Creating Music with FCPX
Noah here, if you’ve ever met the FCPWORKS team during a trade show like NAB or IBC, you may know we occasionally host after show karaoke parties. We even carry a portable karaoke kit in a lovely Italian HPRC case (more on that in another blog). For some folks it has been a life-changing event.
For example, Philip Hodgetts from Intelligent Assistance became so emboldened by our karaoke round at NAB 2014 in Vegas that he decided to take pro singing lessons and up his game.
Inspired by Phil’s recent singing presentation during a session at the FCPX Summit in San Jose, I wanted to get in on the fun. I set out with a specific technical challenge: record songs without a recording studio or a crew and then master them using Final Cut Pro X.
The Mobile Studio
Recording music ideally requires a enclosed space with great acoustics. So how about we do it with a truck instead? In this case I went with a Honda Odyssey minivan. It’s not quite Abbey Road but it’s got it where it counts. And where it counts is in this case is that I have access to one.
Audio Recording Setup
With the studio set, I went for the recording equipment. For my “backing band” I chose the Karaoke Anywhere app on an iPhone 6+. (We use this same app for our FCPWORKS parties.) The song selection is not always vast but it’s easy to pick new songs and download them instantly.
The iPhone can record the singing directly. But then the vocals are pre-mixed with the music tracks and I wanted flexibility in post. So I went with a Zoom H1 Handy recorder. The H1 is extremely compact with decent built-in microphones and preamps.
The H1 is also capable of WAV recording at up to 24-bit/96kHz quality. And it’s easy to mount just about anywhere. This is handy indeed inside my mobile minivan studio.
Video Recording Setup
This is FCPWORKS so we’d need some video too. Considering the compact space and the no crew aspect, a GoPro seemed like a good match. I went with a GoPro Hero 3+ Silver Edition shooting in 1080p with a suction cup mount. What’s lovely about the GoPro is you can mount it and then trigger it with the GoPro App. This proved a little tricky for me because I was already playing the music on the phone. But I could start recording and then switch apps to Karaoke Anywhere.
Now I don’t necessarily recommend driving and singing karaoke at the same time. There is of course Carpool Karaoke. Then again it’s fairly possible that James Corden is being towed or at least escorted for these segments. There’s also this as precedent.
The actual production steps were straightforward:
- Start GoPro recording via the GoPro app.
- Start audio recording on H1.
- Choose and start song on Karaoke Anywhere.
I did this for a number of longish takes where I’d do at least 2 or 3 songs per take. Occasionally, I’d cut if a fellow driver started eyeballing me at a stoplight or if traffic conditions got especially challenging.
Post-Production Workflow — Ingest
With the videos and audio recorded, it was time to get off the road and into FCPX for some editing. I actually wanted to try Logic Pro X for this occasion as it is geared toward audio editing mastering. But as soon as I started to work in Logic I felt like it was overkill for my two little audio tracks. Also I wanted to do some video edits and color correction so I’d need FCPX anyway. Also and this is key, most of the Logic filters and plugins are available in FCPX directly including their customer UI’s so it’s best of both worlds.
Once in FCPX I’d first import the GoPro video clips, the Zoom H1 audio tracks. I’d also import the isolated music tracks from Karaoke Anywhere, which can be copied from the iPhone onto your Mac via iTunes. Before this I brought the MP3 from Karaoke Anywhere into Twisted Wave (my favorite audio swiss army knife) to convert them to 96/24 AIFs. Technically this step could be skipped but then you’re doing live sample conversion on the fly, which increases system overhead and can lead to audible popping/sync errors.
I wanted to have the audio and video on different lanes so my workflow was a bit of a special design. First I’d match up corresponding GoPro, H1 and music track takes in the Event Browser and then File>New Multicam Clip. Then I’d step into the multicam clip and confirm audible sync between picture and sound.
Finally I’d add a marker about halfway through each song on the 3 pieces of media. Next, copy the tracks and step out into a new Project Timeline, paste everything and make sure the markers from the multicam still line up so everything is in sync. I could have done it entirely in the Multicam editor but other than the initial sync I wanted magnetic editing so I could make quick changes/edits.
Post-Production Workflow — Edit
Generally speaking I didn’t make many cuts. The songs were complete takes from start to finish so I’d occasionally do a blade halfway down the track and slide the audio a few samples if sync was slipping. But generally I didn’t on these relatively short takes. I added a nice fade in/out for each song and that was about it. The rest was mixing.
Post-Production Workflow — Mixing
I’m not an audio engineer by trade but I know a few things. First was getting the balance between the singing track and the karaoke music right. That meant looking at the audio meters and carefully raising and lowering the volume levels until it sounded right to ear. Also the original GoPro audio was redundant and didn’t sound nearly as clear as the H1 audio so I’d just disable it entirely but keep it attached for sync reference.
Post-Production Workflow — Audio Filters
For most of the songs I added 3 audio filters: Pitch Correction, Fat EQ and PlatinumVerb. The pitch correction is fun because it shows you where you’re actually singing on key or not and you can apply some degree of correction. You have to be judicious as too much sounds unnatural (don’t tell this to Kanye). I found a little really helped.
Fat EQ helped overcome the limitations of the car as recording environment and its boominess. It also helped a bit to overcome the solid if not amazing built-in mics on the H1. I have a Sanken COS-11D lavalier and a Shure SM58 handheld mic I’d probably try next time for better sounding recordings.
Finally, PlatinumVerb adds some nicely shaped echo into the mix. This also helps overcome inherent singing mistakes and makes the environment sound less flat and dry. Again a little goes a long way and you don’t want to sound like you’re in a cathedral choir.
Post-Production Workflow — Video Filters
I felt like this footage should be black and white and grainy like a behind-the-music special or something along those lines. So I removed the color with the Saturation tab in the Color Board and added a Film Grain filter with the Realistic Grain style. I also added a vignette with a Color Board Mask to boost up the exposure inside the car while keeping the streets outside the window from totally blowing out.
I also enlarged the GoPro 1920×1080 footage to 125% for a little better framing. I was impressed with how well the relatively highly compressed footage held up to grading and scaling.
With the edits for each song pretty much complete, I went to export to Master Files as ProRes HQ. I could have gone directly to online sharing services or to H.264 but I wanted to have a high quality master.
From there I opened up in the QuickTime Player and exported to the stock 720p setting. I could also have done this as a Share Bundle within FCPX but sometimes you just want to bang some out as quickly as you can.
Without further adieu, here are the results. Hope you enjoy these and maybe get inspired to let your own inner voice bust out:
I also did one song without the camera running but it turned out decent, so here we go:
Through this fun experience, I learned the following:
- The GoPro is perfect for unattended camerawork within a moving vehicle.
- The acoustics inside a moving van are surprisingly decent.
- The good folks on the road in San Francisco are very accepting.
- FCPX alone can be used to produce music.
We’d love to share the singing fun with you in-person at our next show. Maybe NAB? IBC? We’ll see you. Please drop us a line and we’ll add you to our guest list.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog post contains the personal musings of FCPWORKS’ Marketing Director, Noah Kadner. Prior to joining the company, Noah spent several years at Apple where he worked with internal Workflow and Editorial teams in support of Final Cut Pro X customers. Noah also directed a feature film available on iTunes called Social Guidance and wrote “RED: The Ultimate Guide to the Revolutionary Camera.” Noah’s ongoing career goal is communicating digital post-production workflows to experts and enthusiasts alike. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter at @FCPWORKS.