Secure Your Legacy With Great Production

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Here’s a TV trivia contest. What TV show has been on TV everyday since it’s first episode ran? I think we can all guess the answer…”I Love Lucy”, which premiered on October 15, 1951, and is still running right now, somewhere in the world. There are two reasons the show has been so popular for over 60 years. The first is indisputably great content. The scripts, and acting on the show are timeless. Even in black and white, set in America in the 1950s, the comedy routines are timeless, with Lucy pulling off some of the greatest gags ever written.

The Cast Of 'I Love Lucy'
‘I Love Lucy’ Set Photo c. 1951-1957

The second reason we all take for granted. Great production. We watch the show, and don’t even give thought to the magnificent picture and sound quality that remains today.

But, there were many great shows from the early days of TV whose content was just as stellar. Think of “Your Show Of Shows”. The comedy of Sid Caesar, written by an all star team consisting of some of the greatest minds of comedy, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and a host of others, created some of the best comedy ever written. Why aren’t we still seeing this show in syndication?

'Your Show of Shows'
‘Your Show of Shows’ c. 1950-1954

The difference is the recording quality. “Your Show Of Shows” was recorded in kinescope, an early way of recording TV before the advent of videotape. It was done by setting up a film camera in front of a video monitor. The quality is not very good. “I Love Lucy” was recorded in 35mm film. A superior way of archiving content.

People want to watch, and hear good quality. Bad video, or a soundtrack that is difficult to hear, gets turned off. As good as the content is, it will not stand the test of time unless it is recorded right the first time. And, if the production quality is not good, it may not ever get watched the first time.

Social Media Day San DiegoThis week I attended Social Media Day San Diego, created and hosted by Tyler Anderson, and featuring some of today’s foremost experts in all things social media discussing the latest in social media platforms, such as Instagram and Periscope. I was so impressed by the depth of knowledge these people have, and how they were able to launch careers using and these platforms.

Mari Smith, Amy Schmittauer, Brian Fanzo, Sue B. Zimmerman, Ryan Steinolfson and a host of others discussed how to tap into the marketing potential of social media, based on their own experiences. They all discussed the most important aspect of using social media…Content. They told the audience, that first and foremost, you must be interesting, and engage your audience. That seems like such an obvious point. But with the access people have to recording tools these days in the form of cell phones and low cost cameras, and free access to YouTube, any amateur can produce a video. What this means, is that there is a lot of content being produced that is not compelling because they are not following the basic rules of engagement. And that was the main take away I got from the conference.

One message I would share with today’s creators is to also pay attention to the actual production quality, and all of the ecosystem that goes into it. Production techniques, along with proper recording equipment and editing programs, is an important aspect to creating a show that is watchable.

It is good that anyone can get a video onto YouTube. Voices that may have never been heard, are now heard. The bad part is that most people are not trained in content creation and production techniques. YouTube is fully saturated with less than compelling content and poor production. Quality content, produced with quality technique is the winning combination.

YouTube Production
“LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!” Chris Crocker c. 2007  Video produced in 240p

I am not saying that the production has to be professional quality. But the basics must be attended to. A content creator can have the best, most entertaining video, but if it looks and sounds bad, the message is lost.

Furthermore, no one knows what tomorrow holds. I’m sure that Desi Arnez would be shocked to find out that “I Love Lucy” is still running today. His heirs are delighted. If a Creator produces quality content, uses the best tools available, and archives it properly, it could live on forever. In 60 years from now, today’s creators could still be making money from the content produced today, and deliver the best experience at the start.

So, my message to the Creators…Pay attention to production. Fortunately, the equipment is not expensive anymore. And that is the beauty of the industry today. For an investment of under $1,000, you can produce a video that looks and sounds as good as a professional production. It will make all the difference in your success.

Do it right, and your show could be the next “I Love Lucy”.

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Ready…Get Set…Change

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As published on AVnetwork.com, April 20, 2015

If I had to sum up my NAB 2015 impression in a single thought, I would have to say that the show was all about revolutionary change, and about a contrast of directions. As I was putting together my thoughts for this blog, I decided that I would approach it from a different perspective. This isn’t about the newest product, or the most innovative company. It’s about the changes that are thundering down the hill like an avalanche. And those who do not move fast enough will get buried.

Gordon Smith, President and CEO of NAB stated it himself in his opening address. “Evolve or lose relevance,” he told the crowd. Technology is moving faster than ever today. Last month’s new product introduction is now obsolete. In order to survive, everyone has to stay fully engaged at all times and be ready to embrace the new reality. 

On one hand, the products that are used for production are creating the most stunning pictures ever seen. 4K? That’s so…2014. How about 8K? USB 3.0? The quality of content is amazing. The problem here is that it is way ahead of the delivery systems. So for now, 4K and beyond is relegated for mastering. But that is a good thing. 

As far as delivery, everyone is talking about streaming. I’m sure everyone has heard that Twitter has jumped in with their purchase of Periscope. There are new apps for streaming out of mobile devices being released almost everyday. And the primary screen size for this content is a five-inch cell phone. Resolution and picture quality takes a back seat to speed and convenience. This is turning everyone into On-The-Spot news reporters. I spoke to many high-level network news executives. They all said that their field reporters are chucking the big, heavy equipment, and using mobile devices. In less time than you can say “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” the reporter can pull out their device, hit the streaming app, and be live on the air. 

And lastly, the number of entrepreneurs with a new idea and product, be it hardware or apps was overwhelming. The new landscape has opened doors to opportunity never before seen. It was fun to walk through the Sprocket booth and try and guess which new product will make tomorrow’s news, as Google’s latest billion-dollar acquisition. 
 
Perry Goldstein is an electronics industry analyst and writer, professional presenter, and award winning product designer.   

- See more at: http://www.avnetwork.com/entry/nab-2015–readyget-setchange/885#sthash.K71BWx9F.dpuf

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Connected Classroom: Integrating the Best Audio Solutions for Advanced Classroom Installations

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Systems Contractor News Audio IssueAs published in Systems Contractor News and on AVnetwork.com, March 24, 2015

Imagine this all-too-familiar scenario: Your child comes home from school. You ask him “How was your day?” You get the usual answer: “Ok.” You ask him what he did, and get the usual answer: “Nothin. We learned stuff.” With that, he buries his head in his iPhone, and off he goes to his room.

Now, imagine the same opening question, but with this answer: “It was awesome. We had a conference call with The President of the United States, The Prime Minister of England, The Dalai Lama, The Pope, and another fifth grade class from Perth, Australia. And I got to ask the Pope a question.”

See the difference? In the second scenario, we have an engaged, interested student. That’s what the connected classroom will do for education. This is not a futuristic dream from a science fiction magazine; we have the technology to do this today. In ten years from now, almost every classroom in the U.S. will be connected.

There are many technological challenges in building the connected classroom. Things like bandwidth, internet connection, and hardware will offer integrators and manufacturers challenges never before faced. In my mind, the biggest challenge will be audio. We all know a videoconference is only as good as the ability to hear the people speaking.

There is no perfect solution, or one-size-fits-all. With every audio solution, there is an advantage and a drawback. Below are a few ideas I have for setting up microphones in the classroom. This is based on an interactive, two-way conversation, not a “sage-on-the-stage” lecture. I believe that a webcam with a pinhole mic on the top of a TV is not a good solution. It is good for the consumer setup. Remember that the goal of setting up a mic is to get it as close to the subject speaking as possible.

1. A single mic on a stand—In this set up, the person asking a question steps up to the mic. The advantage, only the person speaking will be heard. The mic can be turned on and off when needed. Disadvantage, there is a lot of getting up and down during the meeting. In some cases this disruption is manageable, but not likely with a classroom of fifth graders.

2. Ceiling mics—Mounting mics on the ceiling, in a permanent installation. The advantage, audio is unobtrusive and there is no need to set up and take down. You can pick up anybody in the room, and the wires are hidden. The disadvantage is that ceiling mics tend to be difficult to work with due to room acoustics. An expensive DSP is required to tune the sound properly, but it is probably too expensive for a school district on a budget when outfitting a large number of rooms. If it’s always on, it will pick up every sound in the room, which is distracting.

3. Stick mics for each desk—There are systems mics that daisy chain to a master system. Each mic has a mute switch, so it can be turned on only when needed. The install is most likely temporary. The advantage is that everyone can be close to the mic when they speak, without getting up from their seat. No extraneous noise, since the mic is off except when needed. The disadvantage is that temporary setup means wires all over. There is also time needed before and after the conference to setup and break down. These systems tend to be expensive, and difficult for the novice to set up and work.

4. Multiple boundary mics—Boundary mics can be set up in front of the class, with a master mute switch for the teacher to turn on and off as needed. The advantage includes very few wires, and all of them are in the front. The disadvantage, set up and breakdown take time, since it’s a bit difficult to set up, but not as difficult as the stick mic solution. Also, the people in the back of the room may not be heard well, depending on the size of the room.

I know there are variations of any of these. Wireless systems can be integrated into any of these, eliminating wires strewn all over the place. However, wireless systems can pick up noise, and are difficult to manage for the novice sound engineer.

The most important thing to consider here is that the schools have limited personnel resources. Most likely, there will not be technical support to set up these systems, which will leave it up to the already overtasked teacher. The solution must be easy to set up and use, offer quality sound and it must be inexpensive.

 

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Best Microphones for Instruments

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MXL Microphones for instruments
You play an instrument? MXL has a mic for you.

As you may know already, MXL manufactures lots of microphones. Why? Because each one has its own character, a little something that sounds just right to your ears. “Best” is a subjective term after all. Your favorite guitar microphone might be rich and vintage-sounding whereas someone else wants complete transparency. We’ve compiled our recommendations of the best mics for certain instruments based on customer feedback. Not just what we say is the best, but what we’ve heard from countless users over the years. It’s not definitive but certainly a good place to start if you’re in the market for a new instrument microphone.

Guitar Cabinet, Brass Instruments –

R77 Ribbon
More than just a pretty microphone, the MXL R77 is a powerful and versatile recording tool for all kinds of instruments. The R77 incorporates a Figure-8 polar pattern as well as a 1.8-micron aluminum ribbon for smooth lows and natural highs. The Figure 8 helps reject the sides while keeping focus on your source while allowing it to absorb sound from behind. Ribbons do not resonate the same way a condenser capsule does which is why they provides a much more natural response from your instrument. Given this aspect, they also handle Instruments with a higher SPL really well. This allows you to crank you guitar cab to achieve your desired tone without your mic distorting and ruining the recording.

Click here to hear the R77 on electric guitar.

R144 Ribbon
The R144 is a spectacular little thing. With the natural instinct of a Ribbon mic and a price of $99 it is hard to beat. By now we have taken our R144 to numerous mic shoot outs where it has performed favorably next to some industry standard ribbon mics. Whether it be guitar cabs, trumpets, string instruments the R144 is a mic to be taken seriously. If you have yet to try a ribbon and are uncertain whether they are suited for your studio or application, the R144 is worth giving a shot. What’s the worst that can happen other than creating different tones and experimenting with mics? After all, isn’t that what Recording Engineering is all about?

Drum Overheads, Piano -

V67N Pair
Two V67N instrument mics are a powerful combination. These pencil condenser microphones house a transformer which provides the warmth and detail only found in mics 5X its price. The frequency response is flat, which provides you with sound scape ready to sculpt to your preference.

Click here to hear the V67Ns on drum overheads

Acoustic Guitar- Single Mic’ing technique –

CR89
When you are looking for transparency and wish to reveal the true sound of your voice or instrument, look no further than the CR 89. Although many may like some “color” the CR89 provides a natural response which is often times more desirable when recording something like an acoustic guitar or a vocalist who can really hit their notes. The large 32MM capsule and thought-out design make this a must have for any home studio. Its low noise also pairs great with a preamp allowing you to get the most out of the mic without any unwanted noise. The matte black chrome finish and robust feel will compliment any studio whether amateur or professional.

Acoustic Guitar- Stereo Mic’ing technique –

CR21 Pair
For a true stereo sound, try using this pair to achieve a spacious and detailed recording. Taking some traits from the CR series, the CR21 Pair provides professionalism at a very low cost. You can reference our “How to” guides to experiment with different mic techniques such as X/Y, ORTF, and MS. Mic Placement is key to achieving a desirable tone so feel free to experiment and always be careful of phase!

Percussion -

A-55 Kicker
The Kicker is coming back! There’s nothing better to capture the thundering sound of kick drums. To go along with it, MXL is developing a snare drum and a tom drum. Look for them later this year.

Click here to hear the A-55 Kicker.

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Connecting the Classroom

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Pretty, young business woman giving a presentation in a conferen

I was recently invited to present at a conference for tech managers in higher education by Infocomm. It was a very interesting and enlightening day. In the room was a collection of tech managers from universities small and large. In some cases, the person in attendance was the lone member of the tech staff at their university. Generally, those were small campuses. In the case of USC itself, they had a full staff, as the campus is quite large.

I presented on the Connected Classroom, since that is a hot topic for today. Campuses are starting to share their lectures and classes in order to:
1) Record, archive, and share their lectures for their own students to review at a later date, via methods such as YouTube.
2) Connect to remote facilities for their internal use.
3) Stream live for anyone interested, either for self fulfillment or for actual credit.
4) Conduct two-way conferences, via services such as Skype.

My presentation was centered around new hardware devices for the purpose of recording and streaming, such as cameras, microphones, and related products. The goal for these products is to enhance the current experience of a basic web cam with pinhole mic. I discussed new ideas, such as multi-cam production using the new MXL AC-2200 four-camera seamless switcher (coming soon!) and the HDMI to USB 3.0 converter, which gives options of a better camera and lens.

These new ideas and products were very well received. What I heard back from the group, however, was unexpected. It seems that many campuses are not ready for the connected classroom. The single biggest reason is the network itself. Most campuses have not yet upgraded their infrastructure to accommodate increased traffic.

There are a number of roadblocks to the connected classroom. The single biggest reason is bandwidth. The other reason is access to a secured line. Most facilities do not want to allow anyone behind their firewall. This brings up an interesting challenge.

The technology to electronically connect classrooms is here. The hardware is very affordable. On the low end of the cost spectrum, a classroom could have a simple web cam with built-in mic for under $100. If they wanted to improve the sound, they could add a separate mic for around $100. With an Internet connection, the classroom could be connected. For around $500, they could upgrade the camera and mic system. An encoder for live streaming can be purchased for as little as $500.

So the real issue is getting a signal out of the classroom. The cost of adding a parallel network for streaming and conferencing is very expensive. It would require wiring up the classrooms or a series of wireless routers and repeaters. But, there is one inexpensive solution. The school could invest in a 4G cellular network box.

It is really quite an elegant solution. The 4G signal is robust enough to handle an HD signal. The cost is under $200 per month for unlimited data. It is portable, so it can be shared by many users. There is no need for expensive infrastructure wiring. And, it is separate from the campus network and fully secure.

If you are looking to stream or two-way conference, and your facility network cannot accommodate it, consider this solution. The 4G cellular network box is inexpensive and practical. Use it as long as you need, until your facility can set up a parallel network. They may find that this solution is enough, and another network is not necessary.

The demand is growing for the connected classroom, the hardware is affordable, the software is ready for prime time, and the general public understands the applications. The time for the connected classroom has arrived. Don’t let the network stop you.

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Mic’ing a Piano

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piano player

Recording a piano isn’t easy. The sound quality depends not just on the microphones, but on the condition of the piano and oftentimes the room where the piano is located. For the best results, keep your piano tuned and in good working order.  Proper maintenance will eliminate one big hurdle of recording a piano. The rest is just a matter of good mic placement.

The piano is generally recorded using close mic’ing technique. Ideally, you’ll want a minimum of two microphones. Usually, the microphone capturing the higher strings is assigned to the left channel and the microphone capturing the lower strings is assigned to the right channel in the final stereo mix, though the stereo spread generally is not hard left and right. While a single microphone can be used, the lower and upper extremities of the instrument will likely be compromised. To capture the full range of sound, pick up a pair of instrument microphones, such as the MXL CR21 Pair or the MXL 603 Pair.

The type of piano dictates microphone placement.

Mic'ing a grand pianoGrand Piano: For the upper strings, position the microphone approximately 8 inches from the piano hammers (to reduce mechanical noise) and 8 – 11 inches above the strings, with the Pan position set to left of center.

For the lower strings, position the microphone toward the far end (away from the keyboard) roughly 6 – 12 inches from the end and 8 – 11 inches above the strings, with the Pan position set to right of center. Position the piano’s lid at full stick. (see Fig. 4A)

If you are using a single microphone, position the microphone approximately 8 inches from the piano hammers (to reduce mechanical noise) and 8 – 11 inches above the strings – centered over the piano’s mid point. Pan position should be centered and the piano’s lid should be at full stick.

Although condensers are the most commonly using mics to capture the enormous sound of a Grand Piano, ribbon mics can also be a great option. Their Bi-Directional pick up pattern can help capture both room ambiance and reflections coming off the piano (this is why piano placement matters).  For example, place a ribbon microphone dead center outside the lid. With the 2 mics close-mic’ed and the addition to the ribbon you are now capturing very warm and full sound of your piano.

Mic'ing an upright piano

Upright Piano: With an upright piano, the two microphones are generally placed either just over the top of the piano with the top open, or you can remove the piano’s front panel beneath the keyboard and place the microphones below.

Front Panel Placement: For the upper strings, position the microphone approximately 8 – 11 inches away from the strings, with the Pan position set to left of center. For the lower strings, position the microphone 8 – 11 inches away from the strings, with the Pan position set to right of center. (see Fig. 4B)

Single Microphone / Open Top: If you are using a single microphone, it is generally recommended that you record from above, as placement of the microphone in the lower center may interfere with the performer’s ability to access the pedals and the microphone will likely pick up excessive pedal and other mechanical noise. Position the microphone just over the open top, centered over the instrument. (see Fig. 4C)

Experiment until you find the sound you want. The tips listed here are a good place to start.

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Broadcast Your Voice

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MXL BCC-1 Broadcast Microphone

A question our technical support gets all the time is, “What microphone is best for broadcasting and podcasting?” The answer is, any microphone can amplify a voice. That’s easy. But does it sound natural? Is your deep voice too muddy? Is the sound too bright? There are some subtle differences with broadcast mics that make speech sound clear and smooth, the way it should over the radio. You want to select a true broadcast microphone for your radio show or podcast, especially if you have one of those deep radio voices.

Here’s a quick guide to our broadcast microphones followed by a handy video so you can hear the difference:

MXL’s BCC-1 and BCD-1 are made for broadcasters.

The BCC-1 is a side address condenser microphone. (The second C stands for condenser.) It has a bass roll-off switch especially for deep voices. What’s bass roll-off? If you’ve got a deep voice, you need the microphone to compensate for that so the low tones don’t become all muddy and inarticulate. You’ve heard when a deep voice sounds like a low rumble? The bass roll-off switch prevents that. There’s also a tuned grill to eliminate internal reflections. Basically, your voice doesn’t bounce all over inside the capsule. Voice goes in, clear sound goes out to your audience.

The BCC-1 also has a small diaphragm capsule and a narrow polar pattern. In a studio, there may be other activity going on around you and you don’t want your mic picking up all that noise. The BCC-1 keeps the focus on your voice.

Another option is the BCD-1, a dynamic end address microphone. (The D stands for dynamic.) The benefit here is that the end of that mic is a very small area that is only going to pick up your voice when you speak directly into it. Dynamic mics are used on stage in live performances because they’re great at canceling out the background noise. Same principal applies in a studio or home recording space.

The BCD-1 has a tuned grill to eliminate internal reflections. Plus, it has a built-in shock mount to prevent noise from floor vibrations and other movement.

Condensers, like the BCC-1, are very sensitive because they’re made for controlled environments. The BCD-1 might be a better choice for you if you’re recording from home or if your studio has a lot of other people or activity in it. If you have a deep voice, the BCC-1 is a better choice because of the bass roll-off switch.

HardwareFX.com did this review that perfectly demonstrates the sound difference between the BCC-1 Condenser and the BCD-1 Dynamic.

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How To Mic a Guitar Amp

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Guitar
When you hear a memorable guitar riff, you’re probably not thinking of how it was recorded…where the amp sat, was it on a carpeted floor, was the microphone two inches or ten inches away. But it’s these details that contribute to the sound you hear on the recording. So how do you capture the sound of an electric guitar?

First of all, you want to record the amp. While the electric guitar can certainly be recorded directly, there are times when there is simply no substitute for the sound of a real amplifier. Guitar amps have particular gain stages that facilitate the popular “crunch” guitar sound. While digital modeling and processing systems certainly have their place, they may not have the same level of realism as the sound from an amplifier. A small guitar amp can be just as effective for this application as a stack, because you don’t necessarily need to “crank” the volume. Instead, you want to increase the amp’s initial gain to achieve the desired amount of overdrive.

Typically, a guitar amp is close mic’ed to achieve the highest direct sound. Placing the microphone roughly 4 inches from the grill, aimed directly at the center of the loudspeaker will produce the most “edge” to your sound. If you move the mic further away, it takes the edge off the sound. It’ll be a bit mellower.

Now, if you’re going to put a microphone super close to an amp, it better be able to handle some high SPLs (sound pressure levels). It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dynamic mic – a condenser or two can do the job. A good instrument mic can perform well on a variety of instruments, including a guitar cabinet.

Distance from the source isn’t the only thing affecting the sound. By angling the microphone slightly off axis and towards the wall, you can add more “room sound.” Experimentation is a key factor in achieving the sound you are looking for. You might put one mic close to the cabinet and one several inches way. You’ll target the cabinet but you’ll also pick up the cabinet sound as it’s reflected in the room.Diagram of microphone placement

A ribbon mic might also give you the mix of guitar and room sound you’re looking for. The figure eight pattern picks up sound to the front and back of the mic without any creative placement. It’s what ribbon mics are made for.

Placement of the amp is another important factor. If the amplifier sits on a carpeted floor, you are more likely to reduce the amount of brightness in the sound. Similarly, elevating the amplifier off the floor may result in a loss of low-end. If you’re looking for a big reverberant tone, placing the amp and microphone in the bathroom is another popular technique. The hard tiles and other reflective surfaces can do wonders for a dull sound. In this case, move the microphone back a few feet from the loudspeaker and crank it up!

Recording audio is all about getting the sound you want. Garage band or singer/songwriter? Rock anthem or wedding ballad? “Enter the Sandman” or “Faithfully”? Determine your desired sound and then adjust your mic and amp placement until you get it. There’s no wrong answer!

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A Group of Dedicated Educators

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Media teacher

I was invited to present audio solutions for video to a group of high school and middle school educators this past week. The group, located in Los Angeles, CA, is a consortium comprised mostly of Los Angeles Unified School District media instructors. The group is called MELA (Media Educators of Los Angeles). My contact there is Antonio Manriquez. Antonio serves at the Executive Director, as well as Video Production teacher in the Hollywood High School New Media Academy.

Programs like the one at Hollywood High School are popping up in high schools all over the country, and I suspect the world. I have been meeting with more and more of the instructors of these classes, and some of the students. It is a dedicated and focused group of people working on supplying the world with the latest content, using the latest production techniques.

The thing that impresses me the most about these educators is their level of devotion to the art of content creation, and their commitment to their students. The particular group of educators I met with at the MELA meeting (about 30 of them) battled L.A. traffic, at the height of rush hour (which is world class jam packed) in the afternoon after teaching all day. They came from all over the L.A. basin, driving as much as 30 miles to attend. This is not a paid or required activity. They have taken it upon themselves to belong to this group to further their skills. They review the latest technologies, trends, and products. There is an open discussion about the challenges they are all facing in their classrooms.

In the new world of unlimited access to the public through IPTV, YouTube, and social media sharing, there is an unquenchable appetite for content. This translates directly into jobs and careers which the students can enter if they have the right skills. These young people will shape, and in some cases already are shaping, the new media
landscape. It’s really encouraging to see these teachers helping their students enter this field, giving them the tools they need to be successful.

We all know that information translates into knowledge. And knowledge turns into power. That means that these students have the power to shape their future through video production. At a very early age, they are stepping up to become the media leaders of our world.

I was proud to be invited to speak to this group. They were hungry for new information on products they can take back to their students, to help make the best videos they can. It was a great way to spend my evening. What I learned was that we as a society are in good hands. These students are our future. And to see such hard-working educators guiding their learning activities made me confident that we are going in the right direction.

Technology for the sake of itself is just noise. When you have a dedicated group of people using this technology to bring the world important messages, you have the recipe for a bright future.

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Creating a Better Audio Experience in the Classroom

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Audio in the classroom


Article originally published in the October issue of AV Technology MagazineAV Technology Magazine October issue

Electronic audio capture is becoming more important in the classroom. With VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), trends in BYOD, and video production in education, there is an influx of “audio novices” setting up learning space systems. While this expansion is certainly good for users, it is a difficult situation for those not expertly aware of the challenges and nuances of audio capture.

The basic goal of audio is to always get the microphone as close to the source as possible. This sounds like a simple task, but in reality is the most difficult aspect of electronically reproducing a sound. So many variables come into play. The producer has to decide how much of the mic can be shown in the picture, if any at all. When multiple mics are used, echo and pickup patterns must be addressed. There are room acoustics to account for. This means that each application is a “one-off”. There is no “one-size-fits-all” mic solution.

Quit often in education facilities, the person setting up the system may not have sufficient experience in audio. The single largest challenge today is educating the audio novice in order for them to better understand what solutions are available and how to implement them. The old adage holds true here: People will accept less than perfect video, but if they can’t hear and understand the audio track, they will shut off the program. Learning objectives will not be met.

This is a basic “how to” tutorial for the novice audio engineer.

The Classroom

Though we are discussing audio in this article, it is impossible to address electronics communications without mentioning video. The days of audio-only communications is quickly disappearing. However, audio is in my mind still the more important of the two, and will always be. If you can’t understand what the presenter or program is trying say, the communication is useless.

VoIP is the accepted term for audio and video over the Internet, and tends to be used for collaborative communications. A one-way program is referred to as IPTV. I think a better term for both as a whole might be IPVAC (Internet Protocol Video Audio Communications). But for the sake of clarity, I will use the accepted industry terms.

Within that term are two subcategories: one way and collaborative. As we use these in the classroom, we need to understand how audio will be integrated. Video is relatively easy to set up, all you need to do is place a camera. Audio is much harder.

This article will address the audio for VoIP and IPTV, as well as recorded programming. The three uses that will affect audio and video solutions for the classroom are IPTV, Collaborative, and the use of recorded video as homework assignments using mobile devices.

With Common Core being implemented nationwide, and the move to create the “Connected Classroom,” understanding how to set up a connected classroom is essential. Adding IPVAC to the education experience will create endless possibilities.

IPTV One-Way Communication

With the right resources and training, anyone can create their own IPTV channel. It’s a great learning tool for the students; not only do they learn how to produce a TV show, they learn about internet marketing and how to drive traffic to a web site. This technology could be used for something as mundane and dated as the “sage on the stage,” or something more engaging. The programming is limited in content only by the creativity of the programmer. A class can set up their own IPTV studio in any corner of the room. The challenge here is that the space used may not be set up as a real broadcast studio with proper sound proofing and echo management. Yet the problems faced are the same as any broadcast studio faces. The challenge comes in when you are using a space as temporary location, managed by a novice audio engineer.

IPTV is great for teaching a media class how to create a broadcast TV program. The audio solutions here are established audio devices such as shotgun mics, lavalieres, and handheld mics. I don’t see anything new here in terms of devices. The twist here is getting a fourth grade teacher to understand enough about audio to properly mic a room. The most effective solution is a wireless lavalier mic for each of the speakers and a mixer. The MXL FR-500WK is an example of this solution. Of course, this may exceed the school’s budget. If that is the case, boom mics may be the best solution.

Huddle Rooms & Collaborative Spaces

Smaller meeting rooms that utilize collaborative communications are now being referred to as “huddle rooms.” I just started hearing this term about a year ago. I believe it’s relatively new. This, in my mind, is the fastest growing trend in the history of communications. We can now have multiple people in multiple locations talking to each other, sharing documents, and seeing each other face to face. It will be a huge benefit for the classroom, as teachers and experts from all over the world can now collaborate and address a classroom, and everyone in the conference can participate in the discussion.

We start with a mental picture of the set up. Everyone in the room is facing the front, where a monitor hooked up to a computer is located. Everyone is watching the person on the monitor. The simplest solution for this application is a single boundary microphone, hooked up through the USB port on the computer. Keep in mind that echo canceling is often included in software solutions such as  Lync, Bluejeans Network, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangout.

Once the number of people exceeds eight or 10, and the room expands out to over 25’ by 25’, a multiple mic solution is required. This is where things get much more complicated (and expensive). It will be challenging to get mics in front of each student. A solution may be multiple boundary mics, or individual “stick mics. Once you add multiple mics, each mic needs to have as narrow a pick up pattern as possible, to avoid the same voice being picked up by multiple mics. The goal is for the students to be able to interact with the conference. This could be achieved with a single mic that each student approaches when they have a question. It inhibits a free flow discussion. However, given the large number of students in a classroom, this may be the exact solution that works the best. Ceiling mics can be used. However, they have their own challenges, and may be too expensive and complicated to set up.

There is no perfect solution, or “Magic Bullet.” Each room is different, as are the requirements. It is recommended that the novice hire an audio expert to help design a system.

The Recorded Program & BYOD

BYOD video production is explosive in schools. Most every student has a smartphone (that records video) and computers for editing. It was once prohibitively expensive to require video assignment projects or video production in the classroom. With the proliferation of hand held devices in each student’s hands, it is now possible for everyone to be a filmmaker. But these devices by nature are limited in their ability to record a quality audio track. There are many audio manufacturers filling this need. Many are new companies and a few of the established brands are entering the field. Special products designed specifically for the hand held devices  are needed.

If the manufacturer wants to be agnostic, and make a microphone work through the 3.5mm analog jack, a TRRS plus is needed. All mobile devices have this jack for audio input. If the manufacturer wants to make it format specific, and plus in through the digital port, they need either USB or Lightning jack products. Up until now, Android USB ports were only used for data and power. It was announced that next year, some manufacturers will be opening it up to audio input as well.  This means that there may be more USB mics designed to work with portable devices in the future.

Mics for Apple products utilize the Lightning Port. However, the user can plug in the Camera Kit Connector, which is a Lightning port to USB adapter. With that, there are some mics that will work. At this time, the Camera Kit Connector will not work on the iPhone.

There are many manufacturers producing mics designed to work through the 3.4mm jack. Different kinds of mics for various applications include a handheld interview mic, a wired lav mic, and shotgun mics.

As these new technologies make their way into the classroom, it is important for the tech deciders in the educational environment to stay on top of new products making their way into the market. These technologies are crucial for the education of the next generation. It’s important that we make the most of them by using the best hardware available. With myriad products available and trends like huddle rooms, even the most experienced tech managers need to familiarize themselves with the new electronic landscape.

(MXL recently introduced a line of mics designed to work through the 3.5mm jack, called Mobile Media. We have a hand held interview mic, a wired lav mic, a shotgun mic, and a boundary mic. We will be adding a four channel battery powered mixer, and a series of 2.4Ghz wireless mics within the year. They have been well received by the market, and are filling the needs of both the casual user and professional who are using their hand held devices for video production.)

 

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