HOW DOES IT WORK?
Once you've overcome the administrative hurdle of matching up the availability of the venue, pianist, and myself, it all gets a lot simpler ;) On the day, I will arrive at the venue and set up for around half an hour before being ready for a sound check. Many clients use this as a chance to warm up or rehearse with their accompanist. Set up time and style will depend on the venue, as I have to match my approach to the acoustic on offer. There is also the option of using my background unit for video, as seen in the picture below. It's very popular with people who record in churches and don't want to have an altar in the background of the video.
Once I've set up and we're happy with the sound, we can start recording. Various approaches are possible, depending on what style of working suits you. Some people like to record a few full takes, getting notes from the pianist and myself in between takes on things that can be improved, ending up with a selection of full takes to choose from. Others will record a full take, listen back, then re-record any sections they thought needed improving. There's also the option of working in sections from the word go, and then splicing them together in post-production. Having 2 cameras makes all these options viable even for video. Some may call it cheating, but bearing in mind how hard the recording process is stamina-wise, and how heightened listeners'/viewers' expectations are when judging the finished product (as compared to a live performance, say in audition), I'd normally say it's not cheating to present the best singing that happened on the day.
Some applications specify a requirement of unedited video. This means they want a single take with only one camera angle. This is why a lot of people work in complete takes, in order to have unedited versions of the best whole takes on file, as well as a fully edited demo. Or if all you want is an audition tape, let me know, because those require less setup and a lot less editing, so can be a great budget option.
After the recording is done it takes me about 20 minutes to pack up. Then I take all the material home and you'll have 2 options. Either you leave me to do a draft edit myself, then critique it in a back-and-forth email exchange until we have something you're happy with. Or, if you don't mind critically listening to yourself, I can send you raw versions of everything we recorded, for you to make your own selections and for me to then stitch those together. Once we have edits decided, I go on to shape the sound, remove noise, edit video. You'll get to weigh in at every stage of the process. You'll end up with downloadable video/audio files that you can then do what you wish with, as long as you give me a credit when posting them publicly ;)
If you want to read some of my tips on how to prepare for a recording session, here's a link to my blog that'll take you straight to the relevant post.
RATES + terms and conditions
I charge £55 per hour of recording session (setup time is also chargeable) and then £50 per piece* for editing with video, or £25 if you just want audio. I also reserve the right to charge a deposit before I accept a booking. This is non-refundable if you cancel, but can be carried across if you reschedule. In cases where no deposit is taken, any cancellation with less than 48 hours notice will be subject to a cancellation fee of £50.
A typical 3-hour session (1 hour of setup, 2 hours of recording) is normally enough for 3 arias, which means it usually ends up costing £240 for audio only, or £315 for video and audio.
I do sometimes use clients' demo recordings for promotional purposes on social media, as well as my website. If you would rather I didn't, then please let me know. If you plan to use a snippet of your own demo on Instagram, please also flag this up, as that platform has very specific requirements for video (square aspect ratio and 59s length limit) and I'll be happy to put together a suitable promo at no extra cost.
* When I say 'per piece', I mean a standard length aria/song (3-5mins) edited from multiple takes. If you require unedited takes (less editing, so potentially cheaper), are recording a longer piece, or want any additional work done (like a showreel with the best sections of each recorded piece edited together with your headshots or performance photos), then do let me know exactly what it is you're planning to record, and I'll do my best to come up with a tailored quote. In the case of longer pieces (over 6mins) I may charge more for the edit, because of the extra work required, in line with my editing rate of £40/h.
Say you already have some publicity videos, but have been asked for a recording of a specific piece for an application, then you might not need all the bells and whistles of a full production. I can turn up with a minimal rig (2 cameras, one on-camera microphone), which saves on setup time. The idea is to get a product that's better than using a Zoom recorder and your smartphone, but at a price point that won't break the bank. For this kind of session the price remains £55 per hour, but you can forego setup time (as it'll take 10mins rather than an hour) and video editing will only cost you £25 per piece if using single takes or with minimal editing, and £40 per hour of additional editing if needed.
In a 2 hour session you should be able to get 3 arias and pay £185. The end result will not be of the same standard as a full demo with me, but it'll still be a good quality product (for a sample have a look here).
Editing and Audio Repair
My hourly rate for editing is £40. If you have a recital you recorded and want to extract a single piece from, give the sound some TLC, correct colour in the video, or have multiple recordings you'd like to use extracts of to create a showreel - get in touch for a quote.
Timing-wise, if you’re thinking of sharing a session with someone else, or extending from my standard 3 hours, I find it’s best to allow 1 hour for ‘technical faff’ (set up, sound check, take down), 30mins per piece, plus a buffer 30mins for breaks or unforeseen circumstances. When sharing and tag-teaming (A records one piece, then B records one while A rests, then vice-versa, etc), that buffer isn’t as important, as each singer recovers while the other records. Don’t forget to give your pianist a break though ;)
Do bring extra arias, just in case there’s time and your stamina is holding up.
Do think about consistency in appearance, in case we edit multiple takes together - hair, pocket squares, jacket buttons; all these things are easy to miss in a recording environment without a dedicated ‘continuity monitor’. I do try to keep an eye on this, but I’m already juggling 3 cameras, microphones, audio monitoring, and taking notes on musical things…
These are only intended as a guide to places I've worked before. Clients often have access to other places (music colleges, their local churches, private residences of sponsors, etc) and I'm happy to work pretty much anywhere I can park my car. As a rule, always aim for a decent piano and a large space. Practice rooms, while affordable, will never give you results comparable to a proper performance venue. Anything too boomy can also throw up problems with the sound.
St Peter’s Church, St Albans
Not in London, but it is in the city where I myself am based, which is why recording here affords you a discounted rate for the session, to reflect my lower travel costs. The church has a good acoustic, is heated in winter, and has a Bösendorfer grand piano kept in good condition. You’ll save £30 (or £10/h) on my session fee if you decide to record here, and St Albans is on the Thameslink line, which takes only 25mins from St Pancrass, so it’s not as far from London as you might think.
The person to email here is Carolyn Alexander, the Church Administrator, as their general email address doesn’t always guarantee a prompt response. firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead
A fantastic acoustic to sing in and the church is far enough from the main street for traffic noise not to be a problem. It has a newly refurbished concert Steinway, though this has led them to raise their prices recently.
St Gabriel's Church Pimlico
Another fab acoustic, though not quite as quiet in terms of street noise as Rosslyn Hill. The piano is an old Steinway that's a bit of a beast, but comes across quite well on recordings. Tuning has on occasion been an issue, so enquiring about when it was last done is recommended, and if one can afford it, it can be a good idea to have it tuned specially for the session. Other than that, booking is affordable, and if you tell them I'm recording you, then you'll get a modest discount.
Hinde Street Methodist Church
A very good acoustic, affordable, good piano, but it's located on a busy street corner, so there's a lot of noise to contend with. This is normally manageable in the editing stages, but leads to long editing times, and every now and again something unfixable can mar a recording. As long as you're doing reasonably loud repertoire without any long general pauses, it'll probably be fine, though close mic-ing is a necessity here.
National Opera Studio
Most singers will audition here sooner or later. It's not quite as affordable as some of the above options, but (almost) guarantees a well-kept piano. Make sure you book their largest space and that there won't be people practicing next door. The acoustic isn't as generous as a church, but it's perfectly serviceable, and the space has a clean studio look.
St Michael's Highgate
Back to churches, and compared with some of the above, this one is definitely pricey, but you get what you pay for. The acoustic is gorgeous, the Steinway is kept in great condition, and it's very quiet (the church, not the piano).
An unexpected gem in central London. This is a very impressive concert hall, complete with decent piano and good isolation from traffic. Prices are fairly steep though.
1901 Arts Club
For those on a budget, this is worth looking at. It's not a great acoustic (very dry, singers sometimes tend to push), but the piano is a hit with pianists. The pedal mechanism does make an annoying shimmering noise that is very noticeable on recordings, but I've become fairly adept at editing it out. Most suited for more mellow repertoire, as loud opera gets very tiring very quickly in this space.
St Mary's Perivale
A small church in West London that hosts regular concerts. This means the Yamaha piano is always in decent condition, the acoustic is pretty nice to sing in (though not as luxurious as some other churches).
Hampstead Parish Church
It's a church in Hampstead, as the name suggests. The piano is well-kept, and though it won't win any prizes for brilliant sound, it works perfectly well as an accompanying instrument. The acoustic is quite boomy, but manageably so. You may get people wandering into the church during the session, as it is kept open to the public (though this may be open to negotiation). Bookings are best made with their Head of Music - Peter Foggitt (who is also an accompanist, should you need one).
Royal Academy of Music - The Angela Burgess Recital Hall
A brand new recital hall, apparently available at a discount to RAM alumni. The piano is quite a beast (Steinway concert grand), but sounds great. The acoustic records well, though isn't the most generous to sing in.