A simple video recording setup
Want to video your guitar work, but don’t want loads of expensive or complicated gear or software?
I’m the same and I’ve had a few people ask how I record the playing videos on my instagram page – this is my advice on how to make an easy to use, compact setup.
Why record your playing?
Recording your guitar playing is a hugely useful endeavour. By regularly recording your playing, you can document your progress, create content to share and overcome the dreaded red light fever – when you hit record and your playing turns to shit.
When you watch yourself back, you will often notice things in your playing you weren’t aware of at the time, so it’s a good way to work out what to practice next.
Just record on your phone?
Yeah it’s an option, but however great your tone is in your room it’s gonna sound pants when recorded and compressed by the phone’s tiny little microphone.
Most of the time you’re recording your house, so you can’t crank the volume enough to cover up the acoustic sound of you plucking the strings… I don’t need to tell you, I’m sure you have seen enough crappy sounding playing videos online.
If it doesn’t sound good, you’re not gonna want to watch it back, and neither is anyone else.
Lights, Camera, Action?
So obviously you do see some really polished videos online, and to achieve a real cinematic look you need high-end cameras, lighting rigs and a camera-man for moving shots. But for most people this is not practical, and the intention here is to build a setup that uses equipment that you already have or can buy for not a lot of money.
We also want our setup to take up minimal space and be easy to use – if it’s a fuss to use, you just won’t do it very often or enjoy the process.
Here’s the plan:
Do it all on your smartphone, but with a multi-channel audio interface.
Were gonna take your guitar signal, plus any other audio line if you want (backing track, vocal mic etc.) and input them into your phone, using your phone video camera to record the audio and video simultaneously.
This means we don’t have to do any separate audio recording or sound to video syncing.
What you need:
Mobile audio interface
A small external sound-card for your phone, this device will take your guitar sounds and feed them into your phone.
So that we have the ability to adjust the levels of signal going into, we need an interface with at least 2 inputs. There are a lot of single input devices out there, but I promise you will find them very frustrating if you want to record yourself playing along to something unless you have a separate mixing desk or specialist app.
Now you could just stick a mic in front of your guitar speaker. The Shure SM57 is about the best affordable mic for guitars.
I don’t bother – I want to be able to record my playing first thing in the morning or last thing at night sometimes and no one is going to appreciate me cranking up. Plus I cba with the trailing cables, mic stand etc…
I reckon it’s most practical to take a ‘line out’ of your guitar signal and record through headphones. I defy you or anyone to genuinely care about whether the tone in your video was live mic or DI.
You could plug your guitar straight into the Audio Interface, but you will only ever had a dry, clean sound. And that’s not enjoyable for anyone.
Nearly every practice amp, amp modeller or multi-fx will provide you a line out of your guitar signal. It could be a DI, Line Out, Recording Out, Headphones or even Effects loop send.
I think nearly every guitarist will have some type of equipment they can use for this – I use a Roland Cube 60 amp for all my recording tones (occasionally with my pedal board in front of it). If you don’t have anything you can use, I’d recommend some sort of compact amp modeller, like a Line 6 Pod, Zoom G1 or Behringer V-Tone.
The supercomputer in your hand is your friend for this task. If we record our audio and video elements separately, with a computer or separate camera then we have to then spend time producing the audio and syncing it up to the video footage. If you have to do this every time you want to record your playing with half-decent audio, then the process becomes much more involved and your enthusiasm dwindles.
Instead we get all our audio mixed and ready to go in the audio interface – your camera app will take this as the sound source for your video recording rather than the built in mic.
You can still crop, trim and filter your footage on your phone – most people are more comfortable with this than using complex video editing software on their computer.
If you want to pimp your camera, there are clip on lenses you can get cheap that can provide you with different capture angles and zoom levels.
At first I tried just balancing my phone against something, but patience wore thin when it would fall down during that good take. Then I had a full size photography tripod, but it was big and bulky and annoying.
I recommend a small, sturdy desktop tripod. I have a Manfrotto PIXI Mini and it’s excellent. Get a solid phone clamp too.
Additional sound sources
If you want to play along to backing tracks or other songs, you will need a separate device, such as Laptop, Tablet, iPod etc. If you want to sing along to your playing, you will need a vocal microphone (the best value option is the Shure SM58). This will plug into a separate channel on the audio interface to your guitar.
Try and record your videos where there is plenty of light. If you are in a dark corner somewhere, it would be worth finding something to illuminate the subject of your video! Don’t go overboard – it could just be a desk lamp or reading light, but don’t be filming gloomy videos people!
Plug your interface into your phone. Plug your guitar into your ‘amp’ into your audio interface. Play to check the level and adjust the knob if it is too loud or too quiet. Plug any other sound sources into your interface (mic, backing track etc) and set their volume level accordingly. Line up your camera angle and hit record!
Here is a couple of variations on this kind of setup.
If you are wanting to multitrack, with multiple videos simultaneously playing the different parts you have layered, this is still possible. It’s a little more complex though.
You would record the first part as outlined above, but would then need to use that video file as the backing track for the second part. Continue to do this until you have all your parts recorded, then you need to import these files into a video editing program.
The fiddly part is lining all the videos up so that all the parts are in sync, but you can do this on your phone with apps like iMovie or Premier Rush.