Fox Films Uses Ron Pivovar Music

When Ron Pivovar saw “Fox Films” on his caller ID, he let the phone ring for a bit. “Are they selling a boxed DVD set” he wondered?  At the last minute, he decided to answer the call and he found that it was nearly the opposite.ron-playing

The company had found one of Ron’s songs on CD Baby  and was interested.  They were considering using “Keith’s Tune” from his “Yike’s! More Polkas and Waltzes from Otter Creek” album for a movie.

I apparently made a face; because he said, “Yeah, I didn’t remember the song either”.

I have mixed and mastered Ron’s last nine albums, but Ron does all of the recording at home. He brings the edited, raw tracks from his hard drive to the studio.  Ron is an accomplished button box accordion player and songwriter.  He also is the impetus behind the National Button Box Accordion Festival.

So, in a back yard barbeque scene from “Keeping Up with The Joneses” , a song from an album released in 2013, found its way.

Music Soundtracks

There are many aspects of my job that are rewarding, but one of my favorite things is music for video.  Sometimes its a production for one of my clients and sometimes its for-hire from a third party.  The example I use for this article was done for the highly regarded firm, Cinemanix (Ohio and North Carolina).  SHOOTERSFINALThis group (led by Director/DP, Maz Mawlawi) is a talented and experienced film and graphics company.  Their client for this project was Home Savings and Loan, Youngstown, OH.

Soundtracks are a very subjective thing.  It’s important to consider the message the client wants to convey, and one would obviously want to know if they have a preferred musical style.  Regardless, there are a few things that I feel are necessary to consider when producing music for video.

  1. Combine (if possible) actual instruments with keyboard/electronic versions of them.  This is especially true with violins and strings.
  2. Despite the lure to use keyboard versions of percussion and drums, use real versions of them whenever possible.  The slight imperfections in timing and tone give the music an organic feel.BOARDFINAL
  3. When writing the music, try to use partial chords and incomplete scales during the body of the piece.  This allows for more interpretation and less leading-the-message from the music.
  4. Include one or more major tones of the scale when tagging the music or ending the video.  The message becomes clearer and more important as a result.
  5. If the customer can give at least one example of music they like, it can save a step or two.

In this video, the shots from the studio are followed by the rough video.  The link to the final broadcast version is below the embedded video.

The final video as broadcast is here: 



The Big Sleep and the Music Industry… Part Two

Hundreds of articles have been written about the fall of the music industry, but there’s a story I tell clients when the conversation turns to it.  I finally went back and researched the two articles I talk about.  This is Part Two.

In the five years that passed since the 1995 article I referenced in Part One, the recording industry was hell bent and singularly focused on establishing a new, higher quality format for music that would replace the CD and maintain the traditional album configuration.

MIX 2000In December of 2000, Mix Magazine dedicated an entire issue to this new format; DVD-Audio (A).  The DVD-A standard was 5.1 (five speakers and a subwoofer) with 24 bit resolution (the existing CD used 16 bit audio and two speakers).

I reference one of the several articles in this issue (Paul Verna, “DVD-Audio Arrives!”, Mix, December 2000, pp. 37-44.).   “DVD-Audio is finally ready for prime time; the Warner Music Group released its initial batch of DVD-A discs on November 7, 2000.  Those releases – on the Warner Bros., Atlantic, Elektra, Teldec and Erato labels- carry a suggested list price of $24.95, packaged in jewel boxes and clearly labeled as DVD-Audio titles.  More Warner releases, including titles on the Nonesuch, Giant and Rhino catalog imprint are set for a December 2000 and January 2001 release.  DVD-A players (prices range) from the low hundreds of dollars to $1,200 and up.  Most of the DVD-Audio players in the US incorporate the encryption technology mandated by the recording industry (RIAA) and some include a watermarking chip that is designed to protect music copyrights.”

As consumers, we were mostly unaware of some extremely important issues that either led up to, or paralleled the announcement.

  1. For four years, the music industry had been locked in a serious battle with the movie industry concerning this format.  After all, films were already produced in Dolby 5.1.  It was basically equal in quality.  But, from a patent standpoint it didn’t financially benefit the music companies.
  2. Sadly, over time, the product the music industry had begun marketing wasn’t music.  Music was just the advertising jingle for their real product which was the delivery medium.  Every time a new format was introduced, the industry banked on significant revenue as consumers upgraded their existing music catalogs.  Since we owned Frampton Comes Alive on vinyl, we would buy it on Cassette, CD and then again on DVD-A.
  3. Not surprisingly, the DVD-A announcement was DOA.  In February of 2001 ( TWO MONTHS AFTER THIS MIX ARTICLE), the file sharing site Napster experienced it’s peak historical usage with over 25 million users and 80 million songs shared.

By July of 2001, the RIAA got the courts to shut down Napster, but the iceberg had already gouged the ship from bow to stern.  It turns out that consumers didn’t care about improved quality OR owning media.  The music industry lost site of the real product…music.  Incredibly, the industry at that time had no plan to take advantage of downloading technology.  Despite what is now obvious, they literally didn’t see it coming.  Their resultant solution was to bring legal action against consumers and providers of illegal downloads.  And make no mistake, this was illegal.  As a result, iTunes is now the largest record label in the world with estimated 2013 revenues of 13 billion dollars.  No wonder the recording industry has been so reluctant to release their catalogs!

Of the eight record labels mentioned in the article, only four still exist.  Ironically, an enitre industry whose business model was based on the fact that their consumers could hear… didn’t listen.

The Big Sleep and The Music Industry… Part One

Hundreds of articles have been written about the fall of the music industry, but there’s a story I tell clients when the conversation turns to it.  I finally went back and researched the two articles I talk about.  This is Part One.

Don’t ask me how I remembered this article, but I did.  While that may seem miraculous enough, it’s nothing compared to the luck I needed in finding the story again.  …There were reasons that I kept these old industry magazines…  Those reasons elude me now… wait… isn’t that the definition of a hoarder?

Anyway, the story was buried  in between the pictures of million dollar studios and ads for the equipment featured in those studios.  The piece wasn’t listed on the cover, or even pushed to the back page as a final statement.  Borrowing the title of an older REM song, “The End of World as We Know it”, it was hidden in plain sight on page 26.

MIX 1995I was a subscriber to MIX magazine for about a decade beginning in the mid nineties.  At that time, MIX was generally accepted as the premiere industry magazine for recording and sound-for-film studios.  I remembered this article from one of the issues (Ken C. Puhlmann and David G. Lampton,”The End of the World as We Know It,” MIX  October, 1995, pp. 26-31, p 352) .  The authors did an excellent job of laying out the possible future for the audio industry.

“The advent of the World Wide Web marks the beginning of a new era, an era of shared knowledge and distributed computing.  Every day, billions of bytes of data are donated to online archives around the world.  It is not unreasonable to assume that nearly the whole of human knowledge will one day reside on networked computers.”  They go on to say, “The most popular service providers are Prodigy, Compuserve and America Online…most providers allow Internet access, and recently, some providers have added Web access; several have even provided the ability for individual users to create their own Web pages.”  The authors recommended using dial-up speeds of al least 14.4 kbps because “the relatively large file sizes would preclude slower connections”.

“One of the most dramatic changes engendered by the Web may be the dwindling role of the record companies themselves.  The Internet will spawn an online independent music industry in which the Web-savvy musician will no longer have to compete for the attention of a record company to disseminate music.”  Given the prior comments, their final paragraph would have seemed really over the top for 1995.  “The world has changed; to compete and participate, each of us must change as well.  The sword has been withdrawn from its sheath; the blade glitters in the flickering light.  Position the sword carefully.  Now, fall upon it.  Your re-birth awaits you.”

Among the many ads in this issue for now-defunct products and companies was a turnkey, computer recording system that boasted a 17″ CRT monitor…for the “unbeatable price” of $9,995.00.  Ouch!

The music industry had begun to think of itself as an institution.  They made the rules.  They told us what music to like, what music to listen to, and what music to buy.  What… do you think it was the independent-minded college radio DJ’s that discovered “the next big thing?”  Those stations were actively marketed to by major label subsidiaries.   The music industry was clearly in the drivers seat.  Sales were steadily rising, and by 1999, they would report all-time-high revenues of 14.6 billion dollars.  How could they go wrong?  What a lesson!  As business owners, we need to be careful not to tell our customers what they want.

In Part Two, we’ll jump forward five years to December of 2000.


Relative Technology

TWO MENFor two years in the early 1990’s, I lived in Bingi, a small village about 10 miles off the main dirt road that ran from Rutshuru to Butembo through the Kivu region of the Congo.  As any Peace Corps Volunteer can tell you, the term, ‘surreal’ becomes an everyday word.  What planet is this?   Only wispy shortwave broadcasts remind you of Earth.  Even the most well-to-do people seem impoverished by our standards, and since the natural and man-made disasters in this region are well documented, I can assure you that nothing has improved in the eastern Congo.

You won’t find a single bar of cell coverage.  There is no electricity.  Friends are still dying from Malaria and AIDS.  If they had social media, they would’ve added Fear-of-Death-by-Roving-Militias as a Life Event to their Facebook Page.  Generally, there has been very little added comfort through advancing technology in the Third World.MAMMA WORKING

Yet, these people still plant, grow, and harvest all of their own food.  If there is any excess, they barter for something they need.  They re-purpose tin cans as cups and rags as soccer balls.  In other words, they use sustainable, green-like technologies.

For most of us, no electricity would soon mean… no food.  But what does no electricity mean for the third world?  Well… pretty much business as usual…  no phones, no lights, and no hash-tag anything.  They would still laugh, cry, get married, have kids and grand-kids, CATand then die.  How important is this electricity you speak of?

The night sky in Bingi was amazing.  No light pollution meant that you could see or imagine every star in the universe.  The Milky Way ran from horizon to horizon.

The stars are visible because there’s no technology.  But you’re reading about them… because there is.

Surreal should be an everyday word.

Video the CEO

RMARTINRegular, personal messages from a company’s top executive aren’t just more popular, they’ve become imperative.  Unflattering media portrayals of CEO’s are commonplace and these short, informal videos can go a long way toward improving executive image.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to do many video interviews with CEO’s.  Whether you’re producing a short message from your own small company’s president, or an interview with the skipper of a Fortune 500 company, here are some suggestions.

People who run corporations are usually very smart. They’ve made careers out of breaking down complex, gray-area issues into elementary components.  Decisions are made in an almost binary way.  They rarely like surprises, and usually rely heavily on their administrative assistant (AA).

Briefing the AA:

  1. Treat the assistant as you would a VP or divisional president.  Be warm, cordial, and extremely professional.  If they tell their boss that you seemed like a jerk, you will have a bad day.
  2. Provide a clear, one-page briefing regarding the purpose of the shoot well in advance.  Bulletize and generalize the message unless the delivery requires a recited script (then be very clear whether it will be memorized or prompted).
  3. Confirm details with the assistant five business days in advance.  While the CEO may know the event is calendared, they probably haven’t read the briefing sheet.  Tell the AA that you are available at any time if there are questions.
  4. Discuss, conceptually, your desired locations and let them know what time you’ll arrive for load-in and set-up.
  5. Provide the names of your crew to ensure that building security is ready for you and your equipment.  Even so, arrive early in case the security team decides to do visual inspections.
  6. Will they need to see the final version before it’s public?  Some companies insist on it.

A few years ago I did a two-camera, three-person-crew shoot with the CEO at a top-ten Fortune 500 company.JBOUCHARD  We arrived well in advance to set up in the office while a meeting finished on another floor.  As we completed the set-up, two of us sat down and rehashed the objectives of the shoot.  When I looked up, I realized that the third person (a recent college film graduate) was sitting in the CEO’s chair playing with the puzzles and knick-knacks at the desk.  I could only muster two words, “What?” and “No!”  Had the executive walked in at that moment, we correctly should have been marched up one flight of stairs to the roof and thrown off.

The Crew: 

  1. Don’t have one.  Unless you absolutely have to have a two camera shoot, do it yourself.  Today’s technology allows you to trim your kit so that you can carry all of the equipment in one trip.  Be efficient.
  2. Dress appropriately.  Khaki’s with a logo-embroidered golf shirt is an absolute minimum.  A suit may be overkill, but you must at least consider it.  The valet staff at the country club probably wears khaki’s and embroidered golf shirts.
  3. Meet for coffee and brief the crew ahead of time.  They shouldn’t sit at the CEO’s desk, for example.  Dear God, what is wrong with me?!

The best thing about getting to know CEO’s is that they are almost always awe-inspiring people.  While their job requires decorum, they are generally wonderfully passionate, and quick witted individuals.  In spite (or because) of this, they fall roughly into two categories as it relates to filming;  those RHARSHMANwith experience and confidence in their media chops and those that detest it.  You are as likely to find a nervous subject as you would with any other shoot.  While you may not think this is unusual, the CEO does.  Entire companies shrink in their presence, but that stupid camera changes them into a seven year old being bullied by a fifth grader.  This is not business as usual for them or you.

The Subject:

  1. All CEO’s have some media experience.  You will have no way of knowing whether it has been pleasant or not.
  2. Be prepared to take them off-topic if needed.  Chat about something they might be comfortable discussing.  A corporate acquisition, recent press coverage, future industry directions, or their daughter’s wedding.  Meaningful prior research is imperative.
  3. The tricky part is understanding that you are in the presence of the boss.  Giving direction is what you usually do.  They are not used to it.  Don’t apologize, but be apologetic.
  4. Be prepared for a “one and done” take.  Don’t ever assume you can take a mulligan.  I had a CEO  do one take and then look me straight in the eye and ask “Are we done?”.  Which, in this case, meant that we were.
  5. Make them look presidential.  Set up that kicker or extra hard light to give them some separation from the practicals.  Don’t forget your gels.  Corporate offices are notoriously surrounded by giant windows.  You will have mixed lighting.
  6. If they are comfortable, I sometimes ask for a second take with the camera/shot at a different position allowing cuts if necessary.

Executives are my favorite subjects, and it has nothing to do with video.  There tends to be more laughter and meaningful conversation than I have in the rest of my day.  Have fun!

Recording Vocals for Music

MACYAlthough I have over twenty years of recording experience, I don’t present myself here as an expert.  I simply offer tricks that have worked for me over time.

Almost all of the home-studio savvy musicians that end up at Mud-Hut have one of two issues; drums or vocals.  I’ve previously given my opinions on recording drums.  So what is it that makes vocals so troublesome?  Most of my clients describe two problems.

  1. Fluctuations in volume.  The vocalist is too loud in some passages and too soft in others.
  2. The inability of the final performance to “sit in the mix”.  Even with volume issues corrected, the vocal track is either underneath or on-top of the music.

Volume Fluctuations:

Let’s assume that the vocalist has some respect for the microphone as an instrument.  Screaming into a very sensitive, condenser mic presents the opposite issues that standing back from a durable, dynamic stage mic can.  Let’s also assume that the signal chain (microphone into pre-amp into computer interface) isn’t out of whack and there seems to be plenty of headroom with no distortion.  These are heavy assumptions, but if you don’t have at least this much…then inconsistent volume and mix placement are not yet your worries.

  • RVOXIt’s all about compression.  I compress vocals on the way IN to the converter, but it’s not necessary.  You will, however, absolutely have to compress/limit recorded vocals with a plug-in as an insert.  There are many available.  I use Waves R-Vox and squash the signal as much as required.
  • I tend to lightly use an Optical Compressor on the Vocal Group (ie. all vocals).  I utilize the UAD LA2A for this.  Compressors are not used here as special effects… If you can hear processing, you’ve overused them.  Listen for the corrections they’ve produced.


    Vocal Opto-Compressor

Mixing Issues:

All microphones have distinctive frequency signatures as do all singers.  Matching mics and vocalists is an art that implies patience and a large microphone collection.  If you have a microphone locker, then why are you reading this?  Forget about it…

  • It’s all about the EQ.  Take a wide-ish band around 1 kHz and cut it moderately/aggressively.  You should notice that the vocals begin to sit.  Don’t hesitate to use a light, short, understated reverb as an assistant.


    Vocal EQ

  • Since this EQ cut can reveal and over-emphasize high frequencies, you’ll need to use a De-esser plug-in as an insert to catch the sibilance (S’s) so the high-end doesn’t get away from you.



  • It will also potentially give you a problem with the low-ish end, and you may have to address a frequency like 250 Hz and cut it slightly to return the voice to a natural sound.  Use your ears and don’t be overly aggressive.  Slight EQ is usually enough.


  • Some vocalists tighten their vocal cords when they strain and this can create a most unflattering tone (around 2.75 kHz?).  It will sound inconsistent and edgy.  You may have to pursue another plug-in.  In this case, I use a multi-band compressor.  Yes, this is a combination EQ and compressor.  It compresses (controls) only the frequencies you tell it to.  Set it to grab generally only the frequencies of the passages that irritate you.


    Multi-Band Compressor


These tools are like any instrument.  If you aren’t playing it… you’re playing with it.  Practice is the only teacher.



Mining Content


Content Mining

It’s like a gold rush initially.  Everywhere you turn there’s a yet-unpublished nugget in full view to pick up and post.  Eventually though, you’re going to have to dig.  And just like mining, you’ll need structure.  By the way, social media platforms are simply the vehicles that bring materials out of the mine.  What content will you put in these vehicles and why?  Separating substance from slag is key; if you don’t do it, your readers will.  That… won’t last long.

There is a method to finding, producing and distributing content about your company.

Don’t let your posts turn into the company newsletter.  Nobody wants to hear about the new computers in the engineering department.  We want to know what you’re going to do with them.  We want to hear about the new alloy that you’ve considered using for a part that you might make.  It doesn’t matter whether you use it or not.  It doesn’t even matter if you win the contract for said part…  The information is shiny and it’s in demand.

We can help.  Call (or click) before you dig.


Digital Media Strategy. Do You Have One?

Web Site, Facebook Page, Blog, Twitter Account, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest…yadda yadda… Check, Check, and Check.  By now, most companies have decided to which social media platforms they will be committed.  They’ve  decided how analytics might be the measurement of success, and have staffed the marketing team with someone who focuses solely on social media, right?  Right?  Let’s play a game…

STRATEGOAt some point, your next VP of Marketing will probably have been a Director of Social Media someplace.  End of story.  The biggest measurable change in a company’s inside marketing operation over the next few years, will have come from social site management.   Most CEO’s have held the VP of Marketing title at one time.  Do the math.  Sooner or later your boss will most likely have been “That college kid who played around on Facebook for two years.”

Here are four things you might consider when implementing a Digital Media Strategy for your organization.

  1. Platform.  Sites used to distribute information and link potential clients/supporters.
  2. Content.  The information being presented at these sites.
  3. Frequency.  How often the message is posted.
  4. Organizational Guidelines.  Who has the responsibility for creating content?  Who has approval and accountability?  When interaction is encourgaed with people outside the organization, who determines appropriate dialog?

Mud-Hut Studios can help you with all of the above.  However, eventually the biggest concerns we hear from clients are regarding content.  What stories should we tell?  What format should we use to tell these stories?  How do we visualize the content? (see Developing a Marketing Script)

We have much experience with content production, and we believe that consistent, branded messages are the key to your marketing plan.  What do your clients need to hear?  What do your potential clients want to hear?  What do you want to say?

Let’s talk about how our inexpensive Impact Media might help you.


Ripping the Phone Book in Half

PHONE BOOKSo many changes in just a few years!  I have to shake my head in wonder at some of this.  I know businesses that were paying over $1000 a month for yellow page ads.  Now let’s be clear, people traditionally USED yellow page ads and this expenditure was probably justified.  Ironically, some of the last consistent advertisers were pizza shops… many people still used the phone book to order pizza… now we can basically text and pay for orders from our phone.  So, how does a company reach people that no longer use phone books?  Is there a way to spend money on marketing that has a chance on reaching an audience?  What does $12k buy you these days?

As I stated in my article, Digital Dog Years, the world is split into two categories; things you can do on your handheld device and then… everything else.  Are there things that your firm can put online that could provide consistent information to your potential clients/partners?  After all, normal business hours don’t apply if we’re all connected to each other all the time.  Website FAQ’s, Articles, and YouTube videos can answer most of the same questions your staff normally answers during the day.  We might even argue that it can be more effective.  People are used to media telling them why they should buy from the advertiser.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s on TV or YouTube.  It takes pressure off your sales rep too.

And, by the way, $12k buys you alot of media production these days.  I have clients who’ve committed to putting their entire product line in short Impact Media clips on YouTube.  Not only will they save money this year, they won’t have to update the media for some time.  AND instead of a marketing expense, these clips become company assets.