DAM Champ: Roy Walter

DAM Champ Roy Walter is an independent DAM consultant with – wait for it – an undergrad degree in music performance and music theory. A fascination with publishing technologies and midi programming led to his pursuit of a Master’s degree in programming. From there, he got into developing futures forecasting programs at Chase, inventory forecasting at Time Inc., and eventually took a role managing desktop publishing operations, where he built an in-house digital photography studio that produced a thousand images a week. To manage all the images and automate the layout process, he built a DAM system from scratch.

DAM champ: Someone who supports finding, setting up, or maintaining a digital asset management system (DAM). There is a wide variety of DAM champions, who come from positions in production, creative, management, IT, and marketing.

Now Walter works for a variety of clients who share a basic challenge; they need to manage digital assets. “More importantly,” he explains, “they need to enable discovery of those assets to facilitate some sort of storytelling. Very often users need to find the relationships between things in order to tell a more engaging story, whether it’s going to be on the website or a special television production.”

Roy Walter digital asset managementYou were previously the director of Media Asset Management at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Tell us about your work there.

I started working with Lincoln Center a few years ago when I implemented a DAM to initially manage video; now they are transferring a lot of digital photos into it. Lincoln Center is using the DAM for managing their high-resolution video, the mezzanine stuff, as well as the derivative video from those. There is also 40 years of ‘Live from Lincoln Center’ that I was finishing up having digitally transferred from tape. All of the current productions go into the DAM and are related by the data that is in a performance database, so users can see what’s performed in the video, by whom and who wrote these pieces. It was initially for internal use, but they have redesigned their website and their mobile app so they are able to take those assets and that data and turn them around for public-facing usage as well.

They needed a performance database to tie all those assets together via the data on thousands of live performances they produced yearly. They did not have any formal database for this, so I built a Graph Database to do it.

What is a Graph Database?

A Graph Database is structured around nodes for objects and the relationships between those nodes. Graph databases are not tied to defined structures or schema. They can very easily be modified to accommodate new data, new requirements, and new applications without breaking pre-existing code.

In a typical relational database you have rows, records, columns and fields. Relationships are therefore defined programmatically based on common field values in many places. A Graph is really about unique objects — a person, a musical work, a photo, or it can be an event – and the shared relationships between other objects. The relationships are part of the structure itself. Because of this, Graph search is extremely fast and a graph is really powerful for real-time visualization and analysis of data.

How do Graph relationships work?

The relationships between assets really define the story.

“From a performance you might have music where each piece is an individual object, written by composers. Perhaps there were arrangements of it and the performances themselves are unique events. All those things relate to things in your DAM.”

Now you know all the works that were in a recording of a program, all of the artists in the performances and all the people who created those works. But you also know all the other things any artist has performed and all the other performances of any given work.

How does the relationship between nodes work?

The database is able to relate one performance of a particular work with hundreds of other performances we might have, in addition to the photography and the specific rights associated with a recording of the performance. That enables you to tie in and create aggregated web analytics on what you’ve posted and what people saw, but it also allows you to control the rights — we can use three of those performances, but one of them might be a Joni Mitchell song that we couldn’t clear the rights for, so perhaps you edit that out.

Now you can link to all the photos that are associated with it, articles and reviews, and more powerfully relate all this out to more data via Wikipedia or the Library of Congress or any other source through established global identifiers. This is a dynamic system. None of this is carved in stone and it will always be updated as new relationships are created.

Are you creating a web of things?

The database creates an ever-growing web of things. Beyond the semantic relationships it’s the story we can tell through these assets and through their metadata in a really dynamic way as opposed to a flat file. You can find that video from a specific date, but then you can also find out so much more and send listeners and viewers to more resources about that event.

Are there other uses for this technology?

This isn’t limited to performance assets, obviously; it can be used for corporate communications, it can be used for rights, for education, and it’s used for security. The content can be specific to an individual domain, but the concept applies to virtually everything we do.

How did you build this?

I built the graph database myself using Neo4j, it’s one of the largest, it’s open source and very powerful. I had a programmer, Rafael Arcieri, who did the application coding.

You also worked on their Public Library Screenings project. Tell us about that.

I designed and built the ‘Lincoln Center Screening Application’. It started out as a way of delivering HD quality video to public libraries throughout New York City, but now they are expanding nationwide and they are also looking to use it in education and other areas.

By using the DAM and creating a special portal, we created a catalog of available full-length performances, in high definition video for public libraries to view and present their own screenings on-site in their local communities. The driver here is bringing high-quality performances to communities who do not have access to world-class performances either geographically or financially.

How does it work?

The libraries use the portal in the DAM to preview and then schedule screenings of recorded performances by the Philharmonic or ballet or solo singer-songwriters. I designed a desktop app that authenticates against the DAM and recognizes the scheduled performances they’ve set up. Through a proprietary player, they get protected, high definition video delivered to their local system that they can then project in HD. It has a self-guided test for their audio and video systems. It also analyzes the machine it’s running on to make sure that it’s a relatively current PC with enough memory, bandwidth, etc.

It guarantees HD quality video without any of the shortcomings of streaming. We get over the problem of delivering the last mile over the public internet and they are able to project beautiful performances on large screens and invite the community to share in these performances locally. It’s just a fabulous program.

What are you up to now?

I’m now a consultant and working on these sorts of projects with other clients. I have a side project focused on how we can facilitate collaborative DAM in the public space. Having people not just put stuff on social media sites, but create structured archives of our life’s assets. The photographs that we have, documents, music, video, things we share and cherish. How can we link them with others in a very powerful way to recreate things like my ancestors’ voyage coming over from England in 1920 and arriving at Ellis Island? I don’t have photos of them doing that, but photos exist from that time, even of that very same trip.

If I’m able to tie that in with other people’s experiences and assets it becomes a really powerful story and we can create the people’s history, rather than only the things that we typically see in history which is about either very rich or very powerful people. We know the history of Lincoln, we know the history of the Astors, but I’m really interested in my ancestors and the stories of average people, and I’m interested in the musicians I’m really fascinated with, and the extraordinary changes in cities over time. I think we now have the tools and the possibility to build a people’s DAM that ties these things together.

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