"...And Make It Real Creative!": From Santa’s In-box

and-make-it-real-creative-logo-3By Trent Rentsch

Dear Santa,

I know, you never thought you’d hear from me again. Truth be told, I’m just as surprised that I’m writing you, after all these years. The last time had to be, what, in the early ‘70s? By the way, thanks for that haul… believe it or not, I stumbled on some of those old Hot Wheel cars not long ago, and while G.I. Joe continues to be missing in action, I gotta tell ya, you really came through for me that year!

So, ok, the reason I’m writing… whew, this is so weird! I mean, I feel like I should be leading with what a good boy I’ve been this year or something… ha, well, we both know I’d be lying. After all, I forgot to get the trash bin to the curb several times this year, my office still needs a good clean-up, and, gee, how many times have I had to ask for a deadline extension for my column this year? (Don’t answer that, Jerry!) Anyway, I suppose at my age, it’s expected that I must have messed up at least a few times over the year… heck, I’m a husband, right? You yourself probably know how that very title means you’re in trouble most of the time… oh, ha, ha, guess the missus won’t be proof-reading this one…

I suppose I should just get to the point, Santa. I’m not writing for me… it’s for a friend. Now before you start laughing, “No, No No,” hear me out. I AM writing for a friend… a bunch of friends, in fact. Here’s the deal… when it comes to picking out gifts for Creative audio producer types, most family members are clueless. Granted, the average Creative audio producer type doesn’t make it easy. When asked “what would you like for Christmas,” their minds go to insanely expensive toys with names like Pro Tools HD, Neumann, or Avalon, and out of guilt for such extravagant hidden desires, they generally croak out, “Socks.” Noble it is, but I can’t help but think that there are many gems they’d love to unwrap on Christmas morning that don’t cost 2 mortgage payments.

For instance, the little gift I bought myself a couple of weeks ago. For years, I’ve struggled with canned sleigh bell sound effects. Whoever recorded you and the reindeer certainly never took into account that I might need something that resembles a steady jingle, to match the beat of a piece of production music. Some years ago I found a “belt” of bells, which really came in handy this time of year, but somewhere along the road from South Dakota to North Carolina, I lost it… and I’ve grumbled about it every year. So this year, I did a quick check of my favorite Music Supply website, and found the exact piece orchestras use to bring some jingle to their holiday concerts. It’s a sturdy wooden handle with 20 bells attached that was built to last many holiday seasons… and it only set me back about 25 bucks. Sure, there are even cheaper options… a bag of tiny sleigh bells from a craft shop, for instance… but the pro grade bells are an investment I expect to use every year for the rest of my professional career, so it was worth the price… and would certainly be a good budget option as a thoughtful gift for my production friends!

Since we’re on the noise-making subject, there are other little stocking stuffers that every audio producer should have in their arsenal. Kazoos, slide whistles (the tin version of both, for longevity’s sake), cow bells (can we ever have enough?), desk bells (for hotel spots or game show scenarios), megaphones (there are small, affordable versions today that still pack that lo-fi wallop), even a kids xylophone can come in handy from time to time! Yes, you have a point, Santa, they probably have pre-recorded versions of these in their sound effects libraries, but like the sleigh bells, sometimes it’s handier to have the real world versions around to knock something custom out. Even with the amazing plug-ins available, nothing quite compares to the crappy sound of a true megaphone… as I’m sure you notice when yelling at the elves through one…

 Oh, and so you know, Santa, I’m not above adding education toys to the list! Especially today, as quickly as technology changes, it’s important for those Producers to keep up on the latest techniques to get the job done and sound current, so I have a couple of suggestions. There is a great subscription-based technology website called Lynda.com, that’s filled with lessons for the Creative. For as little as 25 bucks a month, a subscriber can immerse themselves in hours of training videos for nearly every piece of audio software out there. Ever wonder what “that button” does on Audition? You’ll find out on Lynda.com. In fact, it would be a bit embarrassing to not know your DAW of choice inside and out after a year subscription. In addition, you have access to EVERY training video on the site, so if you have any interest in video or web design or, well, just about every Creative software tool out there, you’ll have all the knowledge to learn about it at your fingertips. Yes, it’s more expensive than a kazoo, but even a month or two subscription would make a valuable gift.

 What else… well, of course, another year of RAP is always welcome, as is a new mouse and/or keyboard to replace those old, dirty, sticky ones (honestly, I guess we’re never too old to work and eat candy canes at the same time), moleskin notebooks for any inspiration that pops up during the day (or at the least, a grocery list), and maybe a couple of cool thumb drives to have handy for file transfer (one of my favorite is the one that is actually shaped like a thumb). The point is, Santa, some Creatives HAVE been good this year, and need some ideas for friends and family that they won’t feel guilty asking for. And socks just aren’t a popular sound effect.

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