You Need To Be Making 'Couch' Videos

PTX_8x10_300dpi_RGB_P3-Couch_1315 by Jiro Schneide

Your group should be producing couch videos. Regularly.

By "couch" videos, we mean your group singing live to the camera in a room with some mics (and perhaps some lights).

They're easy, cheap, and most importantly: they get your group's voice out there!

This summer is a perfect time to get started!

The best way to help your group take off is to post quality content regularly.

Grammy-winning arranger Ben Bram (Pentatonix) breaks downs how PTX's infamous couch videos were made:

  • Rehearsal: "This is the No. 1 most important thing when doing a live video. The vocals have to be EXTREMELY tight, since you don't have the ability to edit pitch or timing. I would argue that it needs to be even tighter than a live show, since you don't have the energy of the crowd, and the performance will be able to be replayed ad infinitum! So rehearse, rehearse, rehearse."

    Discuss the minutiae of the arrangement that will really bring it to life.

  • Visual Performance: "A cappella and visuals go together like peanut butter and chocolate. People love to see each group member singing and performing their unique part. Make it visually exciting by letting your instincts guide you. If you naturally do a certain hand movement at a certain part, go for it."

    Let your group be the visual representation of the arrangement.

  • Mic Setup/Balance: "You need to make sure you're capturing the right mic balance to succeed. Personally, I like when the bass and perc share a mic. It gives it a really live and exciting sound, and it also picks up the trio behind them.

    "However, you need to make sure that the bass/perc balance is right, since you won't be able to change that in post if they're sharing one mic. Play around and make sure the mic is in the right place.

    "Additionally, you can add two mics off camera on the left and right side to capture the trio and a third mic (or stereo pair) off camera center. You may not end up using all these mics in the end."

    Capture a few different options and you can and play with it afterwards.

Then it's all mixed by Ed Boyer.
In case you're saying, "But there's so much going on in post!" we brought in the wizard behind Pentatonix's sound (as well as Pitch Perfect's and The Sing-Off's and In Transit's album)... You get the point.

Here's uber producer/engineer Ed Boyer to lay it down for you:

"Most of the processing happens on the master bus," Boyer says. "There will be frequencies where the singers voices build up. In many cases, those are the same frequencies that will excite the room, so the buildup will be worse.

"I usually use a multi-band compressor to tame those, which will allow more space for low-end and high-end data. Most videos will benefit from a little reverb, but nothing crazy. Maybe just some natural short reflections. Something that's believable but glues everything together.

"The mic setup is always changing. There's no perfect way to do it because it's such a problematic setup. We're always trying different things. That format is designed for visual/vibe/realism purposes, so sound is kind of secondary.

"And that's one thing you have to remind yourself throughout the process: it's not ABOUT audio quality.

"If it were, you'd just give everyone a handheld and be done with it. But, the second you do that, people know you have the ability to edit and become really dismissive about singing ability... even if the vocals are perfect. So you're trying to get the best you can with area mics and possible a few accent mics."

Boyer's Things To Consider

  • Contemporary a cappella, especially with vocal bands in the last 10 years, is not designed to sound good acoustically. Balance happens at the board or in the box or, sometimes, with great mic technique. Contemporary a cappella bass and beatbox are designed to take advantage of mic proximity. 

  • Singers move. Micing a drum set is not easy. People have been experimenting and developing complicated ways to do that for decades. Micing a closely seated a cappella group is kind of like that except the sound sources are moving around, so phase relationships are really tricky.

    For non-audio people: When you're micing a drum set, you work to find a place where the snare drum mic and the overhead mics all capture the snare sound in a way that those signals are in phase (in focus) with each other.

    With a singer, you can't do that because the positions are useless the second the singer moves an inch.

"Eventually, what tended to work were wide-area mics (behind and to the sides of the camera) and accent mics near the bass and beatbox, so that we could tap in to the low end of those sources," Boyer said.

"The problems don't go away, but you mitigate them the best you can. Maybe you take out some of the mids and highs of the accent mics and take out the lows of the area mics so that there's less overlapping material to phase."

"You may need to nudge a track in post to get it in phase. You may find that one balance between two tracks is more musical, but a difference balance makes phase issues less apparent. You just have to find a compromise/balancing point.

"The hardest thing to mitigate is phase on the lead vocal. The lead vocalist usually stands in the middle, which means they have the most awkward phase relationship to the different mics.

"And yet, it's the most important part. Again, you just find a balance that works the best, roll with it, and remind yourself that fidelity isn't the most important aspect of the video."

Boyer's Advice

  • Find a room where resonances are minimal.

  • Find a room that's quiet, especially in the low end where you might need to boost A LOT to get things warm.

  • Set up and record with more mics that you'll use. Give the mixer options. And always have a stereo pair in the mix so that, if everything else fails, you can fall back on those.

  • Most importantly, rehearse the song as much as possible. If the performance isn't tight, both in terms of accuracy but also in terms of balance and energy, none of this other stuff matters.

For More On How Take Off Through YouTube, 

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