DVD DOES MUSIC

Feb 1, 2002 12:00 PM, by Philip De Lancie

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When consumer electronics, entertainment and computing interests came together behind DVD more than five years ago, plans included formats for home video, computer data and music. But, while DVD-Video and DVD-ROM were available to the public starting in 1997, it took years for DVD-Audio to make it off the ground, and even now support for the format from major labels is tepid at best. That doesn't mean, however, that music hasn't had a role in the growing popularity of DVD. While DVD-Audio struggles to take flight, music DVD-Video has been airborne since DVD itself was launched.

As DVD-Video moves from the early adopters to the mainstream, more consumers are discovering the format's strengths: high audio fidelity, high picture quality and random access. Because these attributes are at least as important for music video as they are for feature films, it may turn out that the real problem for music video was not the underlying concept but rather VHS, in which case DVD-Video offers a very appealing solution.

DAVE MATTHEWS AT THE TOP

In early fall, the DVD Entertainment Group's list of top-selling music video titles was studded with venerable names such as The Eagles, Michael Jackson, The Who, Santana and Fleetwood Mac. The top position, however, was held by an August release from the Dave Matthew's Band, The Videos 1994-2001 (RCA Records). The group also held position number seven with their earlier release, Listener Supported.

Production of The Videos was overseen by RCA creative director Doug Biro, and prepared for DVD release by a team at Crush Digital Video, a DVD authoring and production studio in New York City. Crush's services include interactive design and consultation, audio and video streaming, menu design and production, DVD premastering and quality control. With a client list that includes BMG Entertainment, A&E, NBA, Showtime, Elektra, Arista, Jive Records, RCA Records, Criterion and Major League Baseball, the company has developed DVDs not only for music video content, but also for feature films and corporate communications.

Led by Crush's president, Jeff Stabenau, the Crush group on the Dave Matthews Band project included executive producer Meri Hassouni, audio engineer Greg LaPorta and encoding specialist Mario Rodrigues. Animation and design were handled by Dan Fenster and Jay Chumley, who also handled authoring.

Many of the highest-profile music video DVDs (including Listener Supported) are based on concert footage. The Videos, however, is basically an augmented collection of the band's music video offerings over the years, starting with “What Would You Say” and running through “The Space Between.”

“There are the 12 original music videos, with PCM audio, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and subtitles of the lyrics,” explains LaPorta. “There are also 12 re-edited videos, music in Dolby Digital 2.0, plus commentary tracks by the five directors [David Hogan, Wayne Isham, Ken Fox, Dean Karr and Dave Myers]. And there are also ‘behind-the-scenes’ videos for ‘Don't Drink the Water,’ ‘I Did It’ and ‘Stay.’”

Unlike the concert material in Listener Supported, (also authored by Crush) where a multicamera shoot provided source material for DVD-Video's multi-angle video playback feature, all the clips on The Videos are made up of a single video stream. As for material outside the disc's “DVD-Video zone,” often included for playback in a computer-hosted DVD-ROM drive, The Videos has a simple link to the band's official Website.

The presence of multiple shorter clips on The Videos points up one way in which making a DVD for music video can be different from making one for a feature film. “Music titles tend to have many more assets involved with them,” says Chumley. “Feature films tend to have one movie, several other video clips and the navigation menus. This disc contains over 25 clips of video, 55 different audio tracks and dozens of menus, including about eight minutes of motion menus. So the scale of the project is much larger.”

ASSET PREPARATION

Once the elements that will make up a DVD's content are defined, the production team gathers and prepares the assets, putting them in a form that can be used within the DVD-Video format. In the case of the audio for The Videos main music soundtracks, this meant capturing the stereo tracks from the sources provided by the client, either Digital Betacam tapes or Betacam SP tapes with separate DA-88 soundtracks.

“The music videos were originally mixed for stereo,” LaPorta says, “but we wanted to take advantage of DVD's surround capability. To accomplish this, we created ‘up-mixed’ versions of the stereo sources for all 12 of the music videos.”

LaPorta says the stereo mixes were captured from the client's masters onto a Sonic Solutions workstation. “There, the tracks were used to create a surround field through a combination of delay and EQ that allowed us to emphasize separate elements. In this process, we push the vocals and lead guitar toward the center and front speakers, while using the surrounds to emphasize the rhythm.”

The newly created surround mixes were recorded at 16-bit/48kHz onto DA-88 tapes, then later encoded to 5.1-channel Dolby Digital at a data rate of 448 kilobits per second (the maximum Dolby Digital data rate supported by DVD). Because DVD-Video allows up to eight audio streams (bandwidth permitting) to accompany a given video clip, RCA was able to include both the Dolby Digital and the original stereo mixes. Viewers can switch seamlessly between the streams with the remote control. “For the stereo streams on the music videos,” LaPorta says, “we used Linear PCM to provide the highest-possible audio quality.”

Once the audio for all the videos was captured, the soundtracks had to be mastered to create balanced sound levels between all the tracks and their streams. “LPCM has a much greater dynamic range than Dolby Digital,” LaPorta says, “and has a perceived sound difference of 6 or 7 dB that must be accounted for. This work was also accomplished on the Sonic Solutions workstation. The sound levels were matched for what would be the eventual result after the Dolby Digital streams were encoded.”

In addition to mastering the audio, the asset preparation stage also included the creation of still images and motion-video elements for the disc's menus, the design and placement of onscreen buttons, the preparation of text files with timing references for the lyric's subtitles, and the encoding of all video elements, including the 27 video clips and the menu transitions.

Crush used a Sony DVA-1100 for all encoding of the project's video assets. Encoders from both Sonic Solutions and Dolby were used for the audio.

AUTHORING

Once the project assets were ready, Chumley was able to start authoring, which involves importing assets into the project, defining the navigational flow of the title, defining the commands associated with menu buttons, checking the behavior of the title as the work progresses, and formatting the final version for output in a form that can be used by a replication plant to mass-produce copies. The authoring was done on a Scenarist NT system (now Sonic Scenarist), with the final disc type being a DVD-9 (single-sided, dual-layer).

“Technically, the disc was one of the most extensive I have authored,” Chumley says. “To get this many different types of material on the same disc, with 15 motion menus, was a fun challenge.”

With 27 main video clips, part of the challenge was to make it easy to get from place to place without a lot of clutter on the menus. “There are a lot of options on the disc,” Chumley says, “and we tried to present them without getting too overwhelming, and without making the viewer go through endless channels of menus. We created the design so as not to overwhelm the ease of navigation. Hopefully, the navigation is rather straightforward.”

To keep things simple, Chumley says, there are basically two main sections of menus. “The Videos section shows a preview clip of each video, as well as related information, including the director, run-time, release date and the album that the song is from. In the Extras section — which you can access through every screen — we tried to let you get to any area quickly and yet simply.”

During authoring, Chumley checked his work by previewing it using software simulation of what the playback would be like from an actual DVD player. “The video is watched on television,” he explains, “while the audio is passed through the TV speakers and several different types of receivers.” Previewing allows the author to revise the work until the visuals, audio and navigation all play back correctly according to the title design approved by the client.

“After we felt the disc was complete,” Chumley continues, “we burned a DVD-R, which we checked in-house on a variety of popular players. The DVD-R was also looked over by BMG and RCA at their locations.” Once approved, the project was transferred to DLT tape and sent to the replication plant.

VIDEO-CENTRICITY

The content on The Videos could perhaps have been released on a DVD-Audio disc, because the DVD-Audio specification allows the playback of DVD-Video material (though some limitations apply). Apparently, however, RCA did not feel that it had much to gain in sales from making a hybrid disc of this type, and the DVD-Audio authoring would have added complexity and expense to the project. In any case, because DVD-Audio's potential for enhanced fidelity doesn't apply when playing back video, such a move might have been beside the point for a collection like The Videos, which is explicitly video-centric.

“What I really like about this disc,” Chumley says, “is that I think it shows much more respect for music videos as a medium. You have the best audio quality and surround mixes to support the music, but you also get all of the videos in much higher quality than you would ever see in broadcast. And the commentaries are a first for music videos, treating them on the same scale as feature films.”

It may not be a classic on the order of Casablanca, but if The Videos — and titles like it — spark greater interest among consumers, perhaps DVD-Video will be the medium that finally pushes the music video genre toward the sales levels that eluded it in the pre-DVD era.


Philip De Lancie is Mix's new-technologies editor.

NUMBER CRUNCHING

GAUGING THE SUCCESS OF DVD MUSIC VIDEOS

One place to get a feel for the extent of music video activity on DVD is the Website of the DVD Entertainment Group (www.dvdinformation.com), a trade association of nearly 40 companies that is intended to advance the use of DVD in entertainment applications. The DVD Entertainment Group's members describe themselves as “key software and hardware companies representing leading consumer electronics giants, [and] major movie studios' home video and music video units.” Among them are such familiar music-business names as BMG, EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner.

A search of the site's database of titles turns up just 92 DVD-Audio albums out of a total of 12,069 DVDs in current release by the Group's members. Music DVD-Videos, on the other hand, number 1,307, about 11% of all the group's current DVD-Video titles. (Most of the rest of the titles are, not surprisingly, feature-film releases.)

With that many titles, it's clear that the music DVD-Video genre has some appeal to artists and labels. That doesn't mean, however, that music video, in general, has been a big hit with consumers. Figures from the Recording Industry Association of America indicate that the category has never shipped much more than 27 million units (in 1998), and slipped to 18 million units in 2000. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 942 million CD albums shipped the same year.
Philip De Lancie






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