Category Archives: Technology

My Week at the Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award Bootcamp 2014

I can’t believe it’s Monday already! This time last week I was sitting in this exact chair in Starbucks, DkIT School of Informatics and Creative Arts, planning my journey to Derry and feeling rather anxious about it!

What in the world was I worrying about? Absolutely nothing!

My journey begins with the completion of my music production project “Crystal Hearts” feat. Fiona McErlane by Audio_Girl on SoundCloud – Hear the world’s sounds at the end of last semester. On a whim I sent off my song to The Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award – Honeycomb – Creative Works.

Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award
Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award

I heard about the award through one of my lecturers at DkIT, they insisted I give it a shot. Normally I wouldn’t even dream of entering competitions!

You can imagine my surprise when I received an email a couple of weeks later telling me I was chosen as one of the top twenty digital creators of class of 2014 from colleges and universities across Northern Ireland and the six Republic of Ireland bordering counties! My prize was a week of workshops in Derry, meeting industry professionals, attending interesting talks about creative arts and business, working with the 19 other winners and an opportunity to pitch my skills to a panel of industry experts in a bid to win the grand ultimate prize!

I was immediately delighted but also a tiny bit anxious! Travelling 190 km to spend a full week with strangers! Shy, self-conscious and over-thinker- Steff almost completely backed out- if it wasn’t for the same lecturer who assured me attending the bootcamp was something I absolutely needed to do!

And glad am I for their assurance!

My drive up to Derry was very pleasant. As soon as I arrived at the hotel I met some of the other winners and I was immediately put at ease with their big smiles, interesting chat and genuine warmth. These were people like me!

That night we were treated to a fantastic meal in the Exchange restaurant in Derry city centre. The craic was ninety and the food was delicious!

The next morning (Tuesday) bootcamp officially kicked off with lovely welcomes from the Honeycomb team and straight into a fun personality workshop. After a card game which got the group instantly giggling and working together,  I learned about the four general different types of people (not that anyone can be labelled into any one type of course)- the two extroverted types and the two introverted types. I learned how these kinds of people generally think, behave and react to each other. The card game revealed that I am indeed an introvert- the kind who responds to others body language instantly, smiles a lot, tends to procrastinate, is generally quiet and shy and likes to take direction from others (over a cup of tea!)- yes, that’s me all over! I knew this already but it was lovely to learn there ARE others like me and how to approach the extroverts!

This was followed by a fantastic talk from Richard Williams from N.I Screen with great advice and useful information for us.

Great talk from Richard Williams to Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award winners. Really good advice on how to get started! pic.twitter.com/t8LCnKXgBi
Great talk from Richard Williams to Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award winners. Really good advice on how to get started! pic.twitter.com/t8LCnKXgBi

After lunch we started working on our pitching skills, learning how others deliver successful and smart pitches quickly and with structure.

After this we attended a Culturetech event in the Craft Village (much to my delight as there was a beautiful little shop I wished to visit there!) about starting up businesses in the creative arts. We listened to fascinating stories from three speakers about their ideas, their initial struggles, their developments and their successes. It was fantastic to hear how they went from their normal day-job to the job of their dreams.

Wednesday started with a workshop which was all about thinking on your feet- how to improvise. This was a lot of fun as it was all games that got us interacting as a group. I was initially terrified of staring into a strangers eyes- I tend to find looking into a strangers eyes unsettling- it makes me feel invaded and uncomfortable! And in turn, I tend to think I’m making them uncomfortable! I’m always aware of trust issues regarding eye contact but this is not my intent! (People I know and trust I am ok with!) So some of the games really freaked me out and I very nearly bolted but the ladies running the group were very understanding and said my feelings were totally ok- something I was never told before! It wasn’t long before I felt brave enough to join back in and enjoy the craic!

This workshop actually turned out to be one of the biggest benefits for me on reflection. It tied in perfectly with my life coaching that I’ve been working so hard on during the summer- building my self confidence, accepting myself, learning to feel joy towards myself and others, not feeling lost in the crowd and indeed- looking people in the eyes without fear.

After another amazing lunch, Josh Richards (science comedian and speaker, physicist, ukulele lover and astronaut candidate. graduate short-listed among 705 to colonise Mars with ) captivated us with his stories, his dreams, his infectious laughter and smile. We fired loads of questions at him and even though his hour ran out, he stayed back and chatted some more with us over coffee, we milled around him, taking photos and asking as many questions as we could! He really touched my heart and he will very well be the source for inspiration for a very future song I wish to write!!!

Meeting Josh Richards!
Meeting Josh Richards!
Funny Twitter conversation with Josh later!
Funny Twitter conversation with Josh later!

We continued our pitching skills workshop afterwards, pitching fun ideas to each other and then working on the tough stuff- our real pitches to deliver to the industry panel the next morning! We also received mentoring from industry experts- invaluable experience!

Teamwork!
Teamwork!

The next day (Thursday) was the day of truth- we were all a light-hearted bunch of people with all of our different personalities but one thing we shared- an anxiety about pitching our skills or business ideas to an industry panel! It was a big deal as we wanted to do our best- it wasn’t about winning, it was about doing a good job and pushing ourselves that little further.

My pitch went good! I couldn’t help but be nervous, my voice revealed that! But I felt good- I did push myself into something I would normally run away from- and hey, it didn’t hurt! 🙂 I pitched to them my skills as a music producer- what I could offer them if they were a top music studio, what ideas I have for the future of recorded music, my experience etc etc! My three minutes flew by in a heartbeat.

After a very pleasant walk around the city and lunch, there were more talks to listen to.

Greg Spence (producer of Game of Thrones) inspired us with his stories of the work he’s done, his journey and what he loves. He showed us the incredible work that goes into Game of Thrones (I knew it was brilliantly done but their pre-production is out of this world!!!). He didn’t just talk for the film/video/tv people, he spoke about the other creative work that goes into making a tv show (music, art, design, textiles, animation etc, etc.).

Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award winners 2014 with Greg Spence, producer of Game of Thrones.
Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award winners 2014 with Greg Spence, producer of Game of Thrones.

The last talk was more business- how to get investment in projects etc- valuable information was learned.

Bootcamp came to an official close that evening with two announcements- the person who came up with such a brilliant business idea that it was going to get further advice from an industry professional and the overall winner of the Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award.

It was after the celebration that our lovely group parted- some of us left for home and some stayed for further partying and Culturetech events! I went home as Derry is about a three hour drive and well, I missed my cat 😉

My cat missed me too :)
My cat missed me too 🙂

It took me the rest of the weekend to recover from such an intense week! The wonderful thing is we’re all keeping in touch. All the Creative Buzz Award winners are connected online and we are doing a great job staying in touch!

The seven graduates from DkIT who won the wonderful week of bootcamp (Rebecca Dykes and Sinead Duffy - graduates of the BA in Communications in Creative Media. James Heffernan - graduate of the BA (Hons) in Communications in Creative Media. Stephanie Caffrey, Ashling Grufferty and Sean McKeown – graduates of BA in Music and Audio Production and Hugh Thornton – Graduate of the BSc in Computing in Games Development.)
The seven graduates from DkIT who won the wonderful week of bootcamp (Rebecca Dykes and Sinead Duffy – graduates of the BA in Communications in Creative Media.
James Heffernan – graduate of the BA (Hons) in Communications in Creative Media.
Stephanie Caffrey, Ashling Grufferty and Sean McKeown – graduates of BA in Music and Audio Production.
Hugh Thornton – Graduate of the BSc in Computing in Games Development.)

Thank you Honeycomb Creative Works for a brilliant week. I gained so much, I’m so glad I went! You did a brilliant job and events like these really do perk up people like me! I have new friends, new contacts, new skills, new self-confidence and new experiences!

Enjoy Derry! Yours truly sitting in the Mayors Throne in the Guildhall!
Enjoying Derry! Yours truly sitting in the Mayors Throne in the Guildhall!
I may have come home 2 stone heavier ;) yum!
I may have come home 2 stone heavier 😉 haha yum- worth it!

Update: The seven DkIT graduates were featured in this weeks DkIT Times, read the full article at DkIT graduates attend CultureTECH festival | Dundalk Institute of Technology.

New Song Coming Soon!

Thought I’d post a little update of my own creative musings!

Yes, I have been busy musically. I’ve been working away on my next New Age/Chill Out/Sexy Celtic/Whatever You Wanna Call It track! It’s an idea which sparked off a few weeks ago but I did not have the energy to continue, now it’s full steam ahead!

I’ve been having fun blending my favourite sounds from Logic’s ES2 and EX24 synths as well as making my own sounds in the Sculpture synth and recording lush harmonics from my 12 string acoustic, reversing them and having fun with my Roland Gaia SH01 synth.

Vocal ideas suddenly came and with them, a lyrical theme. These were sent off to my songwriting partner Keith Caffrey and although he has only indulged me with a tiny taste of what he has written, I have been blown away. He has possibly outdone himself this time! I can’t get over what a gift he has with words, he really writes so beautifully and from the soul! Every lyric Keith writes, whether it’s for our acoustic-rock Shock Sorrow duet, his heavy metal band Black Svan, his own solo material or for my solo New Age/Electronic music, is always deep, meaningful, interesting, emotional, personal and universal. I can’t wait to hear his lyrics with melody! (Oh I forgot to mention his amazing melodies, guitar playing and all round gift for music, any instrument Keith puts his hands on, he can play it!)

Keith Caffrey
Keith Caffrey, great photo of a great musician and friend.

I recorded some violin ideas last week on a whim, when I say “violin” I really mean “fiddle”! My love for Irish traditional is clearly evident in this one! I always preferred playing traditional music, be it fast or slow (really love the minor and modal pieces I learned from a great old fiddle player many years ago) to the classical, technical pieces (which are of course wonderful but that style never felt right for me- though I do not knock for one second the theory and technicality I learned through those pieces!) I studied in my school days.

Having the craic in college in semester 3, the lads thought it was funny to put me in the middle of 6 AKG C414s! (and not plug them in!)
Having the craic in college in semester 3, the lads thought it was funny to put me in the middle of 6 AKG C414s! (and not plug them in!)
Sneak peek of what I have so far...
Sneak peek of what I have so far…

I decided tonight that yes, indeed, there will be a fiddle solo in this one. 😉

That’s really all I will say right now, until I hear the rest of the lyrics with the melodies, I can’t finish the structure but I really am looking forward to recording this. I’m thinking of asking a guest female vocalist to sing it. I’m also strongly thinking that this might well be a demo for a possible future college recording project, real drums would be fantastic… now to find a drummer… if you know any, send them my way please!!! (stephaniecaffrey@gmail.com, for reals!!!!)

Still on a high from the Trouble Pilgrims gig over the weekend, still badly wanting my own Burns Hank Marvin signature series electric guitar!!!!

Also I see Logic Pro X has been unveiled today! Looks pretty slick, I gotta say! I do like the new interface. I was afraid it was going to go all GarageBand and childish in style- I LOVE GarageBand-hey, it was how I started, pretty much (if you don’t count mucking around in good old, Cool Edit years and years ago) but desperately hoped Apple would keep Logic professional! It sounds good with new features Drummer, Flex Pitch, Track Stacks and an Arpeggiator! I am excited! But I have absolutely no reason to upgrade, I love Logic Pro 9, it’s stable on my iMac and Macbook Pro, it works a treat. I wouldn’t mind having a go though! The Apple Press Info hasn’t said whether it has changed it’s plug-ins at all, like Pro Tools 11 has (oh dear! Big no, no for me there! Happy to stay with Pro Tools 10 for college work, even if off-line bouncing is a desirable plus!). So for now, I’m sticking with Logic Pro 9, it’s the only Logic version which ever appealed to me (7 and 8 were disasters for me!) and the only version which ever inspired me!

Read more on the new Logic Pro X via Apple – Press Info – Apple Unveils Logic Pro X.

Signing off for now… I will of course publish more soon. Happy out y’all.

Fighting the Loudness War: Dynamic Range Day 2013

Dynamic Range Day 2013 is nearly upon us! On Friday March 22nd audiophiles around the world will turn their sound systems up to 11 to raise awareness that overly-compressed music does not sound better than dynamic music just because it’s louder.

Louder? Isn’t louder music better? Ah well now, we all enjoy loud music… but the point is: make the music louder by turning up the volume on the car stereo (or whatever music reproduction medium you enjoy listening to- mind your ears though peeps, for God’s sake!) and not through heavy mastering compression, etc!

According to dynamicrangeday.co.uk, music has been getting more and more crushed through the use of heavy compression in recent years, for fear of not being “competitive” – and in the process removing all the contrast, all the light, shade and depth – ruining the sound.

Dynamic Range Day supporters want to trade the “louder is better” concept for an alternative message: “Dynamic music sounds better”.

http://www.dynamicrangeday.co.uk/
http://www.dynamicrangeday.co.uk/

There are some very interesting articles on the official Dynamic Range Day website including, What is the Loudness War ? and links to other interesting stuff: Winning the Loudness Wars | Stereophile.com.

A cool competition one may like to enter (if you’re not in you can’t win, right?!) can be found at Dynamic Range Day Competition 2013. Cool gear such as an SSL Bus Compressor (in a SuperAnalogue Mynx mini X-rack) and Bowers & Wilkins CM-1 speakers are such prizes. It’s well worth entering!

What can we do in the meantime? Read and share this: The Loudness War – An open letter to the music industry… Use the free dynamic range meter plug-in on your master track when mixing (download it here: tt_dynamic_range_meter_mac_1_0.dmg.)… get involved, support Dynamic Range Day on Facebook, Twitter etc. Wear a t-shirt!

http://masteringmedia.spreadshirt.co.uk/
http://masteringmedia.spreadshirt.co.uk/
http://dynamicrangeday.co.uk/
http://www.dynamicrangeday.co.uk/

“Every playback device in the world has an output gain control on it. Record and master the music at musical levels and allow the listener to play it as they wish. Do not fall slave to making all music sound equally loud on iPod Shuffles or the iTunes program itself !” – Bob Ludwig. (http://dynamicrangeday.co.uk/supporters/)

Studio Session 1: A Reflection :)

It’s only 7.30pm and I’m exhausted! I can barely keep my eyes open but it’s all good, today was a lot of fun! Session 1 of the 3 part music production project was a great success!

As I mentioned in last night’s blog, I aimed to record guide vocal, guitar and cajon in today’s 3 hour recording session. It was a busy morning and not without obstacles but we successfully recorded guide vocal, guide guitar and complete cajon.

The main problem was with the lack of sound in one of the studio monitors. No matter what we tried, no sound would come through and the studio technician said the problem was certainly not a faulty connection or lead but within the desk itself and would take time to fix! So instead of abandoning the session we carried on with one monitor and trusted our DT100’s.

Another slight obstacle but definitely one worth the trouble- the patch connections for the live room were all taken out of the patch bay! Only through setting gain levels did we figure out where exactly to plug in! Trial and error! Well worth it.

So with these minor inconveniences sorted we ploughed on! My plan was to record the cajon in the live room using two AKG-C414’s and AKG-D112 and set up the guide vocal in the control room with a Shure Beta 58 and guide guitar with a Shure Beta 57.

AKG-C414 http://www.akg.com

 

AKG-D112 http://www.akg.com
Shane Taaffe and microphone setup. Note the drum kit in the background had to be disassembled and remaining toms covered with available jackets to stop unwanted resonance.

From the above picture one can see an AKG 414 in front of the cajon to capture the snare sound, the D112 at the sound hole in the back for the bass and there is also an AKG 414 to Shane’s left capturing the room sound.

Thanks to pre-production sessions we had already settled on a tempo of 103BPM so I had a shaker track made up to serve as a click track. This actually turned out to be a hindrance and distraction so the song was played live without the click track and the second take was “the one”.

By this stage it was already 11.15am (45 minutes left already!) and we decided we would at least try to record the 12 string acoustic guitar. Initially I set up the microphones in the middle of the room (AKG 414 above the sound hole, Shure Beta 57 at the 12th fret and AKG 414 directly behind the guitar- the guitar tends to lack bass and placing the microphone here added bass).

After quick evaluation of this sound, we agreed the sound wasn’t quite warm enough. How do you get more bass from a non-bassy instrument? I suggested moving the guitar closer to a wall and mic-ing from there- my trust assistant Shauna Kearney did one better and suggested we set up in a corner! She quickly took down the makeshift bass trap of rockwool and triangular foam in a cardboard box, placed two foam panels either side of the corner and a small panel on top of these, making a cosy house for one of the 414’s. Now with the guitar facing out towards the room, the higher frequencies were allowed travel out and the bass frequencies were instantly projected into the corner, like magic, an instant warmth was apparent as well as that shimmering top end I like my Ibanez 12 string for.

Keith Caffrey and the makeshift bass capture technique!

Alas time was not on our side and with pressure mounting to get the right take in time before the next students came in for their slotted time, I was unsuccessful in getting a full track. I was not disappointed as we found a good microphone set up for the guitar that we could easily assemble again!

Session 2 is in 2 weeks time, another 3 hour session. Of course I will have to draw up my plans again for this session as I need to make time to record the acoustic guitars as well as double bass.

Session 3 is in 4 weeks time, another 3 hour session and in this session I will record the lead vocal and additional percussion and perhaps a Yamaha upright piano.

So very tired now! But my own music production project is not the only one in my schedule, I will be assisting Shauna Kearney in her production (and playing any instruments she needs to compliment her singer/songwriter Lauren Murphy- I recorded Lauren last Christmas for a similar project!) AND I am playing violin for my classmate, hip-hop producer Scott McLoughlin!

It’s great to be busy in music! My special thanks to the wonderful musicians who made today happen- Keith Caffrey, Shane Taaffe and Shauna Kearney. And thanks to the studio tech! 🙂

 

 

My Day as a Production Sound Recordist on Set of “The Hit Producer”

I had a very exciting day today! I got my very first taste of working in the film industry!

I have had a growing interest in audio for film the past few months and have been craving some first hand experience. My private prayers were answered the other night when Jass Foley asked me to be a boom operator for a day for a film he was working on-“The Hit Producer”, an independent Irish feature crime thriller.

A fledgling movie producer with a talent for contract killing becomes the target of Dublin’s drug underworld and finds bloody salvation in the film industry. via The Hit Producer.

Up and wide awake at the crack of dawn, I packed my AKG K272’s, lunch, tool-kit, laptop, Sat Nav, raincoat, scarf and fingerless gloves and headed for the Wicklow mountains. It would be fair to say that the hardest part of the day was actually finding the film location, my Sat Nav didn’t like being fed co-ordinates! Sat Nag more like! Nonetheless after a lot of twisty, windy roads and the help of Jass, I found my way!

I don’t want to talk about the film itself in detail for fear I give anything away but I do want to express how much fun I had boom mic-ing the tortured cries of actors both outdoors in the pouring rain and indoors in a lonely, cold shed for hostages! My arms ached from booming overhead, the wind and rain didn’t help my fatigued shaky arms (shaking with both nerves and excitement!) but indoors was a lot easier, perhaps by that stage I was getting used to the awkward positions and I was growing more confident! Not only did I record dialogue and cries of agony but a couple of wild tracks (the natural sounds of the environment in which I was recording- no talking, no shuffling.)

Check it out! That’s me getting my ‘boom’ on! 😉

I really enjoyed my day on set because it was a little break from music. I felt I got to use my skills of recording and listening in a different way and it was a challenge. It was a breath of fresh air! I absolutely loved being part of an exciting team and meeting new people (who so happened to enjoy the same copious amounts of Family Guy, Simpsons and South Park as me!). I had a lot of fun, learned loads and can’t wait to see the finished film!

Check out the teaser below, go like The Hit Producer on Facebook and follow @hitproducerfilm on Twitter.

My Trip to Oxford :)

Oxford, baby! What can I say?! My first time in the U.K was a real mind opener! I’m just totally blown away by Oxford, particularly by the world famous SAE Institute!

I was invited to Oxford earlier on this year by my dear audio-adoring friend, Lee Fitzpatrick who I know from my previous life in Ballyfermot Music Production. He is a student at the SAE Institute and wanted to show me what his amazing college has to offer.

Straight off the train after arriving from Birmingham International, we walked through the beautiful main streets of Oxford city, Lee drawing my attention to the pub where Tolkien wrote the Lord of The Rings. I was struck by the gorgeous sandy colored buildings, the architecture was indeed very beautiful.

Oxford beauty: The Bridge of Sighs

Onwards to the SAE Institute! We wasted no time in getting there! I was trembling at the excitement of finally visiting this amazing place I had heard so much about!

And I was not disappointed. Audio Heaven. A fast paced tour of the building with its endless secret stairwells, glassy corridors and many, many doors leading to various media-related treasures left me breathless. Every room was filled with the very best of audio gear I have only imagined in my dreams. The building was quiet and had a very relaxed, creative atmosphere, it was a Bank Holiday so there were no classes that day. Students were indeed hard at work on their day off, I had the pleasure of listening to projects and watching students at home in their creative academic environment. They were so friendly and warm hearted, delighted to hear I was from Ireland studying Music Production also. The overall vibe was one of disciplined hard work with a relaxed atmosphere.

“I’m just happy to be here!” Me at the World HQ of SAE 🙂

After being introduced to the fabulous Neve studio (the one I have been waiting for!) and the 7 other studios, we went to the cosy SSL studio and mixed one of my personal projects. Every Mac computer in the building (and there are MANY!) is fitted with the latest versions of every digital audio workstation known to man, and my Logic Pro 9 project worked like a dream. Logic Pro and Pro Tools are both taught in the institute, something which really impressed me as a Logic fan. I was among kindred spirits who had the same passion for the intuitiveness of my favourite DAW. I felt right at home!

With trembling hands I sat in front of an SSL and prepared to embrace this fabulous piece of technology…

Later in the evening we set forth, back to the Neve studio where Lee had booked a long session to continue one of his projects. There we spent an intense few hours recording vocals and overdubs, again working with Logic Pro 9. I have a tendency to be shy of studios and especially top of the range gear, I was honored to be assisting Lee and watching how he worked.

Hello gorgeous Neve Genesys!!!
The amazing Joel Rundle!
Lee, audio genius working hard!

Taking a break, Lee introduced me to the magnificent Steinway grand piano in the main live room.

The main live room, Steinway grand piano and Lee (proud as punch!)
Lee is not just a studio professional 🙂

After wrapping up the session some hours later, we made our way to the film department and set up for a shoot, another one of Lee’s many projects! The popular Nerd Vs World series on YouTube. I was delighted to watch the visual set-up and delighted to help with the audio end of it. Something I never did before. The session ended pretty late in the night (or should I say early in the morning?!) and that was my first day in Oxford.

My second day was fun also, a proper school day, Lee attended his morning classes as I worked on my own project in the Practical Room, a room full of Macs and mixing desks, racks of equipment and controller interfaces. Everything I was permitted to use, thanks to my BCFE qualification, even though I felt like I shouldn’t even breathe near the stuff! I was assured I was most welcome to use anything I wished.

The Practical Room, my home all day Wednesday 🙂
Working away on my project in Oxford 🙂

Later in the evening, after meeting the kind staff of SAE, I was invited to attend the guest lecture which was due to take place that day. The building was abuzz all day, the lecturers walking through the corridors, nabbing students, reminding them that a very special guest would be attending and not to miss out.

The very special guest was the very, very mind-blowing, beatjazz master, Onyx Ashanti. Onyx is the creator of a futuristic, improvisation based technology which involves live looping with software synths created (not triggered mind you, everything is live) by devices attached to his hands and mouth. Hard to explain, which is why I’m leaving a link here: Onyx Ashanti: This is beatjazz | Video on TED.com. I enjoyed his two hour lecture, despite being highly aware I was the only girl in the room (and the only non SAE student hahaha!). Onyx passed around the various parts which make his technology work, explaining in fine detail his technology, pure data and what inspires him to do this music. I was truly honored to be in his presence and I am very grateful to have been permitted to attend this lecture.

Exhausted from so much information, we chilled out with friends and remembered that we are Irish and Oxford has fantastic night clubs, it would have been a shame to pass up a dubstep night out! In Irish style, we partied in Oxford city centre until the small hours, enjoying wonderful music through the safety of ear plugs- never leave home without them!

We’re Irish and we know how to party! Myself and Lee 🙂
Rock and roll 😉

And so was my experience of Oxford! A truly wonderful place with wonderful people. Oxford was every bit as exciting and educational as I thought it would be. I am left with a great desire to attend this wonderful college to pursue my own studies but alas, I am already 1/4 of my way through my current degree programme! I will surely come back to Oxford in the very near future and further explore the city, see my friends and exchange more music ideas and thoughts!

Thanks so much for the invite Lee and thanks to the kind people of Oxford 🙂 Until we meet again 🙂

The Impact of Electronic Broadcasting Media on the Music Industry

Abstract

Electronic media broadcasting plays a humble yet imperative role in the music industry: simply bringing music to the masses.

The aim of this blog post is to research and discuss one aspect of music technology of particular personal interest. I have chosen to look deeper into the media side of the music world and discuss one technological aspect of electronic media broadcasting- radio in its analog and digital format, in context of its impact on the music listening consumer and ultimately, the recorded music industry.

Firstly the development of music radio from pirate to Internet and digital broadcasting is explained. This blog also discusses the impact of traditional radio play on record sales, investigating the symbiotic relationship between the two industries. Finally, the subject of the impact of the iPod/MP3 player on the radio industry is raised and discussed.

Introduction; The Beginnings Of Electronic Broadcasting and the Fathers Of Radio.

Electronic broadcasting began in 1881 with telephone broadcasting as a result of the invention of the Théâtrophone (“Theatre Phone”) system. French electrical innovator Clément Ader invented the telephone-based distribution system, which transmitted live opera and theatre performances in stereo over telephone lines to subscribers located more than two miles away.

It developed into a system, which not only played music but also news bulletins and entertainment and was widely popular in Paris until 1932, when the théâtrophone officially succumbed to the rising popularity of radio transmissions and the phonograph.

Above: The Théâtrophone. (Bowblog, 2011)

A similar telephone-distributed audio system called the Electrophone was popular in London from 1895 until 1926. According to an article by British Telephones online (2010), the service was provided in the listener’s home at £5 a year. Alternatively listeners could pay via a coin-in-the-slot machine. Because the electrophone was technically complex with its hard-wired system, radio was called “The Wireless” for many years.

Above: Electrophone users enjoying a theatre scene in 1908. (British Telephones, 2010).

Although no man alone can claim the title of the founding father of radio, it is generally accepted that Nikola Tesla, Guglielmo Marconi, Alex Armstrong, Lee deForest, Reginald Fessenden, Edwin Armstrong contributed to the invention and development of radio.

While the theatre telephone communications were popular, radio frequency energy was born as a result of experiments being carried out by Nikola Tesla. Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi built a wireless system capable of transmitting long distance signals and in 1901, the first successful transatlantic communication was conducted.

Fundamental improvements enabling clearer and stronger transmission quality were made slowly to this early radio technology. These included Ernst Alexanderson’s high frequency alternator and Lee deForest’s three-element vacuum tube, called the Audion, which amplified signals and generated oscillations.

On Christmas Eve 1906 Reginald Fessenden made the first AM radio broadcast where he made a short speech and played the first music ever heard on communication equipment. Ships at sea heard a rendition of “O Holy Night” which he played on his violin and a reading from the Bible.

With good quality, wireless long-distance transmission now invented, the radio was ready for commercial broadcasting.

The Development of British Music Radio

The Golden Age of Radio (1920’s to 1950’s)

In the beginning of commercial and public radio, AM (amplitude modulation) broadcasting was the first means of delivering sound on a radio signal.

Independent commercial company, the BBC (British Broadcasting Company,) began its licensed radio services in 1922 and this new way of delivering news bulletins and music was exciting and revolutionary at the time. Andrew explains online that:

 In 1920, the idea of plucking a voice or music out of the air from hundreds or even thousands of miles away had a magical quality that is difficult for us to imagine given the technological advances since then. . .Never had anything caught the imagination of the science-oriented youth the way AM/FM radio did. Recently we saw the same type of enthusiasm take hold with the proliferation of personal computers and the Internet. Back then AM/FM radio was just as radical to most people as the computer may have been to the older generation recently. (Andrew, 2012)

Radio became popular quickly and programming became very important. Scottish engineer John Reith became Managing Director of the BBC in 1923 and he proposed the BBC’s mission must be “to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain” (BBC, 2012).

Above: The rising popularity of radio. (Wired, 2008).

On December 31st 1926 the BBC’s license expired and the company was replaced with a public authority, becoming the British Broadcasting Corporation with the granting of its first 10 year Royal Charter. The BBC continued to broadcast talks, varieties and concerts but it was not allowed transmit news bulletins until after 7pm (after the newspapers of the day had been sold), in an effort to save newspaper sales.

During the 1930’s no other broadcasting organization was licensed in the UK but the BBC did face serious competition from the IBC (International Broadcasting Company) who bought blocks of airtime from radio stations based in mainland Europe. These stations followed the American format of broadcasting which was much more focused on entertainment and commercialism than the BBC.

All of the stations except for Radio Luxembourg, were muted during World War Two and the BBC had to adapt its programming to suit the situation. News bulletins about the war and debates were given priority and classical music was broadcast in the evenings. Anne Frank commented in her diary of the effect of radio music on her when in hiding:

There was a beautiful Mozart concert on the radio from six to seven-fifteen; I especially enjoyed the Kleine Nachtmusik. I can hardly bear to listen to in the kitchen, since beautiful music stirs me to the very depths of my soul. (Frank, 1944 p. 250)

Pirate Radio

In 1964 rebellion broke out in the radio industry. The BBC held a monopoly on the industry and was not threatened by any competition; therefore it aired whatever it felt appropriate. In doing this it didn’t provide for one particularly important sector of the music loving public – teenagers. One type of music it didn’t playlist was the new, exciting and radical sounds of rock-and-roll. British veteran DJ Johnnie Walker recalls the effect of rock-and-roll on him as a teenager in his autobiography:

The fantastic noise pumping out into the night air showed me a way to break from conformity. It almost hypnotized me with its promises of freedom and self-expression. And I wasn’t the only one. The seed of sixties’ revolution were being sowed right here, through the eager ears and into the minds of young people, with music as the driving force. (Walker, 2007 p. 16)

The only station within the BBC network that provided some popular music was the Light Programme and it aired contemporary music show “Pick of the Pops” only once a week. It’s important to mention here that the Light Programme was the first station to broadcast using FM (frequency modulation) in 1955 and that this new method of broadcasting offered higher sound quality.

Above: The Light Programme listing in 1945. (Radio Rewind, N.D)

Because the demand for rock-and-roll was so great, businessmen set up radio stations in old, converted boats, docked just outside of Britain’s territorial waters (to escape prosecution). These rebel stations made profits from advertising and were hugely popular. Two famous examples are Radio Caroline and Radio London. Interestingly, Radio Caroline was established by Irish entrepreneur, Ronan O’Rahilly in Dundalk’s Greenore port. Caroline played music all day and therefore was a huge hit in both England and Ireland.

Above: Radio Caroline advert. (Pick and Mix, 2011)

Legalized Radio

Although the pirate stations continued to survive until the nineties, privately owned radio stations obtained licenses to broadcast in the seventies and the number of these commercial stations increased with every decade. The BBC took note of listener’s demands for popular music and adapted their programming to cater for their audience.

FM became the dominant broadcasting method because of its high fidelity and great signal strength, AM broadcasting took a back seat, typically being used for talk and news programming.

Above: BBC Radio One promo (TVArk, N.D)

Internet Radio

The Internet has more recently become an important means of transmitting audio. Internet radio shows are streamed and these are also known as webcasts. These streaming webcasts are like traditional radio because they cannot be paused or replayed and should not be confused with podcasts which are downloaded. Internet shows are usually available to listen to from anywhere in the world.

The very first Internet broadcast took place in 1994 and the first legalized American Internet radio station was created by Edward Lyman which broadcast live on Sonicwave.com 24 hours a day. The sound quality compared to that of AM radio.

Above: Webcasting can be done easily at home. (Hack A Day, 2011).

The success of Sonicwave.com attracted investment and media attention in the late nineties and Internet radio became very popular. According to an article online, Yahoo! Bought Broadcast.com for $5.7 billion in 1999 (Searls, 2002).

Internet broadcasting is closely linked with traditional radio stations these days, broadcasting their shows in real time via their website and using social media websites to keep in touch with listeners. I recently interviewed local DJ Andy Clarke of LMFM Radio and asked him about the place of social media in today’s radio industry.

 I think you’d be stupid not to use the likes of Facebook and Twitter social media now. It used to be, all those years ago, you’d ring the local station and you’d get your request on, you’d get your name on the radio. The texts came along and free texts which is quite handy. But now, I see it myself, you wouldn’t get as many texts as everyone’s now on Facebook . . . it’s instant though which is very, very, very, very good. You can stick up what you’re thinking, you can nearly pre-plan what you’re going to talk about in the next I suppose talk break or link. So if I was thinking “Aw, I’m hungry, what’s good to eat?” I can nearly stick that up on Facebook, it doesn’t go on air, get peoples opinions and then you could air the good comments out of that . . . it’s a lazy prep service for you in a way, but it’s very good to interact with the listeners. . . It’s an extra dimension. (Caffrey, 2012).

(If desired, listen to the entire interview here: Andy Clarke Interview – The Impact of Electronic Broadcasting Media on the Music Industry by Stephanie Caffrey on SoundCloud – Create, record and share your sounds for free.)

Digital Radio

Digital audio broadcasting (DAB) is the future of radio broadcasting. It is a new technology and is mainly used in Europe at this point in time. The UK embraced this technology and over 50 BBC services were made available in this format in 2001.

DAB can offer more stations with better reception quality to its listeners that live well within its coverage area and it is more cost efficient than FM. On the flipside, DAB uses digital signal processing which causes an overall delay. This means DAB radios are not in time with live events and can cause a confusing mixture of sound if a user is listening to a broadcast using a combination of analog and digital radios in their house.

Above: Digital Audio receiver. (AV Review, 2007).

Andy Clarke shared his view on DAB in Ireland during my recent interview with him:

 I suppose digital in Ireland hasn’t kicked off just yet and it probably won’t do for another year, if not longer. The UK has kicked off and they really are pushing it over there. In Ireland, they did try to do it a couple of years ago and some of the local stations went for it as a trial basis but then, it didn’t seem to be doing anything for them. People aren’t ready yet for digital radio and we still have analog in cars. Very few, well a lot of people would have digital sets, I have a digital set at home but I’m into the scene so, I suppose it’s an interest but a lot of people have yet to buy and it’s going to cost them money to do so, you know. (Caffrey, 2012)

In a world already hooked on the Internet, the digital platform is ideal for the next generation of radio consumption.

The Symbiotic Relationship

In the 1920’s the popularity of radio initially had a negative effect on the music industry, crippling record sales and putting companies out of business. Morton (2000) explains on page 26:

Record companies welcomed the subsequent transfer of electrical technology from radio and motion pictures to the phonograph industry, but hated the effect these two new forms of entertainment had on the record business. Radio was the biggest threat. On the eve of broadcasting’s debut, between 1914 and 1921, record sales had doubled, largely because of sales of popular music. With the inauguration of network radio in the middle 1920s, the market for popular recordings collapsed, resulting in a number of companies leaving the field or changing ownership. (Morton, 2000)

Because record companies wouldn’t allow the broadcasting of pre-recorded material, musicians were brought in to radio stations and performed music live. Radio stations spent huge amounts of money in an effort to better the production of the original record.

This wasn’t the only reason records were not played much on the radio during this time. The BBC employed its own orchestra and these musicians were part of the Musician’s Union who imposed a ‘needle-time restriction’, decreasing the number of minutes recorded music was allowed air weekly. This sustained the need for live musicians providing them with better job security.

It was in the 1930’s that the relationship between recorded music and radio began to improve, this was due to improvements in radio technology, such as devices that acted as gramophones and radios, but more so because the rise of the disc jockey. DJ’s would introduce the song they were playing and give information about the artist and record. Radio stations had to keep a huge supply of records to keep up with the popular artists and this in itself helped keep record sales steady.

Above: John Peel helped launch new artists. (Tumblr, 2012).

Playing the records on air gave free advertising and promotion to artists and record labels and this in turn generated listenership loyalty for the station. Because of this symbiotic relationship, radio stations did not have to pay royalties to artists when their music was played on the air.

Payola

When record companies noticed radio play influencing sales, they struck up illegal deals with radio stations and DJ’s called payolas. These illegal deals involved the record company paying for repeated play of the music they wished to sell. The more time a song was repeated on the radio, the more popular it became and the more records it sold.

In his study on the symbiotic relation of the two industries, Stan Liebowitz (2004) argues that this means of practice benefited the promoted artists and took sales away from others.

Above: The definition of payola! (Forowebgratis, 2007).

Why Do People Listen to the Radio?

Radio provides a more personal, intimate and thought provoking experience to the individual than other media outlets. Television combines audio with visual, feeding imagery directly to our minds, so we merely just absorb what the director wants us to absorb. Radio just provides the audio and leaves the imagery making to us, whether a DJ is interviewing a band, plugging a concert, describing the weather, reading the news or talking about the current state of affairs in our daily lives. Radio travels with us easily, we can listen on the move, driving a car, going for a run, even cleaning the house. We can listen and still carry out our lives tasks, whereas when we watch television, we have to give it our 100% undivided attention or risk crashing the car, running onto the wrong side of the road or knocking over that expensive vase!

 The relationship the listener has with radio is unlike that with any other media.  Radio is almost like a friend.  It can be there burbling in the background when you are busy and wherever you are busy but when you get those rare moments alone when you can ease your shoulders just a bit, radio softly turns up its volume inside you and your mind can be transported elsewhere for a few moments while carrying on with your life. (Penwald, 2012)

There are two different types of listening when it comes down to the music consumer tuning in the radio to their favorite station. The first type is listening for pleasure, where the music fan listens in purely for enjoyment, having confidence in their station of choice that will play music they enjoy. According to his paper in 2004:

 The fact that individuals spend, on average, almost three hours per day listening to the radio would seem to imply that there is in fact a rather important consumption element in radio listening. (Liebowitz, 2004)

This may be viewed as being harmful to the recorded industry because in this case, radio replaces or substitutes the need for buying the original recording. Why would the casual music fan pay hard-earned cash for a full-length album, when the two or possibly three songs they enjoy most on that particular album are available on the air for free listening?

The second type is listening for purchase, where the music fan listens in to discover new music to add to their personal record collection. Liebowitz calls this the exposure effect and states:

Note that the exposure effect doesn’t necessarily have an impact different than the substitution effect. Learning more about a product prior to purchase may allow consumers to derive great utility from any single purchase. At any given price, however, they may purchase fewer units because they become quickly satisfied. Producers, therefore, may discover that their revenues fall when consumers can better sample the products. (Liebowitz, 2004, p 97)

Statistics

Obtaining updated and reliable figures to provide evidence for the effect of radio on the music industry in the UK has proven difficult and expensive so I will use Liebowitz’s graph from his paper to demonstrate record sales in US dollars for the first half of the 20th century as seen below.

Above: Record sales in 1983 dollars (Liebowitz, S. 2004)
Above: Album sales in the UK from the seventies onwards. (Kovtr, 2010)

Is the iPod Killing the Radio?

We’ve seen in my previous paragraphs that music and radio have a positive symbiotic relationship but a new development in music technology is said to threaten the radio industry-the iPod/MP3 player.

Most of us own one of these devices and use it on a daily basis. It’s the control element of the iPod that threatens the radio business- ordinary people can choose the media they wish to consume in a handy, pocket-sized device. Advertisements can be blitzed and undesirable songs can be skipped. This idea of user control must have radio corporates shaking in their boots.

The latest iPod Nano includes a built-in FM receiver which allows the user to pause, and rewind live radio- great for FM and commercial radio but what about DAB? This attribute is a big disadvantage and works against the next chapter of radio history instead of with it. After all, FM radio is expected to be removed by 2015, leaving DAB as the main means of radio consumption.

Above: The latest iPod Nano boasts an integrated camera and FM receiver. (The Guardian, 2009).

Conclusion

It’s not easy to tell whether radio has a positive or negative impact on the record industry due to lack of statistics and research. Despite the initial decline in record sales in the 1930’s, record sales have gone strength to strength since. The music industry is currently threatened by a bigger force; illegal file sharing, but this has little to do with the subject at hand.

The future looks bright for radio and music. Radio has ever been the unseen companion to the music listener and with the world consuming social media websites on a daily basis, discussing their favorite music, digital is the obvious path for radio to turn to next. As long as the radio continues to generate positive messages to the public and interact, there is no reason why either industry should be threatened by the digital format. 

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