EMI Embraces Digital Workflow

 

EMI Recorded Music announced in a February 26th press release that they were partnering with Vio, a global provider of online applications. Vio has enabled EMI to utilize a completely digital workflow environment with full Internet access for creating and producing digital artwork for all of EMI’s North American record labels.

 

The third largest music company in the world, EMI Recorded Music, releases over 1,000 albums each year and maintains a presence in nearly 70 countries. The company’s labels include EMI, Virgin, Capitol, Priority, and Blue Note.

 

The Collaboration

 “We selected Vio as the suppliers of our Digital Artwork Network because it provides the simplest approach to an all-digital workflow as well as application tools in that help us maintain the quality of our work and maximize our production efficiency.  Using Vio’s solutions, EMI will standardize our high production values and quality across the geographically dispersed U.S. group of record executives, graphic designers, artists, color separators and printers.  Beyond those critical capabilities, Vio also allows EMI to consolidate its creative resources immediately, as the company develops innovative ways to repurpose its brand assets, be it CD covers or other promotional collateral.  Vio also enables EMI to capture its artwork assets instantaneously,” said Crighton Mather, Vice President, Release Management and Global Archiving.  “This will allow us to standardize and automate the capture and delivery of our digital assets.”

 

“EMI Recorded Music’s selection of Vio is a strong endorsement of Vio’s simple and cost-effective approach in providing online applications for the efficient creation, production and distribution of creative digital content.  We are pleased to have been chosen by EMI after thorough evaluation, and we look forward to Vio playing integral role in their move to an all digital production environment,” said Ian Ehrenberg, CEO, Vio North America.

 

EMI developed a rigorous three-month trial involving two record labels, in-house, freelance and agency-based graphic designers, three color separators, and two printers. The trial was to prove that EMI could fully embrace modern digital technology for production purposes as well as save much needed time in providing materials to their partner sites.

 

According to Crighton Mather, “Everything in the music business is late. It needed to be printed three weeks ago. It’s not bad if you are in L.A. or somewhere in the U.S., where you can get something by courier within 24 hours. But when you’re talking about printers in Europe or Japan or Australia, it’s 3-5 days before they could have their artwork. That puts a lot of pressure on the smaller regions to hit the street date for a new release.” Previously, artwork had to be taken to LAX to be put on a flight or via courier to the production facility. With this new digital workflow system providing nearly instantaneous files to the partner site, the color separators, production and packaging facilities can use precious extra time to finish the work. And more time means less chance for error.

 

 

The Pilot

As a first phase, Vio delivered its fully operational file transfer, job management and pre-flighting applications services to all EMI partner sites in the U.S. at the end of January. However, before this system could be fully utilized, a strict set of standards had to be established to insure that all sites were working with the same equipment. This set of standards, referred to as the Clean Components Guide, was designed as an extranet for company and third party suppliers in digital design, production, reprographics (color separations), pre-flighting, print, traffic and archiving. The CCG is located on a website that contains product specifications and digital tools such as packaging templates and font-logos to help creative people (a) get the technical side right the first time, and (b) focus on the creative side. Once registered, designers can download Mac-based applications, such as QuarkXpress, Adobe Acrobat, and Aladdin Stuffit. In addition to the main specifications and digital toolbox, CCG Online contains information on software standards, the Digital Artwork Process (including color management and archiving), a newsletter, and a feedback loop for users to participate in the evolution of the site. Automatic updates are sent when they become available.

 

After meeting a series of specifications, each of the partner sites was required to have extensive training before accessing the workflow system. This training was the next logical step in order to assure that the digital workflow process would operate smoothly. One downfall of operating such a restricted system was deciding which vendors would be chosen to partner with EMI. “There were a lot of relationships that had to be broken in order to make this work,” said Mather. “It was difficult to decide who would be a part of it and who wouldn’t.”

 

The Process

Designers may use any of the standard native applications to create artwork for CDs, point of sale material, and packaging. Utilizing common applications promotes ease of use since the designers are accustomed to working with them for most projects. Although designers have a great deal of freedom in their creativity, the label must approve all final artwork. Once the designer has created the required files, some as large as 500-600mb, they are pre-flighted then packaged up and sent through the network. After the appropriate people receive the files, they must also use their digital tools to assure everything is in place.

 

As heard many times throughout the printing community, there is often a chasm between designers and color separators or printers. Designers have a great amount of creativity, but often do not possess the technical know how to create materials that are practical or possible to print. This is where the pre-flighting checks by the color separators come in to play. While an unusable file can be a frustrating experience, EMI sees this as an opportunity. With a vendor base of six, it will be relatively easy to further train the designers to recognize any errors and potential problems before the files are sent across the network. In the long run, this will improve efficiency and eliminate the costly downtime it takes to correct those mistakes in the next phase.

 

Crighton Mather is very excited about the whole digital process. “It gives our companies a lot of efficiencies in a lot of areas.” One of those areas EMI hopes to explore further is that of using the network to transfer digital music files. Linking studios to manufacturing sites would eliminate using couriers to transfer PM CDs to sites that perform the actual mastering of the CDs. While this is under what EMI dubs a “Phase 2 Investigation”, Mather states, “the infrastructure is already in place.” Using the network has already shown savings of nearly 4:1 over conventional methods, so transferring digital music files would seem to be the next logical step.

 

Radio Free Europe

Now that EMI has successfully conquered the U.S. with its digital production workflow environment, Europe is next on the list. Implementation in Europe is considered more difficult than the U.S. due to three times the amount of record labels. Although the European territory is much more complex, EMI has been running a pilot program for six months to test the waters. The current estimate is that the digital production network will be in place within the year.

 

Once the European record labels are all onboard the network, EMI will move onto some of their smaller regions. The plan is to establish international hubs to support the network. Those hubs have yet to be established. Mather says, “Once Europe is ruled out, we can concentrate on the rest.”

 

Archiving

Part of the problem of an all-digital system is archiving. File and film storage has always been a thorn in the side for printers. Films age and files can easily get lost or destroyed. While less and less films are being produced and stored, they still exist. Even in transferring to an all-digital format, those films have to be kept, and companies must develop a way to archive digital files as well. The most practical solution seems to be a standardized archiving and indexing system. This system would insure that files could be found and accessed easily, and hopefully, eliminate loss. Standardization is especially crucial for companies like EMI, who have people on an international network with the possible necessity to access to all corporate artwork files. Crighton Mather agrees, “Every label and every entity must have this (archiving system) and all entities must have exactly the same standards.”

 

While an all digital world may never come to fruition, companies like EMI are proving that taking the next step is not only viable, but cost effective. Every day more and more people are putting aside their doubts and stepping into technology. The reasons can vary from keeping up with the times to the almighty bottom line. Or as Crighton Mather puts it, “I thought it was the right thing to do.”