Category Archives: Insights

Three Types of Mics You Need To Know

A transducer is a device that converts one form of energy into another. Microphones, some of the most common transducers around, convert acoustic energy into electrical energy. All microphones perform this conversion process, but the way the process happens varies, leaving us with three primary types of mics to choose from:

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Benjamin Wright's Storied History with MXL

Benjamin Wright’s Storied History With MXL

The multiple Grammy-winning producer and composer has been a big fan of MXL Mics for more than a decade. Wright first gained notoriety for arranging strings for smash hits like Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough” and “Rock with You,” and he continues to work with top pop artists today, recording strings for Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience album and Ty Dolla $ign’s Free TC. Here’s more on how MXL plays a big part in this music legend’s career.

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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 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.

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Connecting the Classroom

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:

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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!