October 15, 2020

Audition Season Tips: How to Produce a Self-Recording

Alan Bise
CIM’s Director of Recording Arts and Services Alan Bise with students.

By: Hosanna Carella  

CIM’s Newsroom now includes a student-led blog with posts covering a variety of topics, including the CIM admissions process, student life, and interviews with faculty, students and alumni. CIM professional studies violinist Hosanna Carella, who is currently studying with Jan Sloman and Jaime Laredo, will be a regular contributor and voice on the blog. Hosanna received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at CIM. Follow the CIM blog to learn from members of our community and to get an inside look into what it’s like to study in Cleveland at CIM! 

As kids, we were all taught the four seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. With the leaves now turning into a myriad of colors, “spooky season” is now in full swing. But, there’s an even spookier season around the corner that we didn’t learn about in school – audition season.

Don’t be spooked, though. Any fears you may have about auditions will soon be put to rest, as CIM’s Director of Recording Arts and Services (and Grammy winner) Alan Bise is here to talk about how to create successful and high-quality recordings!   

When it comes to self-recordings, I was never taught how to properly produce one. But, with technology being more accessible now-a-days, it makes the process a little easier, especially with help from people, like Mr. Bise, whose knowledge is invaluable. I compiled a series of questions that I thought would be on the forefront of most students’ minds, and over a Microsoft Teams video chat, Mr. Bise graciously answered them all.  

HC: What are the most common “don'ts” that you have seen in audition videos? 

AB: Your sound being too far away, leading to over reverberance with a lack of presence—that is the biggest issue. You also can’t ignore the video aspect of things; be careful when you read the requirements for a submission because every organization has slightly different requirements. For instance, CIM’s Admissions department requires a head to toe shot of you. For violinists, that means that there is a lot of room to the left and right of the shot. Be careful of what is in that background and where your lighting is coming from, ideally it’s coming from behind the camera.  

HC: What are the first things a panel looks/listens for in an audition video? 

AB: This is tricky. Ideally, they would look past recording technical problems, but the quality of a recording does make an impression. When you listen to a recording, such as on YouTube or Spotify, those first ten seconds can really set an impression. One of the most important things in a recording is called “presence." And by that, I mean the apparent distance from the performer to the listener. We know that a good sense of presence is attractive to the human ear. But we must also be careful to not be too present because then you get bow hair sounds and crunches on the string. An audience may not hear, but you know that it is happening. So, there is a line, and you must try and find that line. And with microphones, that line could mean just one or two inches. So, the idea is that you find the ideal positioning for whatever you are recording with so that you establish presence, but also good sound.  

HC: Do you recommend multiple days of recording? 

AB: You have to decide how many times you need to play your particular piece or excerpt in order to get a good take. Pick the five hardest spots in the recording, then, in your practicing, make sure you are able to nail those spots three out of five times—and truly nail them. Add some equipment set-up and testing time, so that halfway through recording you don’t realize that the camera turned off or something was not right.   

HC: What recording device would you recommend for self-recordings? 

AB: Stereo sound is important; aim to use two microphones. I always recommend a stereo USB microphone—it looks like one microphone, but there is more than one capsule inside the microphone body so it's actually two microphones. The one we recommend is made by AKG and the model is called Lyra. Another one that is decent is the Yeti model, by Blue.  

HC: With auditions going virtual and editing technology being readily available, should schools be worried about people manipulating their auditions? 

AB: You can't make a video edit without seeing that there is an edit. So, if a school requires video, you can manipulate some sound aspects, but not many.

As I was chatting with Mr. Bise, who is also a CIM alumnus and faculty member, I took the opportunity to also ask him about his time at CIM.  

HC: What was it like winning a Grammy with your friends?  

AB: It was wonderful, of course. All of us in the recording business have a goal in our lives to win a Grammy. And the great thing about Grammys is that it is recognition from our peers, since they are the ones voting. To win a Grammy with my two dearest friends, it could not have been more special. Both Bruce [Egre] and Jason [Vieaux] were part of my wedding party and vice versa. Bruce was my very first audio recording teacher and Jason and I were freshman roommates in Cutter House! 

To end the interview, I asked Mr. Bise for his top five recording tips

  • Test your recording and set-up on a different day 
  • Record in a larger room 
  • Turn off all extraneous noise makers 
  • Be careful of your background and what exists around you 
  • Dress appropriately 

For More Audition Recording Tips 

Still feeling a bit spooked? Mr. Bise is leading a discussion about how to make the best audition recordings next Tuesday, October 20 from 4-5:30pm. Register here