The Production Room was founded in 1995 as one of the first full time digital commercial recording facilties on the central coast of California. We started with 4 stereo tracks, 16 mb of ram and a 250 mb hard drive. A lot has happened since then. Today we're focusing on ways to serve clients who are creating web based media content. This includes strategic planning to integrate the benefits of traditional media, web design and IT solutions into new programs produced especially for on-line consumers. Join in the conversation. Throw rocks at glass houses. Share your vision of the future. This is the most progressive time in the media arts since Johannes Gutenburg invented movable type!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

If Everybody Is Special, Nobody Is

My double life has flipped back into the land of sunshine, fake boobs and serious mortgage debt. I've once again traded the pastoral for the profane and am in the studio in Santa Barbara, California. (For those who enjoyed my summer notes from the farm, please stand by for a new blog featuring our adventures and photos from Prince Edward Island.)

Over the summer, I worked on media projects coming mostly from our clients in California. In Canada, I'm set up with a voice over booth, recording gear and the same mic I use in Santa Barbara. I was pleased that on several continuing projects I was able to match voice tracks from both studios to the satisfaction of our clients. It was a wonderful demonstration of the flexibility the internet gives us to work where we want and how we want. But...some weird science is happening online and all may not be well in the land of professional talent.

To learn more and join the discussion, please start with this link:
http://www.socialmediatoday.com/SMC/15558

(Summary: The End of Artificial Scarcity - The New York Times? The New Business Model is Here - by Robert Paterson.)

"It is clear, at least to me, that the web destroys any business model based on artificial scarcity. Content will be all but infinite. What will be scarce in a world of limitless content will be people's ability to find what they value and to help them find more meaning when they find it."

I think Mr. Paterson's statement is a clear look at what I think of as the "popular sovereignty" model of the internet, one that is already influencing those of us who provide or use professional services online.

Now listen to this NPR interview with Andrew Keen, author of, "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture".
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11131872

(Summary: Mr Keen presents an indictment of web 2.0. He explains how he sees the rise of user generated content causing a crisis in professional journalism, professional recorded music, newspapers, radio stations, TV and publishing.)

With those two points of view you can see a long way down the cross roads we're all standing on.

To take a closer look at how these issues of on-line service and technical capability are impacting production from the point of view of the people who read copy for a living, please continue.

Todd Schick is a busy man. I know because he had to jump off of his call from me to take another call for a paying gig. Being a pro and a Canadian, he also had to call me back and apologize. Todd works full time as a voice talent in Toronto, one of North America's busiest media hubs.

Please go to:
http://www.toddschick.com/VoiceTalentFAQVoice123.htm

(Summary: Todd describes the pluses and minuses of working with Voice 123, an online casting directory of voice talent and demos.)

Now check out this posting from one of the busiest voices in Hollywood, Corey Burton:

http://www.coreyburton.com/sennheiser.html

(Summary: Corey's post, "The World's Most Tasteless Microphone" sums up his experience in the brave new world of, "one size fits all" solutions in modern digital production.)

And finally, here's my take on these evolving issues. At first glance, Robert Paterson's "Artificial Scarcity" struck me as the kind of airy froth that social optimists are bound to embrace. But on closer look I saw something more concrete in his view. "What will be scarce...will be people's ability to find what they value..."

Oddly, this might explain and support Andrew Keen's premise. Perhaps it's not so much that expertise will cease to be, it's whether or not you can find the expertise you value that is the issue.

If everyone can join the thousands who have listed themselves on Voice123 as professional talent (or some kind of virtual equivalent)then who will spend the time separating the garbage from the recycling? That job used to belong to an experienced producer or a casting director who got paid to evaluate talent. These days the job of casting could just as easily go to a first year production assistant or account executive. No doubt she'll be casting voices on her lunch break.

In any event, I'd like to think that Robert Paterson has it right. If everyone is special, then it's simply a matter of taking time to find the people you need to create the results you want.

If Andrew Keen is correct then perhaps we'll reach the logical conclusion of a society-wide social trend which makes everything acceptable. In Keen's view, If everybody is special, then nobody is.

11 comments:

Robert Paterson said...

Hey John
I know so little about you - interesting that you are an independent producer.

I am not sure that the web will "equalize talent" my bet is that the cream will rise to the top.

But I am sure that there will be a new form of intermediary who will create value by making it easy to find what people want and who will attach meaning to whatever is offered.

Also that the "Niche" will become ever more valuable. When we were limited by the shelf space of a store or the time on the TV or radio schedule, the mass market took precedence. The value now will be in the niche because there is limitless shelf space on the web.

With niche also comes passion and with passion community.

Best wishes
Rob

John Quimby said...

Robert,

Thanks for reading and responding to my comments.

A colleague directed me to 123Voice, which prompted me to search for a user review . I found Todd Schick's review and called him up in Toronto. My conversation with him reminded me of Andrew Keen's interview on NPR. I wanted to present a counterpoint to his views and when I typed in the phrase, "artificial scarcity", a concept that had really made an impression on me, your article came up. So I had to link you in. I hope that's ok.

I came out of broadcast radio (1981-1995) and then opened my own digital production studio (1995 - Present).

My wife visited PEI in 1998, we came back together in 1999 and bought our farm in 2000. We're now Canadian Residents and are planning to re-locate there, more or less permanently, in the next three years. In the mean time I'm working on a variety of commercial media, voiceover and marketing projects.

As you know we also run a small (but growing!) organic farm business on PEI, which I plan to put more time into after we are year round residents.

To your comments...

"I am not sure that the web will "equalize talent" my bet is that the cream will rise to the top."

I like what you say about "cream rising". My experience of late is that the user/generator doesn't get to determine who will "value" his work. Some people like fart jokes. Others prefer to have serious, fact based conversations. Which has more value?

As professional talent we think that our work is of high quality and inherent value.
Individual consumers in the market may decide that quality really doesn't matter to them.
Another independent producer I talked to today said, "The bottom is dropping out all over the place."

So, as you say, when the bottom finally does drop out, I hope the cream rises to the top simultaneously in infinite categories. (And the winner for Best Fart Joke goes to...)

Andrew Keen's take sounds kind of "Roman" or royalist in it's tone. After WWII, elite colleges and universities in the US were initially opposed to the GI Bill which would pay for education at any institution of higher learning that would have you.
Their idea was that returning GI's would dilute the talent pool. (King Canute would have been so proud)

They changed their minds.

I really like your thinking on this and I sincerely hope we'll have a chance to connect in person one of these days.

JQ

Robert Paterson said...

Dear John
Please do post my response - small world - I have spent the last 2 1/2 years mainly working for Pub Radio and TV - so we have that in common and we are also From Away and we take food very seriously. My daughter Hope runs an outfit in Toronto called Real Food For real Kids that supplies locally grown food to over 3,000 - soon to be 10,000, kids in daycare and Kindergarten - something that I hope we can do on PEI.

I would love to meet - I bet we will have lots to talk about. I am on the road now and next week but will be home for the last weeks of the month. Will you still be on the Island?

All the best Rob

John Quimby said...

Rob,

Thanks for the notes and permission to include your thoughts on the blog.

I left PEI after harvesting (and composting and canning and freezing) the last of the produce from our market garden/farm on Sept 23.

So now I'm back in sunny Southern California and expect to be here (at least in body) until May when I'll be back on the Island planting our field for next summer.

As I mentioned, we've worked out our Canadian Residency but we still have a son in High School (Grade 10) and expect to see him through that in Santa Barbara before we move to the farm full time in 2010.

People wonder why I'd want to leave So Cal. I'm not sure I know either. I really like PEI and I think Canadians in general and Maritimers in particular enjoy a kind of freedom which has been eliminated in urban America.

Maybe that's the reason food security issues make people nervous. Maybe people are beginning to understand that If we loose our small farms and local producers, we've lost the last vestiges of our independence from big govt., big oil and big business. Perhaps the illusions we create for ourselves by driving off road vehicles that never leave the pavement and buying boats that never leave the driveway will be impossible to maintain.

But that's just my opinion. I've been known to have a fevered imagination.

Cheers!

JQ

Todd Schick said...

Hey Corey,

Read your article through John Quimby's blog......very interesting.

I can certainly relate to the section where you quote engineers and their penchant for always being right; no one person can never have their knowledge of recording sound. Yes, I agree that when asked to use it on a singer, they rail back in disgust and take offense....

"It's not the same thing! You're TALKING....!"

Personally, I'm of 2 schools of thought on the subject of that mic. I use one every single day as the voice of Global Television here in Canada. While I agree that the Sennheiser effectively "strangles" the voice talents' ability to physically adapt to the spoken word, the mic does add color that other mics cannot......and has a fantastic proximity effect if used correctly. Also, it's design works well for those that have a crappy sounding booth (like a home studio) where noise needs to be rejected by the source.

Indeed, just by using the 416 on a regular basis, I've come up with some pretty interesting vocal sounds. At home....I use the Rode K2 and I have to admit....I get more lip smacks and vocal transients from that mic than I do the Sennheiser over at Global.

The bottom line is...... (I think) variety is the spice of life. I don't want to see a Sennheiser 416 in every studio any more than I want to see the K2 on every mic stand. Here in Toronto, I'm afforded the luxury of not only a city packed full of different, unique recording studios....but also a city full of unique engineers and people behind the scenes who eschew fads and "jump on the bandwagon" like everyone else. In the last week, I've voiced on a couple of different Neumann mics, a very manly Manley, a Microtech Geffel (personal fave) an older Sony over at Kitchen Sync, an AKG 414, the Audio Technica 3525 and a very old Rode NT1......a snapshot if you will of an average week recording here in the Big Smoke.

Yes, perhaps the engineers in LA are tossing out their tube mics in favor of the Sennheiser, but it's not happening here in Hollywood North. Indeed, your description of engineers berating talent on their vocal performance was quite disturbing......like something from another world. I certainly wouldn't tolerate that kind of treatment from anyone, much less an engineer. It's not a scenario one ever comes across here in Toronto.....the engineer would be tossed out on his/her ass, never to "work in this town again." No, talent here are treated with a healthy modicum of respect in the recording environ.

I sent your link off to one of our audio techs over at Global, Vic Florencia. Vic has won Juno (Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for recording engineer of the year. His response:

"He makes some really good points that I'm very aware of and deal with. Whenever I do character voicing for TV shows or animation I use the 416 as an ambient mic and use a large diaphragm as a main source. I agree that it inhibits the actor to a specific space when voicing. For what we do this mic is perfect..... considering the small shitty sounding booth that we have...that's all that matters. You sound great on this mic... much better than your RODE..... don't you agree ?"

To answer his question, I think I sound great on both mics......indeed.....a lot of different mics. Using the knowledge of how each mic reacts and subsequently records my voice makes me better at what I do and also serves to gain the respect of engineers and producers alike......it's not often talent walks into the booth and recites the make and model of the mic they're using.

I welcome your thoughts.

Kind Regards,

Todd Schick
Todd Schick Productions Inc.
voice@toddschick.com
Audio demos: http://www.toddschick.com/demos.htm

John Quimby said...

Todd,

You lucky duck! Some of the most fun I've ever had was doing network promo voice (aside from some illicit fun I had in FM radio, but that's another story...)

I don't know about you but my experience announcer VO was different from doing character voice. So maybe it's a matter of using the right tool for the job?

I like my Geffel too but for broadcast I mostly use a Neuman TLM 103. Some people think this mic is too colored - usually engineers who think everything is better when you fix it in post. I like it because it SOUNDS like a classic broadcast mic. and I'm usually cast as an announcer.

I know Corey, so I can tell you that this guy has the most range I've ever heard. Just as you do, he can work a vocal mic and it's specific traits to achieve the effect he wants.

The problem for talent comes when you know you could do more to create and develop a vocal performance but the engineer has taken those choices away by setting up an all purpose solution.

And how many engineers get tasked with recording talent that can't adjust to a mic and deliver a killer performance? Why not stick 'em on a mic that saves time in the mix?

Any engineers care to weigh in on this?

And the bottom line is - who cares?
Some clients are deciding that all this artistic and technical know
how simply doesn't matter anymore.

Barbara said...

Hi Uncle John! Cool, I love that you've got something to share your professional ideas and experiences on the farm & in production. Awsome, great idea, and can't wait to see pictures!

If you'd like to see my pictures from world travel and all, see my Facebook page. http://oxy.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2013473&l=32bdd&id=14502747 (this is from Indonesia, back in March). Facebook is like Myspace, without the annoying flashy junk. But then you knew that, web-savvy dude.

Life is streaming at me faster than 34 frames a second, that's for sure. I'm now Campaign Priority Manager for Grasslands for The Nature Conservancy's new Campaign for a Sustainable Planet. Yeah, I'm in charge of getting the money to protect our world's grasslands, including Mongolia, the Serengeti, Patagonia, and Central North America from Canada to Mexico. That's all, no pressure. Sigh, I've been on the job for a month, and need a vacation! Just got back from Vermont, where I was for a work conference. It was gorgeous, right on Lake Champlain, and I really wish I had more time to enjoy the beauty of New England and take a little trip across the way to Quebec!!

Oh, I did get to take a field trip to an organic farm, Shelburne Farms. They're a Vanderbilt estate turned dairy farm where they teach sustainability to the community, so cool. And I got to milk a cow!!! Well, I was impressed.

Hope you're all well, maybe I'll see you in Santa Barbara soon... or PEI?

:)
Love,
Barb

John Quimby said...

Barb,

You RULE!

Susan and I have been talking about getting into grass farming. We have 123 acres, mostly woods and some cleared field. To keep the fields open we mow with a tractor which takes days and plenty of fuel.

We're looking at grazing stock to keep the field mowed, decrease fuel inputs, increase fertility and put meat in the freezer.

By the same token we didn't mow or plow some fields this year because of the native habitat that was active in the acreage we left fallow. We had a great bee yard for our local beekeeper, and nesting partridges, snakes, frogs,
etc. We even had bald eagles nesting and hunting in our area.

I know this is off topic...but the farm site isn't ready yet so...please indulge me.

I think these are issues we all need to know more about! As Michael Ableman http://www.fieldsofplenty.com/ says, "If you want to live well in the future, make friends with a farmer!"

Darryl Pearce said...

...well, good luck, John. It's nice to know somebody who's ....well, escaped.

Joe said...

Hi John,

Just found this blog for the first time today. I'll be subscribing for sure.

Count me in as a fan of the 416. I use it for everything but I'd like to complement it with a TLM-103 or something similar down the road for things that need a warmer touch. For network promo and radio imaging, it fits my voice very nicely.

If I had one gripe, it would be that the mic has a tendancy to showcase any sibilence a talent might have. It's been a battle EQing to control the high end when using it in my 4x4 vocal booth.

Also, when used at a standing level in my booth, the mic sounds a bit worse than when using at a sitting level. So in that regard, it can be a touchy mic. But when used in the right conditions on the right voice, with a goal of trying to minimize background noise, it works and works well.

Keep up the great posts.

Joe Szymanski
http://www.joethevoiceguy.com

John Quimby said...

Hi Joe,

Thanks for adding your comment and welcome aboard!

JQ