Panelists (left to right), Steve Barden, Karl Richter, and Tim Bern enjoy a funny moment during their panel at TAXI’s Road Rally last November.
Panelists: Karl Richter, Steve Barden, Tim Bern
Moderator: Michael Laskow
Karl Richter is founder of Level Two Music, an Australian music supervision company with offices in Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland. Level Two's commercial work spans the globe including on-airs in Singapore, Turkey, Asia, Pacific, South America, USA, UK, and Europe for brands such as Corona, Heineken, Vodafone, Virgin, Toyota, and Orange. While working as a music supervisor Karl founded DISCO, a music file sharing and workflow platform built specifically for the music industry. In beta for just over a year, DISCO now manages 8 million files for publishers, record labels, managers, artists, and music supervisors across five continents including Warp, Secretly Group, RocNation, Fox Sports, Concord, and Sony Interactive.
Steve Barden is a production music composer for film and television. His music can be heard on television somewhere in the world on a daily basis. His music has aired on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and dozens of leading cable channels. He’s also scored several animated television series for Saban Entertainment, and recently joined composer Kevin Kiner in writing cues for Season 4 of Jane the Virgin, airing on the CW network. Steve is also the author of the book, Writing Production Music for TV – The Road to Success, available from Hal Leonard.
Tim Bern started his music industry career in his teens as a jazz saxophonist and music teacher in New Zealand. A taste for international travel drew him toward Tour Management and eventually artist management, winning a few NZ Music Awards along the way (two Best Rock Albums for The Checks). After a number of years bouncing between New York and London he joined Level Two Music to run the Auckland office and focus on building ad agency sync relationships. In 2016 Tim moved to Los Angeles to launch DISCO (a cloud music software platform developed by Level Two Music) across the North American music industry, and here we are today.
Tim, it’s not my intent to plug DISCO during this entire panel, but we’re using it and loving it at TAXI. Is there anything more you want to tell the audience about it while we’ve got this extra time?
Tim: I guess the one other thing I’d say is, if you want to just talk about making people’s lives easier in presenting: One of the elements of DISCO, just so you understand, this is useful for the supervisor to receive something like this, because they can play all the songs on one page, and they can look at the lyrics. They can choose what they want to download, whether it’s AIF or the MP3. You can add any kind of content, and whole lot of words about it. So you might have just described what the track was like, or given instructions about what you’ve sent. Comparing this to sending a SoundCloud link or Box link or a Dropbox or a We Transfer, I’ve got to do a lot of clicking to get this basic information. Whereas, this is just like a little microsite, and every single one of these blue things is one of those microsites.
And it doesn’t eat up your hard drive if you’re on the receiving end of it. And the other beautiful thing is it plays instantaneously every time, which is awesome. There’s nothing worse than when you click play on something and you’ve got to sit there and wait for it to load, especially if you are on the supervisor’s end and you are auditioning hundreds of tracks. For whatever reason, five seconds here, two seconds there, it adds up.
Tim: And just the last thing as we are talking about: ease. Downloading is really hard when you’ve got 150 emails as links that you’ve got to download, and then you’ve got to unpack every one of those Zips and then drag those files into your iTunes, and then you can start listening. So the other side of this is if they are using DISCO, they’ve saved to DISCO, and then immediately those files are here in the DISCO account. I’m listening to it, I’m adding it to a new playlist and I’m sending it to my client, and I didn’t click download once. So if you’re trying to make people’s lives easier, don’t make them download anything.
Ease of use! It literally can make the difference between a $20,000 payday, or whatever dollar amount, or not! Just making it easy to find, easy to use. You guys ready with some questions?
“Downloading is really hard when you’ve got 150 emails as links that you’ve got to download, and then you’ve got to unpack every one of those Zips and then drag those files into your iTunes, and then you can start listening.”Tim Bern
Audience Member: Thank you very much. I really appreciate some of what you are sharing here. It also brings up some confusion, because you brought up a Zip file, which I thought was great, and also portability of the MP3 and that it does carry along the data to multiple platforms. So let’s say, for example, somebody is used to working with WAV files instead of AIF, so it doesn’t carry along that metadata. And what you have done is you have created this MP3 for portability, and it’s got all your stuff in there. But now all of a sudden, they say, “We want the stems.” And they do want to have a lot of sub-mixes and actual stems. Do you go ahead and put a text file in that Zip file with the WAV if you can’t carry that metadata?
Tim: Hmm, that’s a good question. I think that if you wanted to add just to have a little bit of information like that travels with those files, that would be handy to do. Like, if you think it’s going to be useful to them just to have that pic file, I’d do that. Yeah, it is hard, because WAV, all they are going to have is the title of the WAV, which is the nature of it. You could dump AIF, which would have metadata. But then you’d be adding metadata to every stem, and I’m not sure if that’s necessary. And, totally, you could info into the title, and that’s why production libraries have all the official codes in front of the file name, which makes everything much simpler. It’s confusing, for sure.
Audience Member: So DISCO sounds great. How soon will it be the industry standard, and what percentage of people are using DISCO?
Tim: Isn’t it already the standard? [laughter] A couple more weeks. [laughter] Yeah, a lot of the music sync world is using DISCO already as far as publishers, and the commercial world. For production libraries, we are working on other developments that are going to be a lot better for the production world, like an outward-facing, searchable sort of system. As far as production music library-land, we haven’t really gone there, so probably another year or so until that side of the industry is onboard. But as far as commercial music goes, it’s predominantly how music is being seen amongst supervisors and rights holders at the moment.
Audience Member: So with their metadata, I’m thinking that we are going to be creating the same data over and over again. Because I’m a single artist, is there any to create a metadata template? I mean, is there an XML file that we can just export out and reuse over and over, or what?
Tim: Specifically with DISCO, not at the moment. That’s a conversation we are having about just directly copying metadata, but you can edit all of the metadata on the tracks in one go. So for the most part, you can get the important details done quickly, but you will still have to do individual songs like for the lyrics and things.
Audience Member: In regard to the WAV files, isn’t the metadata saved just to the PC? Because when I open up a window, it’ll show the artist and title and stuff. Isn’t that the metadata that’s saved there?
Tim: Well, it’s locally saved. Like, I can go into iTunes and have a WAV file and add what appears to be a lot of metadata, but it’s just not going to leave your computer. It will be there. There is another kind of metadata that you can you can add, like a comment to WAV, and you’d see it in the Finder on your computer. You open the file information, and you’ll see this comment on that WAV file, but you need to use some other editor to actually add that, and pretty much no one in the music industry is going to actually have that kind of reader. It’s not traveling with the WAV.
Audience Member: Right. And lastly, is it okay to go ahead then and just start converting everything over to AIF? Because I’ve had some libraries and music supervisors want WAV files—that’s what they ask for. So I’ve kept everything that, unless they specifically request AIF.
Tim: We’ve got a lot of people converting things to AIF. Some supervisors say to just give them AIFs, others want WAVs. I’m not sure why they want WAVs if they just have a meta system that can only fit WAVs. I actually don’t know technically whether that’s an issue. There are definitely edit systems that cannot accept MP3, but as far as I know, AIF is fine. But it is really about a conversation with them and finding out.
I asked somebody that question: Why WAV over AIF? And they said, “Because it’s easier to say.” [laughter]
Audience Member: My question is, as far as your lyrics, if you have lyrics that go beyond the title, and you have something like if you’re looking up an idiom or maxim or an expression, do you ever use quotes? Where do we put those? Do we put those out of the lyrics? What would be actually in the lyrics in a different section if there’s a lot of good quotes, so to speak, or good sayings that you might be looking for?
Tim: I’m not sure how to answer that. I mean, a song that doesn’t have lyrics…?
Audience Member: I mean, if you have, say, the title of the song is just one phrase. But there are a lot of good phrases…
Tim: If it’s in the lyrics, it’s gonna come up if they type those words. It will appear, yeah.
Audience Member: And if there’s a whole Zip file and an MP3, and the whole Zip file has everything that you need—AIF, everything—is that the easiest way to split the MP3 and then have a Zip file with everything else that you basically stated before?
Tim: You could deliver it like that. Like, this could be the track, and then this could be the Zip that has all of those things in it for that track. But sometimes, if it is an instrumental, they might want to listen to the instrumental outside of that. But just the stems, they like all those broken out for the most part.
Audience Member: At a high level, how would you compare Source Audio to your product—in terms of the music maker-side, and then the supervisor-side—for usability?
Karl: That’s a really good question. As Tim said, we haven’t yet moved into the production side of things for which Source Audio was built. And Source Audio is also outward-facing, so you can just search for music just as a member of the general public, and you can also understand license music as well. So those are things that DISCO doesn’t do yet, but when it does, it’ll be much better. [laughter]
“When you’re talking about deliverables to a music supervisor, it’s different when submitting tracks to a music library. Their requirements are all over the board.”Steve Barden
Tim: And just to add to that really fast. You know, usually supervisors are briefing out because they don’t have time to go and search through lots and lots of different pages to find things. So they will say, “Please send me music,” to a list of people, and then a direct conversation back to them, because you are the creative mind for that supervisor at that point. You know your catalog best, and you send the perfect track in response to that brief or request. So in that case, it’s a delivery thing, and DISCO is great for that. If they need to come and search through your library somewhere else, and that is where Source Audio does excel for sure. But I’d say that’s a major difference, because one thing is facing outward, the other one is your internal management.
I don’t want to mislead the audience by thinking every time they come up with something that they think is a good idea or a good feature for DISCO, that it will be instituted automatically. But I want to let you guys know that we were really impressed with DISCO’s development team. When we had some issue, that my A&R team had a particular way that worked at something that we needed, you [DISCO] said, “You know, that’s a reasonable request.” And I think within 24 to 48 hours, it was coded into the product, so that was impressive.
Audience Member: This one is mostly for Steve. When you’re doing an alternate mix, say, with bass and drums, now maybe in the full mix you have really washed out some of the bass frequencies and things to let sit in the mix. Do you then remix it, or do you just leave it as is?
Steve: I leave it as is. And the reason for that is because they might be doing cross-fades, and you want everything to match.
Identically matched levels are very important.
Audience Member: My question is about having everything ready to go. So we’ve got the stems, should they be AIF? Should they be WAV? Does it matter?
Karl: It should be AIF. That’s how it starts. And, look, if you have a music supervisor that… And I can say this because I am a music supervisor, and we are a very particular breed. There may be a reason why they want WAVs, because in their world it’s super-important—and you are just helping them if you send what they ask for.
Audience Member: And then, for the instrumental track, do we have a TV track included where it has background vocals? Or should you have two, one with, one without? Like, especially if we are doing “Ahhhs,” Just like layers.
Karl: Yeah, I like… Then it kind of brings the track to life a little bit as well. So anything where voices are instruments, then I would do an alternate version.
Steve: When you’re talking about deliverables to a music supervisor, it’s different when submitting tracks to a music library. Their requirements are all over the board. Some of them are actually requesting 44.1 WAV files. If you’re going to do WAV files, they should all be 48. For whatever reason, that’s what they want. AIF is probably the most standard, but in occasionally, you get a weird request.
Tim: We convert any WAV or AIF to an MP3. But I think with like a Source Audio, I am pretty sure they will convert the WAV to an AIF if it’s requested as well so that it’s got the high-res conversion happening in there.
Somebody the other day asked me if DISCO would take and MP3 and up-convert it. I’m not even sure how that technically could work.
Tim: So the thing with that is, no, that does not work as far as quality goes. But it is in programs that won’t accept MP3s; they need AIF. So certain supervisors that have just got the MP3, they will pull it out and convert it to an AIF and send it to the editor, because they’re just checking whether it works. We may go to actually use the track and go and get the high-res file and then put it into the picture. But DISCO will not backwards convert MP3 into a different file.
You know what I love about you, Tim? You really know everything, but you’re such a humble guy. You have really great answers.
You guys all had great answers, and we’ve gotta get going and set up for the very last panel of the entire Road Rally. With that, I want to say thank you to Karl Richter, thank you to Tim Bern, and thank you to Steve Barden. That was very informative. And thank you to you folks in the audience for asking great questions. Thanks so much! [applause]