Pro Talk: In the Studio with Grammy Winning Producer Joe West

13 minute read

This week we’re excited to be interviewing Joe West, a Grammy Award-Winning Producer/Mixer & Hit Songwriter who has added SlingStudio to his arsenal of content creation tools. As a songwriter, West has had multiple #1 singles as well as cuts with Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Jimmy Wayne, Warrant & many others. His music has been featured in over 100 network, cable & feature films.

SlingStudio: How did you first learn about SlingStudio and what feature appealed most to you?

I first started to see SlingStudio on my Facebook and other online feeds. At the same time a videographer friend of mine put it on my radar. It was perfect timing because I was looking for a way to stream HD content to my Apprentice Academy remote students.

The biggest selling point for me was the price. Every other hardware solution that could do what SlingStudio was capable of was exponentially more expensive. Switching between multiple cameras, easy-to-use software/streaming setup, wireless connectivity of cameras and the dynamic aspect of adding multiple Capture App-connected iOS & Android sounded too good to be true. It’s funny but honestly I was surprised when I hooked it up and actually worked as advertised.

SlingStudio: What was your video production experience before SlingStudio? What kind of equipment were you using?

I was doing a lot of post-produced projects. Mostly storytelling with the content revolving around music-related content like music videos, multicam live music performances and documentary films.

My workflow had me shooting everything then transferring and editing in Final Cut Pro X on my iMac. It worked fine for that side of my life but I also had a ton of stuff that I wanted to do “live” as it happened, e.g., Master classes for online communities/products that I endorse, streaming classes to my students at Apprentice Academy and other live events.

SlingStudio: Can you tell us about the the kind of video content that you’re producing with SlingStudio?

My SlingStudio does go out to do live streams, but 90% of the time it’s used at my barn/recording studio. I primarily use the system in two ways:

Scenario #1

“From The West Barn Podcast” (FTWB): The SlingStudio is the center of our workflow for FTWB. All production happens live on set and is captured/stored on our hub for later release via Libsyn and YouTube. We record iso source footage from four cameras, as well as quad and program. All media is captured at 1080p, 30fps, at 16Mbps as .MP4 files. We almost exclusively use the program footage, but it’s nice to have the isos just in case.

At the moment we have two cameras coming in via the wireless camera top CameraLink units, one from the front HDMI SlingStudio Hub input, and one from an iPhone linking via the SlingStudio Capture App. The SlingStudio Hub’s front HDMI input pulls double duty during our broadcast with a hot swapping of HDMI cables to play back our intro and outro graphics from a Mac Mini. Done skillfully by our producer/engineer Vaughn Head live on the fly! Great fun!

The audio is coming into the front of the SlingStudio Hub via the ⅛” input. This input is fed from our Midas M32 digital console which we use to mix our 5 talent microphones, as well as audio cues from the Mac Mini. The SlingStudio does a great job of making sure that all audio and video remains in sync. We have never lost lip sync on any broadcasts no matter what length!

The SlingStudio provides a solution for FTWB that essentially makes post-production not needed. It preserves the look and feel of a live broadcast for our program which is huge for our vibe. It’s an incredible time-saver getting rid of the post-production. It would take me hours to post this show! It allows us to put out exponentially more content. Really a perfect fit! 10/10

Scenario #2

The Apprentice Academy live class streaming: This is the original reason I bought the SlingStudio. My audio production and engineering school has a distance program to service students that attend remotely.

It’s a tall order in that we are incredibly hands-on and needed a solution that was reliable for long classes (3+ hrs), and could move quickly with us around the studio to cover the action. We also needed it to be compelling with camera cuts/variety to keep a remote audience engaged.

Now unlike the FTWB Podcast, the Apprentice Academy classes streamed out live to students. Our internet connection was not great but we wanted to stream HD class so the resolution would be detailed enough when looking at patchbays, mic placements, instruments, outboard gear and screen captures of plugins. Etc… Through some trial and error we were able to find suitable Project Settings to support a HD stream that we could rely on for hours at a time. Having access to all the options Sling gave us in the Project Settings let us build a solution that could work for our specific limitations.

For our setup, we had a wireless CameraLink unit on top of a Sony A7sii. The camera was pointed at me and the console where most of the instruction happened. Our Mac Mini running Pro Tools was connected directly to the front of the SlingStudio Hub via the front HDMI input. Mirroring the studio computer’s screen allowed us to show detailed work happening live to waveforms and in plugins. The slickest part was any of the students could grab their phones and with the SlingStudio Capture App instantly show up as a source at our SlingStudio Hub. It really was an incredible thing… Students would be putting their iPhone into kick drums or down by a microphone to show detailed resolution that I never thought would be possible to communicate to viewers thousands of miles away! In some instances remote viewers had better info than people attending in person.

When we set out to spin up our distance program I was concerned whether we’d be able to effectively teach such a “hands on” curriculum to a remote audience, but with SlingStudio it feels like everyone is right there!

I also loved that once our livestream was completed it was closed out and stayed archived on YouTube. No post editing needed… No upload needed… Big time saver!

SlingStudio: What equipment do you use in your video productions?

SLINGSTUDIO

  • 1 x SlingStudio Hub
  • 1 x Battery
  • 2 x CameraLink
  • 1 x USB-C Expander

PRIMARY CAMERAS:

  • Sony A7sii
  • Canon 80D
  • Canon T6s

ADDITIONAL CAMERAS FREQUENTLY RENTED:

  • Sony A7iii
  • Sony Action Cam
  • GoPro Hero 5

LENSES (PRIMES):

  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
  • Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
  • Helios 44m-5 58mm F2
  • Rokinon 14mm T3.1 Cine
  • SLR Magic Cine 25mm f1.4
  • SLR Magic Cine 35mm f/1.2
  • SLR Magic Cine 50mm f/1.1
  • SLR Magic Anamorphot-40 1.33x Anamorphic

LENSES (TELEPHOTO/ZOOM):

  • Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II
  • Sigma Art 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM
  • Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM FLD

JIB:

  • 12’ Jib with motorized head

COMPUTER & SOFTWARE:

  • iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, 2017), 4.2 GHz Intel Core i7, 40 GB Ram, 55 TB Storage.
  • (2) Apple MacMini’s
  • Sonnet PCIE Expansion Chassis
  • Final Cut Pro X

MICROPHONES:

  • Rode NTG 4 Shotgun
  • Shure SM58
  • (2) Shure SM7B
  • (3) AudioTechnica ATM 25
  • (2) Sennheiser XS Wireless 2
  • (2) Sennheiser XSW 1 Lavalier (1-ME2)

MIC STANDS:

  • Hercules MS300B Table Top Mic Stands
  • Ultimate Support MC-125 Professional Studio Boom Stand

CONSOLE:

  • Midas M32 Digital Console (running Waves Plugins via MultiRack)
  • Waves DigiGrid DLS
  • ProTools HDX

SPEAKERS:

  • Mackie HR824’s MkII

HEADPHONE SYSTEM:

  • Sterling SHA8 8-Channel Rackmount Professional Headphone Amplifier
  • (5) Shure SRH440

SlingStudio: Are you a one-person production crew or are there others on your team that help with SlingStudio?

I always have someone running the SlingStudio. It frees me up to focus on the reason I’m on camera.

SlingStudio: Can you describe any pain points of video production BEFORE you discovered SlingStudio?

The main pain point was all the time needed for post-production. Hours and hours of slaving to import, sync, edit, export, rendering and uploading. Sling essentially cuts that down to real time in most applications.The other thing is everyone’s technology is so difficult to learn. SlingStudio is easy to set up and use. From the switching software to split screens, graphics, hooking up iPhones, CameraLinks, streaming destinations, etc. I can teach anyone to run it in 5 mins and they can successfully live cut a show right away! One of the above examples was a livestream my 14 y/o son did on the spot with no prior training.

SlingStudio: Any challenges or special preparation filming your unique content?

Audio is pretty easy at my place because we have a ton of high-end microphones to fit every scenario. Plus the barn is on camera and we want the large space to come across because it matches the image. We do well with lighting as well as we have a pretty flexible grid up that can accommodate most every need.

One thing that is always nagging at me at my studio is mixed lighting. We have a lot of natural light, tungsten and LED light all mixing together in different % all day. It’s a beautiful space but it’s also a crazy moving target to match multiple cameras to as the day goes on (all set to manual). One workaround has been to not use “white” LED light pointed at subjects. I can manage skin tones with the natural light and tungsten pretty well. We use the LED lighting to add color, accents and dimension to the space.

Another challenge of creating content guerilla style is not always having personnel on hand to supervise cameras so they are not shutting off, losing focus or exposure.

SlingStudio: Professional videographers often say that good audio is what turns video content from good to great? Given your background and expertise in audio and music production, what tips and tricks or advice would you give video producers?

Audio is like everything else… The devil is in the details. You need a good overall understanding of what you’re doing with audio as a videographer but the best advice I can give is to get a person to work on your productions that actually knows. Learn from them as you go. It definitely takes time… Mic selection/techniques, polar patterns, phase, mic level vs. line level, compression, signal flow, etc. Try to find someone who wants to learn about video as much as you want to learn about audio. It’s a win/win!

I surround myself with a great crew every time I create and we lean on and learn from each other every day. I love that! Remember if your audio isn’t usable your video is unusable! Mutually assured destruction!

SlingStudio: What SlingStudio feature is particularly useful for your work?

The fact that you can get your hands on a system like this at this price point is incredible. It’s not an app… it’s dedicated hardware and easy to use software that does the work of what would have cost you tens of thousands of dollars in the very recent past. It does what all great technology should do, give creators the ability to be great regardless of funding. You don’t need bags of $$$ to get a shot at producing great content, you just need to be great! That’s powerful stuff…

I’m able to set up the SlingStudio quickly… Not a big deal to stream at the drop of a hat. Once I’m running I have 4 great shots or assets to choose from at any one time. Swapping out a source with a standby camera is easy to do during a live broadcast.

The fact that I only need one person to run audio and the SlingStudio is great! Makes it affordable and easy to book a day to create. I love the simple fact that I can walk around wirelessly with an iPad and check camera focus/position. Almost forgot! I love the splitscreens… Easy to create, edit, call up and use! Makes it look like a real polished interview!

SlingStudio: What has been your favorite production, client or subject matter to produce using SlingStudio to date?

The “From The West Barn” podcast has really been fun. It allows us to generate so much content quickly. I couldn’t even imagine how long it would take us to do that show without the SlingStudio. It keeps it fresh and in the moment. You instantly can watch back the final product and know if you have something or not. I couldn’t go back to the old way.

SlingStudio: Do you have a passion project when it comes to videography?

I recently directed/edited a documentary called “Limb-itless: Adventure Songwriting”. It’s an incredible story that I got to be a part of and tell. We had a tiny budget and even smaller crew: Shawn Hudgins, my 14-year-old son Zach and I. We had an incredible life experience living this story and we are all very proud of what ended up on the screen!

SlingStudio: How do you pitch your video production capabilities to clients, on top of your core business of producing music?

I didn’t initially pursue video as a commercial outlet; it was just a new passion and a ton of fun… There’s also that thing that if you do it for money you end up working on things that you don’t really want to do and I didn’t want that to happen. I ended up keeping it a passion and started telling musical stories that I thought were compelling. Friends and companies were moved by the content and started asking me to help tell their stories. So it has turned into a bit of a business, but I keep myself focused on prioritizing the in-house needs.

SlingStudio: How do you prepare for a video production?

Creatively, I make sure the story is there and we have an idea of how to tell it. I never “wing it.” Every time a camera is powered up or a drone flies, it has a mission statement of why, how and what.

Technically, most of my pre-production is logistics. Making sure that when an issue arises on a production it was unavoidable. There is no excuse for not being prepared. I think through every connection, cable and SD card from shoot start till end. When unforeseeable issues do surface I try to have backups or solutions that keep our production going. Lots of lists and adapters.

SlingStudio: What has been feedback from clients and other production folks when they see SlingStudio?

It’s not so much of a direct comment. They all are blown away by the look and feel of the stream. They just don’t know where that comes from and what makes it possible. They are loving and talking about the content, which means the technology is doing its job and shining the light on the message.

Friends that are in the production side of things are usually very interested in how and what it does. They ask tons of questions about how the SlingStudio does with some of the challenges that they have when doing multicam streaming. Lip sync, seamless source switching & lag, stream reliability, system setup and ease of executing a live stream. They are also interested in some of the features like split screens, lower thirds/graphics and chroma keying. Some of them are pros, some of them just know they want to stream and are getting their feet wet learning. The cool thing is there are very few solutions I know of in my tech life that the same product easily scales to be a good fit for both. SlingStudio does…

SlingStudio: Do you have any tips or best practices for other entrepreneurs new to video production?

I encourage anyone who takes on a challenging creative field to commit to finding the joy in the work. If you can’t you better be getting a stupid amount of $$$ to keep you smiling till you pull through it.

When people are inspired and find joy in their creative life they tend to do extraordinary work and at the end of it love the process. I have always seen my income go up when I focus on being great and loving the journey!

SlingStudio: What upcoming trends do you see in your line of work?

As connected as I think I am to trends and movements I’m always blown away at how out of touch I am. I think everyone relates to amazing stories and images… I’d vote against following trends and hype almost every time. Try to imagine a story or a way to connect that isn’t in the 1st drawer. The 1st drawer sets viewers to autopilot and they scroll past or look down at their phone while your media is boring them.

SlingStudio: Where do you see the video production aspect of your business in a couple years? Is it an up-sell?

I see it primarily internal as a support role for the scaling of our company. We do work for the outside world as “work for hire,” but the main role of content is to serve our own output. I hope to grow the podcast network to include other topics where we feel we have a voice, as well as adding value to the Apprentice Academy by adding content that our students and other outside viewers will enjoy. Tutorials, master classes, interviews with industry professionals and growing our YouTube channel content. At the end of the day, whatever we can imagine creative we want to be able to get that out to the world. Video and SlingStudio gives us the technology to tell that message to the world.

SlingStudio: What kind of non-SlingStudio upgrades to your entire kit are you looking forward to?

I’m always looking at videos at 3 am of cine lenses and cinema cameras, but at the end of the day I’m really focusing on finding and telling great stories. On a phone, drone or an Arri Alexa, whatever gets it between the frames and onto people’s iPhones. I occasionally splurge and buy an item but it really has to pay for itself if it’s going to make it into my case.

SlingStudio: Why would you recommend SlingStudio to others?

I think if you’re an individual in the creative field that’s looking to build a brand around yourself you have to be able to deliver content. Sling lets you do that quickly without a ton of post. It’s quick and easy to get up and running and also fast on a daily basis to do live streams.

Above and beyond building your own brand, it’s great for a studio to offer clients so they can take part of the recording process. (fans, GoFundMe, etc.)

At the end of the day it’s a communication tool. That’s what we’re all really trying to do. Get our voice/message out there. SlingStudio speeds up and simplifies that process. For me that’s priceless.

We would like to thank Joe West for taking the time to speak with us on how SlingStudio can be the perfect tool for podcasting productions. If you are interested in learning more about Joe’s work, check out the links below:

ABOUT JOE WEST, CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR:

West has a long & distinguished list of production/mixing credits including; Joey + Rory, Emmy Lou Harris, Warren Zevon, Shakira, Justin Timberlake, Jimmy Wayne, Steve Earle, Mathew Sweet, Indigo Girls & many more Grammy Award Winning and Multi Platinum selling artists. Discography 

  • Grammy Award Winning Producer
  • Grammy Award Winning Mixer
  • Award Winning Multi #1 Billboard Hit Songwriter
  • Documentary Filmmaker
  • Keynote Speaker
  • Podcaster (From The West Barn)
  • Educator (The Apprentice Academy)
  • Music Publisher

As an award winning hit songwriter West has written multiple #1 Billboard hits for artists like; Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Jimmy Wayne, Warrant & many others.

As a filmmaker West focuses on telling people’s stories that have had their lives profoundly changed by music. “Limb-itless: Adventure Songwriting”, is an inspirational documentary following Gabe Adams (born with no arms or legs) & Grammy winner Joe West as they go on the musical adventure of a lifetime spanning Utah to Nashville. Together, the duo accomplish things that they thought might not be possible and along the way encourage others to push a little harder, reach a little higher and see the world in a different light. This new release is scheduled to hit the film festival circuit in 2020.

Joe travels the country sharing his passion and message of “Finding & Igniting Your Purpose” with groups, universities & corporations. Events include workshops, performances and keynote speaking engagements. West along side with hit songwriter/producer Mike Shimshack host a weekly audio/video podcast broadcasting from West’s studio in Nashville, TN. called “From The West Barn”. Previous guests include; US Senators, Country Stars, Grammy Award Winners + many others all engaged in conversations related to and surrounding the creative lifestyle.

The Apprentice Academy is West’s boutique audio production school that focuses on hands-on learning of the art of recording and production. The Apprentice Academy has graduated multiple Grammy winners and nominees.

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