Online Audio


In March 2005 TFAO asked audio interpretation providers Acoustiguide, Antenna Audio and Q Media Productions questions relating to online audio. Here are responses from Stasha Boyd of Q Media Productions:

TFAO: What do you charge to encode and stream your usual recordings for the benefit of museums who wish the recordings to be available to patrons on their web sites?

Q Media: There are actually several different answers to this question if I understand it correctly.

When we produce an audio program for a client as part of our service we send them both audio and data masters of the project, usually mp3 and .wav files, but we also sign over the copyright to the material.  This allows the client to then use the material in whatever format they wish. Obviously we hope that the client will return to us for any other AV or web needs, however we have a philosophical issue with holding content hostage. If they would like for us to convert (encode) the material to another format, Windows Media or QuickTime for example, we would charge an hourly rate for the studio and technician to convert the material and redeliver it. However if they want to use another studio or web design firm that is of course their prerogative.  Depending on the geographic region, professional studio time generally runs between $100 to $150 per hour and should include the tech. Most professionals have a 2 hour minimum. You can find some that charge a lot more and lot less but this is a pretty solid range for planning. Services are generally quoted on an hourly basis and depend on the type of material that needs to be digitized and what form it will ultimately take.

This also holds true if the client is delivering archived material to us to convert or encode. The primary question has to do with the original format. If they have a recent recording in an mp3 or other modern format, the above rates hold. However, sometimes it is necessary to convert very old material. Wax recordings, audio lifted from old 8mm cameras, and even reel to reel or cassettes require special attention. In that case we'd quote individually. We highly encourage all of our clients, if they haven't done so already, to digitize any material that is in a format that can decay or erode with time.

Streaming the media itself is actually a separate issue and one that we are currently exploring. Most large entities have the resources to maintain their own servers with the storage and power needed to effectively stream media and as I'm sure you know, the options are exploding. Audio, video, slide shows, PowerPoint and Keynote are all wonderful additions to a facility's online offerings. For a midsize organization it may be more cost effective to purchase the service from a provider. We currently use however there are plenty on the market these days. We are exploring the option of offering to maintain the tours we produce on our servers that our clients can then offer to their visitors via cell phones or pda devices.

TFAO: Do you have examples of museums which have contracted for this service?

Q Media: At present the answer is no but not because it isn't a good idea in general. For example, one former client currently is involved in a renovation of their space and has effectively suspended operations. Another opted to sell the audio component along with their traveling exhibition which of course brings up the dollar value issue. Can you "rent" an intellectual property for a tour while at the same time offering it for free on your website? How does that effect real and perceived value? For other audio tours the script and design were very site specific and would not translate well when taken out of the environment. For example, we produced a tour for a Japanese Museum and Garden. The garden experience is sensory and the audio was created to compliment and enhance that specific environment. "Close your eyes. Feel the breeze. A gentle wind brings the sound of the bamboo to your ears." As you can see, the experience is only complete when the audio and the environment are working together.

Which brings up one point that is crucial if a museum wants to use media tools in an interpretive or educational plan -- all media does not necessarily transfer to all applications. The above example shows how an audio clip created to be heard on an audio wand as part of an outdoor tour would probably not be effective if placed directly into a web application. That is not to say it couldn't be used but some other element would be needed to replace the missing information: explanatory text, additional audio, or perhaps a video component.

Incidentally, the same is true of video applications when moving from one application to another. One example is to consider the composition and quality of a shot that was created for a standard viewing field (about the size of a large screen TV) when it is shown on a PDA with a 2 inch screen. As with all artistic mediums audio, video, and images are not created in a vacuum. They are tools of communication between creator and the individual experiencing the creation. Before moving one piece directly into another application, it is necessary to ask if its power to communicate the desired information or emotion is diminished or lost. If it's diminished, fix it. If lost, don't use it.

TFAO: In practice, in order to protect the economic viability of the on-location physical visitation experience, the online presentation would be usually added for educational purposes after the physical exhibit is completed. If online service is not now being provided, will you consider providing it -- or recommend other organizations which can provide such service to museums?

Q Media: As mentioned earlier. We are absolutely in the process of providing this service. In the meantime, I agree with the statement in your research article by Monita Kwok-Ching Ho regarding partnering with academic institutions. I would add one caveat that it is important to remember that it is "your message" and the responsibility of ensuring that the message is accurately conveyed rests squarely on the shoulders of the museum's leadership. Audio (and video) is a very specific type of tool that requires a certain level of skill to be effective. I would recommend at the very least the addition of a consultant or media expert to the team.

I would also like to add a little more on some of the other information in the article. First, I'd like to add my voice to the information regarding contractual arrangements. In addition to the general land of copyright infringement and intellectual property rights, once a museum enters into "audio and/or video" production, the world of entertainment law begins to apply as well. Music licensing, talent releases, fair use, union contracts, and on and on. It is very important to understand the rights and responsibilities involved in these areas. In many cases, the solutions before the fact are quite simple and economical. On the other hand, in a dispute a simple cease and desist order can wreak havoc in a small or mid-sized facility. A good producer or media consultant can be an excellent resource.

Regarding Dr. Mathew Mitchell's information about sound quality and other recording packages. I agree whole heartedly regarding capturing quality sound. Especially when recording lectures or other live events, it is very important to get it right the first time. The extra expense of high quality recording is often offset by reduced costs in editing or "cleaning up" the tracks. The same philosophy applies to the use of talent when recording scripted material. It is important to understand that the purpose of "talent" is to deliver emotional and intellectual understanding through their performance not to recite text. No amount of technical expertise or equipment can make up for ineffective delivery. And to take it back another step, the most talented delivery cannot compensate for a bad script.

Finally, I wanted to add a comment regarding the rapidly changing technology. The changes that have taken place in the last few years in the audio and video production industry are staggering. Costs for equipment have dropped radically while applications for use has exploded exponentially. Recently, my partner and I were speaking with the head of the local film production department at the college where we both teach in our spare time.  We were discussing our changing professional environment but one comment brought the changes home.

In 1994, when the program was being started they purchased an Avid editing system that at the time cost $85,000.00. You can now buy Avid software with even greater editing capabilities for about $800.00. But regardless of the price, you still need someone to operate the software that has talent, skill and commitment. For any organization, for-profit or not-for-profit, the question to consider isn't "can we afford to purchase the equipment?" but rather "can we afford to learn to effectively use the equipment?" Put the first money your organization spends into developing your understanding of the medium. Then decide if you have the time, interest and commitment to gain the equipment and the skills necessary to produce the results you want. And if you do not have the time or interest in becoming highly skilled in this art, then invest your resources into someone who does.

Hope this is useful and on behalf of Q Media, much success to you and your members as they incorporate more and more of this exciting media into their interpretive and educational programs.


TFAO appreciates Q Media's response. Q Media may be reached at:

Q Media Productions, Inc.
541 North Boyd Street
Winter Garden, Florida 34787
407-654-7067 phone / 407-877-0067 fax

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