Q It Up: Online Production Libraries and Imaging Services

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: Online production libraries and imaging services - how are they working out for you? If you haven’t noticed, CD libraries are becoming a thing of the past as companies now provide hard drives with their collections or simply direct their clients to their websites where music and imaging tools can be searched and downloaded. Some companies give you a choice of hard drive, online access, or both. If you’ve made the move to hard drive storage and/or online libraries, what pros and cons have you discovered along the way? What changes would you like to see in the way things are done? If you haven’t moved away from CD libraries, what’s keeping you there? Please feel free to add any other comments you might have.

Mike O’Neil [Mike[at]kjug.com], Westcoast Broadcasting, Visalia, California: We figured out ripping our Production and Sound Effect Libraries to include all of our Client Jingles to our production drives about the same time TM, Firstcom and the rest started marketing them that way. We have three prod work stations and have all of it available redundantly on each station — just drag and drop into your current project to sample, and then use. As anything new becomes available, I just rotate the new material onto the drives. This is still the easiest and most accountable way to utilize the most material across the three work-stations for me so far.

Firstcom-copy

Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada.com], Rodgers Media, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: I like online libraries. I find it much easier to have (literally) everything at my fingertips and not have to search through 4 studios to find a specific CD with a specific cut, only to find the Morning Show guy took it home for the weekend 2 months ago and hasn’t brought it back. Where these services need to improve is their search function, specifically having an off-line search program for those times I’m working on something at home and don’t have the right URL. I’d also like a notepad function with each cut within the search program so I can note what cut went with what particular spot or promo, also searchable of course.

Mike Mlazgar [mmlazgar[at]radio. astral.com], Astral Media Radio G.P., South Okanagan/Kootenays, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada: Currently we’ve subscribed to Killer Tracks, and we were supplied with a CD based library, with an online search/download site. I’ve discovered some pros & cons of online libraries. The pros include: (a) no need to wait for CD updates to arrive as new cuts are downloadable from the Killer Tracks site. (b) skipping CD tracks (or discs which are MIA) can be downloaded. (c) I can preview tracks from libraries I don’t subscribe to, and see what I’m missing (or not!)

The cons: (a) No access if either their site or our internet service is down. (b) The Killer Tracks site is sloooow! I don’t need the glitz of a snazzy flash intensive website; I need quick access to the music cuts, faster searches, etc... things which will save me time! [In defense of the Killer Tracks site, note that such sluggishness can also be attributed to computer/browser configurations. – editor]

Killer-Tracks-copy

Blair Trosper [btrosper[at]wbt.com], News/Talk 1110 WBT, Greater Media, Charlotte, North Carolina: Using production services and packages almost feels like dating to me. You’re really excited at first, and you want to spend a lot of time with them and use every cut. But, they start to invade your space and you start to pick apart their flaws. Then, you just wait for the contract to run out so you can break up with them. I love the online distribution model, because it presents a way for MP3 files to be a bit more interactive, but all the services I’ve used in the past have fallen into the “lazy trap.” Sure, the demo sounds great and the cuts are inventive at first. But, six months into it, I’m looking for ideas for a talk promo, and all I can find is “this bed sounded cool on my rock station, maybe you can use it.” Cancel the service, please.

I’ve been keeping my production library stored on a portable hard drive for years, so any service that lets me download WAV or MP3 files in lieu of ripping CD’s jumps right to the top of my list. I want to organize it my way, not plop down a huge CD booklet and search through the 8 point type for the bed I used 3 months ago. The service WBT uses now, Download HD, we love, because they approach it from the philosophy of being less of a production service and more of an idea mill and a way for producers to connect.

I wish more of the imaging services would move in that direction — provide your imaging content, but also “open source” it and allow your users to give back to the community. I subscribe to the “all of us are smarter than one of us” philosophy, and I love sharing ideas and audio. I have a large network of imaging people I e-mail back and forth with on a daily basis sharing ideas, and ultimately that’s where online services can triple their value. Downloading audio is great, but a service sparking ideas is memorable and worth that 60 seconds a day. And if one of my crazy, whimsical ideas sparks an idea in someone else, I’ve done my job as an artist.

Bill Downs III [billdowns[at]clear channel.com], Clear Channel Radio, Little Rock, Arkansas: We went online-only with Firstcom a little over a year ago, working a deal to allow full access to their entire library. It’s worked out pretty nicely, as far as being able to find just the right track for a particular spot. The one downside, to me, is that with all the choices available, it can sometimes take a little longer than I’d like to find that particular track. I’ve found myself reusing tracks more than I thought I would, just because of the time it can take to get online and find the track I need. (And it would help if Firstcom’s website were faster... though I think they’re working on that.)

One of the things I’ve found as a result of being online instead of using CD’s is that, instead of downloading most or all cuts from a few discs, I have one or two cuts each from a plethora of discs. It necessitates use of a program such as iTunes to catalog them and allow for convenient auditioning of tracks when I do reuse them.

Also, most jocks here are still used to the CD-based production music model, which can cause the occasional difficulty if they’re doing full production. However, as I do the vast majority of the production myself (using different voices, of course), that hasn’t been as much of a problem as it might otherwise have been.

My solution, when that has been an issue, has been either asking them to use a track that we already have, or to come to me if they need something new. I don’t pass out the Firstcom login to just anyone, as we have only a certain number of downloads available to us and I don’t want them used faster than necessary.

(However, having said that, I haven’t been the world’s best at keeping track of how many downloads I’ve done, but I suspect I haven’t downloaded nearly as many as I could to be on track for the contract period - i.e. there are probably more downloads still available than I think I do.)

I keep the tracks stored on a shared drive in folders by CD name, with subfolders by track name containing all edits of a particular track. I normally will download both 30 and 60 second versions of any particular track, as any “one” download comprises all edits of that track.

I’d like to have a better way of keeping track of and auditioning the music that I have. iTunes is fine as far as it goes, but it fights with Audition for computer resources, so I can’t run them at the same time. I usually end up browsing in Audition’s Insert Audio dialog, which works, even if it is a bit of a clunky way of doing it. (Firstcom’s audio player also doesn’t play well with Audition. Maybe we need to look at Audition to be a better online citizen?)

I’d also like to see Firstcom implement a convenient way of downloading all edits of a particular track in one shot, rather than having to do them a la carte. It’d just be a touch more convenient.

Overall, I do like the online model better. All the music I need is right there at my fingertips, instead of on CD’s that I have to go find because somebody walked off with them (or they’re just plain lost). As I said before, I probably reuse a little more than I should, just because I need something NOW, but still - you can’t beat the variety of music available, or the convenience of having it all right there when you need it.

Steve Stone [sstone[at]zrgmail.com]: It’s hard to let go. I spent this past weekend cleaning the garage (orders from the boss) and while throwing away this and throwing away that, I decided to spin some vinyl. So there I was, listening to Bad Co’s first album, and there in front of me on the workbench sat a box of old cassette tapes of various audio from such greats as Ted Nugent, Scorpions, Heart, and Me. My wife has been trying to get me to throw those tapes away for fifteen years.

I just can’t do it.

There are several producers in our building that still prefer to dub their music beds from the CD, so we have on hand some 300 disks in our two prod rooms. We use a Groove Addicts catalog of 5 libraries, and they have an amazing website searchable by category. Everything in our catalog is downloadable in various versions. This works nicely considering I do a lot of production at my desk. However, there are still times I’ll just grab a disk from the “Ignite” library or “Who Did That Music,” two of my favorites that nine times out of ten will have something perfect. With the power of the web and jump drives on millions of keychains, it’s inevitable that one day the CD will fade into oblivion just like records and cassette tapes.

That means another box in the garage I won’t be able to part with. Sorry, Honey.

Gary Michaels [michaels[at]wask.com], WASK, WKOA, WKHY, WXXB, ESPN Radio, Lafayette, Indiana: My production assistant has ripped our CD libraries onto two networked hard drives so our libraries and sfx are available to the production studios and workstation computers. I still like having the CDs on hand, and when I get them we rip them into the system. I still find perusing the web libraries to be a slower process compared to having the music in station where we can audition them extremely fast for input into our projects. I know that online libraries will become the norm and possibly the only option in a few years, but my staff works through projects so quickly that auditioning online isn’t our preferred method... not yet anyway. The positives for online downloads are that the resources are deeper with much more selection depending on the services you’re subscribing to. The downside is time. With everything we’re doing on line with all our departments it can still be slow going in auditioning or downloading cuts.

Kari Kaivola [Kari.Kaivola[at] radionova.fi], Finland: We have been using Chase Cuts, Production Vault and Splash. They all have something we need. Most of the time, I choose Chase Cuts stuff because they seem to work best for what I am after. Most of the music we use we get from BMG/Universal music libraries. CDs are used rarely. Nuendo for Mac OSX is the software thing we use here in Finland.

Shane Hurford [c913prod[at]c913 .com.au], C91.3, South-West Sydney, Australia: My Commercial Producer and I both use the hard drives, mostly. We have 3 and awaiting another. We also have another drive in the PC (yes suffering through PC land with 002 instead of a Mac). That drive is used for storing the mountains of DVDs we receive from some smaller providers. We still have some stuff on the production CD wall that is not available on the hard drives .

I don’t use any online services at all. If they want me to use their stuff they can send it to me. I’m not going to be at the mercy of internet speed or integrity of connection. There is 1 provider who sends you a full drive but still requires you to connect to their site to “authorize” the track. They do this to control the availability of libraries as their licenses expire and to track your usage and compare it to your reporting.

Positives are: 

* Everything is there.

* Reporting use is easier with the tags having all the relevant info...  a simple matter of cut, paste, print.

* If it breaks, call them and they send me another, F.O.C... If they are charging you for the drive then simply refuse to use their stuff otherwise, and tell them other providers have come to the party. They’ll change their tune pretty quick.

* The amount of tracks available means I can pretty much find anything.

* Having the CDs means if the jocks want some music for talk beds etc, I just hand them a CD, and if it doesn’t come back for a while, it’s not as much of an issue.

Negatives are:

* They are mp3 so it’s a compromise of quality.

* Because there are sooooo many tracks, iTunes now can’t keep up, so searching is a problem.

* If the track description is over 32 characters, this version of Pro Tools with this version of PC won’t allow you to import it until you shorten the title.

Vaughan Jones [scproduction[at] primeradio.com.au]: Yes, we have moved to downloadable music with hard drive storage. For some strange reason, I find it very convenient when sourcing imagery tools and SFX, but when searching for music I always seem to default back to the very solid CD library still in place right here in my studio. I guess old habits die hard.

When it comes to SFX however, I find it so much easier to “dress” my work with SFX now. In fact, searching and importing is so much easier than pouring through CDs that it’s one drawback might be the tendency to “over dress” a piece simply out of convenience. Knowing when to stop is as important as where to start. I think it also presents an opportunity for laziness on a concept level, as even ordinary scripts start to sound a little better than they used to, therefore offering a more passable option to busy creative writers and PDs.

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