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  • Tom Godfrey

Final Cut Pro: What I'm Learning

Recently I started getting serious about recording guitar and Finale lesson videos. I invested in a Canon M50, which was a big step up from recording video with a webcam. I also invested in Final Cut Pro with the understanding that there was going to be a steep learning curve.


My most recent videos are better than my first videos. As pleased as I am with my latest videos, I'll probably cringe when I see them a year or two from now. I HOPE I'll cringe when I see them in the future, because I'm striving to make each video just a little better than the last one.


Final Cut Pro is a complicated piece of software, but I'm enjoying the challenge. Here's what I've learned in the couple months I've been recording lessons and editing with Final Cut Pro. This is a random assortment of production and post-production thoughts.

  • Dive in and learn as you go. Don't be afraid to just get started. It's okay if your videos suck at first. Keep plugging away and constantly find ways to make your next video better than your last.

  • YouTube is your friend. Back in the day, products came with physical manuals. I became a Finale expert partly because I kept the manual as bathroom reading! I don't learn well from online manuals, but YouTube is full of video tutorials. I've learned a great deal about my camera, Final Cut Pro, and the recording process from watching tutorials on YouTube.

  • Record in short clips. Some people have the gift of gab. I'm not one of them. I love writing, but I have trouble expressing myself verbally. I have trouble finding the right words, and I have a bit of a stutter. I've found that my recording sessions go more smoothly if I record a sentence or two at a time and then pause. I then string my sentences together in the editing process.

  • Clap Clap Clap. It can be hard to locate the good takes in your raw footage. Thanks to a YouTube tutorial, I've learned that I can clap loudly 3-4 times after a good take. When I'm editing video in Final Cut Pro, I can see in the audio waveform where I've clapped. This saves me from wading through bad takes when it's time to edit my videos.

  • You don't have to repeat yourself. When I'm teaching in person, I repeat myself often. I don't have to do this in a video lesson, because the viewer can pause and rewind.

  • Find ways to shorten your lessons. Some of the lessons I've recorded are too long. As I continue forward with these video projects, I'm going to be looking for ways to shorten my videos.

  • Learn keyboard shortcuts. I'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts. As I'm learning Final Cut Pro, I've been writing down keyboard shortcuts for actions I perform often.

  • Develop an editing process. When I engrave music with Finale, I have a specific process that I go through. I've discovered that it's helpful to do the same with video editing.

  • Record in batches. I usually have a few lessons scripted out. I'll record them all at once rather than record and edit, record and edit.

  • Be kind to yourself when recording. I'm the worst when it comes to negative self-talk. I get really frustrated if I have trouble getting a thought out or if I miss a note when I'm demonstrating something on the guitar. I do my best to keep a positive attitude and remind myself that I can fix most issues when editing video footage. This is a work in progress. I hope I can be more forgiving of myself in the future.

  • Dampen that sound. Room echo is the devil. When I was recording at my desk, I would set up a blanket fort to dampen the sound. I have a little area in my bedroom where I record now. It's not the sexiest place to record video, but there's plenty of carpet in the room, and I have a mattress leaning up against a wall to deaden the sound. Maybe someday I'll graduate to a professional studio setting, but this will do for now.

  • Turn off the fridge, fan, and air conditioning. Speaking of sound, the microphone will pick up small noises that you wouldn't normally notice. I have to turn off the fridge, the fan, and the air conditioning when recording video. That bedroom gets awfully hot, so I rub a small fan down by my feet between takes. I also leave a note to myself so I remember to turn the fridge back on. (Unfortunately, I can't ask my upstairs neighbors to turn off their AC, so sometimes their AC makes its way into my videos.)

  • Natural lighting is awesome. I don't know much about lighting yet, but I've learned that natural lighting is your friend. I let that light shine in when I'm recording videos in the afternoon.

  • Use a white shower curtain to diffuse light. While the natural light from my bedroom window is great, I still need more lights in my current setup. My LED video lights are too bright, but the lighting looks great when I place them behind a white shower curtain to soften the light.

  • A backdrop is better than a white wall. In my first several videos, I recorded in front of a plain, white wall. It looked like I was sitting in front of, well, a plain white wall. I invested in an abstract blue background, and it makes a big difference.

  • Invest in a good microphone. I bought a Rode VideoMic Pro a few weeks ago and am really pleased at the improved audio quality.

  • Simplify your setup as much as you can. When I first started recording videos, I worked with what I had. I was using a mic on a stand. My mic was hooked up to a fairly elaborate sound system, which recorded into a Tascam recorder. I would then have to sync the audio and video in Final Cut Pro. This actually sounded really good, but it involved a lot of unnecessary steps. Now I have a Rode mic running directly into my camera. It sounds great, and the whole process involves fewer headaches.

  • Test your audio and video. As a long-time working musician, testing my equipment is second nature. I always have spare batteries for my camera, and I change the batteries regularly in my guitar and microphone. When I bought my Canon M50, I ran extensive video tests before recording my first video with it, and I ran extensive audio tests when I got my Rode mic. Once I was happy with the settings, I wrote them down in case I ever need to reset anything.

  • Record different angles with one camera. I only have the one camera right now. I'll get a second camera when I can afford it. Since I record in clips, I take the time to change the camera angle. I record intros, endings, and some bits in between in a talking head format, and when I am recording the meat of a guitar lesson, I use a guitar closeup shot. I save time by recording all the talking head stuff at once and then recording all the guitar demos at once.

  • For talking head shots, point the camera down a bit. Nobody wants to count your nose hairs.

  • Jump cuts are your friend. As mentioned before, I record in clips. In editing video, I've found that jump cuts are a lifesaver. I like to add a jump cut to emphasize a point or change the topic. When I do this, I'll zoom in or zoom out a bit. It adds visual interest and also helps mask some edits in my talking.

  • Practice your lessons first. I script out all my lessons. This helps keep my lessons focused and to the point. I also rehearse my lessons a day or two before getting in front of the camera. I don't rehearse my scripts to death, but I do go through my lessons to edit the talking points so they sound more natural. I don't have to practice the main part of a guitar lesson that much because I've usually taught the subject a million times in in-person lessons. I find that I have to spend most of my time practicing intros and endings.

  • Pause and freeze. This relates to my practice of recording in smaller clips. I'll often pause and freeze after a sentence or two. This helps a lot with the editing process. In the audio waveform, I can see where I've paused, and holding my position during the pauses helps my jump cuts looks smoother.

  • Tuck your shirt in. I'm a casual sort of guy who rarely tucks his shirt in. This is comfy, but it looks terrible on camera if you're sitting down. So I tuck in my shirt when I sit down to record a video lesson, even if I'm wearing a t-shirt.

Those are some of the things I've learned in the past few weeks. In another couple years, maybe I'll be able to speak from an expert's point of view. Right now, though, I'm a noob. I'm a noob at using a camera, recording screen tutorials, lighting, and editing in Final Cut Pro. I hope this will be helpful to anyone going down the same road, and if you're further along than I am, please comment with your own tips!

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