I often get asked if we are recording sessions on video at our various FITC events. Or when we do post videos of sessions I get asked why they look and/or sound so bad. In fact I was asked this very question today. After writing a long winded response I thought I'd share this with everyone, in hopes of getting suggestions, finding help or at the very least helping everyone understand what's going on and why our session recordings often look like crap.
It's simple question with a complex answer. No it's not challenging to record sessions with better quality audio and video. However it is very costly to do so. Currently our recordings are done by volunteers with equipment loaned to us and cheap VGA scan converters that we've purchased. The digitizing, editing and compression of the video is also done by volunteers.
The quotes we've received from several companies to do professional recordings of our sessions are in the range of $15000-25000 per room. We generally have anywhere from 4-7 rooms running concurrently.
Even if we were just to record the sessions ourselves on camera only, with no VGA recording, we'd be looking at least $1500-3000 per room to buy good HD cameras with decent audio input and $1000 per room in tape stock. Then we'd still either have volunteers recording stuff (giving us a 50/50 chance that what they shoot is usable) or we hire professionals adding about $600 per day, per room to the cost. And this doesn't even touch on the cost to capture, edit and compress 18-21 hours of footage per room. The other thing to note is that renting gear is often not the best option for us either considering we do multiple events in a year. For example, we own most of our own projectors since the cost to rent these for 3 or 4 days is the same as buying one.
In order for us to continue putting most of these sessions out in to the community for free we either have to increase ticket prices or find a sponsor interested in sponsoring the recordings. We try VERY hard to strike a balance between a quality event and affordable tickets so an increase in ticket cost for something that has a very limited ROI is out of the question. Our sponsor/sales people have been working on finding someone to sponsor the recordings and so far it's too expensive for everyone. We've experimented with recording sessions and selling them on DVD with limited success, so limited that we found it hard to justify doing again. We also need to find a balance between selling recorded content and putting some out for free as sharing this stuff with the community is an objective we want to continue to meet.
Some people might suggest that Adobe Connect is an option. The problem with this is two-fold. First, it's a large task to coordinate and setup Adobe Connect with the presenter plugin on 70+ speaker's laptops. Second, nearly every venue around the world we've used so far has had unreliable internet service making it impossible to count on being able to record a session using a remote server. We've even had speaker's with such old laptops that they couldn't run connect and their presentations at the same time. Or what about the presenters with one or two slides that talk through the rest of the session, or the ones with high quality demo reels running on DVD? These situations are less than ideal for Connect.
I haven't even touched on other production considerations either. We have finally managed to work out a system with our AV supplier that gets us a decent audio feed direct from their mixing board. Could it be better? Yes, but it's pretty decent now. Or how do we handle the majority of our presenters that want the lights very dim or off. We have invested in decent stage lights over the last few years but we don't have ultimate control over our lighting conditions. Overly bright lighting also disconnects the speaker from the audience, something we don't want to do. Ever been to a concert that's being filmed? Spending half the show being distracted by cameras flying around the stage on steadicams, tracks and cranes is not the best live music experience for the people in the stadium – but it'll make a great DVD. We want to make a great live show first and foremost. The recordings are secondary, unless we build the recordings into ticket fees, but again, we aren't going to do that.
Believe me when I say improving these is a huge priority for us, but we have to find a way to do it with a very limited budget and still keep the quality of the live event for attendees as high as possible. We actively watch available hardware, software and service offerings that we might be able to take advantage of, as well as get in touch with other events to find out what they are doing. Also, I know this is vague but, there are a few initiatives right now that may help with making high quality session recording viable in the coming year. Stay tuned for more on this. Figuring this out is something we are actively working on.
We are more than open to feedback, suggestions and contacts. Post your comments here or contact me via our online form.