"Summer Serenade" - BTS

Summer Serenade was a lot a lot of fun to put together, but there were a lot of steps.  A number of people asked me how I put it together, so here is a streamlined "How to" of Summer Serenade.


Originally, this was the original piece of music I wrote for Alexander Poe's Tropfest film, The Breakup Tour.  This was a second draft I did that was closer to the temp music ("Body and Soul" by Django Reinhardt).  Alex slowed down the first draft (which became The Marmalade Waltz) and the rest is history.

I really loved the second draft and didn't want it to go to waste.  I had been playing with it (originally it was just the A and C section) and found a transition into a B section where it felt like it needed a song.

I moved back to NYC from LA within the past few months and I've been feeling more inspired with lyrics.  I'm in Brooklyn Heights and it's been an exciting time learning about a part of the city which I can't help but feel I had been looking for for years.  Obviously, it's been very hot as well.  The lyrics came pretty easily:

Strolling by yourself with no one else
you're wandering through a Marmalade.
It's not the same.
The sky is bright even though it's night
and someone's singing a summertime Serenade

The air make's your knee's buckle, 
Intoxicated by honeysuckle,
It softly blows, you take it slow
Couples on the streets, they look so sweet
Hypnotized by the Summertime Serenade

Arranging and Practicing

I have been itching to get back to my youtube channel a little more regularly and this seemed like a good place to start.  There were a few things I wanted in the video:

  • for the playing to be good!
  • each part to be solid one takes
  • to shoot me playing all the parts with the audio live

I started with just arranging and learning the song.  I play tenor banjo in the video which is similar to a guitar in being a stringed instrument, but very different in voicings (guitar is tuned in fourths, tenor banjo in fifths).  So I had to learn how to play the song, polish the arrangement and then practiced it for a couple of days.  Remember, it's easy to play for a studio recording, comp your takes and so on, but it's another to sit in front of a camera and play through it cleanly.

I had already recorded a pretty simple version of this song for The Breakup Tour, so I added the banjo to that recording.  That version became my temp track for the recording (what I played along too).


Shooting video and sound to playback can be a challenge without the right gear.  It's a little bit of a process, but once you get it down, it can be fairly easy.  A few things I wanted to incorporate into my workflow were

  • Decent Sound
  • Consistant playback that's easy to run
  • the illusion I'm playing with the people on screen
  • not have to sync sound with picture

For my mic, I used a Audio Technica MB4k.  It's a decent hyper cardioid mic I bought for booming indoors with my Zoom H4n.  The best feature (aside from it's good sound at an affordable price) is it's phantom powered with an internal battery.  I shoot with a DSLR and Zoom H4n, and I don't always want to have to plug things in (especially when you're outdoors).  It's on a stand just off camera.

As I said, I a fully recorded track for my temp.  I actually ran it from Logic so I could change the parts I was hearing depending on what I was playing (I'd cut the vocals if I was singing).  I cranked the "click track" so it would pulse in my ear to keep my tempo tight.  I also used a bluetooth keyboard so I could start and stop playback without having to get up and go to the computer everytime.  I set the cycle and never looked back at the screen.

I am wearing an earpiece during the video.  You can see the cable in the Banjo players ear - it's just an apple ipod white ear bud.  I put a little grey makeup on it so it wouldn't bump out and used some gentle paper tape to tape it behind my ear and to the back of my neck.  I split the signal from my computer: one goes to the earpiece and the other goes to my zoom for playback.  The rest was just setting up a simple greenscreen and playing in front of that.

I shot with the camera sideways so I could fill the screen with as much of my body as possible. When you're keying, you want as much data in your footage as possible to get a sharp key.

The last part is getting around syncing sound.  Since I am recording by myself, I want to keep the flow of shooting (and importing) easy as possible.  I plug my Zoom H4n directly into my camera using a Sescom cable (LN2mic-ZMGH-Mon).  This cable has a built in attenuator for a more balanced input (reduces high output and hiss).  Below is a test I did of some environmental sound going directly from the mics on the zoom to my camera.

Sescom Test with GH2 and Zoom H4n from Cormac Bluestone on Vimeo.

I use the XLR inputs on the Zoom:

  1. Mic input (the MB4k)
  2. Playback from Logic

Now, when I import the footage, not only is it synced to picture, but I have two clear stereo tracks - one with a dry take from the mic (my performance), and the playback with the click.  That way, when I finally put the performances together, I just create in points at the first click and all the performances are synced.

Well, that's enough now!