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Making a multi-screen music video

My experiences with Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro

For any musician who has seen some of the many split screen multiple part music videos (some of them very high quality) and thought, “I wish I could do that!”, I’d like to encourage you to have a go; I’ll also explain how I produced some of my videos.

Whilst a degree of patience and a certain amount of technical nous (or help) is useful, the thing you need more than anything else is musical skill and expression. If you have that, and have experienced audiences enjoying your playing / singing, then it is worth the effort of getting it ‘out there’.

I had heard of a phone app called ‘Acapella’. This was my starting point because (1) it is cheap and (2) it is easy to use. I downloaded this onto my iPhone 8 and paid the monthly subscription (around £7) to get full functionality. This app is pretty clever and is designed for quick and easy results with little technical know-how. You choose a split screen format and simply record your first of however many parts into one of the screens in time with the built in metronome. You can then add your other parts by playing in time with the click or with your first part (using headphones). Once all is complete, you simply export to your chosen media or to file.

I tried a few multipart videos with Acapella. I didn’t publish any of them, however, because I had continual problems with the audio clipping. The other problem is that getting an ideal playing distance from your phone in terms of both video and audio is quite tricky. Headphones with a long lead and an external USB mic are essential, I think, if you are to get the best out of this program. The other limitation is that you can only import one video directly into the app. I wanted to make my videos with other means (partly so I could use high end audio software and a good mic) and then import into Acapella to deal just with the business of combining the videos.

Fortunately, the same people that make Acapella also make a similar (and cheaper) app called Picpostplay, which did exactly what I wanted. It is similar to Acapella in many respects, but you can import ready made videos to every screen, so that you are only using the app to produce the effect of combining your videos, or musical parts. So, for each part in a piece of music, I was able to use my phone to make the video whilst recording audio direct to my iMac (via an SE1 mic and Behringer Firepower audio interface). I then used iMovie to line up the audio and video for each part and then produce each separate finished video. The other crucial thing at this stage was to trim each video so that they started and ended in exactly the same place, as there is no way to realign them in Picpostplay. Regarding the audio, I could also use a click or backing track from Logic Pro X to make sure I was playing in time, rather than the internal phone app metronome, which I could never get to be loud enough.

This method involved ‘hopping’ between devices ie computer and phone and as such is a bit of a pain, although I must say it yielded good results (and it is cheap). I had the full benefits of Logic Pro X for audio and iMovie (easy to use) to deal with the video. However, there is no way to do multi screen videos in iMovie, which is where the phone app comes in.

One disadvantage of the method I’ve described above, is that the screens are fixed for the duration of the video (unless you make several videos of the same piece and edit different bits of them together – which really is a lot of messing about). I eventually tumbled to the fact that if I was going to make this easier and look more engaging, I needed to buy and learn to use some pro level video software, and keep everything on the Mac – maybe use the phone only as a video camera. This is where Final Cut Pro comes in (thanks for the pointer, Catrina Leung).

You can download Final Cut Pro and use it free of charge for a limited period. This is well worth doing – the free period is generous and gives you plenty of time to experiment and decide if you want to spend serious money on seriously good software. At the time of writing, I have completed two videos with FCP: one is a clarinet trio where I play all three parts and the other a much more ambitious 17 part video with our local big band.

FCP is a sophisticated program, but it is not that difficult to use, its basic functions being no more complicated than iMovie. I would recommend getting to grips with iMovie first, rather than jumping straight into FCP. The crucial points to work out if you want to make a split screen video are learning how to ‘crop’ and ‘transform’ each video – this enables you to alter the shape, size and orientation of each one and also to place it anywhere in the 16:9 viewing window.

The way I went about making a big band video was as follows: 1. Collect all the videos from each player. 2. Separate the audio track from each video and import these into Logic Pro X. 3. Align and edit the audio tracks in LPX and export as a normalised stereo file – then import the finished audio into FCP. 4. Now you can use the audio track in FCP to align each video in turn in FCP’s timeline with the audio. Once you have a video correctly aligned you can delete or turn off its soundtrack, as you have your finished audio from LPX. 5. Then use the crop and transform functions to position each video in the viewer. 6. Now you can export your finished video to file. If you want to reduce the file size of the finished product, you can do this easily by importing into iMovie and exporting as mp4.

That’s the short version! If you want more detail on any point, feel free to drop me a line. You will also need to work out how to add titles and text. One other interesting thing is learning how to make videos move around the screen. For this, you will need to learn how to specify ‘keyframes’. You can then alter positions and sizes etc for different keyframes. This is quite time-consuming but not that difficult once you get the hang of it. I recommend experimenting with a three or four part video rather than a 17 part one like I did! Do let me know if you have found this blurb helpful or interesting.