Because of the visual nature of handbells, YouTube can be a valuable tool for your ensemble. From sharing your music to the world to helping your ensemble rehearse better, every bell group should be familiar with how to use online video.

Please note that the internet is a constantly evolving place. The main points in this article should remain relevant for a while, but the specific directions may change over time. If you find yourself stuck with the particulars of how to do something, use your favorite search engine to look up directions. Someone always has the latest set of instructions posted somewhere.

YouTube versus other online video platforms

YouTube (owned by Google) is the industry standard in sharing online video. Once a video has been uploded to YouTube you can share, distribute, embed, and watch it across the internet quickly and easily. I have found YouTube to be the default place to upload all my videos I share. However, it is also good to be familiar with other video sharing services.

  • FACEBOOK VIDEO: Facebook has been pushing video on their site for a while now. While we don’t know what the algorithm is that chooses which posts to display for you on your Feed, it has been noted that videos tend to show up more frequently than other types of posts, such as images and text. Because of this, your group may want to upload public videos to your Facebook Page as well as YouTube. However, be aware that view counts on Facebook and YouTube are calculated differently. Facebook view counts tend to be grossly exaggerated, so don’t be alarmed if your Facebook video gets 10 times or 100 times more views than the same video on YouTube. It is difficult to share a Facebook video on another site, which is why it is important to post videos on both sites. Also, Facebook videos don’t show up in search engine result
  • VIMEO: Vimeo is the go to video site for independent movie creators. Videos on Vimeo are usually high quality, and they are easily embedded and shared across the internet. While I see no downside to using Vimeo to sharing your videos, they may not be picked up as quickly in search results. I’m also not familiar with the privacy settings on Vimeo, so it may be tough to post private rehearsal videos on the site.
  • INSTAGRAM: Instagram now allows you to upload up to 60 seconds of video. If your group has an Instagram, consider posting some video clips as well as images.
  • SELF-HOSTING: If your group has it’s own website, you can probably upload and post videos directly to your site using your site’s servers. While this seems like an easy solution, video that are self hosted often lag and don’t display right. Unless you’re certain your servers can handle streaming video, I would still recommend uploading your videos to YouTube and then embedding the YouTube video on your website.

Creating a YouTube Channel

To get started, your handbell ensemble should have its own YouTube channel. While you can obviously upload videos to your own channel, posting videos to a channel specifically for your group makes it easier for people to find your videos and allows you to brand all your group’s videos similarly.

These instructions are for those using a desktop. I don’t think you can create a YouTube channel from scratch on the mobile or tablet app, but I may be mistaken.

To start, you will need a Google account. If you or someone in your group has an @gmail.com email address, than you already have a Google account. If not, then you will need to create one. Go to Google.com, click “Sign In” in the upper right corner, and find the link to “Create an Account”. The site will walk you through all the steps.

Once you’ve signed into a Google account, you’ll need to create a YouTube channel. While logged in, go to https://www.youtube.com/channel_switcher. There you’ll see a button that says “Create a new channel”. Click it to be walked through the steps of setting up a new channel.

After creating your channel, there’s lots of customization you can do to make your channel look unique. First you’ll want to add a channel icon. Ideally this should be your group’s logo, formatted as a square. I would recommend not using a group photo for this, since the icon is shrunk very small in some places on the site. Next, you’ll want channel art. This is the long, narrow image at the top of your channel. Because of the way YouTube is formatted on other platforms, this image is actually much larger than the narrow image you seen when you’re on a desktop. For instance, if you just upload a group photo, it may show only everyone’s torsos. A quick search online will lead you to lots of sites to help you format cover art properly.

To see the full array of settings you can manipulate, find the “Creator’s Studio”. Click on the circular image of your icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen to access your account, then select the “Creator’s Studio” link from the drop down menu. I would recommend clicking through all the the menu options on the left to get familiar with the various tools available to you.

As you play around more, there are lots of other customization you can do. You can create lists of videos on your channel page either from your group or other groups on YouTube. You can make a welcome video that plays for anyone not subscribed to your channel. A list of your favorite YouTube channels can be added to the right of you channel. Watermarks can be added to the lower right of your videos. Play around with the channel settings to see what else you want to change.

One thing you’ll want to do is verify your account. This is an extra step YouTube adds to make sure you’re a real person and not a robot. By verifying your account, you’ll be able to upload videos longer than 15 minutes and unique cover images to videos. If you’re not prompted to do so at some point, go to the “Creator’s Studio”, then find “Channel” in the menu on the left. If any of the boxes say “Ineligible” or “Disabled”, follow the instructions to set them up.

Tricks for shooting good videos

Before you can upload anything to YouTube, you obviously need to take a video. Shooting a good video of your group doesn’t need to be anything fancy or complicated. Many smart phones take fantastic video these days. Without getting into too much detail, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Stationary videos are just fine. Find an angle where you can see the entire ensemble and mount the camera there. Don’t try and hold the camera still the whole time in your hand; the slight shaking will be distracting and take away from your group’s performance. Unless you have a good tripod, just leave the camera still. I know when I’m watching handbell videos I want to watch how the group moves together and how bells are shared. If you want to get fancy, set several smart phones around the performance space to record from different angles and edit them together later.
  • If you can’t place the camera in the center of the group, default to placing the camera closer to the bass end of the table than the treble. Because handbell ensembles are usually 30+ feet long, it can be hard to find a spot far enough back in the room to capture the whole ensemble directly in the center, so you’ll probably have to place the camera off center. By placing the camera closer to the bass than the treble you’ll get a much more balanced audio.
  • Always shoot video horizontally rather than vertically. YouTube, and most other platforms, are designed to display videos like you would see at a movie theater, with the image wider than it is tall.
  • If you can, record the audio separately from the video. If you have some video software that will allow you to mix audio and video, record the two parts separately. The optimum place in your performance space for microphones is usually never the optimum place for the video camera. If you’re playing in a venue with a good sound system, you may even be able to record audio right out of the mixing board.
  • Don’t over edit. The title and composer of your piece should already be in the video’s description and title, so you don’t need to put 30 seconds of credits before your video starts. If you do want to add the title or the name of the group in the video, place it as a “lower third” as the piece begins. The lower third is that bar that appears during news broadcasts with the interviewee’s name and title. Most editing programs have a simple way to add one.
  • Do some editing though. Unless there’s a specific reason to include the introduction, trim the video to where the ringing starts. Also, trim the end of the video. I usually cut somewhere in the middle of the applause and fade the sound out. Unless these’s a specific reason for posting the entire concert, trim out your best pieces from the concert and post those as separate videos. Also, if your video editor has a background noise filter, run your video through a simple noise reduction filter to get rid of the air conditioner or other building noises.

Posting videos to
YouTube

Uploading video to YouTube is very easy. When you’re on a desktop, the upload button is in the upper right hand corner of the page. You can also upload directly from a phone or tablet through the YouTube app (be sure that you’re using WiFi, because uploading video will eat up your data plan super fast).

While the video is uploading, YouTube will ask you to add some information about the video.

  • Video Title: The title is the most viewed piece of text that lets viewer’s know what they’re about to watch. You want to make sure the title is accurate, descriptive, spelled right, and compelling. For most bell videos, I would recommend going with some variation on song title and group name, such as “Reverberations – Twin Cities Bronze” or “The Agape Ringers – Wizards in Winter”. If the cover image you use has bells in it,than I wouldn’t bother putting handbells or bells in the title. Also, please don’t use a click-bait title, like “OMG THIS HANDBELL ENSEMBLE WILL ROCK YOUR WORLD”. That’s just annoying.
  • Video Description: This is the section under videos that gives viewers more details about the video. By default, only the first couple lines of the description are visible to viewers, so you want to be sure that the first part of your description is compelling and accurate. Always include the proper title of the piece, composer’s full name, and name of the group in the first sentence of the description. Not only is this good form, it makes searching for a particular group or piece easier. From there you can go on to write more about the piece or group. There are a couple of formatting tricks to remember when writing a description. If you want to include a web address, such as a link to your group’s website or publisher’s website, be sure to use the full web address, including the http://. If you are posting a full concert, list all of the pieces in the description in concert order, like you would in a program. If you want to be nice, you can also list the time code in the video when each piece starts next to each title in the description. Typing 3:36 for instance will cause YouTube to change that number to a link that will jump to the video to that moment in the video.
  • Tags: Tags are invisible pieces of metadata that help YouTube sort videos. In the tags you’ll obviously want to include “handbell”, “bells”, the name of the group, name of the piece, name of the composer, and anything else that might seem important. For instance, if you played at a popular location, include the location name. For holiday music, include the holiday. If you use other instruments, be sure to include them as well.
  • Cover Image: Once your video is uploaded, YouTube will automatically choose a cover image for your video. The cover image is the picture you see when searching for videos, or the image that is shown on a video before you press play. If you don’t like it, YouTube will give you several other images to choose from taken out of the video. You also have the option of uploading your own cover image. I usually pull an image from the video out of my video editing software while I’m working on the video, add the song title and group name to the image, and upload that as my cover image. It only takes a few more minutes and gives you a much more professional looking video.

You can find more information about uploading videos in the YouTube Help section.

Using unlisted videos for rehearsal purposes

In my opinion, this is the most powerful and least used feature of YouTube. When uploading a video to YouTube, you can change the privacy setting to “unlisted” or “private”. Unlisted videos are invisible to everyone unless you have a direct link to view the video. These type of videos are incredibly useful for rehearsal purposes. I would highly recommend putting a camera in the back of the room during every concert and sharing that video with the group afterwards. In my group, we even have watching parties sometimes after big concerts. This is a fantastic way to critique your individual ringing technique and to view the concert from an audience perspective. These videos also make re-learning a piece faster because you will have an archive of old performances to reference. On my group’s YouTube page, only about a third of the videos I’ve posted are public. Most videos are up there only to share with members of the group.

Engage with the community

YouTube is not only a video hosting site, it is also a social media platform. Once your group has a YouTube channel, use it to interact with other handbell groups from around the world. Search out and subscribe to as many other bell groups as you can find so that you can see their videos as soon as new ones are posted. Comment on other groups telling them what you liked or giving constructive criticism. Find other performances of pieces you’re working on to get more ideas. If you do read these instructions and start a YouTube page, go find my YouTube channel by searching for “Handbell Brothers” and subscribe to me so that I can subscribe to your new channel!

A note about copyright

Every time I have a conversation about posting on YouTube, someone always asks if it is legal to post videos of performances online. The advent of the internet has caused technology and practice to evolve much faster than copyright law. With that said, technically yes it is illegal to post videos of performances online. However, I have never heard of a handbell publisher who minds if their music is posted to YouTube, as long as the video is decent quality and the piece title and composer are clearly in the description. For the publishers, groups posting good performances of their music is a fantastic form of free advertising. If you still feel uncomfortable about posting a video to YouTube, feel free to reach out to the publisher and ask if you can post it. Most will say yes, and probably ask that you send them the link so they can share it.

Derek Nance began bell ringing in high school with his band director Marshal Townsend. Upon moving to college in Reno, Nevada, he was immediately recruited by Tintabulations Handbell Ensemble under the direction of Barb Walsh. Tintab at the time was still a small school group, but the group grew into a nationally recognized community ensemble after performing the opening concert at the Handbell Musicians National Seminar in 2013. With the bay area only a short drive from Reno, Derek also performs with the Sonos Handbell Ensemble. Along with his brother Bryce, he founded and continues to write and edit the Handbell Brothers’ Blog. In 2014 Derek was elected as a Member At Large to the Handbell Musicians of America board of directors.