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Tools of the Trade for BAMS Students

One of the most frequently asked, if not obvious questions which students have is what equipment do they need when taking BAMS courses. I had always been hesitant to address such questions head on, as UP had always espoused a certain neutrality when it comes to employing any sort of tools in teaching.

I get it. UP students shouldn’t be expected to spend huge amounts of money on equipment in order to pass all their courses. It’s great if it would be possible to graduate with minimal expenses beyond tuition.

Unfortunately, this often makes matters more difficult at a later point. Students are expected to produce artifacts that meets certain standards which can be challenging, perhaps at times, more challenging than it’s supposed to be. Some make do with subpar output, hoping it will be enough to pass. Some end up buying what they need, anyway. It’s just too bad that there are instances where the acquisition of gear happens too late and ends up not being of much help, anyway. Lucky are those who are able to afford their decision to invest in their equipment early on, despite my hesitation to give them proper guidance.

I’d like to change my approach now. Instead of sidestepping the issue, maybe taking a definite stance regarding equipment will be of more benefit.

 

The Essentials

Being in an online campus, it goes without saying that a computer and an Internet connection are the two things that a student cannot do without. Now, while it is possible to get through most courses being dependent on computer shops and net cafés, that is far from ideal. It is highly likely for students to find themselves in situations where accessibility at any given time is necessary.

 

Workstation

A desktop or laptop with ample processing power and storage to meet system requirements of your applications will be necessary. Now, just how much ample really is depends on the software and other peripherals that you might be using. Check their respective product information to find out. Some of the teachers may also prescribe specific requirements, as dictated by the needs of the courses they handle. Make sure to keep an eye for those.

 

Internet Connection

As with workstations, ample bandwidth is required. But there is no definite consensus on how much that exactly is. It really depends on what you’re doing. But if your connection allows you to stream high definition video flawlessly, or if you can join a video chat session with high audio and video quality, chances are, you are going to be fine.

 

Studying at your Workplace

For working students, there is the appeal of being able to study from the office. Now, without even discussing the ethics, not to mention company policies pertinent to the practice, this poses additional issues. Depending on your company, there may be restrictions regarding what applications you are able to use with your office computer. It is also likely that your IT department has measures in place that will restrict access to anything your company deems inappropriate in the work place. And yes, that can include anything from the UPOU domain. Before using office facilities for the purpose of studying, please make sure that your management is ok with it first.

 

Using Mobile Devices

Over the years, mobile devices have become more and more ubiquitous. Students have started to rely heavily on tablets and even smart phones for their schoolwork. And why not? The modern mobile device has proven to be powerful multi-purpose tools, useful for a wide array of tasks. While UPOU has already taken steps in supporting mobile devices, appropriate learning experience is still far from guaranteed. Desktop and laptop computers remain as the recommended primary platform for your learning needs.

Going the Extra Mile

Again, it is true that it’s possible to get through just about anything with a computer and your mobile phone. But as you may already be aware of, there’s getting by to survive, and then there’s excellence. Yes, excellence is something that comes from within. But at the same time, achieving excellence usually require an additional set of tools. This hold particularly true in the field of multimedia.

These are some of what can be considered as equipment needed to go the extra mile:

  1. A big computer screen – one of the limitations of laptops (even more so with mobile devices), is the size of their LCD screens. There is something to be said about the user experience when working with one or more monitors with screen sizes of 24 inches or higher. It allows for a more immersive experience and greater attention to detail than with a 13 inch screen (let alone those 4-5 inch touchscreens on your phones).
  2. Camera – A discrete camera is necessary in learning how to consistently shoot high quality photos and videos as prescribed by some of the courses in the BAMS program. The DSLR has been the symbol of good photography work for many students. It certainly helps. But that is not your only option. Smaller mirrorless cameras can now allow you to do as good a job as the DSLR.
  3. Microphone or field recorder – As observed in past student output, sometimes, a decent microphone would have been the biggest difference maker in building audio and video projects.
  4. Audio interface and monitor speakers – audio may as well be the final frontier or the unknown for many BAMS students. It is typically the least appreciated modality in media, which the BAMS program intends to rectify among students. However, good audio cannot be created or even appreciated with flimsy earphones and your computer’s cheap sound card.
  5. Pen tablet – it definitely poses a learning curve, but it is all but necessary if you require a high level of precision for your image editing work.

 

One can certainly opt to go for more specialized equipment. But all of the above, in my honest opinion, will be more than enough to allow for a higher ceiling in terms of work quality. In the end, it is the student’s decision to go with whatever he or she wants.

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ADL_3799

Still weary, but with a bit more energy.

The past two weeks had been a relaxing and enlightening experience in so many ways. This was my first real vacation in a long time. I am grateful to my family, university, superiors and colleagues for allowing me to take time off at such a busy month. I am also thankful for the people over at Europe who care about me and enabled me to enjoy my time to its fullest. It was not until I was there when I fully appreciated how far family and friends went out of their way to make sure I was taken care of. I will never forget that and hopefully, someday, they will all give me the chance to return the favor.

My only regret is that I was not able to see as many of them as I had hoped. Surprisingly enough, there wasn’t enough time even under the circumstances, and I did not want people to ride on a train or bus for hours just to quickly meet up.

While I did do a little touring, to me, this was more about people than it is about the places. It was about a plea to breathe and clear my head. Even the thought of sitting all day in a garden in a small European town sipping coffee, so far away from home, is an extreme privilege of which I am eternally thankful.

For now, my fascination towards Europe has subsided and I worry a little for its future. But at the same time, unlike before, I have a good feeling that I will make it back there sooner than later. And hopefully, with my family in tow.

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ADL_1417

MMS 172: Multitracking Demo

This entry was originally posted in the discussion forums of MMS 172 last 2015 in the hopes of guiding students to properly execute one of their assignments. Unfortunately, almost nobody read this. I hope the future classes do.  

 

 

I recorded a demonstration of how I would typically approach multitracking. The video clocks in at nearly 19 minutes, as I attempted to explain as much of what was going on as I could. So, if you’re interested to watch, please be patient. Even so, there were a lot of things left out. I will try and supplement the video with additional posts here, but the best way to pin-point what are essential is if you ask what you want to know about, specifically.

 

 

Below is the list of software plugins that I used:

  • EZDrummer 2
  • BIAS FX
  • ReaEQ
  • ReaVerb

The latter two are free and built into my DAW Software, Reaper, which I recommend for anyone who feels Audacity, Audition or any other editing software is inadequate by itself. Unfortunately, both EZDrummer 2 and BIAS FX are commercial software, so you do need to purchase a license for them. But I do think there is an EZDrummer Lite, which is a watered-down, but free version of the drum plugin. No such thing for BIAS, but there are other alternatives out there if you’re recording an electric guitar or bass and want do use amp simulation instead. Examples are the free versions of Amplitube and GuitarRig.

Experimenting with plugins is loads of fun. But you have to be wary of them because they typically demand a huge amount of processing power and RAM. So, for each project session, keep what is essential in your final mix and unload the rest.

Now, for my mic positioning during recording.

I used a microphone, my Samson MTR101, to record the acoustic guitar track. For those interested, the mic was about 8-12 inches in front of the sound hole and at he same level, but was aimed towards the middle of the neck, somewhere along the 10th to 14th fret. It probably didn’t matter all that much, but I did put my DIY portable sound booth behind the mic, without the mic actually being inside the box. I’d rather risk picking up ambient noise rather than partially block the sound energy from my guitar.

I had planned on double tracking it by recording the signal from the guitar’s built-in pickup as well but opted not to, in order to keep the demonstration simple.

As for the voice over, I spoke 8-12 inches from the mic that’s inside the box, with the pop filter in between. My recorded voice lost clarity at the beginning of the demo video while I was showing my gear. That’s because I turned away from the microphone as I panned my camera. Hint: the mic was then effectively off-axis. I also recorded that part on a different night, when it was noisier and with some doors and windows in the house open. I had to roll back the recording level, which was apparently a bit too much. I had no such problems anymore by the time I recorded the rest of my voice over.

As for the electric guitar… well if there any guitar geeks in class, the sound is from the neck position of an American-made Fender Stratocaster (not with a stock pickup, but with a Bill Lawrence L-45S). As I have mentioned, was recorded direct. However, one of the nice things about BIAS FX is that it allows you to simulate mic positioning.

 bias

As you can see from the screenshot, the plugin simulated a Shure SM57 dynamic microphone placed at some distance from the edge of the virtual speaker cabinet. This does two things: one is to tame what I thought were harsh levels of high frequencies (which is another testament to the awesomeness of BIAS FX — it convincingly captured that particular character of a vintage Marshall Plexi amplifier, as heard in many classic rock records), while the distance would have allowed a real mic to capture early reflections of the sound in a room. Perhaps it wasn’t crucial in the end, since I did apply a separate reverb effect on the track, eventually. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. And it definitely is in many instances in real life.

I hope this sheds more light into the method that I used in the demonstration.

 

Note:

Listening to the mix now, I’d probably increase the volume of the acoustic guitar some more and decrease the volume of the electric guitar by just a bit. A bass guitar track would probably serve this mix well, too. And that is how it goes. There’s always the chance of that mix which you thought was good in the past sound like crap if you listened to it again today.

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The most difficult students

Blogging has been an integral part of my courses for more than five years now. And throughout that time, I have read so much insight from students which I would never had known. It also helped me get into their heads. The things I learned from them has helped me in my perpertual effort in improving my content and how I teach.

These blogs have also led me to discover certain patterns in student behavior.

Students outside MMS 100 generally think it’s difficult to be in my classes. I get that. But one thing I have noticed is that the students how say so hardly perform the same. Academic performance always vary. Some struggle while some excel. Grades from previous courses aren’t always a good indicator for predicting performance under me. And I wondered what separates them.

Photography, or more specifically, having to teach photography and grade students according to the university’s methods can sometimes be a touchy task. And truth be told, it carries the bulk of what I have regarded as difficult students. But it is not the type of students which you may be thinking.

There are those who will come into class immediately labeling themselves as beginners, or with having zero experience in photography. They are the ones who are already scared even before they get the chance to start writing their self introductions. These are the students who will continuously say they have trouble understanding the technical aspects of the course. There are also those who would say they are not creative people, or they do not have the artistic eye. This line of excuses extend pretty far and can be exasperating at times.

But they are not the most difficult students to manage. Or at least, not necessarily. Limited know-how can always be addressed. That’s why students go to school, in the first place. As long as students will go out there, do the necessary work, then everything will eventually fall into place.

The most difficult students are the ones who do not really want to be taught. Maybe they enrolled to learn. But that’s not exactly the same as being taught. There are different manifestations of this. The most obvious ones are those who you repeatedly see in the classlist, but never really log in to go through the manual and the course site. Then there are those who are easily scared off by criticism, or sometimes take them too personally. Or perhaps they would like to believe that they already know everything they need to know about the subject at hand and will passively or outwardly reject any signs to the contrary. These are the people who would rather blame the teacher, the content, the websites, their classmates, the camera, the microphone, the weather… whatever. Everything gets blamed except themselves. Worst case scenario: a complaint gets filed against me. -sigh-

Maybe it’s just plain laziness. They are an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money. While it might just be that, from what I have observed, there really aren’t that many who have this affliction in its pure form.

This unwillingness to be taught can easily be associated with pride. And indeed, we can easily understand why. A few of their pictures gets liked at Facebook and suddenly you have affirmation. It hurts the ego to suddenly have that affirmation invalidated. Even just the chance of it can scare some. I know, because I’ve been through that a number of times, within and outside of social media. The prospect of being criticized always gives me pause, to this day.

However, beneath that pride is a more insidious feeling — insecurity. Everybody carries it at least at certain points in our lives and leads us to say and do stupid things. And while there really is never a good time for it, insecurity is a particularly terrible thing to have while being a student.

I used to care a lot about this. Maybe a bit too much. However, I have long since learned that any direct encouragement from me is a waste of time and energy. There is even the chance that I would look like the bad guy. So, no. I’m done focusing too much on these people. There is nothing I can do for those who will not listen to me. Instead, I will do more for those who are willing to learn and be taught.

I can only hope that you, the reader, belong to the latter.

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Copyright 2018 Al Francis D. Librero © All Rights Reserved.

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