Q It Up: How do you stay on top of the technology you use at work? Take your DAW and plug-ins for example. Are you content to read the manual, or do you explore books and online resources or even classes to learn more? Same goes for the hardware in your studio – mics, processors and other pro audio gear. Where do you go to learn more about getting the most from your gear? Where would you send others who want to learn? Be specific where applicable, and feel free to add any other thoughts you have on the subject!
If you missed out on the Q It Up, leave your comments at the end of the page!
Benedikt Wellmann, Creative Director Radio-Imaging / International Sunshine Music LC - Radio Imaging & Media Productions, Germany: The topic "How do you stay on top of the technology" is a very interesting one, because most people think: "I need the newest plugins, DAWs and so on to be on a level with the best Imaging Producers." And that's wrong.
If you are creative and want to know how you can make your productions more interesting for the people you have to know your existing plugins. Most people are using only 10 Percent of their plugins, and the other 90 percent make the difference.
To give you an example, while a lot of Radio Imaging guys I know are only using the Waves L3 Ultramixer, I'm using a tool named T-Racks. In my Opinion it gives you the best compression you’ve ever had. It's more flexible because you can setup everything! By experience I can say that you're Production will swim with the L3. And that’s only one example. It's not good for a station you're already producing to send them a package with another compression or sound. If the station wants to use the existing On-Air Design you did with "Compression A", the next package you're sending with "Compression B" will sound different.
To come back to the topic, sometimes it's better to use the technology you already have without buying new stuff all the time.
Another view for technology is the creative one: Most companies are doing breaks in their imaging promos. It sounds still good, but do you want that every radio station should sound the same? No! I want to be different. I want to be creative. Of course, I also do some breaks in my promos, but there are so many different ways you can go. Do a mashup, do beatmatching, stay in a key and so on. I get most ideas while driving my car. I'm listening to some songs and then from one second to the other I have an idea – I think about what sounds I can use in a promo with the song I'm listening to. So I take out a pencil and paper (REALLY! NO SMARTPHONE) and write it down. At home I try to build a promo, and 95 percent of the time it works.
Also we have the Artist Drops in promos. If you're listening to promos at a lot of stations you'll hear artist drops that have been modified with a Vocoder! I don't like that Stuff. When I'm talking to a person, I'm not talking like a Vocoder. I have a REAL Voice. The artists also have a REAL voice. Why do you want to change it? Come on, the world is full of metallic things. Why do producers add more metallic things in their promos???
The main job of a Radio Imager is to be different than the others. It's the creative part of a station. It doesn't matter if you work as an intern or external. Producer is Producer.
And here comes an opinion from my heart: It's nice that a lot of imaging companies are doing one promo in their library and send it out to the stations that have a license to use them (I also offer some construction promos for stations); BUT… You are no imaging guy if you only put a voice into a pre-produced promo. There are so many stations that don't have a radio imaging guy because perhaps they don't have enough money. Let them take those promos! You are a Radio Imager -- You can do that on your own!
All the Best from Germany,
Chuck Taylor, Program Director/Morning Show Host, KHYI 95.3 The Range, Dallas, TX: For me there is nothing better than hands on experience when it comes to the technology we use at the station. I dare say that since being hired as the PD and Morning host of KHYI back in May of '11, I've help the station stay updated with tech. When I got to the station, remotes were done with a portable Tieline unit, a Flipjack or a phone. Now we use the Tieline app, and anyone on staff (except our midday guy who refuses to get a smartphone) can do a live broadcast with the app and very little else. I read about the app when it first came out and called Tieline and asked questions then convinced the station owner that we needed it and that it would help with our live broadcasts.
When it comes to production, we use the latest version of Adobe Audition, again that wasn't always the case... I have always kept mine at my home studio up to date, so I need the station to try to do the same. Some people have a harder time with change than others, but as long as they can do the basics, we can keep things rolling. I personally am constantly reading in RAP and Radio Guide and various websites about what's new out there, and when I can (like I said I'm hands on) I'll find some place where I can try it out or find someone who already has it and ask questions. When I do learn about new tech, I try to encourage my staff to learn about it too. A lot of times, I'll make a demo video or even print out instructions for them taking them through the process so they at least have something to help them get through it.
We had a situation last year, where my GM came to me and said, "We're going to start doing a live hour long performance show on Thursday nights. No station personnel will be going out, we can't buy any new equipment, and it needs to sound great on the air!" I talked to the venue owner just an hour later found out that they had access to a computer and internet near their sound board. I created a Source Connect Now account for the station, had the club install a chrome browser on their computer and run a cable from the audio out of the sound board to the audio in of the computer, and when Thursday rolled around, we had the show on the air and sounding good. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I didn't keep up with all the technology that's out there right now. We live in a remarkable time where just about anybody has the ability to broadcast anything.
Danny Zamarrón, Video & Radio Production Manager, La Mejor, Atlanta, GA: Yes, I like sticking to my familiar programs, and what I like to do is add in new plug-ins that come out to the market. I usually read about them in magazines or by word-of-mouth someone will mention that they used the plug-in and I'll do my research and see if I can obtain it. Recently someone asked me if I was using the newest audio software and I responded that I was comfortable using the one that I knew, and that's how I go about it in my production work in radio and video.
Al Peterson, Production Director, Radio America, Arlington VA: Well, hopefully a lot of respondents will say they check the back pages of RAP to see what's new from the manufacturers. I do this all the time on all publications I'm subscribed to. If anything grabs my interest, off goes an email to the company to ask for more.
I typically visit websites dealing with music technology. Someone out there is always coding up some new and wacky plug-in, throwing it out to the music community first to see who bites. Among my favorite sites are kvraudio.com, bedroomproducersblog.com, and vst4free.com.
Also, I make it a point to hit the audio and radio tradeshows as often as my schedule - and budget - permit. This fall, The AES conference returns to New York City, so it’s a good bet I'll be there.
More than web surfing and traveling, I think building time into your schedule for experimenting with the gear you have now is the most important thing you can do. If you've moved up from Pro Tools 10 to 12 over the past few years, but in your head you're still working in 10, you need time to cut loose, rip off your clothes and go Waaaaaagh!
Brad Voelker, Production Coordinator/DJ 100.5 the Wolf , US97, iHeartMedia, Springfield MO: Generally I go to YouTube or some of the online publications. I find that generally the it’s best to just play with it and find what works.
Denzil Lacey, Production Director, FM104, Dublin, Ireland: I always feel, spending a few hours every month exploring the plugins you have -- seeing what sounds they make, how they work and how they can benefit your sound -- is key. There are also lots of videos on YouTube from the plugin manufacturers that will help you along the way. EQ is probably the single most important thing to learn and understand - it can turn your production from average to top class.
Personally, over the last year I've spent a lot of time with instrument plugins and exploring how they can benefit our station, in particular learning the piano and understanding keys - which I feel is the future and is already used a lot over here in Europe, particularly with tuned vocals. Understanding keys can also benefit other parts of your production. Great skill too!
Free online courses known as MOOCs which include: Coursera, FutureLearn, EdX, Udemi, Udacity.
Other sites / paid for: Dubspot, PointBlank. Although many free tutorials can be found from both.
YouTube: channels for the products you want to learn, production channels.
Good books: Dance Music Manual, Real World Digital Audio.
Social Media: Facebook groups
Andrew Frame, BAFSoundWorks: Sadly, I really don't stay on top of things because I really don't feel the need to. I run a very stripped down, basic operation centered around the same DAW that I have used for 15 years (Cool Edit Pro 2.1), and I pretty much know every trick it has. The rest of my equipment consists of two speakers, a microphone and me.
Now, when an interesting set of self-powered near-fields came out a few years ago, I did make a side-trip to a chain musical instrument retailer in the adjacent city to give them a listen. Ten minutes of comparisons to two other brands sold me on their sound, and one day I might even buy them.
Same went for microphones. When my AKG hit the floor one too many times (thanks, toddlers!), I made a trip to the pawn shop and bought two used microphones. I went online to check the specs, made a filter to bump up the microphone's deficient top end, and put one to work.
My biggest resource is a couple of colleagues. Each has something they're particularly good at, and they have the budgets to have the latest devices. Discussions with them go a very long way.
I do enjoy reading white papers and research on audio, acoustics, psycho-acoustics and related technical fields online, but for the work I do, very little of it is applicable.
It's quite interesting material, and I love the science, but it's not really something you bring to the table remixing a screaming car spot for the fourth time because they keep changing the interest rate.
Jean Hetherington: Honestly, reading a manual is way too passive for me. I like having it handy for reference (especially when installing new gear or programs), but once I have new technology to learn, I like to get right to using it as fast as possible. I like to explore online sources that have tested and used it. I want to know if there are surprises in store for me or uses that may fit my needs better. I want to know what observations others have. I also like to explore any tutorials available online. I’m a visual learner, mostly. When I see things done I grasp the concept better and it inspires me to take it a bit farther and test the limits of what it can do.
Scott Shafer, Regional Production Director, iHeartMedia, Waco/Temple-Killeen//Bryan-College Station, TX: With the ever changing technology, the last 2 years I've tried keep up on what's hot and useful in the production field by reading, but mostly watching videos. For my main go to DAW, (Adobe Audition) it was more or less read the manual. And then I found this thing called "You Tube" – OK, I really already knew about it. But it has become a great resource for just about anything you can imagine, and maybe some things you can't. I've found the Recording Revolution with Graham Cochran helpful. Even though he is more for the home recording studio musician, he offers up some great tips on processing and EQ. Folks that do imaging for stations are more in tune to those tweaks, but it can be very useful in commercial production as well. Same goes for the hardware in your studio - mics, processors and other pro audio gear.
I listen to what other people are using in our company and try to educate myself on those. I even search some of my favorite VO talent to see what they're using in their studios. I like trying out free plugins. The Waves bundle seems to be popular at iHeartMedia. I like what Steven Slate has been doing with plugins and mic modeling.
I would suggest The Recording Revolution for tips and ideas in recording and mixing. YouTube is a great resource for tips, instruction and even reviews of new equipment and technology. And you can sign up for newsletters from Sweetwater and other suppliers for the latest updates and offerings on new equipment.
DJ Mike, Chris-Mar Studios: It's impossible to keep on top of technology. I have a few websites and groups on Facebook I try keep up with for new software and hardware. I learned word of mouth is sometimes the best way to learn about new technology. If someone asked me where they should go to learn, it's simple: Ask what the voice over and productions studios are using. Technology… it's impossible to keep up with.
Don Elliot, Levine/Schwab Broadcasting, 1500 AM, Los Angeles, CA: Staying in touch with your contemporaries on these questions not only helps you to inform them, but in the other direction, you also learn from them. It's a push towards achieving some synergy. You can't be everywhere at all times when the business of living and doing your job is primary. And yet, elephant in the room is, "How to stay current on technology". This is not unlike what attorneys and doctors, even real estate agents, must go through in constant updates and annual hours required to keep their licenses current. This is not a phenomenon then that is only unique to sound, voiceover, and broadcasting.
Probably the most obvious thing is establishing the territory of where your primary needs might be… Speed of editing… Workflow… Competitive sound on the air… Everything from apparent loudness to sound quality, EQ, Compression. They're all tiny little one percents in the overall picture. That's what makes a number one station… this synergetic combination of things working together toward the whole.
I would begin by subscribing to trade magazines in your field… Radio And Production would be my first stop. If your interests go beyond VO and include sound design or even bands or is more to the engineering side, Mix Magazine, and others… Videomaker's sections on audio, Gizmag, and the video tutorials found on the B&H Video-Audio in New York website are all free for the grabbing and are quite valuable. I have personally taught seminars in their conference rooms, and they are attended by radio and video guys alike from all over.
The search of YouTube for demos of equipment, whether by users or by the manufacturer, is very useful. Attending conventions can be not only exciting for the hands-on experience, but it thrusts you physically, mentally and emotionally into an environment of like-minded people who are probably already at the next stage of development. No matter where you are in your career or how much or how little ego you have, it's always just plain smart to try to hang out with people smarter than you are.
Seeing new devices and new thinking stimulates your own brainstorming… I've always said that putting two ideas together that might seem to be in conflict with each other when done properly, can result in a third concept which is useful to all involved in the process.
If you want to really go into this as deeply as possible, the Renaissance Project with Professor Win Wenger has classes in brainstorming online and in person, (http://winwenger.com), and they often guest lecture at the Creative Problem-Solving Institute (CPSI) held in Buffalo New York twice a year at the University of Buffalo. In the past I have run into diverse groups ranging from broadcasters to women in the medical field from Brazil and around the world. (http://cpsiconference.com). You'll never regret taking one of the sessions.
Think of things that are second cousins to your field… Music and Engineering conferences such as NAMM, AES, NAB… are all prime considerations for your attendance if you really want a growth experience. The latter of these could require travel and expense and lots of advance planning, time and other priorities that traditionally get in the way until you reshuffle things.
But the goal is to advance. You will find that you are able to do these things once you have firmly implanted in your mind what your goals are. Your shifting of priorities will make them fall in place. The trip along the way is the most fun and as you find unexpected connections, it will cause more growth to your spirit and your abilities.
Fear change? Be the change instead of the victim of it!
Thanks to all who responded. Your input is valuable and appreciated. If you have a question you’d like to see posed to the RAP Q It Up panel, email it to