“Up Your Game” Guide

Here’s a guide for “upping your game” for at-home recording audio and video. This is focused on our needs for virtual band, choir, cantors, etc. but is applicable to really any type of recording or broadcast (including video conferencing) you may need to do. There are links on terms throughout if you would like to go further in your knowledge. If you haven’t already watched my accompanying tutorial video, I would recommend starting there first.

Microphones

The following mics are called condenser microphones. They are ideal for picking up sound from a wide range (i.e. not directly in front like the mics that we have for vocalists in the sanctuary). It generally improves the sound quality, but the trade off is that you more easily pickup the noise from your room (ambient noise, room echo, etc.). To compensate, keep it within a couple feet of your mouth. If you get it too close, you can start to get “popping” on your P consonants. For instruments, generally the closer the better.

Recommended Budget USB Mic
Fifine Metal Condenser Recording Microphone
works with Windows, Mac, iPhone/iPod, Android (Sony Z, Pixel, Hauwei Mate, Samsung S&Note)

Recommended Midrange USB Mic
Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone
works with Windows, Mac, iPhone/iPad, possibly some Android devices

Also you may look for the Blue Yeti USB Microphone. I’ve seen several refurbs. I have really enjoyed this mic. Search for “renewed” or “refurb” ones on Amazon or the like.
works with Windows, Mac, iPhone/iPad, possibly some Android devices

NOTE: In order to use a USB mic with an iPhone/iPod, you’ll need an adapter:
https://www.amazon.com/Apple-Lightning-USB3-Camera-Adapter/dp/B01F7KJDIM/
There are plenty of knockoffs that are cheeper, but this is the official one from Apple

For an Android phone, you will likely also need an adapter. Find out if you have a MicroUSB or USB-C connection to your device and make sure you get the right adapter.

USB-C Adapter Type-C to USB 3.0 Adapter
USB 2.0 Micro USB Male to USB Female OTG Adapter


Camera

Unless you own a DLSR (like a Canon EOS or Nikon D series) your best camera is likely your smartphone’s back (aka. rear-facing) camera.

Obviously, the most straightforward use is to just record on your smartphone. However, there are some tricks to make it the camera source on your computer. The way I have found to work the best is to use an app on your phone that fills your phone’s screen with it’s own camera. Then, using a wireless or wired connection, using a screen capture application on my computer to record the video. In short:

  1. Full screen camera app on phone
  2. Screen capture application on your computer that will capture your phone’s screen
  3. Connecting the two, effectively making your phone a camera for your computer.

On the computer side, here are the following apps I recommend:

  • iPhone/iPad into PC: 5kPlayer
  • iPhone/iPad not Mac: QuickTime Player (you already have it!)
  • Android into PC/Mac: LetView

There are apps that make your computer recognize your phone as an external webcam (e.g. epocCam). I’ve had mixed results with that. On the phone side, the best app I would recommend for both iOS and Android is called FILMiC. It has a lot of great controls, and allows you to hide its interface completely. It is on the pricier side. I tried another, very inexpensive app with similarly features called Clean Camera for Stream Feed.

For both screen capture or virtual webcam apps, there are several options out there. The most important feature is being able to hide all controls/overlays/etc. on your screen, so you are ONLY seeing your camera’s input when recording. This option can get a little technical, so if you aren’t comfortable experimenting with settings/connections/etc., just using your phone as the recording device should be the most straightforward.

The absolute best option would be to use a DSLR (or MILC) camera with an external microphone. If you happen to have one, why not give it a try? Even if you don’t have the ability to plug in an external microphone, you could record the audio separately and simultaneously on another device like your phone. The audio and video can be mixed together in the production process.


Lighting

The easiest and least expensive way to improve your lighting is to use the sunlight. Facing an open window with indirect sunlight coming in will be the brightest and most neutral light you can possibly get. If it is evening or you don’t have good sunlight in your space, placing a lamp with a 60W (or greater) equivalent bulb in front of you, without a lamp shade, can do a lot.

If you want something that is specifically designed to light your face for close shots, try a light ring like this one. Some even have phone or camera attachments, so the lighting is all around the lens.

10” LED Ring Light with Tripod Stand Adjustable & Phone Holder

 


Headphones

This is not critical at all if you aren’t doing any of the production side of things, but in case you are wanting to have a better sound for your recording experience, these are my recommendations:

Sennheiser HD280 Pro
Industry standard, not premium price

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
Solid mid-range headphones

OneOdio Adapter-Free Closed Back Over Ear DJ Stereo Monitor Headphones
I wouldn’t go lower in price than these

Anything less is probably not worth the money if you already own a pair of earbuds that came with your cellphone, tablet, etc. If you want something more discreet, you could research for some in ear monitors. The sky is the limit on prices for those, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some decent budget models these days.

 


Conclusion

The options are vast. They vary widely in quality, ability, price, etc. These are only my recommendations. It’s far from an exhaustive list of acceptable options. Also, I haven’t tried every device or piece of software in this list. They are just what I found to be the best in my own use, and research based on reviews from other knowledgeable sources.

Whatever equipment you end up using, what ends up being the most important is HOW you use it. Here are just a few important tips and reminders.

For audio recording:

  1. Choose the quietest place with the least amount of echo/reverb.
  2. Get your microphone as close to the subject (i.e. voice/instrument) as possible without distorting.

(For a deeper dive on the subject, see signal to noise ratio.)

For video recording:

  1. Place your camera at eye level.
  2. Light your subject (you!). Make sure that light is brighter than the surrounding (background) light.

(For a deeper dive, check out this great guide for lighting video recording.)

Best of luck, and thanks for continuing to be the music ministry, even if “virtually.”