Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Source Connect at MCM Voices

As of today I am able to offer Source Connect to my clients. My studio has a Lawson L47 FET microphone running into a John Hardy M-1 preamp, and thence to an Echo MiaMidi soundcard into Adobe Audition – a very clean signal chain.

The story of how I prepared to get Source Connect might be of interest to others who are considering how to get studio quality audio to their clients in real time, without the expense of installing and maintaining ISDN. Source Connect can be used with any recording software that supports VST plugins, not just Pro Tools – the Source Elements Desktop allows you to record audio, transmit it to a client as you’re recording, and store the audio on your own system to be opened up in any recording program you have. You pay only for the Source Connect program, there are no monthly fees, and you can bridge to ISDN if your client has ISDN but not Source Connect, although there is a fee for that service using bridge providers such as Out of Hear or Digifone. The basic SC package costs $395 and you can try it free for 15 days. ElDorado Recording Services sells Source Connect Standard for $395 including 1 hour of setup time by phone.

My first hurdle was to get my computer back on the Internet. I had taken it off nearly two years ago in order to protect my audio recording empire from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and got a second computer to use for everything but audio. All the audio files have thus had to be transferred to the second computer for uploading to clients, which I do with a jump drive – slightly tedious but I got used to it quickly and it’s very fast. Nothing at all has gone wrong with the dedicated audio workstation in all of that time, although the Internet-connected computer has crashed a couple of times – so I was not very keen on exposing that workstation to the world again. Nevertheless, it had to be done if I was going to use Source Connect. So the first thing I needed to buy was a new 25-ft ethernet cable. Once I connected that cable to my computer, I went to the Microsoft website to get all the downloads my cloistered computer had missed out on over the last two years – a couple of screens’ worth. It didn’t take very long for all the upgrades to be installed, and so far nothing bad has happened to my machine. I will continue to use it only for audio - no email or other downloads.

Since I’m not in the habit of using headphones while recording, I needed to buy a pair so that I would be able to hear the client during recording sessions, and I needed a headphone extension cable. I got a pair of Sennheiser HD 280’s from Amazon Marketplace. I do use headphones for editing, plugging them into the computer’s other soundcard (a Soundblaster Audigy 2). Since the Echo soundcard does not have a headphone jack, I bought a Samson C-Control which plugs into the Echo card and the headphones plug into the C-Control (which also has a talkback feature if I ever need to play engineer while somebody else is on the mic). So now I’m monitoring playback via the Echo card instead of the Soundblaster. I needed two patch cables for plugging the C-Control into the Echo card, a headphone splitter so I could plug two sets of headphones into the C-Control’s headphone jack, and a couple of ¼” stereo adapter plugs for the headphones (which have mini-plugs). The one other item I needed was an iLok dongle, which is required for the Source Elements license.

Prior to setting up Source Connect, I needed to check my upload speed to make sure the audio would be transferring from my system to my clients’ at a speed adequate for good sound quality. This is something I actually didn’t check until the Source Elements Desktop was installed, and I was testing Source Connect and discovered my audio was “jittery”. I had to postpone further testing until I could check with my Internet Service Provider (Verizon) and learn that I needed to upgrade my service. Verizon offered this upgrade to me for less than what I had been paying for my DSL (let’s not even go there). My download speed had been around 1500 kilobits per second, which was fine, but my upload speed was only around 125 kbs. It needs to be between 300 and 400 kbs for Source Connect to work properly. With the upgrade, my download speed is now closer to 3000 kbs and upload is over 700 kbs. You can Google “check upload speed” and you’ll have a number of choices to see how fast your data are coming from and going out to the internet. I used speedtest several times to check on the status of my upgrade, and was pleased to discover that it was in place a full 8 hours earlier than promised. By the way, for anyone interested in calling their ISP to inquire about upgrading service – do not go anywhere near tech support, go right to the billing department.

So, once my hardware was all in place, the next step was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done – I got an expert to help me with the rest. George Whittam of ElDorado Recording Services in Los Angeles is an audio engineer and an authorized Source Connect re-seller. George has helped many voice-over artists with audio workstation installations and maintenance and with Source Connect installations - including Don LaFontaine - and I decided to let him handle this. At a time convenient for both of us we talked on the telephone and he used LogMeIn to enable him to see my desktop and control my mouse. I watched and took notes while he downloaded Source Elements Desktop and synchronised it with my iLok. The appearance of the SC control panel wasn’t right and he got Source Connect on the telephone in no time and learned that I needed to have Quicktime installed on my computer for Source Elements Desktop to operate properly. If you're using a Windows computer and have never used Quicktime, you would need to download the Quicktime software from Apple. Mac users are all set as Quicktime comes pre-installed on a Mac. That was soon accomplished and the SC installation was done. We tested it, which is when we discovered the problem with the upload speed, so the completion of the testing was postponed until after that was resolved.

Now all the pieces are in place and Source Connect works great. I’m so glad I had George Whittam to help me – keeping up with all the moving parts of the voice-over business can be quite challlenging and there are times when it just makes sense to get help, especially since George’s help with installation is included when you buy Source Connect from him! The math was pretty easy on that one. George understands the voice-over world and knows what we need; furthermore he’s just a great guy to work with. I had decided last month that my goal was to have this project completed by the time I sent out my March newsletter, and since that was today, I made it! Setting goals is an excellent thing. Now, it remains to be seen whether Source Connect will change the landscape of my client base - I think that part is up to me. So if you will excuse me, I have some marketing to do!

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