Coded Notes – the YouTube Channel

Lockdown was an odd opportunity to reflect on some things I’ve wanted to do (or at least revisit) for a long time. With the world seemingly grinding to a standstill, the day job became 80% time and pay which freed up some time to explore a few things. One of them was trying to learn piano (again), another was to get back into the habit of writing some music with some future goal of making a music book one day. The other thing was something that felt out of necessity during Skype lessons, and that was making videos of lesson content. All those videos, plus later ones, are now on a YouTube Channel.

First, some backstory on videos and classes. I started teaching in 2001; a pre-camera phone era. I’m not even sure how good digital camcorders were, but they probably weren’t cheap. No one ever recorded lessons.

On a related note, in the social dancing scenes, such as salsa, bachata, zouk, etc, I was dancing just as the camera phones started to be a thing, meaning suddenly there was an opportunity to record the moves/routines covered in class. But what was the etiquette for that? Initially, teachers were reluctant to let anyone record them, but they were more than happy to let the students record each other at the end of class. Eventually, the writing was on the wall and now, at the end of the class, it’s basically, “okay, get your phones if you want a recording”. So long as nothing is uploaded to social media, the teachers (even the touring professionals) are more than happy to have recordings made at the end, including explanations.

In regards to music classes though, I’ve only occasionally been asked by an adult student or a parent ask to record me playing the homework music. Perhaps it’s because it’s more an audio, rather than visual thing, and camera mics are still no good at recording a wind instrument. Lockdown however, has shown that the videos I’ve made have really helped some of the students. Some aren’t fussed, but some students really want to ‘copy the answer’ as soon as possible, rather than ‘solve the puzzle’, so to speak. You can tell it’s benefited some students.

I initially made all the YouTube video unlisted so that the students could access them via a direct link but so that the world couldn’t see. Now, it’s open the world.

Why would I do this!

Want to get a quick demo on how to play James Rae’s Latin Jive?

Once upon a time, I think we all probably tried to maintain an online persona that was completely independent of real life. We’d be able to hide behind usernames and avatars. Now, with the advent of ridiculous amounts of social media, and Google’s stranglehold on everything, I’ve finally given up. The only thing to do now is to try and put one’s best foot forward and contribute with something positive.

This realisation happened with Patreon, where Olga and I have been receiving patronage for Chartopia. We really needed an introduction video, so naturally we had to front up and show that there we two developers working really hard to make an awesome Roleplaying random table/generator app for people to enjoy. We couldn’t really hide if were to make Chartopia this truly credible tool that the roleplaying community could get behind.

With the inertia overcome, I’ve now made 68 videos of clarinet and saxophone lesson material demos!

I’ve named the channel after this blog (because why not), and gradually the quality is improving. I started off with a little Sony mic plugged directly into my sister’s Lumix G85, then roughly edited everything in iMovie. Despite Lockdown, I managed to get myself a Motu M4 audio interface and experimented with my Shure 57 mic. With its preamps, the Motu produced a high quality recording with the Shure 57, but the Sony mic, plugged into the Lumix camera, sounded terrible. The trouble was that the Shure 57 mic can only pick up the instrument, not the voice, so I tried to get the Sony mic to do that. Unfortunately when editing the audio, cutting between the two mics didn’t work out so well on account of the Sony mic pulling in a lot of noise in comparison to the Shure 57.

Eventually I got my hands on an Audio Technica 2020 which had been able to handle voice and instruments just fine, so long as I use some compression and gain tweaks in Audacity. Now my videos are sounding half decent for something that I quickly edit in about 30 minutes.

The goal now? Well, let’s just say that there are so many really good clarinet and saxophone players on YouTube already that I’d be dreaming to think that many people are going to watch what I do, so this is currently for my students and myself. I now get to have some fun trying to add more production quality; perhaps some image overlays, better video cuts, figure out how to get rid of pops and clicks in the audio (like the annoying sounds my mouth makes as I prep to play). At some point I’ll even have to style the background behind me, and figure out the lighting.

These videos are now another tick in ‘add something positive to the internet’ box.

It turns out the day job didn’t need the 80% for long and all those three-day weekends became no more. It’s all back to normal, making it more an effort to cram all these goals into the short amount of spare time available.

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