Production 212: Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid!

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I’m sure most of you know that I am often asked to make presentations to broadcast pros, about how to become a better producer. Sometimes it’s for a single company like Southern Cross Austereo in Sydney, Australia last fall and this past March to all attendees at NAB Europe in Berlin, Germany. When he was still putting them on, Dan O’Day used to have me as a semi-regular at his annual World Wide Radio Summit in Los Angeles. To accommodate all these requests, I’ve had to learn how to design and use Power Point presentations to aid in the visualization of certain concepts and actual screen shots of settings I use in my day-to-day production. I’ve gotten pretty fancy with it, adding audio and video to help drive home the various ideas I talk about. When I discovered I could add video of actual sessions in progress, I felt like I was right on the cutting edge.

About four years ago, knowing that I was somewhat of a “power” user of Power Point, my Program Director, Sharon Dastur, asked me to help prepare the weekly presentations for our jock meetings at Z100. One of the last features each week is a briefing on changes in our music, including new songs added to the playlist, new Power Intros added and the Top 5 selling songs of the week. I started adding hooks from the new songs, so the people who weren’t familiar with all of them could get an idea of what they sound like before they played them on their show. That seemed to go over quite well, so soon after, I started adding the new Power Intros and later, a beat-matched rundown of the Top 5, all with matching pictures of the artist and title.

This went on like this for several weeks but, being the kind of guy who wants to constantly improve things, I felt like it was too static. I started playing with the idea of replacing the slide of title and artist with footage from the music videos. I started by using software that came installed on my Mac, QuickTime and iMovie. I was able to capture the video with QuickTime (getting the audio required an extra piece of freeware called Soundflower.) Then I could add title and artist information and do some pretty decent transitions using iMovie. This went over extremely well with my PD and the troops. Everyone felt like they were getting some entertainment to help wash down the dry stats, keeping the meetings much more interesting.

Before long, I was knee deep in the hoopla, trying to bend the rules of video to the rules of audio that I knew so well. Did I mention that I’m the kind of guy who wants to constantly improve things? It wasn’t long before I decided to move into professional grade video editing. I kept seeing videos online that had some amazing graphics and video manipulation. I figured that if I was going to do this thing, I needed to do it right.

Finally, I ended up using a combination of Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere and After Effects. (Just like the pro software we use for audio only production, some software is better than others at certain tasks and vice versa.) All of this software is layers and layers deep. I’m fairly certain you could spend a lifetime learning all of the ins and outs of each piece of software, discovering better and faster ways of doing everything. Gosh, that sounds just like the audio software we’ve all been using doesn’t it?

Well, like most of us using any kind of software, I got better and better at it. It wasn’t too long before our web content managers took notice of the Top 5 feature in the meetings and wondered if they could add that to the Z100 website each week. What? I’m gonna say NO?

Make no mistake. I am NOT an expert on any of this video stuff, but I can offer a few tips to help you avoid some of the potholes I hit square-on.

1)    Make sure the video you’re using is all using the same frame rate. I use 30fps because that is normally what my computer displays, thus avoiding long render times. If you prefer a higher HD quality, you can go with 60fps, but your end product files will be absolute monsters.

2)    Make sure you render at the same rate as your source material. This is not always possible, so sometimes you will have to put up with jumpy video.

3)    720p is more than adequate for use on the web and in meeting presentations. 1080i looks amazing, but honestly, it’s just not that big a difference in these applications. 4K is about to come to the home computer market. You really might want to wait until it’s more universal.

4)    Be prepared to have this stuff take over your life. It’s worse than crack for me. Once I get started on a project, I just can’t stop.

One last tip: Don’t be afraid to try something new.

In fact, that is really the whole point for this entire column. I haven’t spoken or written much about my video adventures to this point because I wanted to be a little proficient at it before I started to spout off about it. The real reason I got into the video side was because it was something new. I still learn new things about audio production every day, but those are almost exclusively refinements on something I already had a pretty good grip on. This was like learning a new language like Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin and English have no common roots, so none of the rules of one apply in the other. You are forced to assume that every assumption is going to be wrong. Are there similarities between audio and video production? You bet. And you certainly can apply all your knowledge about audio production to the sound for the video, but as far as the video itself goes, you’re in completely foreign territory. And here’s the payoff: Learning about video has taught me a TON about audio, and THAT my friends is what this column is supposed to be all about.

For my sound this month, I’m actually going to give you video! Obviously, it’s not going to be on the CD that comes with your issue of RAP Mag, so I’m putting it online on the RAP Magazine site [links below]. There are two pieces I’m going to share from our meeting on Halloween. The first is what I call the “Title” video, which has no sound. It’s designed to loop over and over again on the big screen as the jocks and promotion people come into the conference room. Watching this will give you some idea of the things we talk about each week in these meetings because it’s a kind of “preview” of that day’s meeting. The second piece is the music block, which runs at the end of the meeting. First you’ll see the songs added that week on Z100, then the new Power Intro that week and, finally the Top 5 selling songs in New York. Oh, and at the end of the Top 5, you’ll see the final slide of the meeting, which is an invitation to announce secret heroes. (Publicly thank people for going above and beyond to be helpful, or even life-saving.)

Video 1 - Meeting Preview

Video 2 - Music Review

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