds on either side to leave room for cross-fading.
With only 9 audio segments to cross-fade, the overall patch was finished in under an hour, and bounced to a stereo mixdown.
Aligning the Two Tracks
The next order of business was aligning the Big 8 audio with the Polyphia Track. This ended up much more time consuming than we had originally anticipated, but the approach we took worked really well! I started by throwing down markers every 4 beats in the Big 8 audio mixdown. Then I did the same with the Polyphia track.
Using these markers, I made cuts in the Polyphia track at each marker, and used the time-stretch tool in Adobe Audition to align each 4 bar segment. As you can see, some segments required more stretching than others...
After the tracks were perfectly aligned, the mixing process began. This was the most challenging part of this entire project....
Mixing the Two Tracks
Mixing the drumline audio to the already mastered Polyphia track proved to be a challenge.
I started by bringing down the Polyphia Track by -9.3dB, and the drumline track by -3dB.
The next priority was bringing down the bass frequencies using a high-pass filter on the Polyphia track, so that the lower bass drum sounds could cut through the mix. Between the Hard Limiter, Low-Pass Filter and Cut from 30-70Hz, the mix was sounding much more balanced...
Next, I applied some Light Mastering, bounced the track, and added some depth & clarity to the final master in Izotope RX Ozone 10.
All video footage was recorded using the following gear & settings:
Sony a7S III (Sony 16-35mm F2.8 GM II Lens)
XAVC S-I 4K, 60fps (600 mbps)
Shutter Speed 1/125
ISO: 2000 (2nd native ISO on the a7sIII)
Zebra Level: Lower Limit (100)
PP11 - S-Cinetone
After testing SLOG3 vs. S-Cinetone, I decided that S-Cinetone looked great and would cut back on the color grading process immensely. While the lights were very bright, the dynamic range of the shot itself (the performers and the practice field) was very balanced. A color checker was used to set the white balance on the a7SIII.
We started out with full runs of the exercise, each focusing on a different sub-section (Snares, Tenors, Bass, Cymbals). After this, we did "pick up" shots, or shots I knew we would want for the final video.
Tap off – center snare pulling out to full group
m. 4, beats 3-4 - bassline
m. 5, beat 2 – bottom bass
m. 6 - tenors
m. 8-9 - tenor solo
m. 9 - bassline split
Letter A - Cymbal visual
m. 13-14 - snareline triplet roll into buzz/rim swipe
To create the shots at Letter B (the chorus), I had the drumline play at 70% tempo while I panned the shot in a circle around the group at full speed.
Actual Tempo the Video was Recorded
Sped Up & Synced with Music
The skit at the beginning was directed by Austin. He wanted to simulate an early 90s experience where radios were still a thing that people listened to. Considering that none of these students had acting chops, JD (center snare drummer) and gang did a great job (it only took 10 takes!)
The great thing about S-Cinetone is that it's 90% of the way there straight out of the camera! The grading process was super smooth, and only consisted of a little saturation, contrast, and hue adjustment of greens and blues. Here are some before and after shots:
Considering the fact that this entire project was captured and edited by a one man crew, we are VERY pleased with the final product! Check it out here:
Overall, this project may have been the most fun we've ever had on any project. It comes to show that preparation and planning are key to cutting back on the editing process, and produce a MUCH higher product in the long run.
Want to Make Videos Like This for Your Group?
If you are interested in learning more, or have aspirations to hire us to make a video like this one for you or your ensemble, feel free to send us an email!