As you know, one of the things we do here at NewMusicBox is produce video profiles of composers and musicians. We like to intersperse hunks of conversation with footage from performances of the artist’s work—it makes the video more interesting, and keeps it from being just a “talking head” situation. There are lots of moving parts involved in the production of these interviews, and each piece usually entails a long string of emails and/or phone calls. The most difficult part of the endeavor is obtaining performance footage—not because it is difficult to get permission to use it, but because very few composers have high quality (or for that matter, any at all) visual documentation of performances!
This is understandable because we’re talking about music, after all. It’s the recording that really matters, right? Well, yes, but I would also make a case for a good video to accompany a good recording. Being able to watch musicians engaged in a performance provides an even clearer experience of a composer’s music than audio alone—it adds depth and breadth to the sound itself. I’m not necessarily talking about a slick, professionally produced music video (although they are certainly nice things to have), but rather a clean, well-focused picture of an ensemble/soloist/orchestra/what have you playing a piece of music well. Not only is this great for the composer, but the ensemble will probably be thrilled to have good quality performances to share with the world. Whether a concert will be videotaped is another on the list of questions one should always ask when a performance opportunity arises.
It seems this is something that presenters should take on when arranging for concerts—in addition to audio recording services, arrange for video documentation, and make a copy readily available to the composers and the performers. Lots of presenters already do this, and I think even more should consider it a non-negotiable item. This does not mean an intern with a flipcam! I’m talking about a real camera on a tripod with a capable human babysitting it throughout the performance. Note that when it comes to orchestra, and union issues associated with big performance spaces, this sort of thing becomes a nightmare, in that even if a recording and/or video can be obtained, it is only for archival use or personal reference. For those of you participating in concerts sans presenter or organizing your own, do your best to get some video footage of the event—tap your friends and colleagues to see if they know people with some video experience, or visit your local college or university media departments to look for students who want experience shooting footage in the real world.
Oh, and composers? Keep track of your media stuff! You would be surprised at how many composers think there isn’t anything of theirs out there, to find that indeed there are things out there! Sometimes those things are less good, like for instance a video from a high school band concert taken from the nosebleed seats by the mother of a trumpet player, but sometimes it’s possible to stumble across really great things. In any case, it’s good to know what you’ve got out in the world, and to make a habit of collecting as much media of your performances as possible.