MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Remotely Recorded Ensembles is a new service created by Maplewood, NJ-resident D.D. Jackson, which has as its goal to “Let us help you produce a professional ‘virtual ensemble’ of your choral, instrumental, or musical theatre group — to recapture that feeling of playing together!” It achieves this by having each ensemble member separately capture their individual parts on camera, for which he then mixes the audio together and then edits their videos to produce a final result that sounds “live,” preserved for posterity.

Jackson started Remotely Recorded Ensembles after all on-campus classes of the Brooklyn College Big Band were canceled and Jackson, the band’s Director, a SOMA resident and multi-Emmy-winning composer, told his students to play together anyway, virtually. Jackson proceeded to create guide tracks, which the students subsequently listened to on headphones while they used their phone cameras/mics to simultaneously record their own individual parts when they had a moment to do so. He then mixed their resulting audio, and edited their videos together, trying to best match the ebb and flow of the music. The reaction to the results (some examples of which can be seen here) was overwhelmingly positive, encouraging Jackson to start his new service.

Here's what he has to say about the process:

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What’s the biggest misconception that people have about the service?

I’m realizing that people see the videos and often think they must have been recorded “live” over Zoom (with some further video tweaking perhaps after the fact). So I realize I need to do a better job of explaining the process, which is really much more involved in order to recreate the feeling of “live” even as we shelter-in -place.

Describe that process?

It really starts with a guide track that everyone can record to. For a recent Middle School’s vocal project (for example), I had the Music Director record herself singing all 4 sections to the same piano accompaniment I provided, and then sent this out to the 24 singers, who subsequently listened to it on headphones while they used their phone’s video camera and mic to record themselves singing just their individual parts. I then took the audio from all the videos and imported them into Logic Pro (my audio editing program), applying noise reduction, optimizing the sound so they all sounded like they were in the same room, and moving things like “s” sounds around so they all lined up (something trickier to do when not actually recording together!) The final stereo audio mix was then imported into my video editing program (Final Cut Pro X) along with all the individual videos, where I worked on creating a video version that complemented the vibe of the music. It takes many hours of work but hopefully the results are worth it, and the illusion of everyone actually having recorded at once comes through. Certainly, it’s very fulfilling for me to get such positive reactions from people, especially since it’s near-impossible for particularly choruses to meet and rehearse together at present.

What sort of setup do the individual performers need? Do they need a professional microphone?

All they need is a typical phone camera/mic. I’ve worked with some university students who have better mic setups in which case they simply record video of them doing their part, and then send it along with the “better” audio for me to sync up. But — regardless of the source — I will work to equalize things/balance/compress the sound and then line things up to make everything feel plausibly in the same room, just as I would with any recording I’ve produced in the past.

What is the maximum number of parts you can accommodate?

The largest I’ve done thus far is 26 separate parts. However, the sky technically is the limit - it really depends upon the time/budget factor. People should just let me know what they have in mind and I’ll try to work to achieve it!

Does the ensemble director need to have all the arrangements written out, or can you help with this?

I always love helping with arrangements if asked (calling upon my background as a multi-Emmy winning composer for t.v., an arranger for The Roots, composer for big band, etc.). I’m working with a gospel group right now, for example, where the group’s leader has specifically requested that I put my own “spin” on the piece she wants to do, and has also requested that I play piano/keys (I’m also hiring a bassist and drummer to complete the backing band, to go with 8 vocalists). Of course, if I do the arrangements then part of the process will also be for me to write out any needed sheet music charts for everybody. In other situations, the client provides an existing arrangement and I simply help create the audio backing tracks and then send them along with the existing sheet music out to the players.

Can the ensemble director still take part as conductor?

Yes, and there’s two ways I’ve been experimenting with this. One involves more “cosmetic” (after the fact) conducting, where I essentially create the backing track, give it to the conductor who uses it to record a video of them conducting to it; and then when I edit the final videos together of all the players I mix in the conducting (visually) as well. I’ve also had situations where it’s really important for the players to actually record their parts while watching the conducting (such as for pieces that have a lot of speeding up/slowing down and other interpretive touches). For those situations, I first have the conductor convey to me the timing they are seeking for the piece; I create the backing track from this; they listen to it and film themselves conducting to it; and then I send an actual video of their conducting the backing track to the participants for them to watch while they record their parts! The whole process can seem complicated but the result, people have found, is well worth it and it feels good to preserve something for posterity, especially in this shelter-in-place age!

About D.D. Jackson: After receiving his B.Music with High Distinction in Classical Piano from Indiana University, and his Masters in Jazz from the Manhattan School of Music, the multi-Emmy-winning composer D.D. Jackson began his career as a jazz pianist/composer, and went on to record, perform, and tour around the world with some of the most acclaimed names in jazz and beyond, including drummer Jack Dejohnette, and saxophonists James Carter and David Murray. He also has collaborated frequently with Questlove and “The Roots,” most recently appearing with them on piano at the theater of Madison Square Garden for the John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert, at Radio City Music Hall (for which he also wrote 30-piece orchestral arrangements), and as an arranger/producer/pianist on their last 2 CD’s.

As an educator, Jackson is an award-winning professor and is currently on faculty at Brooklyn College where he conducts their Big Band and teaches courses in the Global Jazz Masters program, and Media Scoring in their Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema. He previously taught part-time at Hunter College for over 9 years, ultimately receiving the Hunter College Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching. Previously, Jackson was also Chair of Jazz and Contemporary Studies at the Harlem School of the Arts, where his past students included pianist Matthew Whitaker (who was recently featured as a child prodigy on 60 Minutes) and recent "The Voice" finalist We' McDonald.

Jackson has also recorded 13 jazz CD's as leader or co-leader (including 2 for the major label BMG) featuring his original compositions, ranging from his Juno Award-winning solo piano CD “...so far”, to his larger-scale meditation on the events of 9/11 entitled “Suite for New York”; and two operas, including "Quebecite” [pronounced “KAY-beh-SEE-tay”] (based in part on his African-American father and Chinese mother), and “Trudeau: Long March/Shining Path” (about the father of Canada’s current leader, Justin Trudeau).

Jackson has also been successfully composing music for television, film and other media for the past several years, in 2019 receiving his second Emmy Award, for Outstanding Original Song (with lyricist Billy Aronson), preceded by his first Emmy in 2016 for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition, among his 5 total Emmy nominations. He has also written regularly for The Wonder Pets (Nickelodeon), Esme & Roy (HBO/Sesame Workshop), Clifford the Big Red Dog (PBS/Amazon Prime), and several other shows, and has done numerous commissions, most recently for The Ahn Trio and The Metropolis Ensemble. He is also doing increasing work for film, with the romantic comedy feature "You & Me" (for which Jackson wrote the score and collaborated on the songs with lyricist/director/co-writer Alexander Baack), recently winning the 2018 Cinequest Film Festival Audience Award for best comedy feature. As a writer, Jackson has also penned articles for such publications as the Village Voice and DownBeat magazine (for which he maintained a popular column on his experiences as a jazz musician entitled “Living Jazz,” for 5 years).

Jackson lives in Maplewood, NJ (just outside of New York City) with his wife Elizabeth, their 13-year old son Jarrett and 11-year old daughter Aria. His artist website is: http://ddjackson.comand his email is: dd@remotelyrecordedensembles.com