Tony Ponella on Recording for Musical Theater

We invited Musical Exchange member Tony Ponella to answer some of your most frequently asked questions about participating in Musical Exchange and making recordings for the Musical Theater project. Check out what he had to say.

We invited Musical Exchange member Tony Ponella to answer some of your most frequently asked questions about participating in Musical Exchange and making recordings for the Musical Theater project. Check out what he had to say.

Hi! My name is Tony Ponella. I’m 17 years old and have just relocated to New York City from Bloomington, IN. Last year I participated in the Musical Theater project of Carnegie Hall’s Musical Exchange. It was amazing to be part of the master classes and not only to get feedback on my performances, but also to watch top professionals work with other people. Even just seeing the comments on the website was really helpful. It was fun to meet other kids interested in musical theater, and I even met up with a couple of them in person here in NYC. I was also fortunate to be selected to record “Different” from Honk! for the Musical Exchange EP, and had an incredible experience working with Leslie Stifelman and Roger Rees.

Below I’ve answered some questions about recording for Musical Exchange and other sites like YouTube. I hope that you find this helpful, and please contact me on Musical Exchange if you have any other questions. I’m really looking forward to this year and meeting (online and/or in person) many more musical theater enthusiasts!

How can I get the most out of the Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange experience?

Visit Musical Exchange often! There are always new videos and comments being posted. You can learn so much from watching others, and many times can apply the feedback to your own singing. So watch and comment!

Second, post your own videos! Record yourself often—in a lesson, practicing, or in performance. You learn so much from watching yourself; and additionally, the opportunity to get feedback from peers and professionals is invaluable!

How do I make a good video to post?

You can record yourself with a video camera, iPhone, webcam, or whatever recording device you have available. Before you record, be aware of what else is in the shot, and make sure the background is not too distracting. Good lighting is so important! Your face should be well lit from the front. That way your expressions and performance will be clearly captured.

Where should the mic/recording device be?

Even though you don’t need to have fancy audio equipment, you can still create a good recording. Always do a test first to be sure you’re being heard over your accompaniment and that the sound isn’t distorted if the microphone is too close. Acoustics are different in every room, so trial and error is really the best judge.

Do I need an external mic? If so, what kind?

Do you need an external mic? No. However, if it is in your budget and you want to get one, there are a lot of resources on the internet that will help guide you.

For more information about equipment, lighting and overall video quality, check out this video. Just remember most video cameras that you or your parents own probably have decent sound quality.

I want to sing a particular song, but don’t have an accompanist. How can I still learn and perform it?

First, listen to many, varied recordings of the song. You can find them for free on YouTube, Spotify, in libraries, and many other places. Sometimes these resources will also have karaoke versions, so that you can practice without another voice singing the solo line. Many even have back-up singers, so you get to sing in harmony. You can also purchase karaoke tracks at iTunes,, and other websites such as I even found free instrumental tracks by contemporary composers Kerrigan-Lowdermilk, just by searching on Google. Take advantage of the internet to do your research, and then share what you find on Musical Exchange!

What if I can’t find a karaoke/backing track of a song?
If you’ve searched everywhere and can’t find an instrumental version of your song, there are a few options. First, try to find a pianist to record the accompaniment (and rehearse/perform with if at all possible!). Depending on your location, you might check at a local university, church, or music shop that offers lessons. If you can’t find someone to play, you can use various software to create your own karaoke version. I use Audacity (see below question), which is a free program. There are also professional audio editing programs, but most are really expensive.

How do I use Audacity to make a instrumental version of a song?
This video clearly explains how the process works. Audacity is useful if you can’t get another version of an accompaniment, but it doesn’t totally remove the vocal track, so should probably be the last resort. Great for practicing, but maybe not so much for performance.

What about copyright? Does it count if I’m just posting it to YouTube or Musical Exchange?

My dad is Director of the Music Library/Director of Information Technology for the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, so he deals with copyright, recording rights, technology, etc. all the time. I have actually asked him to answer this question, since he is the expert. Here is what he said:

This can be a complicated question. Technically if you’re going to make a recording of someone else’s music you will need to pay for a license to do so. However, the copyright law allows for something called “fair use.” While its not as simple as saying that its a fair use because you are a student, or because you are not selling your recording to make money, etc., in the case of creating a video for something like Musical Exchange, it is perfectly legitimate to do so without paying for a license. BUT, it is incredibly important to remember that the people who compose music and make recordings for a living are entitled to be paid for their work. Always purchase sheet music and purchase recordings. Nowadays there are many legitimate sources to purchase music at very reasonable prices. There are also many possible places to download things for free or means to photocopy entire scores. Besides doing what is right (and legal) just remember that one day you could be on the other side of the argument, trying to make a living as a composer or performer.

What should I do right now?

Join the Musical Exchange Musical Theater project, record yourself and start posting! I look forward to seeing all your videos!

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Comment by Jonah Verdon on November 26, 2012 at 4:18pm

Tony!! Awesome post!! Do you have any tips for finding the right kind of opening monologue? Hope you are having so much fun in NYC!!


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