In season three, Artist’s Connection reached its maturity. All the processes, from recruiting guests through shooting the episode to editing the show have been worked out, debugged, and documented. I also assumed directing responsibilities, on top of the production and editing jobs I was already doing. I didn’t take over the director’s role because of an overinflated ego, or out of any kind of dissatisfaction with Alex’s work. DMA had lost a staff member and Alex was buried in work, so if I wanted the show to continue along the path that we’d started, I’d have to direct it myself. Incidentally, I wouldn’t recommend trying this if you can avoid it. If you’re busy doing a good job as a director, it’s almost impossible to pay attention to the “big picture”. Things look different in the director’s chair.
Lori and Kevin have come a long way as well. Lori’s upbeat attitude and sense of humor keeps the studio ambience light and breezy, which really helps to make the shoot a relaxed and fun experience for the guests and crew. But all the while, she’s going through her check list like a machine. Nothing falls through the cracks when she’s on the floor. Nothing. She’s also the one that turns screenshots and smart phone images into those beautiful pictures we upload to FaceBook prior to uploading the accompanying episode. She’s been doing Photoshop since the late 90’s…and it shows.
Kevin came to the show with over twenty years of newspaper experience. He’s received more than ninety industry awards, including a Stanford fellowship. He spent his late teens and most of his twenties traveling the world as a street musician, sometimes sleeping in king sized beds, sometimes sleeping in the grass beside the road. You’d think he would have nothing to learn from this show, and yet, when I compare his first interview with Roger Trott to the one I’m currently editing—Lisa Iskin—I see a marked difference in his approach, his focus, and his technique. Along with “getting the facts” like any good news reporter, he’s taken the leash off of his natural curiosity and allowed his empathy to guide him to the person behind the musician’s façade. He isn’t always successful at this—we artists have to build thick walls to shield ourselves from rejection or thoughtless criticism—but most of the time I am simply awestruck at the way he can draw out the humanity of his guests, showing us that they can also be your doctor, an employee you’re thinking of promoting, or the guy down the street. They are just like everybody else, but they are also making a priceless contribution to our world.
Season three ended on May 28th, and we’re looking forward to a summer of reflection, reassessment, and even a little relaxation. I see a lot of changes on the horizon, including a book deal that Kevin is pursuing. I’m not thinking about those changes at the moment though. We’ll deal with them when they come. For now, I’m feeling a quiet sense of satisfaction and pride in what we’ve accomplished, and what we’ve learned.
Assorted details and philosophy are on the menu for this installment of Producer’s Notes. First the details:
If you’re using more than one camera and a separate audio chain, chances are there will be small differences between them. The color may not exactly match or the audio may not be in phase when referenced to the master audio. To deal with this I spend a few minutes with the raw video before putting together the sequence. For the audio issues, I use the SYNCHRONIZE function in Premiere Pro CC, and then visually match the phase of the master audio with the camera audio. Then I render the clip with the camera audio muted. This aligns the clip to the master audio that is used in the final assembly of the sequence, eliminating small timing issues in the video.
For differences in color, I’ve stumbled across Speedgrade, an automated color correction application by Adobe. I tried it out on the Dave Walters performance—due to be aired the second week in March—and I was astonished at the results. This is not a perfect solution for everyone, and the learning curve can be a bit jagged, but it works for me. If you are using a different platform, there are other applications out there; Resolve and Symphony to name a couple.
When I interview artists that want to be guests on the show, I always start the conversation by letting them know that I don’t think Artist’s Connection would be a good promotional vehicle for their band. This usually gets their attention. Few artists want to be without an audience, and promotion is one of the most effective ways to get one, so artists are constantly looking for ways to promote their work.
The second thing I tell them is we are not interested in advice, best practices, or any other technical aspect of their craft. This really gets their attention. When artists aren’t promoting their work, they are sharing their knowledge with other artists. They are natural teachers, and often take up teaching or counselling as a day job. I believe this stems from their inherent generosity and awareness that the artistic journey can be difficult, expensive, and sometimes heartbreaking.
So what the heck are we doing then? We’re forming a connection.
When a performing artist takes the stage, they put on a persona—Matt Jaffe refers to this as a mask. The performance is meant to be entertaining, even inspirational, and the artist makes conscious choices in costume, repertoire, and behavior to enhance those qualities. So the public is entertained or inspired and goes home feeling they got their money’s worth. The “show”, and by association, the artist, becomes a commodity. It’s not hard to lose sight of the fact that the artist has put in thousands of hours, has likely spent thousands of dollars, and has suffered thousands of failures in the process of gaining the skills to put on a “good show”. This is on top of the normal trials and tribulations that the rest of us have in our lives. They are just like everyone else, only they’ve taken on the additional task of enriching our culture.
The thing about a commodity is that the perception of its value tends to be narrow in scope and relevance. So artists are often undervalued. Rarely is their contribution to our culture considered when someone drops a dollar in the tip jar. Rarely is the public aware that the person entertaining them has just had a baby, just lost his mother, or just fell in love. And yet, would we want these folks to forsake their artistic journey and devote their energy to living their “normal”, private lives? Who would want to live in a world without art? So why don’t we place a higher value on them and their contribution?
Artist’s Connection is an attempt to improve the situation. It is my belief that if we can highlight the common thread that runs through all artists, indeed through all of humanity, then the community will have a better chance of perceiving the artist as a person providing a service to our society rather than simply as a commodity. When folks have shared experiences, shared values, or shared feelings, they are “connected” in a deep and meaningful way. This connection makes them feel better about themselves and about each other. So our mission is to forge that connection wherever possible. Maybe we can help the community place a little more value on artists and their contribution. Maybe we can make the journey a little bit easier for artists. Maybe we can make the world a better place.
Season 2 went pretty smoothly. The three camera configuration has simplified activities in the studio, and that gives us more opportunity to monitor the esthetics of the shot and the content of the discussion. It also makes the editing process much better because the transitions are selected in post-production rather than on the fly from the control room. So with the studio procedures working well, I turned to other aspects of producing the show.
The highest priority was to get the artist database up to date. This helps keep track of who applies to be a guest on the show, when they applied, what they do (singer/songwriter, instrumentalist, etc.), what they want to talk about, and how to contact them. I spent most of November contacting artists—some had applied as far back as March and hadn’t heard from us—to verify that they still wanted to be a guest. We now have a validated list of future guests. Artists continue to apply however, so we need to stay on top of this so that folks don’t fall through the cracks.
The next priority was outreach. When the season started, we had 141 LIKEs on our Artist’s Connection Facebook page, and 31 subscribers on our YouTube channel. To date, we have 480 likes on our page and 85 subscribers on our YouTube channel. The question we’re dealing with is not how to increase our popularity—that will take care of itself—but how to ensure that everyone is notified when a new episode gets aired. Facebook uses an algorithm to limit the distribution of page posts and then wants money to increase the distribution. That would be ok with me if the page was monetized in some way, but since it isn’t, “BOOSTING” the post becomes an added expense I don’t need. I’ve decided to encourage as many viewers as possible to subscribe to our YouTube channel, so they can be reliably notified when a new episode goes up. This requires additional effort from the viewer, as they actually have to have a Google account, and actually have to click the SUBSCRIBE button while watching the video. Some people don’t want a Google account. Some people are nervous about exactly what they’re getting into when they click that SUBSCRIBE button. Some people simply don’t have the time. The process of sending out friend requests to people who might like the show, inviting them to LIKE the Artist’s Connection Facebook page, and then asking them to subscribe to our YouTube channel, is inherently clumsy and eats up a lot of time. I’m still looking for a better solution.
There is also the question of growth. Even though Artist’s Connection has become a huge undertaking, it has always been our intention to include additional artistic disciplines in our coverage. To do this, we have two choices: build separate teams to produce and edit episodes featuring other disciplines, or replace episodes normally reserved for musicians with episodes covering other art forms. Both choices have their pitfalls. I don’t fancy the prospect of having to manage a large team of creative people. I’m not good at it. On the other hand, if I start including other kinds of artists in the current show, some of the musicians that have recently applied to be guests might not appear on the show for several years. It seems that further contemplation on this subject is in order.
All in all, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in season 2. The shorter format makes our viewers and guests much happier, and the positive feedback and comments I’m getting from not only the artists, but from the viewing public, convince me that we’re on the right track. There will always be changes, and season 3 will have no lack of them, but the reasons for continuing the show are not only valid, they are compelling. And so, on to season 3…
Whenever I mention this subject, I’m met with a mix of three reactions: ambivalence, fear, and reverence. After journeying in the wasteland of internet tutorials and personal epiphanies, and a lot of trial and error—oh, so many errors—I’ve come to the conclusion that, with a little pre-planning, multi-camera editing is no big deal. It can get complicated if the cameras aren’t similar in resolution, sensitivity, or format, but even those complications don’t present insurmountable challenges. Here is the process I use:
STIPULATION: Each camera records AUDIO as well as VIDEO, but the actual audio used for the edited sequence is recorded using Lavalier mics on a separate digital recorder. This becomes the MASTER AUDIO.
That’s really all there is to it.
This Producer’s Note is a little more technical than the others I’ve put out, but having been frequently overwhelmed and stymied by technicalities, I just wanted to offer a little encouragement to those intrepid souls that yearn for more options.
These two episodes were recorded on August 22, 2015. This is the first time we used the three camera configuration. We used the regular studio cameras for “head shots” and the third camera, one of the hand-held cameras that DMA checks out for location shots, as the “two shot” or wide angle camera. This configuration netted two unforeseen advantages.
The director still needs to set up the control room and supervise the positioning and focus of the cameras, as well as control all aspects of the shoot from “clacker” to “cut”, but the role is more monitoring and coordination rather than actively participating in the mechanics of the shoot. This gives the director more time and space to assess what’s actually being recorded without being distracted by timing transitions and choosing cameras.
It is conceivable that two people, a Director and a Camera Operator, would be all you would need to record an entire show.
The technique for editing is fairly straightforward. You select the shots you want to use from the three camera outputs, and arrange them on the timeline. Then you take a complete audio track—we record audio separately, but as long as you use one audio track for the entire sequence, I think you can use the output from any one camera—and sync the audio from those shots to the master audio track. Then you adjust the video trim and transitions, render, and you have your edited show.
Editing this “fixed camera” configuration takes more time then editing a “live shot”. On the other hand, the actual session runs smoother because the Director is paying more attention to what’s going on, the camera crew isn’t moving and re-focusing cameras, and the host and guest aren’t distracted by all this activity. There is less opportunity for error, and more opportunity to be thoughtful about the best shots and camera angles to use.
Reflecting on the redesign activities surrounding Season II of Artist’s Connection, all I can say is we didn’t leave one stone unturned. Here is a quick summary of the major changes:
Pieter Pastoor, my co-producer and general partner in crime, has turned
the show over to me so he can pursue other projects. Many thanks to
Pieter for his imagination, insight, and help in getting this program off the
Peter Bohm, associate producer and general audio wizard, is relocating to
Southern California. My thanks to Peter for all his help and advice. I’m going
to miss his calm, almost Zen-like approach to troubleshooting audio
problems in the midst of chaos.
Robert Kennedy has joined the team as our new Audio Engineer. Along with
engineering our recording sessions at DMA, Robert, a graduate of Pro Tools
training, also produces the radio version of Artist’s Connection. His “ears”
are amazing, and his editing is top-notch.
Each episode now features a single artist. This makes each show about 20
minutes long, which is more attuned to our YouTube and radio audience.
We start with a quote from the interview, and then proceed to the artist
intro, the artist performance, and finally to the full interview. For me, this
seems to flow a little better than Season One’s format, but the jury is still
out until the viewers weigh in.
We have gone to a three camera configuration, with all the cuts and dissolves accomplished in
post-production. This allows us to be a lot more accurate in keeping up with the flow of the interview.
It also makes removing “problems”—traffic noise, a cell phone left on, etc.—much easier because we’re
not having to work around the actions of the video switcher. It vastly increases the editing load, but I
think we get a better product.
We’re now using a green screen to put a pleasant background behind the
host and artist during the interview. This background is an actual video, and
you’ll notice the horizon getting darker and the Moon changing positions as
the interview progresses.
We’re still working audio issues with noise reduction, phase correction, and
limiting/compression. It’s quite a challenge to make the video version
sound as good as Robert’s radio production. I’m very impressed with that
All in all, it’s been a pretty dramatic summer. I look forward to our viewers’ response to the redesign
with cautious optimism.
Episode 6 was shot in the afternoon. The outside temperature was in the 90’s, so all the air conditioning was running. We turned off the studio air conditioning while the cameras were running, but there was a fan and a vent that were controlled from a different source. The following week we learned they could be turned off by a will switch next to the switch that controlled the ON AIR light. In any event, this extra environmental noise made it necessary to delve into noise reduction.
It turns out; the default settings in Premiere Pro for noise reduction are pretty heavy handed. It gets rid of almost all of the noise, but leaves a lot of phase cancellation and other artifacts on what’s left. I imported these files into Cubase and spent a lot of time with EQ, gates, and compression, trying to get a more natural sound. I finally got an acceptable audio track, but the process took a lot of work. Then one evening, I was watching an Audacity tutorial and I realized that noise reduction is a compromise between the threshold and sensitivity settings. The less noise reduction, the fewer artifacts left on the audio. So, by settling for a very small amount of noise, you reduce the time spent repairing the audio track! Something to try for Episode 7.
We incorporated the lessons learned from Episode 4 regarding camera angles. Since the guest and host are nearly facing each other, we had to position each camera almost over the shoulder of one of them to get a good shot at the other’s face. For the wide shots, we had to move one of the cameras to a more central location.
The audio was recorded through DMA’s audio chain, with a separate output recorded on a digital audio recorder. Since the audio to the recorder didn’t pass through any other equipment, it was uncompressed and free of hum and other electronic noise. I processed this audio in my home studio and then inserted it back into the video in post-production. This process eliminated the hum and other electronic noise present in the earlier episodes, but that made the environmental noise (traffic, air conditioning, etc.) more noticeable.
We’ve got our studio procedures pretty much under control now, and this resulted in a smooth flow from artist to artist. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, and we finished shooting the episode ahead of schedule.
May 9th marked the end of the season for Artist’s Connection’s studio sessions. We have several episodes “in the can”, and they will be posted on the first Tuesday of every month, in accordance with our usual schedule. The production crew is taking the summer off for vacations, R&R, and the pursuit of other projects that have been on the back burner since we started this journey. We will re-convene in late August to shoot Episodes 8 and 9.
We’re not going to be idle over this period. Here are some things we hope to accomplish:
Conduct a focus group made up of artists, production crew, DMA staff, and viewers, to review Season 1 and figure out what needs to be changed, added, and improved upon. We’re not just trying to identify problems, but we’ll be looking for workable solutions as well. Anyone interested in participating in this discussion can send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put you on the list.
Nail down the processes, procedures, and formats, necessary to edit the show for radio. We’ll be working with KDRT and a couple other stations to see what works, what doesn’t, and what new ideas need to be pursued.
Make further improvements to our audio chain. This might be as simple as an auto-gain adjustment or as complicated as building a portable sound stage. All options are on the table, and I’m really hoping for some workable “out of the box” ideas.
Develop the policies and procedures, and acquire the personnel, to expand the show’s topic list to include additional art forms, like visual and fine arts. I’d also like to find a way to include the commercial side of some of these topics, like recording studios, art galleries, and publishers. Again, I’m interested in looking at the kind of person that takes up these professions as a career rather than discussing the nuts and bolts of the business.
Most importantly, develop a process for securing funding to cover the show’s production costs. Up to this point, we have been concentrating on creating a quality show and demonstrating the need and usefulness of the content. I believe we’ve made our case, and we now need to focus on how to make Artist’s Connection a self-sustaining enterprise.
So this has been an amazing journey. Artist’s Connection has completely changed my retirement plans (countless species of fish are breathing a collective sigh of relief) and has brought me new skills like video editing and camera operation. It also facilitates the achievement of a goal I’ve had for many years, which is to find some way to bridge the gap between the person on the stage and the people in the audience. As with any complex and important endeavor, I couldn’t have done any of this alone. Artist’s Connection is what it is because a lot of people put their time, energy, advice, belief, and money into this project. Here are some of the major contributors:
Pieter Pastoor, my producing partner. His creative mind, infinite patience, and wicked sense of humor has saved the day more times than I can count.
Jeanne Pastoor, the practical one. Always listening, always smiling, always helpful, always beautiful.
Alex Silva-Sadder, the man that converts the vision into reality. He is an alchemist by nature, an artist by temperament, and a genius by any definition.
Kevin Fagan, an amazing host, a bandmate, and a dear friend. He has a wicked sense of humor too, in a macabre sort of way.
Peter Bohm, our audio wizard, and calm analyst of all issues audio
Davis Media Access, providing the facilities, volunteers, staff, and guidance that make this show possible.
Karen “Pix” Gale, who is willing to listen with an open mind, to almost any crazy idea I come up with, and was a huge help in developing and solidifying the concept of the show.
The Artists, without which we wouldn’t even be here
The Community, without which we wouldn’t be here either
Lori Hawk, mistress of organization, merciless analyst, Boss of the studio, and center of my universe. Don’t let that pretty face fool you. Behind those brown eyes lives a pure soul, a razor sharp intellect, and a heart as big as a galaxy.
Thank you all for everything you’ve given to this project.
And now, with barely contained excitement, and just a touch of trepidation, on to Season Two!
We had some fairly significant breakthroughs with Episode 4. These were in the post-production phase, and represent an editing milestone for me. Since we started this show, I’ve been wanting to process the sound separately from the video. I’ve been using Cubase for more than ten years, and am vastly more comfortable with editing audio on that platform than with Premiere Pro, the video editing software. For several reasons, there were a lot of problems with doing this. I’ve finally come up with a process that works pretty well, although it adds a few extra hours to the post-production schedule. The average listener may or may not notice a difference, but there were audio track issues that have been driving me crazy from the start, and they are fixed in Episode 4. We are trying something in Episode 5 and 6 that, if it works, will make the audio even better. Stay tuned.
Why is the audio important? Well, we promise the artists a very nice video that they can use for their promotional activities, and if the audio is sub-standard, that kind of screws up the whole video. The artists come to the DMA studios on their own time—some have even come from as far as Southern California—provide us with a candid and honest interview and a wonderful performance, and leave without asking to be paid. The least we can do is to try our best to keep our promise to give them a quality video. And audio is a major part of a quality video, so we’ve been working very hard to give them that.
The other big achievement with Episode 4 is we now have a workable process to produce soundtracks of the show, edited for radio. This means that Artist’s Connection will be introduced to an additional community, the radio listeners—both broadcast and internet. So our community becomes larger, and the artists will have more opportunities to connect with them. We’re really excited about this. As we send it out to the various stations that have requested it, we’re hoping to get feedback about the format of the show, to see if it needs to be modified to make it more radio-friendly.
So, a lot of progress, a few discoveries, and a lot of hard work. But that, after all, is what retirement is for!