As somebody who loves music but does not frequently attend live shows and as somebody who constantly reads statistics about declining concert ticket sales, I’d made the assumption that the concert industry is fading out in favor of the online music experience. I learned at SXSW that this is simply not true. I was blown away by the staggering number of venues, artists and hardcore music fans in attendance as well as the excitement surrounding each and every one of them. Tens of thousands of people flew hundreds of miles to cram as much music into every waking hour as possible. As a web marketer it was also exciting to see the amount of digital content being captured by fans at any given show. One could not look up without seeing dozens of smartphones, handheld video cameras and still cameras capturing every moment of every performance. One would hope that this content would quickly make its way to the social web and serve to promote the art and careers of the performers.
......but it’s not really my thing.
Well, at least not this particular brand of live music. For me personally the live music experience must contain a number of elements in order to provide the necessary value. In most cases I must already know and love the music that I am hearing performed live. Second, I have to be physically comfortable during the show. Getting knocked around and having my feet stepped on by thousands of sweaty, head-banging fans just isn’t for me. Call me what you wish, but I’m a pretty athletic guy and even just standing up in a crowd for many hours at a time is exhausting. Third, the sound quality has to be superior. In almost every SXSW showcase I attended the sound was deafening and I didn’t even come close to hearing and appreciating the lyrics, melodies, and chord structure that make a true song. Yes, I realize that this is the norm for a live show, but for some reason I just can’t get past this. It’s 2011—why can’t they make speakers that work?
Work travel is exactly that: Work.
Travel is among one of my major passions in life. Naturally when the chance to attend SXSW through my company came up I jumped at the opportunity. I’d never been to Austin, never been to a music festival of this magnitude, and SXSW is even listed in my go-to travel guide The 1000 Places To See Before You Die. Naturally I saw having to work as a small price to pay for the experience. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that simple. I didn’t appreciate until I was on the ground just how much I’d miss the leisure and pace of vacation travel—particularly the ability to escape the noise, the heat and the crowd when by body was telling me to do so. Television production is exhausting, both mentally and physically, and most of my days were spent tagging along with the host and crew, snapping pictures and social filing along the way. It also surprised me that my strict regimen of diet and exercise in the months leading up to the festival did not translate into the energy that would have been ideal in this setting. I was tired. I was hot. My feet hurt. When a day of shooting was done I found myself not hopping from showcase to showcase but licking my wounds in my hotel room and in bed by midnight. Panic! At The Disco fricking rocks.
This was the one band at SXSW that I was majorly excited to see. Our production team had scheduled an interview with them but as I was not a direct part of the production team it was unclear for awhile whether I’d be present for the interview or even the show itself. Thankfully the segment producer Iva made the effort to walk me past security into a backstage area where the interview had taken place, and for a few minutes I was actually standing right next to the band. Very cool. After dinner, she also sent me back to the show with a handheld video camera to shoot B-roll footage. I own and have listened extensively to everything that P!ATD has put out, and I guess I always assumed that because of the complex production style and unique nature of the lead singers voice, a lackluster live show was unavoidable. How wrong I was. They were electric, performing all of their hits from the previous 2 albums (including my favorites ‘New Perspective’ and ‘Nine In The Afternoon’) and tracks from their new album Vices and Virtues that I’ve been immersed in since its release on Tuesday.
Austin. Cool city. The jaded New Yorker in me could not get over how friendly and welcoming just about every single person in Austin was. Even the cab drivers! Even the bouncers! Even airport security! I cannot tell you how refreshing this was. It’s sad that service workers in New York are so needlessly nasty that a friendly smile in another city leaves me in a state of shock, but I appreciate it all the more when I’m on the road. I was also floored by the number of music venues. You always hear about Austin and its live music scene, but I literally could not walk for 30 minutes in any direction without hearing a band playing in some bar. The East Village pales in comparison. Only complaint? Not enough cabs.
I want a tattoo.
Sorry mom. They’re just too cool to resist. While the hipster/indie rock style of dress I saw a great deal of in Austin definitely isn’t my thing, I saw a lot of tattoos that looked really, really good. The only thing that has held me back from taking the plunge is that I don’t know exactly what I want. Maybe I’ll have figured it out by SXSW 2011.
I need to invest more time into music discovery.
Spending the weekend with Steven Smith, AbsolutePunk blogger Tony Pascarella and a number of other festival-goers brought me to the realization that while I consider myself a die-hard music fan, in recent years I’ve put very little effort into discovering new artists outside of the mainstream. All weekend I was surrounded by folks who seemed to know everything about every band that had ever existed. Beyond the headliners I wouldn’t have known where to begin. More full album downloads, more online radio, and more Pandora are definitely on my to-do list.
As managing director of NYC-based production company Production Directorate, Jonathan Smith has gone to sea aboard a nuclear icebreaker, filmed rare HD footage of polar bears in the Arctic Circle, and has worked extensively as a solo shooter and field producer in southern Africa. He's worked in long-form, documentary, news, live events, reality TV and just about every other form of production for diverse outlets including The History Channel, MTV News & Docs, NBC Universal and the United Nations Association. Did I mention that he's a Yale graduate? A longtime friend, I sat down with Jonathan to determine if his experience and expertise could translate into practical advice for bands and artists on a budget. Here's what he said.
Many artist EPKs and other press-related videos require some sort of artist interview segment. What should an artist do to ensure that the interview feels natural and that the soundbites obtained achieve the goals of the segment?
Have a friend interview you by asking questions off camera in a casual, conversational style. Take your time with it. Above all else, don't sit there thinking about soundbites or how it will look -- that's what editing is for. Make sure to discuss your goals with the interviewer, write out some questions or an outline of what main points you want to hit (a good outline is better than a list of questions), and leave it to the interviewer to get those bites from you.
If you are reading from a script, people will tune out in about five seconds -- and viewers can tell right away if something is scripted. When producing these kinds of segments for television, producers do use scripts... but scripts are written after an interview happens. For example, if MTV News is doing a profile of Justin Bieber, they will sit down and shoot an interview with him -- usually lasting at least a half hour. The interviewer is often a producer asking questions off camera. Then, the interview is transcribed and the best soundbites are written together into a script with voiceover from the host. The script is then given to an editor to assemble.
It is important to note that to achieve any kind of professional-looking video, you're going to have to invest in or track down some basic editing software (iMovie, Sony Vegas and Final Cut Express are all good options). Turning on your camera, letting it roll and then uploading an unedited clip to YouTube won't cut it.
What is 'B-Roll' and how should an artist incorporate this into a video project?
If you work around media long enough, you'll run into the term 'b-roll' and become familiar with it. While many people know what b-roll is, hardly anyone seems to remember the other part of the equation: 'a-roll.' The interview material described above, for example, is 'a-roll'. These terms come from the old school tape-to-tape (reel-to-reel) editing systems where film was often literally cut and pasted together in the editing process. A-roll is the backbone of your story. It is the dialogue, narration, interview material and voiceover. B-roll is all the material you see over the a-roll while people are talking. You need lots of b-roll to make a video interesting and compelling, and you also need it to cover all the edits in an interview. It takes a lot of editing to cut a half hour down to a few minutes of the best bites in a coherent story, and all those edit points in the interview need to have some other footage over them so it looks natural.
The rule of thumb is to have b-roll showing everything discussed in the a-roll. For example, if, in your interview you say "I am performing this week at The Rockstar Lounge," you need to have some footage of that performance. It's not enough just to say it, you have to show it. That's the power of video. It's very important to get a lot of b-roll. For every hour of interview footage, you need about three hours of b-roll. It is important to get as much of whatever you can -- even generic shots of you walking down the street, hanging out with friends, etc. It's your video, so make sure your viewers get to see as much of you as possible.
By now, you're probably starting to sense that it takes a lot of work and a lot of footage to get even a short video put together. It does. It takes patience, and it can be tedious at times -- just like any creative process. But it can be a lot of fun, and it is always a great feeling to see your finished product. It is also a very good investment in your career.
What common mistakes would you expect an amateur videographer to make while shooting a live performance video?
If you don't have a tripod (or something else you can set your camera on to keep it steady, like a stepladder), don't bother. The occasional hand-held shot can add some nice style elements, but 90% of your footage needs to be on a tripod.
Your brain is moving faster than you realize, and the typical instinct is to move around a lot and try and get all kinds of different shots. It takes a lot of discipline not to do that. If you do that, the footage will be useless. At the very minimum, make sure to count to ten either in your head or on the camera's timecode reader before changing shots. Don't zoom in and out other than to go tighter or wider a couple of times during the performance.
Also, get fan reactions. Remember, this footage will be edited together, and most live performance videos are not actually a record of the whole song from start to finish. It will usually be cut down into a minute or two, so you don't have to worry about getting every aspect of the performance. As you prepare for your shoot, watch and study other performance videos online and on TV. Keep a close eye on the techniques they use.
Before shooting, do a little research on the concept of "shooting for post." This will help a lot.
If an amateur video camera is used, what can be done to ensure that the quality of light and sound are as good as possible?
The line between professional and amateur cameras is blurring every day. There are some outstanding, affordable HD amateur video cameras out there, and they produce great results (Flip, the iPhone video camera and the Kodak Z18 come to mind). As with professional cameras, you can only get those results with the right planning and attention to details like light, sound and using a tripod.
You might not expect this, but with internet video especially, the audio quality is more important than the picture quality. That's not to say you don't need to worry about getting good picture -- you need to put just as much effort into getting good sound. One obvious point that's easy to forget: make sure you record your interview in a place where there's not a lot of noise.
Also, the built-in microphones on amateur cameras are usually not good enough for interviews and other a-roll shoots. Fortunately, there are many good, affordable third-party microphone options available (a lavalier mic is what you want for an interview, and a decent hardwired one doesn't need to cost more than $40). In fact, the audio gear you use to record your tracks may come in handy. Make sure your camera has a place to plug a mic in (there's usually a 1/8 inch port that looks like a headphone jack). If there isn't a mic jack, you can record to a computer or digital recorder and sync up the audio to the footage -- just make sure to make a loud clap after you start recording on both the camera and audio gear. The editor will use that noise to sync the material together. Your camera person should bring headphones and check to make sure the sound is good. Record a few seconds and play it back to check. There's no worse feeling than going through all the work and effort to shoot an interview only to discover later that the audio is bad. Most things can be fixed in the editing process. Bad audio, unfortunately, cannot be. It has to be recorded right.
For lighting (and in general), it is much more important to make sure your bases are covered than it is to try and be super creative. Footage that's too dark isn't usable. Too bright can sometimes be a problem too, but your camera will, in most cases, keep that from happening. Your focus should be on making sure there is adequate light without a lot of shadows. For HD cameras especially, soft, natural light is best. I've had a lot of luck with simply placing an interview subject facing a window with good light. If a lot of light is coming in, tape a white sheet across the window to diffuse and soften the light a bit. Also, don't be afraid to shoot an interview outside if the weather is ok. Natural light is cheapest, easiest and best. The first hour after dawn and the hour or so before sunset has the best light for this (the so-called 'golden hour'). The midday sun is usually too harsh.
If that's not an option, it may be worth it to invest in some of those higher-end soft light bulbs (the expensive ones at the grocery store-- they run about $10 a pop). Pick up two of those and put them in a couple of regular lamps, and use those lamps to light the room where you are shooting. Lighting is very important, and it takes a lot of time to get it right, but, at the end of the day, it is more of an art than a science. For a TV interview, setting up the lighting often takes more time than the interview itself. Plan to spend some time on it, but don't overthink it. If it looks right, go with it.
Let's assume that an artist does have a small budget to produce a video project and is able to hire somebody. What minimum qualifications should the artist expect from a shooter/editor, even on a budget?
Understand that it is always a lot more expensive than people think. For a fully produced professional video, it will cost at least $1,000 a minute -- usually more. It takes a lot of time, equipment and highly skilled expertise. If you post an ad on Craigslist offering someone $100 to do a video, it's not going to happen. You are most likely going to need to find a film student or someone who is just getting started in the industry who needs to build a portfolio. Students also have access to a lot of awesome, high-end equipment and facilities, so ask around and try and connect with someone enrolled in some kind of media production class or academic program.
In terms of qualifications, make sure you find someone who has at least a little bit of editing experience and access to editing equipment. An editor can become a cameraman a lot easier than the other way around. Make sure you work with the person you hire to set a schedule with reasonable deadlines. Understand that there are standard workflows in production that may not seem obvious to you. You need to work with the person you hire to make sure you are both on the same page about everything from the get-go. When projects run into trouble, it is almost always because of the little things. For example, if you want a YouTube video, don't assume that the person you hire can just crank out a DVD too. Go over everything in detail and understand that you are entering into a creative partnership.
It's also important to understand that most people working in production are freelance and their livelihoods depend on a steady flow of projects. If you come knocking and ask someone to do an "emerging artist profile" -- something that would usually cost thousands of dollars -- and can offer a few hundred bucks, understand that people get hit up for that kind of thing all the time. You may well be able to pull it off, but you have to make it worth their while. How are you different? Why is this cool? Why would I want to donate my time to this project?
Throughout the entire process -- from considering candidates -- to the final delivery, make sure that you are listening to and communicating with your production partner. The first conversation should include some work examples (yours and theirs), sharing some creative ideas and some thoughts on how to pull it off. Look for someone you feel you can communicate with and rely on to get the job done. There will always be bumps in the road and obstacles to sort out. It's very important that the person you are working with knows how to tackle those obstacles (that's not to say he or she needs to have all the answers, just the right approach to figuring it out) so that you can work together to produce an awesome final piece.
I am very excited to announce the launch of a brand new campaign that I've been working hard on for the past 3 months. As you may know I've been working with Big Fuel Communications, General Motors' NYC-based social media agency of record. As a part of our campaign for the new Chevrolet Cruze we've created a web-based video series surrounding 6 passion points including Music, Sports, Travel, Fashion, Entertainment and Technology. The Cruze-arati campaign follows a different host within each passion point, each of whom is an established influencer in their field, as they blog, vlog and tweet their way across the country in search of the unexpected. Since I began work with Big Fuel I've focused primarily on delivering the web elements of the Music and Sports programs.
In Sports I am extremely honored to be working with host Amy Martin. Amy is the brilliant Phoenix-based founder of social media agency Digital Royalty. She has established herself as the go-to expert in social media specific to the professional sports world. Her clients have included the UFC, Shaq, the L.A. Kings, Chicago White Sox and more. Did I mention that she has over a MILLION Twitter followers? It has really been an honor to work with Amy as I admire her in so many ways. She is the closest to what I'd consider a professional role model, as she's accomplished so much of what I hope to in my career......and she's still young!
In the Music vertical I have the pleasure of working with host Steven Smith. Steven is a veteran music VJ and former host of Steven's Untitled Rock Show on Fuse, the Top 20 Countdown on VH1 and has been involved with a number of other television and web-based projects. Whereas Amy is someone that I hope to emulate in the social media end of my career, Steven is somebody who to me embodies all of the good that remains a part of the music industry. In an industry that in recent years has seemed to produce nothing but burnout, headache and cynicism, Steven brings an energy and enthusiasm to music that has been incredibly refreshing. I can't wait for people to see this on camera.
Though I'm not working within the travel vertical I just have to get in a plug for series host Mike Barish. If Amy is who I hope to emulate professionally and Steven's energy for music is something that I admire, my passion for travel is best embodied in Mike.
You can follow the program on cruze-arati.com, @Cruzearati on Twitter, and pick up some tips on Foursquare as well. I also have to give a shoutout to the segment producers that I've been working with on the project, Jared Pearlman and Iva Jukic. Both are incredibly talented and experienced producers who truly 'get' social media and its' unique implications on web video. More to come!