Have you ever watched garden-variety YouTube videos or listened to amateur podcasts and wondered why the quality was so pathetic? I used to ask myself that question, but I know the answer now. Doing high-quality video and audio without huge studio budgets is difficult and frustrating work.
For months now, I’ve been working on perfecting my own home studio. I shared an early tour of the incomplete studio several weeks ago, but the work has continued. At the time of that video, I was experiencing a mysterious buzz in the audio and it’s taken weeks to track that down.
For several years now, I’ve been lurching awkwardly on this quest for a high-quality video studio — like a modern-day Captain Ahab trying to capture a technological Moby Dick that keeps eluding me.
After shutting down my equipment again tonight — in frustration and fear that I’ll never get it right — I’m left thinking about the value of obsession. I’m left wondering whether obsession is the only thing that ever gets us the things that are worth having — even if we’re not sure what we’re doing along the way.
I’m on a fool’s errand. Television stations and video production facilities spend millions of dollars for high-end equipment and dozens of qualified production personnel. I’m trying to replicate their quality — doing a very small subset of what they can do, of course — on a few thousand dollars instead.
Am I crazy?
Maybe. I can’t say for sure. It’s definitely become an obsession. The closer I get to the point that it can all come together, the more I fear that the next obstacle will be the one that stops me.
Until you actually put something like this together, you have little idea how complex it is. Even more important, you have no idea how much knowledge you have to acquire. Just researching equipment and figuring out which are the essential pieces and which you can do without is exhausting. There is so much to audio and video engineering — and there is so much ignorance out there as I try to learn — that I rarely know exactly which unknowns are going to stop me.
When I made the demo video that I shared with you weeks ago, I mentioned that the audio mixer I was using was a weak link in my equipment. I finally upgraded to an Apollo Twin MkII Solo this week as an audio interface. When I was on the phone with the owner of a sound studio getting some advice about which adapter I needed to connect it to my MacBook, I was frustrated to find I’d have to order the adapter and cable rather than finding them locally.
“You have to remember,” the studio owner said, “that the people like us who are doing this are on the bleeding edge. There’s hardly anybody going for this crazy-low-latency audio and perfect quality in this level of equipment. Everybody else is either spending lots of money or they’re making junk.”
Until he said that, I had forgotten that what I’m doing isn’t normal. Your typical person just holds his iPhone or a cheap camera in front of him and talks, then uploads it to YouTube. Normal people don’t try to compete with big studios when they have tiny budgets.
In a weird way, that made me happy to realize. I’m not sure why. Maybe I just like pursuing impossible things. I’m not sure whether I’m persistent or if I’m just a stubborn fool, though.
I’m supposed to start recording a regular studio commentary this week for a website that covers Alabama football. I’m not sure I’m going to be ready, because there’s so much left to learn about this fancy new audio interface. (If you’re an audio engineer and want to come show me how to make it sound great, let me know.)
I’m not as excited about the commentary gig as I had thought I would be, because we had discussed a much more complicated proposal that would have been a full interactive show, complete with interviews and inserted video packages, but the owner has elected to go with something far more conservative for now.
I’ve also been working on taking the same format and gearing it to something more general interest than college football, but I don’t have the content worked out.
I’m insane for thinking I can pull off such a show like that — of the quality that I imagine — all by myself. It makes as little sense as a guy trying to record a symphony orchestra on which he plays all the instruments and conducts himself. Still, I’m chasing Moby Dick — and I’m confident I’ll catch him.
I’m tired and frustrated tonight. I spend my days working in real estate and I spend my nights and weekends learning that I need to stick with XLR cables with connectors made by Neutrik, because the cheaper brands aren’t good enough. And a million things just like that. I have to be obsessive because screwing up any one of those million things means the whole thing fails.
There are times when I wish I’d never started this project. I still can’t explain to you exactly why I’m doing it. I just have a strong gut feeling that there’s a reason and that the reason will become clear in time.
Isn’t it kind of like that with an obsession? Aren’t there times in life when you just know — in the deepest part of your gut — that you have to have some particular thing in your life? Aren’t there times when you have to do things which might not make sense to others? I think so.
When I finally get all this figured out and the equipment is in perfect order, then I’ll have to learn how to perform more professionally for the camera and microphone. That will be another long learning process.
I’m tired of all this. I’m frustrated with the process. But if it eventually pays off with something I’m proud of, it will all have been worth it.
I still don’t know, though, whether I’m wonderfully persistent or insanely stubborn. I’m not sure there’s a difference. If people are successful, we say they were persistent visionaries. If their efforts come to nothing, we call them stubborn fools.
Only time will tell which I am.