The Editor's Spin: Standing at the Crossroads: EMedia and the Digital Studio
Posted Aug 1, 2002

Read any cultural history of American popular music in the twentieth-century and you'll likely encounter the word "crossover." For the most part, crossover refers to black music or black musicians reaching a white audience, and attaining the commercial success that comes with it. In the 1950s and 1960s, crossover epitomized the aspirations of the black race to find "acceptance" with the white, while the years of resistance to it represent the white race's efforts to keep radio waves as segregated as schools, bus stations, and other public facilities.

Most of the significant American popular music of the post-World War II era has emerged from the race-embattled South, from southern musicians living in northern cities, or others drawing on southern musical traditions like country and blues. The irony of segregated radio playlists is that much of the music they attempted to separate in effect integrated itself; radio programmers (and other scourges of the music industry who had little or nothing to do with the music itself) were much less successful than their civic counterparts in keeping the races separate. Southern musicians, black and white, absorbed each other's influences, their inheritors drew from their merged traditions, and their audience responded to power of the amalgam, whether they realized it or not. In a cultural sense, crossover was a welcome and galvanizing inevitability that changed the way Americans heard—and saw—each other. It was just a matter of the music drowning out those who would try to restrict its influence, essentially pushing out of the way those who most controlled its distribution, but had the least to do with its inspiration and creation.

I've always felt much the same way about "convergence," as the word has been tossed around in technology circles as long as I've been with EMedia, even if the obstacles have been more, well, integral. Of course digital video, digital audio, consumer electronics, DVD, interactive television, broadband, and the Web are going to converge. Users don't want to distinguish between the technologies they use; they just want to get their work done, pursue their hobbies, or be entertained, and move fluidly among the means-to-an-end media as required. This hasn't happened yet, but it's closer than it was, say, two years ago. In a behind-the-scenes sense, of course, all this progress has been made possible by enabling technology; on the user's end, arguably, it's all been a matter of technology getting out of the way.

Admittedly, I'm selling short the painstaking engineering and development processes necessary to make technology transparent to something as complex, multifaceted, and amorphous as electronic convergence. But whether receivers or creators of electronic content, we're all helped or hindered by the technological means to our end, and we're all seeking some degree of transparency in our tools. I think we can point to a great deal of progress on the creative side of digital video and audio that has effectively changed the nature of the task. I'm referring, of course, to the rapidly expanding range of technologies, tools, techniques, talents, and job descriptions that we'll describe henceforth in EMedia as the Digital Studio.

In a way, defining the purview of EMedia: The Digital Studio Magazine, and distinguishing it from EMedia's past identities, I feel a bit like a documentary filmmaker creating motion and drama in the visual presentation of a still image. We'll continue to cover a fast-moving industry that threatens to jump off the static pages of a print magazine—and laugh in our faces for trying. We're looking at the same picture as before, just representing it more dynamically, shifting the camera to spotlight different parts of the picture, and presenting more accurately connective segments that we may, in the past, have treated as the whole.

Today's digital studio changes shape and position so frequently and fluidly that it can't be captured with a still camera. It may produce DVDs; it may burn DVDs, but ultimately distribute content via LAN or Web. It may be in the business of content creation or post-production: capturing, encoding, crafting, and publishing original or commissioned content. It may be a departmental offshoot of an existing business, for whom edited video content creation for sales or training is a low-budget enterprise with high-acuity expectations. It may be a fully decked-out production studio boasting high-end capture and encoding hardware, sophisticated editing equipment, and a multiseat fleet of networked, dedicated systems. It could be a full-throttle digital audio workstation or recording studio or a four-track recorder, Mac, Peak LE, and Jam. Or, thanks to standard-issue FireWire DV capture cards, sophisticated, but affordable, non-linear editing software like Final Cut Pro or Premiere, corporate-to-consumer DVD creation software like DVDit! or MyDVD, and sub-$500 DVD recording devices like Pioneer's A04 or the new DVD Multi, a good-to-go "Digital Studio" might just be a fast Mac or Dell (desktop or notebook) with a skilled and resourceful desk jockey at the controls.

In a way, we're talking about crossover more than convergence here: corporate art departments becoming non-linear editors and DVD authors; easy-to-use, budget-line consumer editing and authoring tools serving business interests; content creators preparing the same material for disc or Web output; PCs purchased for word processing, games, and Web surfing applied to video editing and DVD authoring; and DVD technology serving storage, testing, duplication, and distribution with equal facility and cost-efficiency. Most of all, we're seeing the "digital studio" bust free of the soundproofed four-walled confines that once housed decks and DCC workstations and all manner of complex and costly technical apparati, and cross over into spaces physically defined by nothing more than a PC and a power supply. In that sense, today's digital studios—as explored in today's EMedia— may become any environment where technology has advanced to a point where it not only enables, but disappears into the task.