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December 2008

QUESTION: I am a high school student. More and more I am being asked to submit a recording of my playing to be considered for acceptance to school auditions and competitions. Do you have any advice for making a good recording?

ANSWER: This is a very important question. Because the flute is a very popular instrument, with so many players, it is very common to have to pass through a first round on tape before being able to advance to a ”live“ audition. Keeping this in mind, I think it is important that all flutists learn to become efficient and effective in recording themselves.

I look forward to writing more extensively about this subject. But for now, I am going to list some key bits of advice that will help you to be able to submit good recordings:

  1. Begin by taping yourself in practice sessions a couple of times a week. This will educate you about how you sound and what needs improvement. The most common areas that students can improve, immediately, are intonation and rhythm. These are critical areas that every listener will judge very carefully. You have the ability to make sure that these areas are solid and impressive!
  2. Ideally, you want to start you recording session when you are fresh and inspired. For this reason, it is a good idea to try to deal with the setup issues such as placement of microphone in relation to your flute, piano lid height (if applicable), and the possibility of noise outside of the recording studio, on a different day from the day when you record.
  3. A very good technique for achieving a good sound on a recording is to begin the setup preparations by playing prearranged, small sections. I have always played sections that are:
    1. very loud (including high and low registers)
    2. very soft (same as above)
    3. tonguing passages
    4. lyrical sections
    After listening to these very limited passages, I can make a good determination about microphone placement.
  4. You want to record yourself with a clean and attractive sound with a little bit of reverberation to give a pleasing ambience to the over-all effect of the recording. This can take time to achieve, as you will want to experiment with the different variables.
  5. In my own experience, the better prepared that I was for my own recording sessions, the more I was able to enjoy the session and to play at my expected level. I have always told my students that they must feel completely ready to perform in any recording session with all details thoroughly worked out: breathing decisions, confidence in technical passages, a musical plan, and a clear idea about all tempi.
    When the recording light goes on, however, and you have started to record, you must then play from your heart with sincerity and integrity. If you have done your work, the end product should be a true reflection of how you play. Don’t be overly concerned with small errors. When I listen to taped auditions, I am listening for the fundamentals of good flute playing, and to hear the musical communication of the player. If everything else is at a high standard, the small things that are not perfect do not bother me.
  6. Again, in my own experience, I found it best to record the entire movement or excerpt once or twice, without stopping. This will give your recorded performance continuity and spontaneity. You can really tire yourself out and lose your musical direction if you keep stopping and starting over for things that are not perfect.
  7. BE SURE THAT YOU LISTEN TO YOUR FINAL VERSION BEFORE YOU SEND IT OUT!! It may be surprising, but I occasionally hear submitted recordings that are very flawed technically—sound skipping, no sound at all (!!), strange noises on the tape, etc. Also, be certain that your CD is identified properly and that you have followed the requirements completely.

In the end, you want to send a recording that is an honest reflection of how you play. Try to enjoy the experience and to learn from the process. Recording has always been one of the most intensive and educational experiences in my playing career. I have learned so much from these sessions over the years. It is a big part of becoming a professional musician, and your ability to adapt to the demands of recording yourself will be an important factor in your success.


© Jeanne Baxtresser 2008

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