Saturday, September 30, 2017

Putting the "royalty" in "Royalty-Free"

For us content creators out there, we've been in the situation where there are certain aspects of the creation process that we cannot completely control. We want our vision to come as close as how we see it in our heads, but sometimes the resources or funding aren't always there.

Yes, this is a stock image. Yes, people actually do use these stock
materials for projects (I think).
This is where 'stock' websites come into play. There are resources available for creatives seeking to incorporate something like an image into their project. These websites provide a catalog of media that a user can download. It could be a stock photo, music, sound bit, video, graphic art...the list goes on.

It is always important to note that there are rules and regulations to using stock content. Before, we get into the subject of "royalty-free", let's discuss the "pay" method of acquiring stock content.

When I started my first podcast, Theater N'At, a couple years ago, I needed some music that could break up the introduction (what was called a "cold open") and the rest of the content of each episode of the podcast. I was lucky enough that I had previously purchased some music that was used in a short film prior to the podcast.

Since I had purchased the license to the music, I was free to use that music as our opener and closer for the podcast, without the need to provide any information on where I had acquired the music.

If my memory serves me correctly, this music was downloaded with the purchase of a Standard License, which covers all the basics of use. I believe the price of use was around $50, but once again, you're getting unlimited use out of this music track.

Most stock websites are very explicit about what they want done with their resources and how they want credit to go towards said resource. Is your project for commercial or personal use? That's also factored in.

Now we come to the term you might find on some stock websites: "royalty-free". Instead of paying for a license, sometimes the creator simply requires you to credit their work somewhere in your project. If the stock content is a video clip that is included in your own video project, you may be expected to include information about that clip in the credits at the end of your video project.

It all depends on what the stock provider expects from their user. If you're searching for something specific to add to content that you are creating and editing, don't always go with the first result that pops up in the Google results. Sometimes it's better to take the time and do your research.

Which brings me to my next big project. My next podcast, Decipher the Media, was also in need of some music to serve as an introduction. Instead of using that previous track that I've purchased and continually recycle, I decided to find some new music that would fit well with the podcast.

First, I went to the Google machine. The top results were all "sponsored", but I decided to leaf through them to see what they offered. Like the music I already had, most of them required a Standard License purchase for about $50. I wanted to work around having the pay that price for my startup podcast, but I also didn't want to give required credit in my work for something "royalty-free". So, I dug a little deeper.

I found a website called As generically questionable as it may sound, it actually provides some decent tracks with very few restrictions for usage.

Basically, here's how this website operates, based on the FAQ:

"You sign up for the site and we give you free music. If you still aren’t buying it, you can read the testimonials of our users who will happily agree there is no catch at all."

"We are sponsored by a stock footage company called Footage Firm. Because of this sponsorship, we don’t worry about making money — we only worry about delivering the best resource possible for free production music. In exchange, Footage Firm gets some good PR and marketing."

"Our music comes with a royalty-free, worldwide license agreement that never expires...You are permitted by our license agreement to use our music commercially as long as you add substantial value to the songs."

"The term “substantial value” means you modify or add to the music in a way that makes it uniquely yours. Simply by adding it to a video or singing lyrics on the song, you add substantial value to it."

Digging even deeper, I wanted to make sure there wasn't a catch. I also needed an elaboration on the music usage, since there was no current mention of usage in audio media, such as podcasts.

Here's what I found in the more detailed user agreement:

"For any Stock Files you obtain from us, you may incorporate them into any project, commercial or otherwise, including feature films, broadcast, educational, print, multimedia, games, merchandise, and the internet. Once you incorporate a Stock File into your project, you can share your finished project freely, but you may not share the underlying individual Stock File as a standalone file with anyone else. (That said, you can share individual Stock Files with your client or someone else for the limited purpose of getting their help with your specific project, assuming you are adding substantial value to the project apart from inserting the Stock Files. Otherwise, they need their own license.) You also agree to use your best efforts to avoid letting the Stock File be accessible to others as a standalone file, but since that’s not always possible, your inability to prevent copying will not be considered a breach of this License." 

To my understanding, as long as I'm not just sharing the unaltered music file, I am free to use it in any sort of media project. This includes commercial use. That's a pretty good deal.

As implied, it's important to read these agreements because every royalty-free website is going to have different rules and regulations for using their content. You don't want to get caught in any sort of legal situation just because you didn't read the fine print. So, always do your research.

The particular track I used is now the current opening and closing tune for my podcast. I'm sure that I'll try to switch it up in the future, since these tracks can still be particularly generic and may not be the closest thing thematically.

This is a particularly interesting topic that I'm sure I'll touch on in the future, hopefully in a different format, such as stock video or images.

Until next time.

This is actually part of a whole series of stock photos. Seriously. Look it up.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Spending some time with podcasting and recording

So, I did a thing. I've been posting all over social media about my little recording setup and starting a whole bunch of new projects. So, what exactly does it all mean? Well, to break it down, I've been toying with the idea of recording for almost two years now. Recording what? Audio and video that directly feeds into my computer. Not to be confused with location video or sound.

To elaborate, I decided to start my own podcast. While it is still in the process of taking identity, I've always wanted the experience of doing a podcast.

Previously, I have worked to produce another podcast, which was pitched to me from a friend and colleague. While he did the talking with his co-host, I was behind the scenes, monitoring the audio being recorded and the equipment that was being used.

It was a pretty basic setup. Let's start with the hardware. I purchased two USB microphones that were designed for audio recording from a desk setup. I believed that this would be a simple process. Of course, I was wrong. These mics were not designed for simultaneous multitrack recording. At that point, I had to do my research to understand the components of multitrack recording.

I concluded that I needed a mixer that could distinguish and separate the mics that we were recording on. It turns out that USB mics can't be easily integrated with such a setup. I went the cheap route and I was paying for it. Go figure.

So, I had to create a workaround where my computer's sound hardware could separate the lines going directly to the computer's board. It was crude. Very crude. And certain reverb issues would arise in this setup. At certain times, the issues would get so bad that I would have to stop the podcast recording to correct them.

Each host had their designated USB microphone. I would record audio through a multitrack session created in Adobe Audition. Alternatively, I used Audacity for simpler recording sessions. They both work just fine for what I needed to accomplish.

As I mentioned, I had to go into the properties to manually assign instructions to each of the two microphones so that Audition could detect each mic separately to record on their designated track. I don't quite remember the process, but there are instructions that I found on Google. Good ol' Google.

After a handful of episodes, I had to take the back seat with this initial podcast. The hosts chose to record their own episodes with their own equipment while I focused on more pressing matters at the time. I swore I would return to active podcasting... but then life happened. As it always does.

Besides the podcast, I tested some video capturing via software that I found online, overlaying those captures with audio that I would record on the microphone. I never published any of my tests, but I was able to confirm that it was possible with my setup.

I was capturing mainly video games via unique screen capture programs and recording my audio commentary in either Audition or Audacity. I wanted to attempt a "Let's Play" series, figuring out how to put my own spin on it as I went along. None of those old videos every surfaced and I ended up having to shelve the project and put the idea on the back-burner. Again, life happened.

It was around this time that I decided to revisit some of these old concepts and interests. I recently had the chance to record the first episode of my new podcast, Decipher the Media. While it is still a work in progress, I'm taking what I know from previous experiences to improve on my knowledge of recording.

The first episode had a lot of help from Brandon Keenan (a guest on the episode) and KVT Productions, improving the production value beyond my expectations. The setup we used would be ideal for recording and broadcasting sessions. While I plan to get there in quality, I want to focus on building the foundation of recording.

The first thing I did was remove the USB mics entirely from my setup. They were
causing too many issues with recording and were over-complicating multitrack sessions. Instead, I re-purposed some older location sound gear for my recording needs.

I learned that my Zoom H4n has the ability to split audio lines, which can then be fed into the computer on separate tracks. The H4n supports two tracks, which is just shy of what I need for podcasting. I'm hoping to have at least two guests on the podcast at all times, meaning I'll eventually need a mixer that can support simultaneous recording of three mics.

For now, I plan to rely on recording sound for an entire room until I can purchase a mixer with more mic inputs than I currently have. I'll do some tests to see how it comes out in an enclosed setting.

Which brings me to the next part. Given that my current living situation has a lot of extra space, I decided to put some of it to good use. Located on the second floor, I cleared out a small room that was once my office. I grew to despise using that room as my office, so I moved it. Why? I really don't have a good answer, but the space did give me an idea.

I've always wanted to convert a room like this into a small "recording studio". While resources (and space) were always limited in the past, I figured that timing and space provided me with the opportunity to give this little project a shot.

First, I had to clean all of the extra junk and furniture out of the room. With the wood paneling, sound was definitely going to be an issue. To combat this, I'll need get some sound
proofing tarps or foam to cover sections of the wall, minimizing any reverb for audio recording.

For furniture, I was just thinking of a simple setup. I would place a small workstation at one corner of the room. Following that, I could also have a table and chairs set up specifically for my podcasting needs.

I've also considered turning the room into a very small film/photography studio. Granted, this would be very difficult given the dimensions, but it would be perfect for certain smaller projects. I'll be posting some updates once the room is complete. There will also be some podcast updates coming to Cipher Eye Media very soon, if you guys are interested.

Until next time!


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Photography in the streets

Exploring my personal interests can sometimes be a struggle. Everyone deals with their everyday lives and manages their time to the best of their ability. Sometimes, time management can cut out the things that we want to do in favor of the things we have to do.

Thus, I'm always torn between what projects get done and which ones get left in the idea bin. Which brings me to this point: I've always wanted to get into street photography but never had made the time. It has always been a passion of mine to capture the realism of the city with an overtone of surrealism, thanks to various photography effects and tricks.

And so, I'm writing this as a way to prioritize this passion and get out there on the streets. In 2017, I've come closer to living in the city than ever before. Previously, I've had to go out of my way to get projects done within the city limits. Now, I'm centrally located, making easy travel around the streets in any direction.

One of a couple of examples on my excursion.
To initially tackle this project, I took to the local South Side on a night just like any other. A short walk would find me amidst booming bars, businesses, and the colorful folks that frequent the area. Depending on the time of day or the day of the weeks, different types of crowds gather at different times.

On this particular night, it was quieter than usual. I couldn't tell you why, but it seemed the perfect night to take some photos of East Carson Street.

Without fully understanding the definition of 'Street Photography' I decided to take it upon myself to just play around with the idea, choosing a calm night juxtaposed with the bright streets lights and bar signs scattered through the street. The results were very satisfying, though I'm still not sure I fully understand the concept of street photography. Maybe it's something to be left up to the interpretation of the photographer. Or maybe I should actually Google it. I'll leave that for the next batch of photos.

While editing the photos, I simply made some adjustments to the RAW files. The high ISO that I used on this particular night made the blacks a little noisier than I preferred. Next time, I'll have to try a lens that works better in low light situations.

So, depending on the brightness settings on your monitor/screen, it might be slightly difficult to interpret. If that's the case, then I do apologize. Just another thing I have to work on when I have a little more time.

While this is far from professional, I just wanted to take the opportunity to dabble in the creative process before really doing my research. I'm hoping to learn and grow as I continue the process. Next up, I'll have to check out some popular examples to improve on what I have.

In meantime I'll leave this up to your own interpretation as continue my journey to become more proactive with my interests. On that note, anyone interests in doing some portraits?

Until the next time.