By Trent Rentsch
I’m writing this, literally. Putting pen to paper for the first time in some years. Don’t panic, my computers are fine. In fact, my wife added a nifty birthday laptop to my collection recently. I’m fairly certain that, given the right software, I could launch a Mars probe… or even calculate the odds that William Huang could’ve scored a record deal. Anyway, when it’s all said and written, the final draft of this column will end up on a hard drive and flung across cyberspace to RAP headquarters. But at the moment, my thoughts are pouring out in ink. It’s necessary, you see, because of the weeds. They’re sprouting out of control, and it’s high time I dug in and got my hands dirty.
Do you know how many audio software products exist in the marketplace? 8,735. I can’t swear that this is the correct number, because apparently some 16 year-old geek in his parents basement mated audio software with a virus, and now the products are multiplying at an astounding rate. If you don’t believe me, check out the latest audio catalogs. Or, one of my computers.
If it’s audio software, it’s on at least one of my machines. If I don’t own it, I’ve downloaded the demo, and sometimes even installed it. And I will get around to installing each and every one of those applications, someday… might even learn them. All that software, and...
Several years ago, when my radio career was unexpectedly curtailed for a time, I stumbled into a gig running a city government TV station. For the most part I was a one-person station, and as I was adding pictures to the sounds in my head, I quickly had to learn a new set of tools. New words entered my software vocabulary — Photoshop, Avid, Premiere, Lightwave, on and on and on. Soon I discovered that there are catalogs devoted to the creative visionaries of the world too, and I happily began to add their contents to my bulging hard drive. Even now, long after I headed back to the audio industry where the pictures are prettier, even as I continue to pay off plastic for video software that is versions old, I continue to find myself slumming around the web sites, downloading demos of the cutting edge for the camera set. Besides, I just got a sweet deal on a Mini DV camcorder on Ebay; might find something new that will come in handy. Maybe?
Then there’s that web site that I’ve been building. It’s planned as a vehicle to both entice new audio and copy writing clients, and furnish a secure FTP site for current clients to download finished projects. It’s been in the planning stages for… a while. First, I really need the software to build it with. Oh sure, some of my friends are building basic sites with authoring tools freely available from the likes of Yahoo, but I want MY site to REALLY stand out. And that is going to take some stand out software. FrontPage 98? Yeah, I got it, but I want some real dazzle. Finally saved enough pennies for Flash 5, but then I saw the demo for Dreamweaver, and then the new MX versions came out. THEN I read about some Flash-like programs that are simpler to learn; I think I have about 5 or 6 demos for those here somewhere, even unZipped the install file for 2 of them. And as soon as I have time, I’m going to start learning one or two, so I can design my web site. Really, it’s going to happen, soon!
So I’m in front of the computer the other day, wondering what is hiding in some of those Zip files in my download folder, you know how cryptic they can make those abbreviations. Finally resigning myself to the fact that there is no “sort by the name inside the Zip file,” I decided to take a break and check my email. There, among all the E’s from the software companies I’ve gotten demos from (and their business partners), I see a message from an Agency friend. They were working on a pitch for a new client, and wondered if I had any ideas for radio creative. Instinctively, I hit the Start key and chose All Programs… then I stopped. Suddenly, I realized that I was looking in the wrong place. Maybe I have been for a long time.
I must admit that I did turn to a computer program, but only to get my ideas down. I thought about all the music and sound effects I could make through other applications, but instead wrote a piece of copy that focused on words and emotions, not noise. I sent it to my friend, and in minutes got a response. “Great piece of work,” she wrote. “Can you produce the demo?” I did, with nothing more than my voice. I might have recorded it with software, but it was just my voice. And now, my Agency friend has a new client, and so do I.
I may or may not have more computing power in my laptop than NASA had in the ‘60s, but I do know that I have more audio producing power than most full-blown recording studios did then. And there is no question that in the last 20 to 25 years, audio production has gone from a rocky, sometimes barren field to a garden of paradise, where our every processing dream is just a mouse click away. But it’s easy to let the garden get over-grown. I’ve made the problem even worse for myself by trying to tend other creative flowerbeds with the same result: too many tools, no flowers. And if those tools are hindering growth, they’re nothing but weeds, really.
So, I’ve rolled up my sleeves, grabbed the old stand-by paper and pen, and here we are. And when I’m finished, I’m dumping all the mystery Zip files and uninstalling the programs I know I’ll never use. Because I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t see the forest for the weeds. Now, I have serious weeding to do.