"...And Make It Real Creative!": The Ghost in the Machine as a Young Artist

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

By the time you’re reading this, every Friend you have on Facebook has “made” a movie of their time on the social site. Touching, funny, with sentimental music and a selection of pictures and words from their posts that would bring a smile to even the most jaded viewer… and a tear to the eye of their more emotional Friends. They seemed to pop up overnight, and like Lemmings, everyone followed suit and added one to their FB page.

I must admit, I gave in early, after viewing the one “created” by the Missus. When mine was finished, I have to admit it touched me. My post about the birth of my Grandson was included, as well as plenty of pics of the little charmer, along with assorted snaps of my family, and, of course, my darling wife. It was pretty good, I had to admit. I couldn’t have done it better if I’d done it myself, really… even with all my video editing software and more than a few years at storytelling with audio and pictures. Somehow, someone dreamed up an app that could sift through my pics and posts and make a fairly compelling story of my life since joining Facebook, in less time than it would take me to launch my copy of Adobe Premiere.

I mention this because it’s a subject that’s been weighing on my mind since a recent vacation to Orlando. Being a Gearhead, it’s hard for me to relax and simply enjoy all the amusements available at the various parks. I’ve always been fascinated by Disney’s Animatronics, from the stirring speeches of the robotic presidents, to the grinning ghosts, to the marauding pirates. I find myself searching for a hidden speaker or a projector wherever I go, and marvel at how automated it all is… even ride breakdowns immediately trip a pre-recorded voice, assuring that all is well, the ride will continue soon, stay the hell in your seat…

But it was a couple of attractions across town, at the park Jaws built, that really put this new Facebook technology into perspective. The first was an oldie but a goodie… the Terminator 3D experience, the second was one of their newest attractions, the Transformers 4D ride. Even though one is beginning to show its aging technology, and the other is a brand new way to absorb the rider into the story, both have the same basic message… the machines are coming, and not all of them have our best interests at heart.

I don’t necessarily buy into the whole “machines becoming self-aware and subjugating humanity” perspective (not just yet, anyway). That said, technology has a history of making humans obsolete in many fields, and it makes me wonder… can computers replace Creatives?

A friend passed a link to me this week for a website that “generates” radio imaging. For 9 bucks, any fool can choose their format, their frequency, their slogan, various voices, a wide variety of music hooks, random drops and sfx, and this site will “create” a “custom” music sweeper. My first thought was that it had to be a joke, but I previewed a couple, and while they were generic and obviously stitched together, with abrupt edits in spots, they weren’t totally awful. If I were the king of the programming of a station, I wouldn’t use them, but I’m sure some would… and do.

Before you toss this off as a gimmick with a short shelf life, look back. Radio itself was considered a gimmick when it was introduced, but it managed to become an information and entertainment standard we take for granted now. TV was a gimmick, which managed to change everything (including the way radio did business). Computers, a gimmick, or, perhaps at best, something for scientists to huddle around in offices apart from humanity. And now, well, you know.

I remember the early days of voice tracking. The tracks were on a reel of tape or a cart, and it was a pretty simple, obviously automated system, even to the most casual listener. As computers got better, so did voice tracking… so good, that it became clear to those in charge that they could save money by firing jocks at many stations, and replacing them with a handful of announcers, voicing for multiple stations and day parts. At this point, it’s often tough to tell if you’re listening to a live jock; it’s really that good.

Of course, just because the machines have replaced some jobs in radio, surely they can replace Creatives… not really. Really? These “imaging vending machine” websites are only the first volley, and developers are constantly making improvements. It’s not a question of if this technology will find widespread use, it’s when. So where does that leave we human Creatives? The same place we’ve always been… as the innovators, the nutcases, the ones who have a different slant. The machines may be gaining on us, but for now, we have 2 things they don’t… our unique, non-linear Creative style, and unhindered access to their off switch.

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