CMack provides some insight on how the studio is configured for production
With this series, I want to demonstrate the process that I use to produce an episode of Children of the Gods. This is not intended to be a step-by-step walkthrough, nor a lecture on best practices, as there are many aspects of this process that I am still learning about myself.
This series is simply me doing a bit of showing off and presenting the workflows and methods that *I* use, and hopefully, you’ll find some useful tidbits to inspire you with your own projects. If you have no such project ideas in mind, and are simply curious to see how it all comes together, that’s absolutely cool too. Welcome one and all!
Now, I’m pretty “budget conscious”, which is to say I tend to be pretty tight-fisted when it comes to upgrading hardware. If something works well 90% of the time, I still consider it useful and worth keeping around, and look for ways to work around that 10% when things don’t work as expected. For that reason, I’m still using a computer that’s around 6 years old, which is considered downright ancient in the tech field. However, because of that, I’ve found some really solid means of getting the most out of my production environment.
For actual sound processing, I turned off the onboard Creative Labs sound chip, and bought an entry-level “prosumer” card. The $100 M-Audio Audiophile 2496 is a great way to start out down the path to professional-sounding production, without breaking the bank. It does mean changing the way I’ve come to expect hardware hookups to work, because it uses phono (or line-level) jacks, NOT headphone jacks, but that’s to be expected, and forces me to use better hardware that’s built for the task. Those expensive surround sound gaming cards? In my opinion, unless you use your recording machine as an entertainment center or spend a lot of time playing immersive games, don’t bother with them. They’re awesome for incredible sound alright, but chances are you won’t actually be producing in surround sound, so if you’re looking to buy a new card, get the best bang for your buck and buy into hardware that was built for production instead. That said, if you already have one of those glitzy snazzy gaming cards, don’t worry, it will still work well, just not as well (for production purposes) as something like the MAudio or other prosumer brands, though you won’t really notice the difference until you start getting quite a bit deeper into the field.
On a related note: USB-based solutions are do-able for the most part, as long as we’re talking about those USB external sound card thingies. Straight USB headsets are far too sub-standard for anything but online chatting and throwdown YouTube videos. That XBox 360 headset? No. Leave it on the console, do NOT try to use it for any kind of serious recording. You’ll make baby jeezus cry. Trust me on this one. NO USB HEADSETS, kthx.
To get sound into the computer in the first place, I use a simple mixer, the Tapco Mix60, with a cheap, but very capable microphone connected to it. Those two components are THE most critical pieces of equipment, so I definitely recommend focusing your purchasing power on those two first and foremost. If you’d like some good budget-friendly tips on recording hardware, I highly-recommend Steve Reikeberg’s Podcast Perspective, at podcastperspective.com. He’s an incredibly knowledgable sound geek, and loves to share what he’s learned over the years with his own podcast projects.
For output, I use a set of middle-of-the-road Sennheiser headphones, rather than relying on external speakers. That way I get a better idea of how most of the audience will be hearing what I produce.
You can probably see the pattern here. Nothing too outrageously expensive, while stepping up and away from the standard or irrelevant stuff. Sure, there are areas where I can beef things up a notch or two, but that comes in time, and has been happening thanks to donations from our listeners. In fact, those things I recommended staying away from a minute ago? Yeah, I mentioned them because I started out with those things myself, and ran into constant headaches because of them.
Anyway, let’s move away from hardware nerd mode, and get to the meat of the setup.
If you’re running Windows Vista or Windows 7, chances are you’re also running a lot of extra stuff that make for awesome eye candy, or adds some functionality to your OS. Personally, I run an app called Rocket Dock that emulates the Apple OSX dock, for quick and easy access to programs I run most often. I also run a few other various programs in the background that enhance my day to day usability in one way or another. BUT, all of those things are completely irrelevant to the audio production process, so wouldn’t it make sense to shut them down before you get to it?
“But wait,” you’re saying, “You’re telling me I should go through and kill all that stuff every time I go to work on my audio project? That’s ridiculous!” In that, you would be 100% correct that it’s a complicated and lengthy time sink, and I would absolutely agree with you, if I hadn’t stumbled on a nifty program that handles it for me with just a single click.
To get the system prepped and focused on audio production, I use GameBooster. It’s meant to tweak your system to free up resources for hardware-melting games like Call of Duty, Crysis 2 or Minecraft, but it definitely makes sense to use prior to beginning your production too. Especially when it does so much with just a single click.
Now, for the main event. The production applications themselves.
The two heavyweights I include in my production process are Adobe’s Audition for cleanup, and Sony’s Vegas for actual multi-track production. Yes, I know that both of them are by and large intended to perform the same overall function. However, I’m much more familiar with Vegas’ methods for navigation, editing control and layout, while Audition’s seem a lot more unintuitive to me. That said, Audition *does* conform more to the standards that other big programs like Cakewalk SONAR and Logic Pro use.
Less manual work and much better results. Also, need to delete an unwanted sound from the middle of a clip? Just do it. Audition will adapt the sound that happens before and after the deleted portion so that there’s no annoying and jarring click created in the process. Those basic cleanup functions are the feature I use Audition for, because they’re so much better and easier to use than anything else I’ve found so far.
After that Audition goes bye bye, and it’s off to the real meat and potatoes.
This is Sony Vegas. What you’re seeing here is Vegas in its “out of the box” default state. I’m showing this to you rather than MY default layout, in the off-chance that you use Vegas too, because the way I use it looks substantially different from the default, and I don’t want to create confusion. You see, Vegas is intended to be a video editing platform, and it does a very good job of that. However, before Sony bought it up, Vegas was originally a multi-track audio editor, just like Audition and Reaper. It wasn’t until Sony bought Vegas from Sonic Foundry, along with Soundforge, their single clip editor similar to Audacity, that video capability was added. Then, Sony extended Vegas further to allow for unlimited channels. Well, unlimited in that you can add as many as your computer is willing to handle at once, at least.
So yeah, Vegas is now a video editing platform, but it has never strayed from its audio editing roots, and it has done nothing but improve its efficiency in the way it uses the computer’s available resources, and that single fact alone is why I continue to stick with it, rather than move to one of the other dedicated digital audio workstations. That, and the auto-backup feature is invaluable for recovery, in the event the whole thing crashes. Audition will simply take everything you’ve been doing and flush it down the toilet if it dies. Yes, there are recovery methods (that require step by step instructions to perform), but Vegas will pop up and simply restore from the automatic backup, so you only lose what happened since the last backup interval, which you can adjust as you see fit. Big win right there, in my eyes.
So let’s get Vegas set up for audio production work. In the view menu, I’m going to start closing all the panels and pallets that are irrelevant to what I want to do. That means media generators, Video fx, transitions, project media, video preview, mixer and trimmer are all closed. The file explorer is definitely needed, so I’ll drag that out of the dock, resize a bit, and then close it too. I’m also going to want to see the mixing console, so I’ll call that up and size it a bit before closing it again. Why close them? Well, so I can maximize the screen space available for the production timeline itself. Now, in my particular case, I have multiple screens that I can’t show in this video, and which I do use for these floating pallets, but if I were reduced to a single screen, this is how I would use it. From here out, see these keyboard shortcuts in the view menu? I can use those to toggle those pallets as I need them, keeping things as uncluttered as possible so I can just focus on the task at-hand.
And there we are! The production environment is now configured and ready for some serious work, and that brings us to the end of this episode of the BackStage Pass Producer Series.
- Steve Riekeberg’s Podcast Perspective
- GLS Audio ES-58 microphone
- Adobe Audition ($399.00 at time of this post)
- Sony Vegas ($599.95 at time of this post)