John Spencer’s interesting history in the professional audio business has a long-running theme of data management. Spreading his wings at Otari during the company’s ultimate heights—while marketing and distributing the first RADAR digital multitrack recorders from the mid-to-late 1990s to professionals throughout North and South America—Spencer gained a unique perspective of how the pro audio industry gathers and protects its ones and zeroes. The journey led him to his current position today as president of VeVa Sound, a company that works “to define, create and implement the standards for how sound recordings are preserved and monetized,” as the company website explains.
Spencer began his career at Applied Audio Marketing, where he acted as a representative for various recording consoles, outboard gear, studio monitors. “That would have been about 32 years ago,” he reflects.
It wasn’t long before he landed at Otari, “which at the time was the leading manufacturer of tape recorders, consoles, and was probably one of the first companies that had a digital platform with the Radar HDD product,” he explains. “I don’t know whether it makes any difference or not, but Otari were on the ground floor of the LTO data tape manufacturing business. That was where I got my first understanding that the digital music industry better start trying to adhere to enterprise-class storage instead of trying to keep coming up with equipment that only suits our niche needs. We just kept seeing more and more variances of proprietary hardware for recording, and ultimately a lot of it didn’t stick around; then everybody moved to digital audio workstations and it kind of became a moot point. So all of that energy spent in building all those proprietary machines showed me that, ultimately, there’s not going to be a market for all of them. It made me realize that there were a lot of people dealing with a lot of data that they had no idea how it should be maintained, protected, backed up and so on. When I was with Otari, I began to see the nightmares we had with Exabyte, raw SCSI HDDs, and stuff like that. All enterprise hardware began to infiltrate the studio to a certain extent, and we were starting to get away from purpose-built equipment for recording.”
That said, Spencer recognized that the recording industry “wasn’t exactly having the greatest of success in utilizing off-the-shelf computers,” he continues. “[While at Otari], I was the co-chair of the NARAS P & E Wing Deliverables Committee…we were able to forge a bridge to get people thinking that we have to be more in line with large-scale companies that deal with petabytes of information on a daily basis. Labels need to be able to incorporate the storage needs of their valuable assets.”
Spencer notes that, at that time, many began carefully questioning the possible longevity of drives, which made it inevitable that the industry had to examine the issue from multiple perspectives. “[One was an] archival perspective—which means multiple copies—geographic separation and data perspective—checksums, carriers, directories, catalogs, etcetera. We didn’t need to create another format—we needed to go with what was industry, enterprise-class standards.”
Spencer recalls that the need for standardization of session data—both metadata and actual audio files—was recognized nearly two decades ago. “The labels knew that something was wrong,” he admits. “They were continuing to get boxes full of mixed media, raw hard drives, CDRs, DAT tapes and more, and didn’t have any idea what was coming in. [At the time], we formed a working group—including a number of record labels, my company [then called BMS/Chace], the Recording Academy and others—to try to find a way to create standards for digital delivery of session data.”
In 2006, the Library of Congress became involved, offering Spencer’s company grant money to help with the creation of an XML schema for the collection of recording metadata. Also around the same time, DDEX (Digital Data Exchange) was formed to standardize the digital supply chain. Since then, DDEX has published several standards pertinent to the record industry, including ERN (Electronic Release Notification), providing commercial information for releases; and DSR (Digital Sales Report), giving digital service providers a standardized way to report sales figures to labels and audio pros. In 2010, the Library of Congress and BMS/Chace donated the intellectual property created for their joint project to DDEX, and DDEX members formed a studio metadata work group to create a recording metadata standard. This standard was realized when, on October 10, 2016, DDEX released RIN (Recording Industry Notification).
“It’s specifically designed for standardizing recording metadata and contains fields for such information as where the song was recorded, who the musicians, producers and engineers were, and what their ISNI (International Standard Name Identifier) numbers are,” offers Spencer.
Obviously, the business of Spencer and VeVa Sound has significantly evolved. “We used to do a fair amount of analog tape transfers, and still do some of them, but the business is completely shifted on its head in terms of it really being a digital speed-to-market type of game,” Spencer explains. “[The industry] didn’t have to create applications and tools that…give artists and their appropriate management people, label people, the things they need to rapidly respond to a revenue-generating opportunity. If something happens, it’s going to happen in warp time, and so you’ve got to be able to respond; if somebody needs a TV mix for a show they’re doing tomorrow, they better be able to get it tomorrow, and it better be the right one.”
VeVa’s main office in based in Nashville, thus the vast majority of analog and scanning work is completed from there. Meanwhile, VeVa’s London, New York and Los Angeles offices are essentially production facilities with such a high amount of turnover “that we just have to make sure we have a local place to meet our verification times,” explains Spencer. “Those cities are obviously key areas for the music communities and artists.”
Philosophy-wise, Spencer and his accomplished team are always looking forward. “I work closely with all our staff, including Deborah De-Loach, vice president, John Sarappo, director of Engineering, as well as the rest of our global VeVa team. [We] try to follow everything that’s going on, with respect to the enterprise IT side, while staying obviously remaining in sync with what is happening in the music industry. It’s very important for me to be able to look on the horizon and see what we think may end up being the next LTO data tape, for example. [Our focus] is two or three years out these days, as everything changes so rapidly. And it’s really identifying what market trends are going to be coming and what needs your clients are going to have that they might not even know about, or be thinking about. VeVa is trying to anticipate their needs because our clients don’t always necessarily know the next best steps to take.”