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Virtual Choir Performances

Want to create your own virtual choir on a very small budget. Here’s how Kathleen Hansen and the San Diego Women’s Chorus did it including the technology needed, instructions for their singers, how to record, and editing tips.

Questions? Contact GALA’s 411 Advisor, artisticadvisor [at] galachoruses.org (Kathleen Hansen).

If you want a more detailed description of how to create a virtual choir check out DelRaeStudios.

Technology
  1. Without a dedicated website with a built-in A/V recorder (a la Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir), participants need to be able to play reference track on one device and listen (with headphones) on another device. Or playback and record on one computer using software programs such as Photobooth (Mac) or Camera (Windows). Ideally people will use a phone to record, but may need to get creative for playback - a computer, tablet, digital recorder, even an old cassette player for the Luddites.
  2. Performers should listen to the guide track with their headphones on, and record themselves with their audio/video camera in a way that you can only hear their voices alone.
  3. The easiest guide tracks have accompaniment (if applicable) softly, and the singer’s part alone. Consider using a video of the director conducting to help with releases, tempo changes, and moral support!
  4. There are people who are terrified to sing alone and record themselves. Allow them to lipsync to be a part of it.
  5. Additional options include: have singers submit an audio recording (where it doesn’t matter what they look like and they can look at their music, AND a video recording of them only lip synching. This will take the pressure off some singers for a clean take, plus you won’t need to have headphones in the shot.
  6. For small ensembles, consider using an app like Acapella [sic] to relieve editing work (up to 12 tracks).
Setting Up Your Space

If you’ve never seen a virtual choir/chorus before, here is an example.

In order to participate, you need a smartphone PLUS a computer OR second phone/tablet, and earbuds/headphones to plug into the computer. You’ll see why when you see the instructions.

This video will be available publicly (YouTube and/or Facebook), so if you aren’t comfortable with that, do not participate. That said, we will not use names as they do in the sample video above. We would like anyone participating to send us your video by xxx date. We hope that 15 minutes of time making music with us will be a nice distraction from the world right now.

  1. Find a well-lit, quiet place. Turn off fans, heaters or air conditioners; find a room separate from children, pets, or other household noisemakers.
  2. Consider what you want your background to look like, ie: Stand in front of a blank light-colored wall, or curtain, etc.
  3. Consider what you want the unit look to be, ie: Wear section chorus shirt. If you do not have one, please wear a black top.
  4. Set up your cell phone camera on a tripod… Or propped up with books, music stand, whatever. You might need to be creative. Use the camera on the back, which means you will not be able to see yourself while recording so you’ll need to try it a couple of times.
  5. Take a couple of test videos so you know what to expect. Frame yourself about as far away as the three of us are in our videos.
Recording Individual Videos
  1. Play the singing guide video on your second device (a computer or other cell phone) while recording on your phone. In order to get it all to sync up and help us with editing, you’ll need to do the following:
    1. put one of your earbuds in, but do not plug it into your computer yet!
    2. press video record on your phone
    3. press play on the guide video. We need to be able to hear the three tones to sync up the video.
    4. As soon as the three tones are done playing, plug your headphones back into the computer so we do not hear the guide video in the background. We only want to hear your voice!
    5. Watch director or guide video for synchronization. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the cleaner the videos are, the better the whole thing will when we put it together.
  2. Your Recording does not have to be perfect! It will be just like we are standing around in a circle singing each week. There is magic in communal singing. If you are really nervous about singing alone, you have the choice to lip-synch! We will make sure that the final product is lovely, so don’t worry if you miss a note.
  3. Designate a place for members to send or upload videos. They take a lot of memory, so consider having an external drive as well for downloads. Setting up a dedicated Google Drive folder is an excellent way to go. You could also use Dropbox, or the free service WeTransfer.

Here is the video guide that we used for our singers. Make sure you include a metronome sound at the beginning so that it’s easy to align the audio tracks in the editing process.

Software Editing Options

If you can, use professional-level editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. But any simple video editing program that allows for layered video and audio will allow you to do a project like this.

Adjust the overall level of the audio of each track and then you can have a fairly blended project. Adobe Premiere Pro can do this. Adobe Creative Suite also has many apps for a multitude of graphic design functions.

Adobe Audition – Audio Editing
Adobe Premiere Pro – Video Editing
Adobe After Effects – Video Color Editing

If you have a .edu email address, Adobe Creative Suite is available for $19.99 a month. Each account also allows two installations, so you could technically split the cost with someone, and each person can have one of the licenses on their computer. Here is the link to Educational Pricing (14-day free trial if you want to test it out).

Or look for editing software for non-profits on TechSoup.

A free video editor like iMovie can create simple videos with one or two people on the screen at a time. You can not get the “Brady Bunch” grid without quite a lot of time and layering of videos. But for simple scenes with a slide show or only one or two people on the video at once, it will work.

Editing Your Videos

Note this will take hours and hours of editing time!

Render each edit before putting it into the larger project. Video editing and rendering are intense, and we could have shaved 20 hours from our total time if I had followed this advice.

If you color edit, then export it as a new file and add the new file to the project. Premiere will give you the option of editing in After Effects and then using the file in Premiere, but that will slow everything down when you scale it.

Get help. Once you figure out how to do certain things, you can collaborate with people to help you edit portions. Since Adobe has a 14-day trial, you could have members of your group do small-batch editing: have someone edit the audio files for just the Tenors and then send you a single file with just that part, then have people edit the coloring on the videos and re-upload them.

Note: The Adobe software and the popular Apple apps (Garage Band, Final Cut) have many “how-to” videos on YouTube. If you are struggling in an area, simply search on YouTube for your question and someone will show you how with a step-by-step video.

Enjoy the final product of the San Diego Women’s Chorus singing Linda Hirschhorn’s “Circle Chant”.