Studio Unknown’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio—The Internet: The Birth of a New Focus?

Apr 1, 2010 5:04 PM, By Kevin Hill and Lisa Horan

CJ DeVillar of SongWorx

CJ DeVillar of SongWorx

The Case for Quality
It goes without saying that this new medium is the “next best thing” and will continue to rack up impressive statistics. The big issue from a sound perspective is, however, that sound quality on the Internet isn’t yet regulated like it is in broadcast and it tends to be all over the map quality-wise. So does that mean engineers should “dumb down” their mixes for projects that are being produced specifically for the Internet? That would be a resounding, “No way!”

“People may tolerate and expect a bad picture when bandwidth gets pinched, but they don’t tolerate bad sound very well,” says DeVillar. And bad sound is bad sound, whether it’s on the Internet or on TV. Take, for instance, a series of spots Mixology mixed for Bloomberg Sports. To meet a tight deadline, the very first of the spots was posted minus a professional mix. Instead, the production company producing the spots posted the initial one on the Web directly from the Avid. During a meeting, Kahn and one of the spot’s producers played that one and then compared it to one that Kahn had mixed. “To be honest, we were both shocked at the difference in quality,” says Kahn. “The truth is, it’s actually more important to mix projects that are airing on the Internet than for those on television because everything broadcast on the networks will go through some type of broadcast limiter, and there will be some control placed on loudness and dynamic range. But that’s not the case with the Internet.” It’s for that reason that Kahn tends to lighten up on the low end and mix brighter and with a lower dynamic range when he is working on a project for the Web. “With TV, you can get away with a decent amount of dynamic range, depending on content and context, but on the Web, certain audio elements can get lost a lot easier.”

A recent project at SongWorx

A recent project at SongWorx

DeVillar takes a slightly different approach, but also compensates for projects that he knows will be posted on YouTube. For starters, he makes sure that levels are optimized. “With the low bit rates that are present on YouTube, I’m careful to stay within mastering standards,” says DeVillar. Similar to Kahn, he makes sure that the mix doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary high end to prevent aliasing from the codecs.

Even if the initial plan for a project doesn’t involve the Internet, according to Haggar, it’s a good idea to assume that it will end up there. “It’s a safe bet that most of the projects we work on will wind up being posted on YouTube or somewhere else on the Internet, so I keep that in mind when I’m mixing,” says Haggar.”

But the biggest problem remains educating clients about the value of quality audio for Internet productions. There is still a perception that these types of projects are synonymous with lower budgets, but that’s simply not the case. “A project being produced for the Internet still has to be shot, edited, scored, mixed, et cetera, “ says Kahn. “It’s not like the process takes half the time, so why would it cost 50-percent less than a traditional project?”

While the mentality is beginning to change as more money is being spent on Internet advertising and more consumers are being exposed to these ads, there are already some companies that recognize that "good enough" just doesn’t cut it. “We spent multiple hours mixing the tutorials for PPL simply because they wanted a really great product,” says Kahn. “They could have cut the sound in the Avid, and they may have been able to get away with it, but they realized that it would all reflect on their brand, and if your brand sounds like garbage, your brand looks like garbage.”

Kevin Hill is the owner/engineer and Lisa Horan is the creative director of Studio Unknown, a full-service audio post-production facility and recording studio that specializes in helping clients discover creative sound for film, video, Web, gaming and artist projects.

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