On this edition of the Gillmor Gang, live recording was briefly interrupted by a rolling upgrade from Zoom. We use Zoom to do what we’ve been doing for years using a combination of video switching hardware (Newteks TriCaster), a number of Mac Minis hosting Skype, an audio mixer, and a backchannel that the Switch Out to -Program is converted to virtualize the members of the group. First, we teamed up with Leo Laporte in his young video network. I then copied Leo̵
At that time, streaming was an emerging model. No Netflix, no Facebook Live, certainly no transition from RSS and podcasting to what we now see as Streaming From Home. Not just from the technocrats, but from the mainstream cable networks, the remnants of broadcast television, and commercial streaming networks like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney, and even Apple TV. Cable News uses a version of our studio model to put together round tables where even the hosts use the background substitution feature of Zoom or something similar to simulate their usual broadcast locations. The 4 or 5 second delay over TCP / IP gives the technology away, but just like the lesser delay we’ve got used to translating from landline to satellite and now to cellular, we take into account this apparent lack of attention.
There are limitations to this new virtualized studio, but with many tweaks, the relatively easy integration of zoom offerings, and the ubiquity of usage dictated by the pandemic, a new experience of recording the show has emerged. It’s more relaxed, a subtle mix of a “show” and a chat with friends. As I mentioned earlier, we use a multi-streaming service called Restream to do just that with the edited Zoom feed and the live session on Facebook Live, Twitter / Periscope and via an embedded YouTube window to our newsletter -Feed forward telegram. After post-production, we’ll release an edited, sweetened version titled on TechCrunch.
Since the gang started in 2004, when it was just an audio production, we’ve used an early social network called FriendFeed to engage listeners in real-time chat. FriendFeed was essentially a mix of Facebook and Twitter, so Facebook eventually took over the startup and co-founder Bret Taylor became CTO. Those in the game at home could now see Bret as President and COO of Salesforce, wherever he went after his next startup, Quip, was acquired. The FriendFeed back channel lasted a few years, opened at that time, but eventually closed by Facebook.
To explain the magic of the return channel, I refer you to a book by an old friend, Harvey Brooks, bassist and musician at the right time, who recorded with a dazzling group of greats from Miles Davis to the first stop on his trip, Bob Dylan . In a time without liner notes, he is a living example of the magic of producing the right notes at the moment of creation in the studio. With Dylan, that moment came in the recording of Dylan’s first all-electric record, Highway 61 Revisited. He had just recorded the single Like A Rolling Stone when Harvey was recommended by his friend Al Kooper, who famously sat in front of an organ he had never played before and survived Dylan’s recording process.
Dylan ran down a song with the musicians a couple of times and then started recording. Players learned the structure of the song by watching the artist’s hands. Harvey made quick notes on the chords in the first few iterations. Then they went to the races with duct tape. Often this first setting was the goalkeeper. To break it down further, my analogy would be that this was Dylan’s version of the backchannel, where each player’s intuitive feeling was conveyed not only to Dylan but also to the other musicians, who were often strangers to each other as well.
When you start the gang, the trick, if you will, is to capture that moment between the first hearing of something and the time when other attitudes don’t enhance that spark of creation. A later recording may be studied and practiced more closely, but it can lose the magic of the spark. In the case of the conversation, it is not improvisation, but what takes it elsewhere is the return channel in which we all live and communicate between sessions. It’s not a proper newsletter where the goal (or at least my goal) is to create stepping stones between rocks in the creek rather than the pebbles that make up the onslaught of news and attitudes that overwhelms us.
These days, Trumpstock is everywhere, unavoidable but necessary to be survived. Then there is the glimmers of technology, like the media story about Disney’s reorganization around streaming. The impact of surviving the direct impact of the pandemic on Disney’s park revenues and the need to shift investment into the production of Disney + content is a major signal of where winners will emerge in the entertainment industry’s transition to a direct relationship with consumers. The backchannel is a powerful tool that gives us direct access to the underlying information needed to make strategic decisions about where and how we live while we are recovering.
Sometimes the Winging-It approach bears fruit; Sometimes it crashes and burns when elements of this loosely coupled cloud mashup shift unexpectedly. In this case, our carefully engineered production flow collapsed when we went live. It took some time and reboot to regroup and post show debugging to find out what had changed in a Zoom auto update. This is the process. It’s not perfect, but it works when it works. If not, it will be better. Join us on the return channel.
The Gillmor gang – Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live on Friday, October 9th, 2020.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@radice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang
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