CARPINTERIA, CA—LinkedIn recently launched a premium subscription-only platform, LinkedIn Learning, offering access to skills training from within LinkedIn’s website to a potential client base of 450 million members. The company is now expanding its production facilities, located on California’s Central Coast, to add to its online video training library of more than 9,000 courses.
Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in June, 2016, eager to enter the business of self-paced educational products and services, which globally generates more than $23 billion annually. LinkedIn had previously purchased massive open online course (MOOC) provider Lynda.com for $1.5 billion in April, 2015.
Former special effects animator and educator Lynda Weinman had initially founded Lynda.com in 1995 to communicate with her web design students. The platform subsequently grew to offer hundreds of thousands of video tutorials on topics from business software, finance and accounting to photography, visual effects, audio and music.
Deb Cornish, LinkedIn Learning’s principal audio engineer, started eight years ago at Lynda.com. At the time, the video editors were handling the audio, but then a new CEO came onboard, she says. “He was a musician who had a Pro Tools studio at home, and decided to bring on an audio engineer to get the best-sounding recordings.”
With the support of Weinman, who was also keen to improve audio quality for subscribers, Cornish continues, “Eight years ago, we got Pro Tools in, updated all of the equipment and started to build out the audio team. We now have five audio engineers, managed by Kirk Wheeler, and we have these wonderful rooms to work in that we have been in for about two months.”
There are five live-action production stages currently being used, offering green screen and set-design capabilities comparable to a small Hollywood studio, reports Wheeler, who is manager of Audio Engineering. Six more will come online soon.
“We’re also recording in Whisper Rooms. We have 28 in total; 24 are currently deployed onsite. We also use remote recording gear in various environments, which may be a hotel room, a closet or a kitchen.”
One of the principal challenges is to provide consistency and intelligibility across those disparate sources and deliver the optimum audio experience to subscribers with no distraction from the focus of each training video. “The human voice is the focal point,” says Wheeler.
The six new audio suites—three large A rooms designed for eventual 5.1 operation plus three smaller B rooms—provide a major upgrade to the environment in which the audio team works. Newson Brown Acoustics of Santa Monica, CA, handled the architectural acoustic design of the rooms.
“We’re trying to create an environment that can give a really clear picture of how the voice is going to sound,” says Wheeler. “A lot of us have been in traditional music studios our whole careers, so we know how these rooms are built.”
The rooms are also outfitted with visually distinctive Quantum Acoustics products from Delta H Design Inc. (DHDI), including ZR Micro, ZR Hybrid and ZR SR panels. “I listened to the product at an install at Universal Mastering in Los Angeles,” says Wheeler, who considered a range of options. “It really was the right choice, including from the design perspective; they look great.”
The new rooms are not just inspiring spaces in which to work, he says. “They also sound good, and are even across the frequencies that we really care about—the low-mids to highs, and down into the lower vocal range.”
To further help deliver a clean vocal track, he says, “We’re using iZotope RX6—for years, we were an RX beta-tester—as well as CEDAR tools.”
One photography course, for instance, was shot in Hawaii. “You can imagine the noise from wind and waterfalls,” he says.
The rooms are equipped with Argosy Console’s Halo workstations. “Our teams are having a fantastic time using those,” he reports.
Cornish reports that DHDI’s ZR Sample Rate panels have made a significant difference to the performance of her Genelec 8040 monitors. “The ZR SR 24+ panels that Hanson [Hsu, DHDI principal and CEO] put behind them—nearly touching—has improved the speakers to the extent that I can’t listen to the 8040s without them,” she says.
Early adopters of LinkedIn Learning’s services include Bertelsmann, NBC Universal, Viacom and others, as well as Microsoft. “If you go to Microsoft’s online help, the learning videos we created here are what you see,” says Wheeler.
For a training course that LinkedIn Learning is producing for Microsoft’s new HoloLens headset, the audio team is recording every facet of the VR user experience. “We’re capturing the on-set mics, the audio stream and what’s happening in the experience itself,” he says.
Delta H Design
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Pro Sound News as "Inside the Audio of LinkedIn Learning."