All posts by Perry Goldstein

About Perry Goldstein

Perry Goldstein, CTS is the Director of Digital Technologies, New Product Development & Marketing at MXL. He is a professional speaker, writer and industry analyst.

Secure Your Legacy With Great Production

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”.

Ready…Get Set…Change

 

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

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

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.

 

Connecting the Classroom

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.

A Group of Dedicated Educators

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.

Creating a Better Audio Experience in the Classroom

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.)

 

Become a Recording Star without Leaving Home, Part 3: Adding Video To Your Repertoire

Above, the first music video  on MTV is now available on Youtube. 

There are two media outlets that have changed the way we share and consume our music. First it was MTV. Launched on August 1, 1981 with the song Video Killed the Radio Star, MTV revolutionized the music industry by bringing music videos into our homes 24/7. This created a big demand for content. Bands everywhere went into production of their music videos.

But, the bands still had to have funding to produce their videos and professional representation to get their videos played. In that sense MTV was the same as radio, but with pictures. Not everyone could use it.

The next influential outlet is YouTube. Developed by former employees of PayPal, YouTube launched in February 2005. It allowed anyone with a video and computer to upload their video. Amazing! There was no barrier to sharing your music video with the world…almost.

There was still that pesky task of producing a video.

Enter The Digital Age

As computers became more powerful, video editing software started to come of age. Now, anyone could learn to edit a video on their home computer. Digital cameras and DSLRs became less expensive and easier to use. It was the perfect storm of cost reduction and technology advancement. Shoot a video, edit on your computer, and load it up to YouTube.

The addition of a high definition video camera to your iPhone put a professional camera in everyone’s pocket or purse. With advanced video apps, the transition from professional equipment to affordable consumer products was complete.

Apps, Apps, & More Apps

With the sophistication of iOS apps these days, a lot of your production can be done right on your device. You don’t even have to use your computer. Everything is on your phone.

1. RecoLive Multicam is a superb app that takes four iOS devices and tethers them on a wireless network. The audio track is recorded by the main device. That same device can do live, four-camera production in real time. Then save your video in HD and share it.

2. Want instant streaming? Switcher Studio also does four camera production and streams live to YouTube. This is great if you want to broadcast a live performance.

3. Another handy app is Videolicious. It takes photos and video from your camera roll and creates a slide show. Imagine shooting a series of photos and videos and adding voiceover audio afterwards. Then you upload that video to YouTube.

4. If you are using your iOS device, I recommend Filmic Pro as your production app. It has many professional camera features, such as variable frame rate, variable recording resolutions, and live audio monitoring. It is the live audio monitoring that I like the most about this app. With it, you can monitor the audio as it is being recorded to confirm an adequate audio program. It works great with our Mobile Media mics, which each have a headphone jack on the cable.

There are many more apps to choose from. These are just a few suggestions.
There are so many low cost options, where does an aspiring videomaker begin? First, determine how you want to present your music, and then look for the equipment or apps that will accomplish your vision.

Video didn’t kill the radio star, after all. Video makes the radio star!

Can You Hear Me Now?

Teleconferencing

The progression of the Audio/Video industry is fascinating.  The first broadcast medium was audio only…it’s called radio and it was used primarily in the home.  The first visual medium was film, and it was video only.

When they merged video with audio in film it was big.  When they merged video with audio in broadcast, they called it TV, and it changed the world.

In the electronics industry, we spend a lot of time talking about video.  First it was video itself.  Then it was color.  Then it was the VCR.  Then it was SVHS.  Along came High Definition, and it changed the way we treat video.  4K, 8K, 16K, and all those Ks will keep improving the picture.  Who knows what else it will do?  Only time will tell.  (Here’s a cool infographic on the history of television.)

Video is fun.  Video gets attention.

No one really talks much about audio.  The technology is old, it hasn’t changed much over the years, and it just isn’t as sexy.

But without good audio, life is a silent movie.

silentmovie

People will accept compromised video – grainy, shaky, or low resolution.  But if they can’t understand what is being said, they will turn it off. 

Whether it’s web conferencing or shooting video, proper mic’ing of the subject makes all the difference in getting the message across.

Rule number 1 in audio is to get the mic as close to the speaker as you can.

Rule number 2 is to keep the mic out of the picture as much as possible.

Rule number 1 and rule number 2 are in direct conflict with each other.  What’s a poor audio engineer to do?

That is where the compromise comes in.  Use a microphone that picks up the audio, while keeping it out of the picture or in an inconspicuous place.  How does one achieve this objective?  Pick the best microphone for the situation.

 Audio In Web Conferencing

The standard practice in web conferencing seems to be a low resolution web cam with a built-in pinhole mic sitting on top of a monitor hung on the wall.  Basically, that means the closest speaker is about 6 feet away from the mic and the farthest is 15 to 20 ft. away.  With a low quality mic that far away from the subject, the sound will not be very good.  Add to that room acoustics, people talking over each other, and paper shuffling during the meeting, and the result is a web conference that is seen and not heard.

MXL offers various audio solutions that are affordable and bring the sound closer to the subject.

A USB Boundary Microphone is the easiest way to get good sound, without a big mic sticking up in the picture.  It will pick up an area of about 25 feet, 180 degrees.  In most small conference rooms, that is all that is needed.  Place it on the conference table, and the sounds “bounce” off the table and gets gathered up in the mic. There’s no obvious microphone in the camera view so you’re achieving the seemingly conflicting goals of close mic’ing and discreet mic’ing.

USB Gooseneck Microphones are a bit more intrusive but can be placed closer to the person speaking.  This is a good solution for a small meeting of four or five people.  The MXL AC-400 gooseneck can be used with up to four AC-40EXT extension mics.  They look very professional and do not call attention to themselves, and they deliver the sound quality you need.

These microphones will meet the web conferencing needs of most small to medium sized businesses.

Once you get past these options, things get a bit more complicated.  In some cases, there is no way around a more complex and expensive solution, especially when the room is larger and there are many more people in the meeting.  In that case, a combination of table mics, ceiling mics, and a DSP is probably needed.

Our goal at MXL is to provide low cost, simple, high quality solutions for web conferencing.  One thing that has made this possible is the introduction of software programs such as Microsoft Lync, Bluejeans Network, and Vidyo, to name a few.  All of these programs have echo canceling built into their systems, eliminating the need for an expensive echo canceling solution built into the mic.

What makes web conferencing so popular is the low cost and simplicity that the digital age has created.  It can be done with nothing more than a computer, TV, camera, microphone, and broadband connection. Check out my post on video for web conferencing.

Because of the affordability, small companies are now adding web conferencing systems to their offices.  Large companies are expanding them out to all of the conference rooms and offices, instead of just one main room.

In short, if you are in the process of adding web conferencing to your office, remember that your conference is only as good as the sound.  Make sure to move that microphone off of the top of the monitor and down closer to the people.

Look for two new boundary web conferencing microphones coming very soon from MXL!

Become a Recording Star without Leaving Home, Part 2

MXL CR89 Microphone

I discovered a new music group that I enjoy very much.  The name is Postmodern Jukebox, lead by a brilliant piano player and arranger, Scott Brandlee.  He has hit YouTube pretty hard.  I’m not sure how long it would have taken him to become known without it, but the visibility certainly helped.

I really like his unique treatments of current songs.  But, it’s the simplicity of his recordings that really make an important point.  Today, all a group or artist needs is a basic audio recording system and a camera to get discovered.  When I think about studio recording, the picture that comes to mind is of John Lennon standing with his young son Sean, pontificating over an extremely complicated looking mixing board.  It doesn’t have to be that way to get a good sound today.

This article is intended to be a broad stroke guideline to setting up a home audio and video studio and not a detailed How-To.  There are a lot of articles that go into product related details.  I want to give you some general characteristics to get you started.

If there is one takeaway I want you to get from this, it is that all music distribution will eventually end up on YouTube and that’s where your music should be if you want to get discovered.

From Forbes.com: Youtube “is the leading online platform for music discovery, as well as the preferred music service for those 18 and younger. In fact, 38.4% of all its video views come from music, and 10 of YouTube’s top 20 channels are dedicated to music, according to the YouTube analytics firm Tubular.”

YouTube and the like have changed the way we consume entertainment in a profound way.  When producing music, a plan to add video is a must.  There are a number of ways an audio track can be produced these days.  There are two basic ways to get a record:  you either record in a studio or in a live setting. This blog post is about setting up a studio.

In the past, the only way to get a good audio recording was to rent a music studio.  In the extreme cases of A+ talent with plenty of financial backing, that is still the way things are done.  They use top notch, state-of-the-art equipment.  Now though, more and more start ups are going to scaled-down recording studios or even setting them up in their homes.

What does an aspiring artist need to set up a home recording studio?

The Brains of the Outfit

The centerpiece of a home recording studio is the computer, and the software program.  Whether Mac or PC, there are excellent recording programs.  Apple computers come with GarageBand built in.  It’s free, already on the computer, and adequate for basic recording.  PC users have to buy a recording program separately as each PC manufacturer has its own suite of software built in. Whatever you buy, I suggest you consult with an experienced home recording user to get advice on the kind of computer and software that will suit your needs, based on your level of proficiency.  One thing is for sure: if you are just getting started, you will upgrade as you gain experience.

Microphone

Interestingly enough, the microphone is where most musicians and recording engineers consider the most creative aspect of the recording process.  It is where everything starts and will change the tone of the recording.  The recording can be as simple as a single mic or an entire array of them wired into a mixer.

On the simple side, one USB mic plugged directly into a computer is adequate for a track-by-track recording.  The next step up is to use a traditional studio condenser mic with a digital interface.  The quality of sound is generally better than a USB mic.  It also opens you up to various mics, each with its own sound characteristics.

Analog-To-Digital Interface

This is the plug-in device that turns analog signals into digital signals.  An artist plugs their microphones and instruments into the interface in order to record directly into a computer.  Interfaces come in all price points and can have one input, or multiples.  The multiples have mixing capabilities but differ from a full mixing board.  An interface can have both mic and line level inputs.  An interface is still considered a device for more informal home recording.

Mixing Board

Once you get to a more proficient level, you may want a full mixing board, like the ones you see in a recording studio.  This gives you the ability to adjust the sound characteristics of each input before it gets recorded.  The mix is recorded onto some sort of recording media and later turned into a digital signal after the mix is completed.  Some artists prefer to create a “live” studio recording, having all instruments and mics plugged in at one time and then they go back later to tweak the mix.

Cables

The weakest link in any system is the cable.  Whenever there is a problem in a system, the first things I check are all of the cables and connections.  Most of the time that’s where the problem lies.  I also find that cable is where most novice users cut corners.  I can see why someone would think that all cables are alike…they look alike.  But to the experienced recording engineer, the cable makes all the difference in the world.

You don’t necessarily need the most expensive cable, but the difference in cost between a really good one and a not-so-good one is usually not that much.  Of course, we recommend Mogami for a number of reasons.  Try buying two or three different kinds and compare the sounds.  Another thing to pay attention to is the way a cable rolls and unrolls.  This is important if you are moving it a lot.  The lower quality cables will tend to kink up when they are packed up often.  It’s that kink that affects the performance.

Monitors

A studio monitor is what will play the recording back.  This will affect your perception of the recording.  No speaker is perfect; each one adds its own sound.  That is the physics behind speakers. There is no avoiding it.  There are speakers that will scope out to be perfectly flat.  That doesn’t mean that they all sound alike.  Listen to a number of speakers before choosing one.  Remember that everything in the chain will affect the sound.  So try and use the same electronics and cables so you are truly comparing just speakers and not full systems.  Find the one you like the most, as the sound you are mixing is your vision of the music.  There is no such thing as a perfect mix.  Perfect is the sound you like the most.

Environment

A real studio recording is one in which the room is as “dead” as possible.  Sound absorbing tiles will do just that, absorb the sounds, which means that the only sound the mic will pick up is the primary sound.  As a test clap your hands.  A hand clap will have no echo in a dead room. 

A dead room has almost always been the goal of a studio recording.  The opposite of that is a “live” recording, where room echo is a part of the sound.  It seems that today, the trend is away from a dead room.  There are numerous TV shows that are recorded in a live environment.  Again, the sound is your interpretation.  If you like the sound of a live room, that’s what you should have.

On the other hand, you definitely want to keep unwanted sounds out of the recording.  A song with dogs barking and lawnmowers running in the background is not acceptable.  Find the quite environment, and decide how much of the room acoustics you want.  Items such as sound tiles and reflection filters are items you may want to use.

These are a few suggestions for your audio recording.  In the next installment, I will discuss adding video to your creation.  It’s the video that will help get the song discovered on Youtube.


sable_guitarMany thanks to Sable Cantus for his contributions to this article. Sable is a higher education instructor of Digital Arts at Goldenwest College in Huntington Beach, where he teaches digital music recording.  He is also an accomplished musician, performer, music teacher, and arranger.  

Become a Recording Star Without Leaving Home

MXL Tempo USB microphone
Your home recording studio could be as simple as a MXL Tempo WR USB Microphone plugged into a laptop.
This is the first in a series of posts about creating and sharing music yourself.

It’s been 5 years since I joined MXL.  I came from the consumer electronics industry, where I spent most of my career in video.  I have been an amateur performer all of my life, participating in school plays, standup comedy, and as a musician.  I am no stranger to the microphone.  But working with MXL has really opened my eyes to all the different ways microphones are used.

I looked at all of the web sites that sell our mics and read the user reviews.  It didn’t take long to find out that people were using these microphones in their home studios.  I had thought that studio condenser mics were used in, well, recording studios.  But the majority of them aren’t.  They are being used in people’s homes.  I found out that the growth of home recording was exploding.  It was because of the growth of personal computers and programs like Garage Band and Mixcraft, and digital interfaces like Steinberg.  I knew people recorded music at home, I just didn’t know it was that many people.  That discovery raised another question in my mind.

How Are They Sharing Their Music?

The answer to that question is what changed my outlook on our products, and on my approach to everything I do creatively.  The answer is YouTube.  That technology…those two words, put together, has changed the face of entertainment and communications in a profound manner.

“YouTube  is the primary music platform  for  the 18-34-year-old crowd, the demo YouTube-parent Google  calls “Generation C”  who discover content online, via computer, smartphone and tablet.” – Forbes

With the advent of YouTube, anyone can share their music.  It was one thing to be able to record music yourself, in your home. Before the PC, a musician had to record in a studio.  It was expensive and reserved for the serious musician with financial backing.  And before Social media, in order to share it, artists needed to have a label to distribute their CDs.  Now, with the PC and a mic, anyone can record at home and distribute it to millions!

If a song is played in the woods, and there is no one there to hear it, is it still a song?

With YouTube and other social media, the artist can put their work out for the world to discover.  The other side of recording is listening.  What was once a complicated process – recording a song, finding a label, and then getting playtime – is now as easy as using a computer.

The Keyboard and The Keyboard

It’s ironic that the same word describes both an instrument used to make music and the object we use to control our computer when we create and share that music. There’s less and less distinction between the two. And MXL is in the forefront of this movement.

Our mission is to design and build quality mics at affordable prices, so that everyone who wants to record their art is able to do so.   From the most popular selling 990/991 vocal and instrument recording kit, to the stunning red and gold tube mic, the Genesis, MXL offers a wide range of value priced mics.  Each mic has its own unique sound and look.

From the novice to the most experienced recording artist, more and more recording is happening outside of the traditional recording studio.  For some, the creative process is enhanced by their surroundings.  I like to watch “Live From Daryl’s House,” a show on Palladia, which takes place at Daryl Hall’s (well known from his days with Hall and Oats) home.  He invites guest artists into his home to record music.  I also saw a documentary on Jeff Lynne (formerly of Electric Light Orchestra).  He has a recording studio set up in every room in his house.  Each room delivers its own unique sound.

That is what so many artists are doing these days.  Music creation comes from the soul.  The environment we record in can have a profound effect on the creative process.  Add to that the opportunity to share that work via You Tube, and you can now see why home recording is so popular.

We at MXL and Marshall are proud to be a part of that system which allows anyone with a song in their head the ability to transfer it to a recording.  In addition to our mics, we have cables (both Sound Runner and Mogami), and now video products to assist in the production and distribution of their art.  MXL offers an end-to-end solution for musicians everywhere.

I have come a long way in my understanding of the music recording process in the five years since I joined MXL.  It has helped me to lead the product design team and manufacture products that musicians need for today’s recording process.  MXL has also come a long way.  As we add new products, both audio and video, to our suite of products, we have become a unique brand in the industry.  Musicians can look to MXL and Marshall to give them a one brand, end-to-end solution.

Let us help you share your art with the world.