My Audio Journey

Most of my friends who do stock footage also either work in the entertainment industry, or they do other projects such as short films and weddings.  Typically, we remove the audio from our stock footage clips, but when we need audio, we typically need GOOD audio.

That’s where I’m at.  My current “day job” is shooting television commercials and corporate commercials for the web.  So I am often recording actor dialog and/or voice-overs at a remote location. And since the T2i I used to shoot with recorded audio poorly (even with Magic Lantern, it wasn’t great) and my new T4i isn’t much better, I went the separate audio recording route.

I started with the Zoom H1 Ultra-Portable Digital Audio Recorder that I got for $99 + shipping.  Yes, it’s made with cheap plastic, but it does an excellent job as a voice recorder for dialog and voice-overs.  I also picked up the Audio-Technica ATR3350 Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Microphone for about $30.  The Zoom H1 is so small it fits in a pocket, so it was easy to clip the lav mic onto the talent, turn on the recorder and have them stick it in a pocket.  After learning how to use it for a few days, it ended up working EXTREMELY well.  I got great sound out of it and shot about 20 or so commercials and a half dozen short films.  I even used it with a Rode VideoMic mounted on a boom pole numerous times.  The main problem I had as that most of the time, I couldn’t monitor the sound being recorded because the Zoom H1 tucked away in an actor’s pocket.

So after saving up some money from my new-found career, I upgraded.  Of course, it wouldn’t be worth it to upgrade to a better recorder (I’d have the same problem, plus a new problem that the better recorders won’t fit in a pocket) unless I also moved to a wireless solution for mic’ing up actors.  So, I sold the Zoom H1 and bought a Tascam DR-40 Recorder and an Audio-Technica Pro 88W Camera Mountable VHF Lavalier System.

I did a ton of research and all the “pros” kept telling me to spend $600 on a Sennheiser G3 system, but they weren’t willing to give me the money to spend. I read enough reviews that I felt taking a chance on the Pro88W wireless system was worth it.  And I can tell you, 5 short films and 60+ commercials later, I was right.  It’s a great system as long as you understand its limitations and work within them. First, it eats batteries, so ALWAYS keep fresh new 9-volt batteries in your audio kit.  I generally find that I’m using a new set of batteries for each shoot.  It comes with an omni-directional mic, so take a few minutes to have the talent be silent so that you can listen any other noises being picked up.  It’s also an advantage in that, if two people are standing next to each other, you can record both of them (great for weddings with the lav on the groom).  On a fresh set of alkaline batteries, I’ve successfully used it with the transmitter/receiver 100-feet apart in a large room or outdoor without any noise, but after about 20 to 30 minutes the batteries are used enough that 40-feet is your max range for noiseless audio.  After another hour of continuous use, that drops to 20-feet. Quite honestly, 90% of the time, I never have them more than 15-feet apart, so I rarely have an issue.  And at 15-feet you get a STRONG noiseless signal for about 2-hours of continuous use.

I could have used the new wireless mic with my Zoom H1, but I wanted a recorder with XLR connections and the ability to record multiple tracks.  On a few occasions where I shot interviews, I’d put the wireless mic on the talent who was on camera and I’d use the wired ATR-3350 lav mic on me.  Or, I’d use the wireless mic and shotgun mic simultaneously.  With the ability to record 4 separate tracks at once, it was very versatile.  The only issue I ran into with the DR-40 was that it was susceptible to electronic interference.  If I put the wireless mic receiver too close to the recorder, I’d get electronic interference recorded as noise.  Also, while Tascam released a new firmware that give you independent control over the line-levels for all 4 recorded tracks (previously, they shared the same levels), it was difficult to set them and monitor each one.

So, this last week I sold the Tascam DR-40 and bough a Zoom H4n Handy Mobile 4-Track Recorder. It’s not as easy to use as the DR-40, but I don’t get ANY electronic interference with it and so far it seems to be working just as smooth as the DR-40 did.

Oh, I bought a “boom pole adapter”off eBay to convert a cheap painter’s pole into a boom pole.  The problem is that it came with a 3/8th screw that wasn’t compatible with my Rode VideoMic. Plus the Rode Mic worked well mounted on my camera for general sound, but as a “shotgun mic” for dialog mounted on a pole, it just didn’t seem to work well.  I sold it and bought an Audio-Technica AT8015 – Shotgun Microphone. It’s really great at picking up sound that you point it at and rejecting sound from the sides, but it’s a bit too long and I can’t mount it on my camera without it showing up in the frame because it sticks out so far. It works great on a boom pole, though.

Right now I’m saving up for my next two upgrades.  a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic and a Sennheiser G3 wireless lav kit.

Some new charts

If you’ve visited in the past week, you probably noticed that I added some new charts to the right sidebar where I have tracking data.  The first chart labled “Agency Sales 2012″ represents the number of footage files sold for the agencies listed.  One thing you’ll notice is that Pond5 is trending down, while Shutterstock is trending up.  At the present rate, those should meet early next year.

The second chart is revenue by year, although not in dollars.  I don’t want to give out how much I actually make. I mostly want to show the trends.

I’ll add ClipCanvas into the charts soon since they have become a major player for me in the past couple of years.

One thing that is extremely important to understand, especially for anyone just starting out.  The stock photography market is over-saturated and it’s EXTREMELY difficult to make much money without a massive portfolio. The stock footage market is starting to move in that direction.  Without a massive portfolio of unique and high quality items, don’t expect to make enough money to live off of.  Look at it more as a little extra money each month to pay for some gas in your car and a few nights out with your significant other.

Artists who are making a significant amount of money have been in the game for some time, have large portfolios and spend a LOT of hours adding new content on a weekly basis.  it’s actually a big job to be successful in the industry now.  That’s not to say that if you put in the effort and have the quality, you won’t also be successful.  But you can’t upload 100 clips and expect to make much of anything these days.  There are too many people in the game now.

The beat goes on…

October already… Wow, does time fly. Lot’s of changes in my life over the past few months.

First, I’ve purchased a lot of new equipment, including a new camera.  I’ll be posting reviews.  I sold my T2i and was going to buy a T3i, but I ran across an amazing deal on the T4i that I couldn’t pass up. I also “downgraded” my tripod and picked up a new track dolly and other various gadgets.

My “day job” running my business has grown incredibly fast and has me working 60 to 70 hours a week, so there’s not much time for shooting stock.  But I do manage a few shots here and there.

Things with Pond5 aren’t any better.  Sales are still pretty dismal there and still not much in the way of communication.  However, things have been AMAZING at Shutterstock.  After ingesting over 1,000 new footage files my sales have more than tripled and consistently for the past few months. They are really going after the stock footage market hard.

The King is Dead! Long Live The King.

I’m going through my financials for this year and there is a very disturbing trend…  Sales on Pond5 are slowly dying.  My overall sales for this year are down from last year. Even worse, my August payout is the worst payout I’ve had since January of 2010.  Now part of that can be attributed to the fact that I’ve pissed some people off at Pond5 and they’re messing with my sales. I’ve been really hard on them for not keeping promises and in a couple of cases, just out right lying.  So of course, they’ve gone in an messed with the rankings of my stuff.

But, I hang out online with a group of other Microstock geeks, some of whom are the best sellers across the industry.  And they too are reporting (privately) that their sales on Pond5 are down considerably.

It’s like the site is on auto-pilot while the folks from Pond5 are out on a very extended vacation. The only real update this year is that Pond5 now allows uploads of still images, something they promised us over a year ago.  None of their other promised features have see the light of day, nor do they even talk about them any more.  I’ve hinted at this before, but now I’m beginning to firmly believe Pond5 is for sale. That has to be the only reasonable explanation for no real updates in nearly 2 years, stopping nearly all conversation with contributors and allowing Shutterstock to stage a major comeback into a position of dominance after thoroughly crushing them (and the rest of the competition) a couple years ago.

We’ll see how things play out the rest of the year… traditionally sales begin to pick up the middle of August with September being one of the best sales months of the year. While I’m see that trend already on Shutterstock, Pond5 sales are still lackluster and I’m no longer hopeful.

48 Hour Film Festival – Kansas City

48 Hour Film Festival Kansas CityFor the past 3 years I’ve been participating in the 48 Hour Film Festival.  The closest is in Kansas City, MO which is a little over an hour’s drive from my home in Topeka, KS. Which means, I drive to Kansas City on opening night for the kick off, drive home and nap for about 5 hours, then back to Kansas City where I help shoot and edit the film for the next 24 to 28 hours and finally a long drive home totally exhausted.

This year, rather than working on a team in Kansas City, I decided to create my own team in Topeka.  I put together a crew and a great group of young actors. My schedule will be just as grueling because I have to drive to Kansas City for the kick-off party, drive to Topeka to meet with the writing crew and work on the script until 2am-ish in the morning, then nap for 4 hours before getting up to begin rehearsals and shooting. Then nap for 3 to 4 hours before joining the editing crew for 24+ hours and driving back to Kansas City to turn in the film.

It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s great training for dealing with deadlines and shooting stuff “on the fly” which definitely comes in handy when shooting stuff for stock video.

I’ll post a link to the video after we win. :)