Nashville-based Made In Network Invests in Sony 4K, HD Gear
Made In Network is a YouTube-certified multichannel network (MCN) based in Nashville, TN, that creates original video programming and series with an influential collection of creators, in addition to successful custom video integrations for their clients, which include some of the world’s top consumer brands.
In 2015, Made In Network was in search of equipment to build out their new production facility, in the heart of one of the most creative cities in the country. As two companies working to elevate the production values and quality of online content creation, Made In Network ultimately decided to outfit their new studio with Sony’s 4K and HD professional cameras, lenses, wireless audio and monitors.
Kevin Grosch launched Made In Network at the end of 2013 after producing and executing digital marketing for music releases in Nashville. Being passionate about music his whole life, it was during his experience in the music industry that he fell in love with the idea of being able to build and interact directly with an audience, and realized video was one of the most engaging ways to do just that.
“When I first started working with companies like Google and YouTube, I was really fascinated to see and learn about how they built such massive audiences online,” says Grosch. “Whether it was music or comedy or vlogs, the creators were building communities that were tuning in regularly, much like we’d been used to experiencing with the traditional television model. Once I began really understanding how these companies worked, and realizing the potential of where these platforms were headed and what new technology was on the horizon, I wanted to bring that power and impact to the creators in Nashville.”
As Grosch got Made In Network off the ground, the company rapidly expanded, hiring more staff members and taking on additional content creators and clients. Naturally, the company outgrew their old space and decided to design a new office outfitted with a high-end studio, to meet their unique needs. They turned to Sony to ensure their new space afforded employees and users the highest quality experience, using the most advanced production tools.
“We wanted to create a space that serves as the creative center of Nashville; something for the music industry and the local filmmakers to be able to come in and use to create content that becomes a part of their release strategy,” he says. “As we kept growing, we were constantly searching for a place in Nashville that had all of our specific requirements – a production facility, a place to film, a place to record music. Ultimately, we decided to build a space that was suited to our exact needs; creating web content. There are different conditions needed for shooting a music video versus an episodic series, both of which we are doing multiple times a week. In designing our own space, and outfitting it with Sony’s products, we now have the flexibility to create really high quality web content, build our own sets and have a seamless workflow.”
By offering access to their facility equipped with Sony’s latest 4K and HD technology to the content creators and brands they work with, Made In Network has been able to help musicians, artists, clients, and the local community in ways they never could before, while still outputting a final product that features the highest production values – something they adamantly refused to compromise on.
“We never want our creators to look at a high quality production as a barrier to entry, so we’ve given them access to all of the best tools in our own facility,” Grosch says. “Now we can invite the community in, let them use our space to learn, to work, to network and collaborate.
“Sony’s cameras, technology and equipment have been incredible in giving us a level of quality that you just can’t achieve without really great gear,” he continues. “As YouTube evolved from cat videos and kids in their bedrooms with webcams to original programming, the quality of the productions have increased, as have the delivery methods – and the gear needs to be reflective and aid in that. The expectation for quality extends beyond content creators, with an audience looking for polished projects that rival what can be found on television.”
Grosch detailed how 4K resolution, which offers four times the detail, information and clarity of full HD and is supported by the latest Sony camera and display technology, helps elevate the quality of YouTube content creation.
Made In Network recently teamed with Sony to create a 4K YouTube video for Sony’s 4K Creators channel, which can be seen here. The video, which captures the art of coffee roasting and features a local Nashville business, The Frothy Monkey, was shot using Sony’s 4K FS7 camera and is another way the two companies are working together to heighten production values online.
“Working with Sony, especially their 4K YouTube channel is really exciting,” Grosch says. “We at Made in Network are really proud of the work we do, so to see Sony be able to showcase what we’re doing as creatives is really impactful to help drive traffic back to us. We’re thrilled about working with Sony and to be able to say we can produce content at a really high level because of their equipment that we’re working with is a huge asset to us and hopefully we’re able to shine a light on their cameras and gear that way.”
Don VanCleave, VP of Special Projects, also started in the music industry, but brings different skills and experience to the team. VanCleave started in the record business in 1988, opening a record store in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife. During his successful 14 years at the helm of Magic Platter, he won numerous accolades and broke a lot of new bands in the market. When the independent record stores banded together, VanCleave offered to run their coalition. The Coalition of Independent Music Stores institutionalized a way for record labels to set up nationwide promotions in local markets. This led to labels creating exclusive content just for independent record stores, to help them remain competitive with bigger retail outlets. Shortly after, indie record stores began noticing an uptick in vinyl sales and in an effort to bring vinyl back and celebrate local music stores, the coalition helped launch Record Store Day, which is now a worldwide hit each April. After his time running Magic Platter, VanCleave moved into band management, overseeing artists including Lenny Kravitz and bands like Soundgarden. He still manages Nashville-based band Moon Taxi, which is how he got involved with Made In Network.
“Nashville is interesting,” VanCleave says. “When I moved here I was instantly blown away by the sheer number of people in this town that are trying to create and are creative. It’s not uncommon to find totally unsigned artists, established artists, big band managers and everything in between in this creative community.”
VanCleave was able to parlay his experience in the music industry to help clients with artist development. “Made In Network’s philosophy is to make it easier for creative people with no real name recognition, but with talent and drive, to spread their message and provide a way for their voices to be heard,” he said. “My experience is creating a marketing plan and bringing things to market – whether that is through a book, a video, a program or a record – it is all the same skill set, just different parameters for each.”
Though VanCleave’s day-to-day responsibilities do not include shooting, he is a photographer by hobby and understands the value of good equipment and aligning with a brand like Sony. “I’m not a videographer, but I do see Sony’s cameras in operation constantly by our videographers and they are just as happy as can be,” he said. “When people who really know video come in here, they’re instantly impressed and instantly want to work with us. I can certainly appreciate how amazing these cameras are because our local crew here at Made In rave about them.”
He adds, “I’ve personally begun delving into video, and I started out using Sony’s X70, because it seemed the easiest to learn. I was instantly blown away by my ability to set this thing up and capture what I needed, so I understand why we want to get these cameras in the hands of channel partners to use, who may be on my level of expertise. I took it out in the field and it was so easy and I was so proud of what came out of it. It looked professional, well done and the client was impressed. I was impressed by the ease of use and how intuitive all of the menus were, and I didn’t have to worry about the complexity of the camera in the field.”
VanCleave went on to explain the changing trends in technology, throughout his time in the industry. “There’s new technology trends emerging constantly that affect the content business,” he says. “Over the last 10 years, there has been a groundswell of video properties and platforms, which leads to the need for more content and eventually better content. With the availability of mobile devices, you can’t go anywhere without video or photography happening, which has helped content to spread to multiple platforms online. As user-generated content explodes, emerging technology is a constant challenge for a company like ours, so Sony is enabling us to capitalize on this trend instead of being intimidated by it.”
VanCleave sums up his experience at Made In Network eloquently, saying “For me to tell people that I work at a company that has 70 million views a month is pretty amazing, considering it’s only a two-year-old company and how much I’m learning. I thought I would walk in with all of my experience and teach these kids a thing or two and it’s really been the opposite way around and that’s really fun.”
Production Director Michael Hardesty, who has a background in audio and music, began with the network after he created and developed the channel’s popular series 24HR Records. He leads the creative team in conceptualizing new content. While Grosch and VanCleave work closely with Sony from a business perspective, Hardesty oversees the technical end of the relationship.
“In the past, the YouTube space has definitely relied on lower production values than you would see on traditional television or movie sets, so we’ve been really excited to use Sony’s gear to allow us to make digital video content specifically for YouTube, to the highest quality,” says Hardesty. “What has historically been successful on YouTube hasn’t necessarily relied on production values, but as we’re moving forward, the YouTube audience is expecting higher and higher production quality and we’ve been able to blow away our channel partners and our clients with what we’re able to do in our production facility.”
In his work in the audio realm, Hardesty appreciates the versatility of Sony’s high-quality professional audio –microphones, headphones and field recorders. “I’ve been really lucky to have some of the top-quality large diaphragm condenser mics like Sony’s C800G and C38B at my disposal for doing voice-overs in the overdub booth or recording acoustic music, in addition to Sony’s shotgun and wireless mics, like the UWPD series for documentary style run-and-gun production, which are invaluable and super nimble for the times we don’t have an audio person with us.”
He continues, “The C800G and C38B are workhorses and were mics I had used before joining Made In Network. They’re my favorite mics ever and I can always depend on them to sound amazing. A lot of my work comes back to my love of music and we are constantly working with the music community and capturing performances, whether it’s acoustic, a full band, or laying vocals over a track and I rely on the C38Bs to be easy to use and sound good on everything from an in-store performance to an artsy musical piece.”
Another standout feature for Hardesty and his crew is the ease of use. “I’m able to teach creatives with a video background how to use Sony’s audio products with just a few brief demonstrations, and then they’re out in the field. Not only have they been able to learn how to use the products easily, but they come back with some amazing results.”
In terms of microphones, Hardesty talks about his use of wireless and wired lavaliers in different settings. “In a lot of our programming when we’re doing sit-down interviews, we’ll still rely on the wired lavs for the technical sturdiness of them. But at the same time, when we’re doing some of our more run-and-gun, documentary-style filming, we have definitely used our wireless lavs and put them on each character in the documentary. They give us ultimate flexibility. We don’t have to worry about capturing the highest quality sound because we are secure in knowing it’s already on the person.”
Hardesty described his experience with the PCM-D100 field recorder, which he uses with many musical channel partners and on shoots as “super helpful, small and able to get into a lot of non-traditional spaces, while still sounding like it’s been captured in a studio.”
From shooting to editing content, as well as direction on some of the network’s top channels and series, Producer and Director Brad Cash spends a lot of time using Sony’s camera offerings. He explains why the FS7 in particular is a key tool in his arsenal.
“Since we began shooting with the FS7s, it’s been amazing,” he sats. “It’s great how difficult Sony has made it to get a bad shot; from all the ways you can monitor, to having focus peaking and the zebra button on the side of the camera, the FS7 has robust functionality. But it is easy to get away from all of that when you just want to hit the display button, see your shot and make sure it looks good. The features this camera offer give you a lot of confidence as a filmmaker to move forward in a shoot.”
He continues, “Something that Sony has made it really nice to do is offer such flexibility in post. You can be in Cine EI and you can manipulate what’s coming out of the camera to make it exactly what you want in the editing room, or you can bake the image in-camera and make it look beautiful straightaway if you have to release what you’re shooting the next day.”
Cash describes using tutorials and the time in which it took him to become comfortable with the FS7 camera. “The first thing I did was go online and find tutorials,” he said. “It took me just two days to look them over and feel ready to go out and shoot with the cameras and feel comfortable enough to know what I was doing. In terms of a learning curve, two days is pretty good!”
Cash goes on to talk about pairing the FS7 with a variety of Sony’s lens options. “To have a really versatile lens like the telephoto 28-105 with the servo zoom that comes with the FS7 is amazing to use when you’re not quite sure what you’re going to run into,” he said. Alternately, when you have more time and you’re going for a more cinematic look, it’s great to throw a 55 prime and get a beautiful shot exactly how you want it. I’ve been able to achieve a range of different looks and different types of images using Sony’s 35 prime and 55 prime – going all the way to the 200mm on the 75 to 200 lens.”
Cash has also found pairing the FS7 with Sony’s audio offerings to be seamless. He noted, “I found it interesting to be able to listen to and record with some of Sony’s microphones and hear what was coming into the camera. From blasting super loud music to super quiet whispers, I was able to hear it all and was happy with the quality, which is great since it allows me to focus on the image.”
On the importance of high quality tools for YouTube production, Cash said, “I think it’s extremely important for a company like Made In Network to differentiate and change the YouTube space from one that has been cat videos filmed on phones to really high quality content. We’ve done this by having good ideas and good content that stands out not only for what it is, but for how it’s made. Our videos look professional because we’ve used the best equipment. Having good ideas to shoot is extremely important, but if you’re shooting it on something that is not high quality, people may not view it the way that you want them to.”
Shooting 4K content is important to the Made In Network team, since YouTube supports the resolution, as do many high-end cameras, like the Sony models. Cash finds the resolution flexible and helpful in creating multiple looks, saying “We’ll shoot in 4K and put it in a 1080 frame and when I’m interviewing somebody, then that turns that one interview shot into four different shots. When they say something very dramatic I can pull right in on their face. Having that flexibility with just one camera is really nice especially when you’re in a run-and-gun scenario and you have one camera to get as many shots out of it as you can. 4K is the way of the future, so when you’ve shot in the resolution, you’re certainly going to be proofed against wherever the future takes us.”
As the head videographer and editor for Made In Network, Creative Director Jourdan Lees makes sure there is a consistency to the network’s shows. Lees favors Sony’s FS7 and X70 cameras for a number of reasons, lauding the range of options they offer.
The FS7 is his personal favorite. He says, “The versatility of the FS7 allows for shooting a really raw image from CineEI mode, but also if you need to go into custom mode you can set that and be good to go for capturing a really specific image and shot. Having the flexibility to quickly and easily jump between the two modes is extremely helpful.”
Another popular feature is the camera’s neutral density filter, of which Lees said, “I never personally had that on any camera I’ve worked with and it’s pretty amazing to be able to go from a dark environment inside to right outside and throw on the ND filters, giving me a great image right off the bat.”
“We can use interchangeable lenses with the FS7 to get different shots, so it’s easy to take on the go, as well as to use stable and mounted,” Lees continues. “For the Frothy Monkey coffee roasting video, we shot on the FS7 for Sony’s 4K Creators YouTube page. We used Sony’s 70-200mm lens for beautiful, crisp, shallow depth of field shots. We were able to easily switch to the 24-70 and get a nice wide shot. All the lenses we’ve used have been really responsive. They’re clear, solid and beautiful.”
The lightweight, 4K PXW-X70 camera is also a workhorse. “We’ve put it on a jib quite a few times since it can get a good wide angle,” Lees says. “We can get a whole shot from one camera. Models like the X70 are very different from using something like a DSLR, which I had previously used. The quality is a huge jump, yet it wasn’t difficult to learn. With all the buttons right on the body of the camera, you can quickly get to the things you are looking for.”
Lees appreciates the adaptable nature of the model and of 4K shooting overall saying, “Being able to shoot in 4K is pretty awesome, as are the images we are capturing. There aren’t a lot of cameras out there on the market in the price range of the FS7, or the X70 for that matter. For projects that are shot in 1080, we’re still able to shoot in 4K and use that to essentially expand the number of cameras we have. We can get multiple shots from one image, which is pretty amazing.”
Summing it up, he concludes, “Being a multi-channel network here in Nashville, where we are more or less the place to go for anything that has to do with YouTube, makes it essential to have the best and highest quality gear. Over the last few years, the quality on YouTube has changed pretty drastically from a webcam to high-end, professional tools and it’s been an amazing thing to see, experience and be a part of that transition.”