November 8, 2013

Recording 101: Tips for Conservatory Applicants

A potentially stressful area of a conservatory application—especially for prospective undergraduate students—is the pre-screening audio or video recording.

Faculty members need to see you clearly and hear you well, so the quality of your recording is important, but no conservatory expects you to book a studio to produce professional-level recordings for your pre-screening.  Recordings can be made using standard consumer electronic equipment you already have at home.

To help you produce the best quality product with what you have at home, here are some helpful tips and advice from the experts in CIM’s Recording Arts & Services department.

Location, location, location!  Room choice impacts acoustics and is key for producing a quality recording that accurate depicts your performance.

  • Select a room that is not overly reverberant--avoid spaces that add a lot of echo.
  • Choose a room with fabric for sound absorption. If you're making a recording at home in a room with hardwood floors, draperies, carpeting or even upholstered furniture will keep the space from feeling and sounding "dry."
  • Record yourself in a large room with high ceilings, whenever possible.  A high school orchestra or band room would be a great location if you can swing it.
  • Avoid rooms where walls are too close together or narrow.

Don’t be kept in the dark.  Lighting for video can be tricky. Any light behind you, whether from windows or lamps, will only silhouette you and make it difficult for video viewers to see your performance.

  • Aim the majority of light in the room towards you and from the front.
  • Position yourself (or rearrange the room) so that lamps are beside or behind the camera as much as possible.
  • Avoid sitting too close to a bright white wall, which can reflect light back and cause silhouetting as well.

Framing the shot—go figure!   

  • Aim to fill the frame with your figure—place the camera so that you can be seen from a head to toe with just a little space above your head and below your feet. 
  • Do not zoom in close on your hands or face—no matter how tempting it may be.
  • Avoid positioning the camera too far away, also, as it will make it difficult for faculty to see you well as well as resulting in a video with less impact.

Testing, testing.  The built-in microphone on most consumer (home) video cameras is adequate for recording sound when the video camera is about 8 feet away.  You want the sound to be present and not too reverberant.

  • Do not put the camera and microphone too far away or it may not accurately capture the sound of your performance.
  • Similarly, avoid putting it too close or it may pick up random or extraneous noises from your instrument or surroundings.
  • Do a test recording, and then listen and watch it.  Does the video represent your sound properly?  If it sounds too close and harsh, move the camera back, and adjust the video shot using the zoom to ensure your figure still fills the frame.  If the sound is too far away and without presence, move the camera closer and adjust the zoom.

Take 1...2...3. Prepare for your recording session by notifying others of your intentions and turning off any home electronics--such as alarms, phones, etc.--that might cause distractions or be picked up by the microphone during recording.

  • To begin recording, step in front of the camera and clearly state your name and the piece you will be performing (this is called a “slate”).
  • Once you’ve slated, pause a moment before beginning, then play to the end.
  • Record as many takes as you want or need to so that you can choose the best possible performance--one that reflects your individual talent and skills.
  • When you finish, wait a few seconds before you talk or move out of the frame.


  • Import the video files to your computer hard drive.
  • Use software like iMovie (available in the App Store for Mac) or Windows Movie Maker (available from Microsoft for Windows) to edit your files, such as removing extra space at the beginning or end of the video.
  • Do NOT edit multiple takes together; the performance portion of your video must be a single, unedited take.
  • Export your finished product to any of the following  formats: avi, m4v, mov, mp4, mpeg, mpg, ogg, vob and wmv. Large file sizes can be accommodated.

While most of these tips refer to video recording, many apply to audio recording and output as well. If you have questions about pre-screening audio or video recordings or any part of the application process, don't hesitate to contact a CIM admission counselor by email at or by phone at 216.795.3107.