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Using your Home Recording Studio for Media Production
The Basics of composing for Film, TV and streaming Video
Media is happening. Think. Why have all the video software makers bought out all the audio software makers? They see it coming and are betting with millions of dollars. You want a market for your music? Forget the charts and labels. Our chances of making it that way are smaller than ever. There it is, someone said it. So what's a composer to do? Observe the trends. Technology is not standing still! Podcasts and soon streaming video will be here, and all these productions need music if they are to be successful. In this article I'm going to touch on where audio an video intersect in the home media studio and show you are close you are to having it all. Video production technology is easy and inexpensive to get, and soon, distribution of multimedia will be as easy as distributing MP3s are today.
Crossing the Gulf from Music studio to full Media Studio.
Home Music studios and Home Video Studios have historically had a less than easy relationship. When 4-track audio recorders hit the streets, so did the first camcorders, bulky, shoulder-killing VHS and Beta machines. Getting music to video, though not impossible, was very crude on the consumer level. Before hardware non-linear video editing (NLE) hit in the late 1980s, videos had to be built from beginning to end, in a linear fashion. Audio tracks were limited to 3-4 tracks, and even under the best conditions, it was "dubbed" over the raw tracks in real time.
In the mid 90's, our computers finally had the ability to edit video in non-linear fashion, though it required extreme amounts of disk space and memory for the day, so most home users were locked out. But the big film industry embraced computers big time and we have a decade and a half of movies with computer generated effects. Many of these effects are built into the better software packages today, and like with audio, you can download and buy video filters and effects on the web.
Non-Linear Editing basically allows you to move clips of video and audio as objects on a computer screen along a timeline, much as we do in our audio sequencers. You can assemble them in any order you want, re-arrange your clips in great detail, even move short sections of frames till they meet your artistic vision. Want to see an example? Just turn on the TV and watch the machine-gun like frame changes on your typical overproduced commercial. You can do that stuff too, with non-linear editing.
Now, anyone can do NLE for very little investment. You still need a strong computer, decent memory, and fairly large hard disk, but if you are already doing audio, you probably already have that. The cost to get in is well under $500 for the camcorder and editing software and many camcorders come with basic software editors thrown in for free. Even a $300 camcorder package offers you more power than a $20,000 video studio did 15 years ago with less image loss. Adding digital video to your home studio is one of those things where you get a lot for a little. The whole shot can cost less than a decent soft synth.
Formats: DV and HDV and Film
There are different media formats for today's camcorders and scores of different image formats. I'm going to make a long complicated story simple and short here. The most popular consumer media formats are MiniDV and DVD-R/W. Both are relatively inexpensive. DVD-R/W is not quite as good as MiniDV tape yet, so hold off on those new DVD camcorders. MiniDV is less expensive and offers a superior image quality that uses DV/NTSC image format that starts at 500 vertical lines of resolution. Earlier analog formats, such as Hi-8 (400 lines), 8mm (270 lines), VHS/C (250 lines) had significantly less. Audio in today's MiniDV camcorders is 16 bit 48kHz, making translation to audio editors easy. Exceeding the DV format are the newer HDV (high Definition Video) camcorders, which can record at higher resolutions. While DV generates a 720x480 pixel image, HDV is native at 1280x720 and in some forms, can go up to 1920x1080 pixels, which is around 6 times the number of pixels. HDV uses the same MiniDV tape and uses MPEG-2 compression to make the stream fit.
Film has always enjoyed superiority over video. Unlike the electronic signals in analog video, film is essentially a non-electronic, chemical process where light is imprinted through optics on film. Film still beats out the average DV format today by a wide margin. But HDV can come at last come close to film, and has settings which use the same 24p frame rate.
HDV is so close to film that many indie filmmakers have embraced HDV for cost reasons. Doing a film project costs big bucks. You'll likely be renting, not buying equipment, and you'll need a group of people to help you set it all up. HDV camera prices are dropping fast and are now in the $2,000-$4,000 range. Of course, you'll need a stronger computer and bigger drives for HDV. But a few CPU/hard drive generations down the road, the cost of HDV may plummet and become more universally adopted. But DV is here now, and is affordable by anyone who has a job.
Using Audio Sequencers with Video Sequencers
There are many NLE video sequencers available. You'll probably get the freebies with your camcorder and they will get you started. Well-known video editors for the Mac platform are Apple's Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Express and on the PC their is Adobe Premier, Sony's Vegas Video and Pinnacle's Studio. The NLE editor typically lets you:
You might note the business relationships of the various audio and video sequencers. Apple owns both Final Cut Pro and Logic. Avid owns Digidesign and thus Pro-Tools and M-Audio. Pinnacle has has a relationship with Steinberg. These companies have been aligning themselves and getting ready for the huge onslaught of those wanting to combine audio and video.
All the major audio sequencers are making tremendous strides integrating audio and video. Logic, Sonar, Cubase, and of course Nuendo, Digital Performer and Pro Tools HD (the latter are slightly ahead in this game) can all record and edit audio in reference to video. While this used to be done using external SMPTE interfaces, it is now just a matter of importing a Quick Time or Windows .WMV Windows Media File into the sequencer. Once you have your movie file in the sequencer, it's time to have fun.
Simple recipe for putting audio into video (or vice versa):
In addition to .WAV and AIF, there are now multi-track formats that will let you import many tracks back into the video editor. There's OMF and XML available in many sequencers on both the audio and video side. Apple offers "round trip" editing between Final Cut Pro and Sound Track Pro and Sony offers file editing in Sound Forge From Vegas. Both are excellent methods of working up audio for video. Yet this world of audio-video integration is far from perfect. While OMF and XML are supposed to be standards, my sense is that the coders need to talk more to get this working cross application and cross platform. I'll be focusing on the merits of the PC/Mac platforms and their tools in future articles, as I have done fairly extensive comparison over the last few months here in the TweakLab. Let me just say now that you can use both platforms together on single projects over a network advantageously.
A personal note...
My goal is to get totally up to speed with audio for video and short film. Yep, you heard it here first. The Tweak is taking the step from sound development to composing for video/film. For the near future I'll be focusing intently on the video side. But the end goal is soundtrack work. If you have audio work that you want done for your video projects, know that the TweakMeister is now available for hire.
Sound Development and Sampling
Look at some video cameras