I’m an indie content producer all the way. Though I do this stuff every day (and have been doing so for years), I have no formal training in writing, audio engineering, web design, or network technology. I’m a dude with a couple of music degrees, extra time on my hands after quitting a bunch of long-haul commitments, and the desire to make a contribution that doesn’t involve me taking endless and fruitless auditions into my thirties and forties. In fact, I remember driving to Kansas City to take an audition on my thirtieth birthday, getting bounced out of the first round, and driving back, cursing myself and banging the steering wheel for the 30th or 40th time this past decade (bad Jason–why why why?), and wondering if I was starting at the pattern that the rest of my life would follow–driving 50,000 miles across four states each year, making all-night schleps from the old South to the rust belt North in the dead of winter, and truck stop McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Now, a couple of years later, I’m barely driving at all and having a blast doing all of my new media projects, enjoying exploring uncharted waters in the blogging and podcasting world. I often now joke around with my wife about all this–what exactly do I do? I write, but am I a writer? Sort of. I do an awful lot of work recording and editing audio, but am I a recording guy? A host? A jack-of-all-trades new media goofball? Maybe that’s the closest label.
Anyway, I am now sometimes confronted with people who actually do what I kind of sort of do, and it’s easy to feel like I’m about three inches tall when this happens. Here’s an amusing example of this that just happened yesterday, in fact:
I am running a couple of podcasts for some other arts organizations as well as doing Contrabass Conversations, and I am conducting a series of interviews for one of the programs, kind of like what I’m doing for the bass podcast. I arranged an interview with a guest for this program, and we decided to do it live since we lived only a few miles from each other.
“Why don’t you come over to my recording studio and we can do it there?” my guest said.
I agreed–remember, my “recording studio” consists of a table with a couple of mics and a laptop on top, and two cats trying furiously to get in the middle of the action.
Your place? Sounds good to me!
I headed over there, pulling up to a quite impressive structure and ringing the bell. My podcast guest invited me in and I headed back…and back…. and back, into his labyrinthine studio complex.
This place was a first-rate, professionally equipped recording studio! We passed through the musicians’ lounge (complete with fridge, coffee maker, and couches for the artists to take a break), walking multiple soundproofed recording booths filled with gear, and headed to the room with the mixing boards. This room was also equipped like any major recording studio I’ve worked in before.
We sat down.
“Um, er… let me, uh… get my gear out,” I mumbled.
I reached into my jacket pocket.
I pulled out a little camera case.
I took out my $199 Zoom H2.
I screwed the little plastic stand on.
I inserted the little SD memory card.
I smiled sheepishly.
Actually, for what I do, the Zoom H2 is an awesome device–it’s portable, with great audio quality that records directly to WAV or MP3 format, perfect for dropping into my shows. This encounter can’t help but remind me of the contrast between commercial and indie content production, whether in the form of print (newspaper versus blog), audio (radio & CD versus podcast), and video (television versus indie vidcast). My goal in podcasting (and this is a goal shared by many podcasters) it to have the highest possible audio quality at a reasonable price. With audio (and this is just as true for video), the sky’s the limit for what one can spend on gear, but when you’re dealing with on-demand downloadable Internet content, you’re constantly juggling quality with reasonable file size, so many of the audiophile benefits of using a $100,000 studio are diminished when squishing that file down to an MP3 format.
Also, part of the power of podcasting is that the low barrier of entry (a $199 Zoom H2 can make for a very professional-sounding podcast) allows people who would otherwise be financially constrained from producing content to make their own show and explore personal creative avenues. I believe that there are a lot of people out there with a huge amount of creative potential who would have had great difficulty reaching an audience or producing their own content a decade ago. The prevalence of affordable quality consumer electronics like laptops, digital video cameras, and audio recording gear allows people to be hemmed in only by their imagination, not their budget.
Still, I can’t help but feel just a little bit silly pulling my Zoom H2 out in the middle of a professional studio. Gotta make sure my two AA batteries are fully charged!