A small-business post facility or editor deals with many kinds of projects and media. After a year or two things usually become unmanageable and murky. Ten years ago you’d see post houses littered with tape – tape on the floor, shelves, as coasters, fly-swatters, cash registers, chairs (no kidding), etc. Digital files don’t make themselves useful that way.
This article looks at five solid digital asset management (DAM) tools or software that could make your life a lot easier.
The problem of the ‘Small-business’ owner or professional
First, let’s quickly define who this is for:
- Single Editor – It is unlikely you’ll be doing the same number of projects as a post facility, but digital media tends to pile up. Typically, what defines this group is that they only have access to one computer, and don’t necessarily require the Internet – until the computer dies abruptly one day and they have nowhere to turn.
- Single Music or Sound Editor or Mixer – Music samples are so easy to come by that it isn’t uncommon for a single music or sound professional to have terabytes of the stuff. Same as above, only one computer.
- Small post facility or post house – You’ll be doing many kinds of projects, and will likely deal with lots of stock footage, stills, music, effects, graphics, etc. Many of these elements, templates and project files can be reused, and also need to be accessible to everyone concerned. If you’re working on large projects, you can pass around assets quickly. The defining feature of this group is that they have several computers over a local network (LAN) and might need the Internet.
A large post-facility will need an enterprise DAM solution that is out of the budget and technical range of the small-business post facility. Large facilities usually also require a great deal of customization, and off-the-shelf products are rarely used as they are. You’ll find many open source solutions that have annual service and/or hosting contracts. Some examples of these are Razuna, ResourceSpace, Entermedia, Cinegy, etc.
The common trend among large organizations is to opt for an open-source solution, and then pay programmers and engineers to manage it. Open source solutions are built on many kinds of frameworks, so the organization can pick and choose one that suits its current infrastructure, with minimal changes. It also saves a ton of money on the licensing, especially when you’re using PHP, Java, Python, etc. on MySQL or PostgreSQL, etc. Such large-scale deployments of software are collectively called an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution – because a large operation has more than just digital assets to manage and archive.
One of the most famous ECM solutions related to our industry is Adobe Experience Manager (formerly CQ). How much does it cost? Here’s Tom Wentworth on the subject:
It’s no secret that Adobe CQ is the most expensive CMS. Adobe said during their recent partner summit that the average CQ deal is $450,000 in license with the total implementation cost of over $2m USD.
Oops. The small business owner would love an open source (read: free) solution, but cannot really afford the customization or trouble-shooting costs involved. What to do?
Well, without further ado, let’s look at five solutions available right now. Just to note, the emphasis is on applications that have a proven record, are easily accessible around the world, can work on Macs, PCs, Linux, etc., and can be used even if you’re not technically knowledgable.
Oh, and it has to be cheap enough to be within reach.
This is the standard of the broadcast industry, as is all things Avid. It is not cheap:
Five seats of Interplay Production; ISIS 5000 15TB; three Media Composer seats; installation services; and one year of ExpertPlus support with hardware coverage at the breakthrough price point of $49,900 USD. The second solution package delivers even more value with ten seats of Interplay Production; Interplay Sphere; ISIS 5000 32TB; four Media Composer seats; one Symphony seat; installation services; and one year of ExpertPlus support with hardware coverage for $89,900 USD.
But it is far cheaper than Adobe Experience Manager, and comes with hardware and software that will form the bedrock of your post house – should you decide to invest in Avid Media Composer or Symphony, Pro Tools, etc.
The who’s-who of the broadcast world uses Interplay, and here’s a case study by the Discovery Channel on its use. It is definitely the benchmark that other DAM solutions must look up to.
In their own words:
axle 2012 (now in its 8th release) is software to help you manage your media projects. It provides a simple web browser interface that lets you view, annotate and log all your assets from any location. axle runs on a Mac Mini that’s connected either directly or over the network to your media storage. Your storage can be a SAN, a NAS or just a local RAID, and can be running on in a Mac, Windows or Linux environment – all axle needs is to be able to read the file system. axle then catalogs your media in its database and makes low-bandwidth proxies letting you work on your assets from wherever you are.
At the time of this writing, Axle supports Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro and Photoshop only.
How much does it cost? $1,295 plus $295 per year support for 5 users.
CatDV is somewhat of an industry legend. They like to be called the “iTunes/iPhoto for movies”. It has four versions, at different price-points and features. The basic single-user can opt for Standard ($99) or Professional ($450). The Workgroup version allows you to work over a network, with support for MySQL and Oracle. The Enterprise version is for larger networks, and can cost about $1,000 or more per user.
If you’re a working professional serious about your asset management, I strongly recommend you start with CatDV Standard. It’s been around long enough, and has a free trial that will help you decide.
What if you don’t want to spend any money? You could opt for a Content Management System (CMS) instead (All these acronyms!) of a DAM. Usually, these are used to create websites which hosts tons of videos, images, audio, etc., but there’s nothing stopping you from using the same technology on a personal intranet (LAN) or personal server or computer.
It’s free to set up and somewhat easy to use. Like every other software, you need to spend some time learning its intricacies, but with such a large community to help for either (I couldn’t decide between Joomla or Drupal) you can’t go wrong. In fact, the coolest thing about either is that you can host your company or professional website on it as a front-end and have a secret space for clients, employees, etc. Think about it: You can exchange videos, media, email, payments, etc., from any computer connected to the Internet or LAN. The possibilities are endless.
No wonder large organizations like Citibank, Turner and Harvard use them.
1 Your Operating System
What if you don’t want to spend anything, or learn anything new? There’s still one solid platform left, and that’s your Operating System (OS).
Okay, not technically the OS, because I’m talking about:
- Explorer and Search for Windows
- Finder and Spotlight for Mac
- Many options (like Unity in Ubuntu) for Linux
However, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of the above without the OS. How do you use these efficiently? Here’s an idea:
- Good filenames – the most important
- Simple and scalable folder structure with good names for those too – just as important
- Additional .txt files as sidecars that can actually hold very useful data
- Other metadata (Right-click on Explorer or Finder and you’ll find a lot more things to append to each file to make it easier to find or sort)
See? There was a time when search wasn’t viable due to slow computers. Going earlier, there was a time when you didn’t even have a GUI and had to use DOS or UNIX to find files. Oh wait, there was also a time before the computer when you actually filed stuff….or etched them on cave walls.
The cool thing about these solutions is that you can scale them over networks via Windows Server, Mac OSX Server, Apache, Nginx, Linux Server, etc.
Well, these are my choices – all tried and tested systems. What do you think? What DAM do you use or prefer for your video work?