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!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

La Belle Digital and Your Location Audio

Often lost in North America in the deluge of truly wonderful audio gear developed and sold by American audio brands is some truly handy gear from other parts of the world.

One fine bit of gear I picked up several years ago has become idespensable in my tool kit. The V2 VX Pocket sound card from Digigram (France) has been a lifesaver. It retails for about $400.00 US but I got mine on-line for a lot less. It's a fully equipped PC sound card that slips into a laptop PC and it allows me to plug my pro audio gear directly into my computer no matter where I am. I've found that a lot of interfaces offer overkill solutions for multitrack recording. This card fits my more simple need to plug 2 channel pro sound gear into a laptop.

We had a meeting of the Santa Barbara Indie Co-op at the Production Room to share tips on location audio with some independent film makers in SB. While we covered the basics, I wasn't able to point to some of the wonderful opportunities for capturing live audio direct to digital - and even previewing or editing on location.

With my laptop and a battery powered Behringer mixer (Germany) I can record high quality location audio with phantom powered mics directly into a digital file.

The difference between on camera mic plug-ins and consumer grade PC laptop audio cards is that the VX Pocket is configured with a "pigtail" of cords that allow you to plug inputs and outputs to and from the sound card at line level (pro) with XLR connectors directly to and from a mixer. It also allows a SPDIF digital in and out connection. This is really handy for interfacing with other digital gear.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am not a technical engineer. So audio gear that plugs together like a kids toy and delivers quality that passes muster in the main studio is my kind of gear.

When I'm on location in Canada, my studio consists of my laptop, the VXpocket Card, a Focusrite Platinum Mic Preamp, a main amp, some monitor speakers and my editing software. With that and an internet connection I have recorded audio for film, a PBS Documentary, broadcast TV and Radio Commercials, and on-line media.

For just a few dollars more than it takes to plug a location mic into a camera, Indie film makers can track high quality location audio into battery powered remote gear and get better sound to work with in post production. And you can even do some of your pre-production on location, which will save you time and money. Synching to picture could be an issue for some but by using 48k .AIFF files, you should be able to strip in the audio in Final Cut without too much trouble. Let me know your thoughts about that...

Please share your location audio problems and let us us help you with some tips that
may save your next post session. Our advice is free...and worth every penny!

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Podcasts: Communication, Branding or Marketing?

What the heck IS a podcast.

I honestly thought I knew. Generally, podcasts are described in technical terms and defined by how they are distributed. Podcasts are usually represented as low tech messages or program content that are subscribed to or downloadable online. Like blogging.

But that isn't actually what a podcast is to the communicator or the listener and they are the only two parties that matter in this equation.

We are working in a medium created by technicians. We need to start defining our terms better. To start with I recently found that it's important to define what a podcast DOES.

I had designed a podcast project that would include informal interview style Q&A with the client which I would minimally edit into a simple audio program structure: intro, body, conclusion, close. Nice and clean.

We tried it. The client didn't like it. They felt it didn't represent them. Ironic since they had spoken every word themselves. But it was a predictable result.

Any Company, Individual or Commercial entity that has invested in creating a brand identity will not allow anyone to muck about with some half arsed effort at ad-libbing lamely through a podcast about who they are or what they do.

So Podcasting is on the road to becoming just like other "Reality Programs". That means highly produced, tightly controlled and structured to look and sound informal. In the process, goals are defined, ideas are focused, communication is direct and brand identity is protected.

There's a lot more to this than meets the ear, and I'll have more to share about this very soon. Right after the client hears our revised program.

And by the way, shouldn't you be subscribing to this blog?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Local Media Misses Fire Season Premiere

Multiple broadcast signals (appx. 23) are licensed for the expressed purpose of serving the public in the Santa Barbara metro. That's 23 local channels that will reliably air detailed coverage of whatever Paris Hilton does.

So how many local reporters showed up to cover a brush fire above the city on East Camino Cielo last night at about 9:40? I don't know but I couldn't find any news about it until The Daily Sound was linked to me this morning on Blogabarbara.

If you don't live here, you may not think that matters.

But if you are like many who have noticed that there is no local news or public emergency information on your local TV, Radio, Digital and Satellite stations, then it does matter. Towns across the country are giving the FCC an earful about broadcasters who have failed to serve them in an emergency. What's the FCC doing about it? Holding regional public hearings.

What are the broadcasters doing about it? Very little. Because they don't have to.

If that seems wrong to you you're not alone. And let me share what I've learned about the subject here in wild-fire prone Santa Barbara.

Radio stations here cover local news during the day. At night, the staff goes home. They turn off the lights, turn on the answer machine and lock the doors.

TV stations operate pretty much the same way, except KEYT, which still has a live 11:00 PM local news cast. They're pretty much the only local news after sunset.

The last wildfire disaster hit Santa Barbara in 1991. The one before that was 1978. The one before that was 1964. You get the picture?

In the 1991 fire, one person was killed and 440 homes were destroyed. A lot has changed since then but not for the better. Since 911, the rules have changed from the top down. A local event may suddenly be controlled by a FEMA director instead of local fire and police officials. And if an earthquake hits at 3:00 AM, there probably won't be ANY local news until somebody gets to the radio/TV station. Or you might get an EAS bulletin. More about that in a moment. But First...

Over the past several years I've talked with broadcasters, residents and emergency service providers about our current situation. Everyone knows there is a problem. Everyone knows the problem is communication of emergency news and information in a disaster event. The logical entity to take the lead here are the broadcasters. Except for that one little problem. Remember? They don't have to.

Well, THEY think they don't have to. And they should know. They helped lobby the FCC to make the rules. And here's a general idea of what the rules are.

"Harrumph! Mr./Ms. Broadcaster, you are hereby charged as a public trustee with serving the interests of the public. Since we at the FCC have no idea how to interpret what the public interest is, we leave it to you to decide."

One thing that complicates this situation for our otherwise satisfied broadcaster is the EAS or Emergency Alert System. EAS replaced our old Cold War Favorite, "The Emergency Broadcast System" ("If this had been an actual emergency..."). Since people hear EAS alerts on their local stations, they assume EAS is under local control. And they are wrong. EAS is actually meant to allow the President of the United States to address the nation in a national emergency. Homeland Security has put the director of FEMA in charge of the EAS. And FEMA can also trigger a national EAS broadcast.

After that, participation in EAS is voluntary and effectiveness is limited by the ability to respond to a local alert.

"Broadcasters and Cable Systems may decide individually whether to transmit such messages that originate at the State and Local level"

(FCC Report 05-191 Released 11/10/05 Section II, Part B, Paragraph 8) decide what the public interest is and don't worry about EAS unless the President is talking.

And what, you humbly ask, does this have to do with a fire on East Camino Cielo last night? Glad you asked.

While I am grossly irrtated and perturbed about the wholesale slaughter of the concept, "principled local broadcaster as trustee of public interest", you my friend may ignore my crusty attitude and let your local station know that they'd better straighten up - or else! Which brings me to The Public Comment File.

Every broadcaster is required to maintain a public file. Almost any citizen of good standing with interest in the community can file a complaint with a station regarding it's public service. The station must also open it's file to public inspection. The FCC reviews this file and the station response at license renewal times.

Since the FCC has declined to define public interest, this is a very important vehicle for pressuring broadcasters to meet community needs at the local level.
It's important to document the facts and submit them to the public file each time a station falis to be of service. Over time a pattern of failure can be established and a broadcaster will have a tougher time claiming that they serve the public.

The events of last night would seem to be a good place to start in Santa Barbara.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Super ISDN Celebrity Hollywood Extravaganza!

Yes, thanks in part to key word searches we're back to the breathless headlines of the good old days, when gossipy newspapers strung nouns and adjectives together like plastic cranberries and popcorn on a Zody's Xmas tree.

Today certainly was our day to, "Service the Stars!" to speak.

First up was an ISDN engagement for our friends at Campbell, Mithun, Esty of Minneapolis, Minn., wherein animation and commercial VO star Jeannie Elias (Over The Hedge, The Wild) stopped in for a commercial read. The Montreal native is now at home in So. Cal. (A gratuitous plug being mandatory for those north of the border who love to play, "Guess Who's A Canadian" eh?)

Next up was an ISDN session with TV and Film star John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Northern Exposure, etc.). John was in for an ISDN session courtesy of DDB Chicago. Always the cool breeze when he visits The Prod Room, John just came off the road with The John Corbett Band which recently hit Chicago and Kansas City.

Finally, ever vigilant engineer Steve Gordon stepped out onto our second floor landing to hail a citizen who was parking his car and blocking our driveway. The motorist turned out to be Kenny Loggins, who graciously scooted his car out of the way.

Only in Santa Barbara.

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