Performance degree and Young Artist Programs increasingly request video demos, rather than audio, as part of their screening process to select which singers they will invite for a live audition. I joined soprano Virginia Barney and sound engineer Jeremy Gerard for a demo recording session to explore how to create videos that show panels what they need to see in order to make such decisions.
The closer a video demo is to what a panel would experience in a live audition, the more useful it is for them. Frame your videos to include as much of your body as possible, and always position your camera with a horizontal rather than vertical orientation. Creating a demo video also provides the singer with a useful practice session for live auditions, as it enables them to see how they come across visually and adjust their presentation as needed.
As Virginia performed Sophie’s “Presentation of the Rose” aria, I noticed that she was engaging in some unintentional physical movement that was at odds with the way she conceived her character. This aria also presents an interesting dilemma for the singer because in context, Sophie is not only interacting with other characters but also engaging very actively with a prop that you would not bring with you to an audition. I generally advise singers against miming props in auditions – it requires a significant amount of training to mime effectively, and once you have established the existance of your prop you have to sustain the illusion throughout the rest of the aria. I’ve seen singers fail to do this, with the resulting impression that they have dropped whatever they were holding (a bouquet, a coat, or even a baby!). It’s preferable to showcase your outstanding singing skill without undermining your performance with mediocre miming. In this case, however, Virginia was able to work out some simple and effective ways to mime and interract with her invisible silver rose and to then hand it off to an invisible character.
While a live audition gives you only one shot at an aria, a video recording session offers the opportunity to record each aria multiple times. Ideally you will select and submit a single unedited take, but having a chance to sing the aria a few times in a row and review your work in between takes gives you the freedom to experiment and create several options to choose from.
If possible, bring someone you trust who knows your voice to your recording session. It need not be your voice teacher or coach – a fellow singer who is familiar with your repertoire can also serve as a helpful extra pair of ears. That way you can feel free to give a wholly committed performance, knowing that they are focusing on things like intonation, diction and musical accuracy and can let you know whether you need to do another take to fix a slight error or perform a climactic phrase with the quality of resonance they know you possess but didn’t quite represent in the last runthrough.
One advantage of video demos for reviewers is the ability to assess a singer’s unedited performance. Audio demos are easily edited, but video edits are nearly impossible to hide; video is also significantly more expensive to edit than an audio recording. Remember that your demo is a facsimile of a live audition and that you are not making a music video. There are videographers who will set up multiple cameras and therefore have the ability to produce a very polished, edited performance for you, but that is not the objective of the audition demo. This means that you may have to choose between takes that were exceptional in different ways from each other – for example, one may be visually more satisfying while another is musically more successful – but it’s a luxury to be able to make such a choice, as in a live audition you’d have only one shot at it anyway.
Here is the final result of Virginia’s demo recording session. I felt that she ended up with a video that is both vocally and dramatically quite satisfying. Physically, her performance is characterized by a dynamic stillness – she moves just enough to effectively mime her silver rose and make it clear that she is talking with and reacting to Octavian while investing tremendous energy into her vocal expressivity.
Note: Our cameraman who was helping us to document Virginia’s recording session is partially visible in the lower right-hand corner of the frame, which is fine for an educational video of this nature but would prove distracting for your own demos. Be sure to frame your videos to exclude all movement that is unrelated to your performance.