UPDATED: The Social Media Photographer's Shot Kit

UPDATED: The Social Media Photographer's Shot Kit

If you're an online marketing maven, or if you just got stuck managing the social media for your organization because no-one else will - you no doubt have long since realized that photography and video are the leaders in content online. It can be a bit intimidating when you see all the amazing photos online shot by people with the budgets to afford the latest DSLRs with huge, expensive lenses. 

I'm here to tell you - that all that heavy, expensive gear is not necessary. To be honest it never really was. To be fair, I was just as bad as anyone about lugging around loads of expensive gear in multiple backpacks - all essentially to shoot images destined to the web. Well, I've had a change of heart and I'm here to give you some new recommendations on gear if you are shooting for the web. 

I Just Deleted Half The Subscribers From My Email List And You Should Too

In the constant race to build the list, Build The List, BUILD THE LIST! - a task that generates much panic in marketers, but which is necessary is eliminating email subscribers with whom you are not getting the results.

One of the most important things I have learned in digital marketing over the years came from a post by Brian Clark of Copyblogger. This tip has helped me get better average results from my list than any other thing I’ve every done. Brian reiterated this tip recently in a Master Class with Michael Hyatt on Platform University. When you focus your message on the right recipients you achieve optimum results. Measuring, testing and adapting should be your principal allies when nurturing and keeping your list healthy. Make no mistake, it is absolutely necessary to do a thorough analysis of your email database at least every 6 months and cull the users who are not opening your emails. This time-frame can be adjusted based upon how frequently you send emails and how quickly your list is growing. 

When you suggest this to your clients/boss the vast majority of people would throw their hands up. In those situations, be respectful those who only seek volume and help them understand why we do this with data. Show them we are looking for results. Results are not obtained with volume alone, but with the right mix of volume and quality. Think about it, what good would 20,000 email subscribers do for you if they have not event opened an email for over 6 months? Perhaps when they signed up they genuinely wanted to receive your newsletter. However, maybe their day is too full of information now. Maybe they have forgotten why they even subscribed to your newsletter. 

I understand it’s a bitter pill to swallow. But for years now, I take all my social media accounts and cull ALL my follows. I then “start over” by engaging with the accounts and people I am currently interested in. It’s a nice way to do some spring cleaning and make sure the information I am receiving is what I am actually interested in. 

Culling inactive subscribers from your email list is similar. Of course, you are doing this in reverse order. But this process ensures that your list is active and healthy and that your open rate is well above the norm for your industry.  

Just so you know I put my money where my mouth is, over the past ten years, I have collected over 150,000 email addresses from websites, contests, speaking engagements, classes, etc. However, on average, at the peak of my list, I would average between 10% and 14% open rates per email. While the headlines of the email newsletters determined who opened the email, after reviewing my list stats, I saw a very large amount of subscribers that signed up for my lists but who had NEVER opened a single email from me. 

So, quite arbitrarily, I decided a few years ago that once a year I’d split up my lists between those who had opened an email in the past 6 months and those who had not. The folks on the list of subscribers who had opened an email in the past 6 months would just stay on my main list and be none the wiser. 

The folks who ending up on the list who had not opened an email in the past six months would removed from my subscribers list and put into a new list. These folks would then receive a one-time email from me letting them know that I didn’t want to be unnecessarily sending them emails if they were no longer interested in receiving them. I let them know that they had be automatically unsubscribed, but that I really wanted them to resubscribe if they found my newsletter beneficial to them. 

By doing this I lose over half my subscribers every single year. However, the list I currently have now has an open rate of about 36% on average, well above the 11% industry average. 

As Brian Clark said to Michael Hyatt in the Master Class I mentioned above, (paraphrased) “I’d rather have 500 interested site visitors a day than 50,000 uninterested ones.”

Why do you need to eliminate half or more of your subscribers?

Optimize Your Database

You do not want any subscribers who are not actually interested in you, your brand or your content. We want to build as much inbound volume as possible, but only of that volume includes as many truly interested users as possible. If the subscriber is not interested (i.e. actively consuming your content) you can not utilize that subscriber base effectively for campaigns or lead nurturing. So having a list that isn’t optimized means your operate inefficiently and worse that you generate metrics which show artificially negative results.

Focus

Email list building is not a competition to get to all the market users. This is not a zero-sum game. Email campaigns should generate results. And anything that separates us from achieving our desired results needs to be removed from the campaign. There is no reason to keep a user has not interacted with our content in the last 6 months on our list. If there is no evidence that the inactive subscriber is going to suddenly become active one day, we should not let their subscription bring down the average performance of the entire list. This is not meant to be a negative action towards the user. It is just us, as list builders, taking the subscriber’s lead and removing them from a list they are clearly not interested in.

Measuring The Right Metrics

Many email marketers are obsessed with the wrong metrics. Having a healthy list is not about the overall lists’ ”open rates” or "CTRs”. You need to be looking at the percentage of subscribers who have opened any of the last 20 communications AND who have interacted in some way with the last email. Consider this: never think of the entire data set. Think of “active” datasets.

Experimentation

I live and die by internalizing digital experimentation. When I talk about experimentation I am also talking about eliminating what is not working and trying something else. This cyclical learning process is something you must never lose sight of. It is what makes average marketers into great marketers. 

Cost

While this is the last reason, it’s not the least important. Yes, cost. HubSpot, MailChimp, AWeber and most email marketing providers charge based on the size of your database. So keeping the list small shows that you are a good steward of your resources. 

For example, if I never culled my list, I’d be spending over $675 a month today instead of the $150 I spend on a list which is active and which enjoys an average open rate that is twice the open rate of the industry I’m in. I get twice the performance for a quarter of the price. 

Goodbye Instagram

I knew this was coming.

It looks like I’m leaving Instagram now. This sucks - I REALLY like Instagram. I'm a photographer, and Instagram is where all the action is in photography right now. But I don’t need an algorithm or a bunch of west-coast 20-somethings deciding what photos I should be viewing.

While I’m sure the good folks at Instagram want the best for me, I don’t need their help when it comes to deciding what I should see on the internet. It’s funny; I already had an algorithm for curated content that fits my needs perfectly. You see what I do is I click the “follow” button on a person or brand’s feed in their profile. By clicking the “follow” button, I am indicating that I would like to see their content. Guess what happens next? When they post content, I see their content! While deceptively simple, it works great.

If I wanted someone to spoon-feed me curated content, I’d still be using Facebook.

I left Facebook years ago because repeated decisions made by the company showed a complete disregard for their users. They earned my trust; we had fun together, and I let them into the most sensitive parts of my life. Then, like an abusive partner, they broke my trust over and over again. Many people choose to stay in their abusive relationship with Facebook. Not me. I put the cat in the car and left town.

When I heard Facebook purchased Instagram, I immediately assumed Mark Zuckerberg would turn Instagram into a mini-Facebook. However, Instagram promised me they wouldn’t change, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. And besides, they had earned my trust, we had fun together, and I had let them into my life.

We came to an agreement: Instagram agreed not to invite Facebook over, and I pretended to ignore that fact that they were idiots for marrying Facebook.

Fast-forward to today: Like a newly-elected politician, Instagram is now going back on their word and instituting a very Facebook-like algorithm which will ensure I “see the moments I care about first” - screw that. I just won’t tolerate someone manhandling my social feeds.

I gave Instagram a chance - but history has shown us that we can’t trust Facebook and Instagram have now made the transformation we all knew was coming. Instagram is no more than Facebook in a filter named "Sheep’s Clothing."

Good-bye, Instagram. I’ll miss you.

You all can find me on Twitter (@giovanni), VSCO (@giovannigallucci) or some lame third-tier social network until Facebook buys the rest of them.

Don’t worry Mark; I won’t let the door hit me on the way out.

SLIDES: 10 Virtual Reality Marketing Strategies You Can Implement NOW!

Thursday, May 19, 2016 · Angelika Theatre Dallas

#smdallas @sm_dallas http://www.smdallas.org
 
 Virtual Reality (‘VR’) gives digital marketers the opportunity to give their audience the closest experience they can get from a product, service, event or place without actually physically being there. As the lines between the physical and virtual worlds increasingly blur, VR presents marketers with an ideal way to engage their customers. In this talk, Giovanni Gallucci will show you 10 ways digital marketers can start using VR right now in campaigns.
 
What you will learn:
 
An understanding of what hardware and software is required to shoot a professional VR video; what is necessary when distributing a VR video to YouTube and Facebook. Whether you can produce a VR campaign in-house or if you need to hire an outside firm to assist them. What current VR campaigns look like, and what a successful VR campaign looks like.

Agenda:
6:00PM  Check-In  
6:45PM  Plano Case Study with Shannah Hayley
6:55 PM 10 Virtual Reality Marketing Strategies presentation  
8:30PM  Post-event networking at The People's Last Stand  

Speaker: Giovanni-Gallucci
 
Giovanni Gallucci - @giovanni - is an Ad-Age, Emmy, Telly & Webby-award winning photographer and social media strategist.

He produces social media campaigns for clients primarily through the use of photography, video, and VR-experiences that link brands with highly-connected fans. As a result, his clients enjoy active, engaged relationships with their consumers on social media. 

Ricoh Theta S DIY Monopod Extension

Follow giovanni for more tips, and reviews at http://gallucci.net Connect with giovanni: web: http://www.gallucci.net google+: https://plus.google.com/+GiovanniGallucci/ instagram: https://instagram.com/Giovanni.Gallucci/ twitter: https://twitter.com/giovanni youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/GiovanniGallucci Join over 16,000 other folks who have signed up for my photo, video, search & social newsletter at http://www.gallucci.net/newsletter/ giovanni gallucci is an Ad Age, Emmy, Telly, and Webby award-winning social media strategist and photographer.

Dealing With Photo Stealers

My fellow photographer brothers and sisters: Some of you need to seriously chill out with the watermarks. It takes away from your work. 

MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! 

MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! 

I know it is frustrating to stumble across your image on a website that never asked for your permission to use your work, much less offered to pay for it. Different people have different ways of handling these situations. Some will report the offending website to photo theft shaming sites like PhotoSteralers. If you have a couple hours to waste, I highly recommend visiting PhotoStealers - much entertainment to be had there.

You can combat and deal with this with a few steps. I have had good success with this and  recommend this workflow to others. 

1) Learn that people are going to steal your photos. Learn to be ok with that. Not “OK” like you’re a doormat and are just going to be a passive victim but “OK” like don’t get all worked up about it to the point that you develop an ulcer. Upper G.I.’s are not fun.

2) Learn how to tag your photos with META data in lightroom (helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/help/metadata-basics-actions.html). If you tag your pic with META data, you can still track your photos more easily with Google text searches. As a bonus, those photos that do get stolen will feed your business info and website URL into Google and help you get discovered by people who might actually pay you to shoot. 

3) About 3 times a year, grab 25 of your best new photos and do Google image searches on them to see if they have been stolen: images.google.com/

4) If any of your images do show up in Google image search and they are unauthorized uses of your works, either look for contact info for the publisher on the site or do a reverse lookup on the domain: whois.domaintools.com/

5) Send out an invoice for the usage with a note explaining your copyright/license (example of mine: gallucci.net/copyright/) and a link to your site explaining your  terms and conditions (Again, my example: gallucci.net/content-license-agreement/).

About half of those who I send notes pay the invoice with no questions. The next steps for the others are determined by the site and their usage.

There are lots of sites who can give you a breakdown of all this: petapixel.com/2015/08/07/a-primer-on-using-dmca-takedown-… - this is just how I handle it.

The process I have developed is a homogenized version developed from several different sources. It has served me well in my career.

Talk: 10 Virtual Reality Digital Marketing Strategies You Can Implement Now

As I continue the slow crawl out from under the rock I've lived under over the past few years, I am picking up speaking engagements here and there locally before I go back to speaking nationally again starting this summer. I'll be speaking at the Rocks Digital Meetup at the SMU Campus in Plano, TX in February. Rocks Digital provides digital marketing education for business owners and digital marketers.

A still smile when I think of a friend's introduction he made for me at a sales meeting several years ago. He explained to the group of folks I was scheduled to talk to that I was like a tech chameleon - changing my skills and knowledge as the market dictated. This was flattering - but the punchline was still to be delivered, he likened me to "The Madonna of Tech" - delivering a new fresh look and a new sound with each new release in order to stay fresh and relevant.

As embarrassing as that was, I have to admit, he was onto something. I've spent the last few years as a digital marketer working with drones, action cameras, mobile photo/video production and now VR technologies in a never-ending quest to be ready to use the latest technologies in my clients' digital marketing campaigns. In February, I'll pull the covers back a little.

I'll be talking about what I've learned as a digital marketer in the virtual reality space. You can sign up for the meetup group at http://www.meetup.com/Rocks-Digital-Marketing/ to be notified about the event itself. It is tentatively planned for February 16, 2016.

Talk Summary

Virtual Reality (‘VR’) gives digital marketers the opportunity to give their audience the closest experience they can get from a product, service, event or place without actually physically being there. 

As the lines between the physical and virtual worlds get increasingly blurred, VR presents marketers with an ideal way to engage their customers. 

VR is now on what the Gartner Group has coined the ‘Slope of Enlightenment.’ In this talk, Giovanni Gallucci will show you 10 ways digital marketers can start using VR right now in their campaigns.

Goodbye Ziggy

I rarely react publicly to celebrity news or the passing of famous people. This news hit me in a most the peculiar way. After an 18 month battle with liver cancer, David Bowie has passed. Perhaps it’s because of personal circumstances but the stars look very different today. 

Last night was strange. I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t know why. I hit the pillow around 11pm and at 1:30 I was still wide awake, no closer to getting the rest I needed in order to get up at a reasonable time.

I headed to my home office to waste some time until the sleep set in when I saw the first “news,” if you could call it that.

The top two images on my Instagram feed were both photos of David Bowie with no captions. No hashtags. Nothing but the images. The lack of information on those two posts, from completely random people spoke volumes. I knew exactly what they meant and it hit me in a way I would have never expected. It wasn't until 10 minutes later that the mainstream news sites began announcing the news. While I was never a "fan" David Bowie's - my heart sank.

I never really knew David Bowie or his music. But I never knew a time when I didn’t know David Bowie and his music. 

Blackstar is the title of his latest album, released on January 8, his 69th birthday. Black cover, black booklet and an omen. He died on Sunday night as the White Duke, a few lines posted this morning on his official profile Twitter and Facebook:

“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”

— @davidbowie on facebook

Shortly after the announcement on social media, the news was confirmed by his son, Duncan Jones along with a rare photo of him as a child with his father.

“Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all. ”

— @ManMadeMoon on twitter

David Bowie’s star shown through five decades of rock music, reinventing styles, anticipating fashions. He absorbed the lessons of masters such as the British mime Lindsay Kemp, who influenced Bowie’s performances, videos, album covers - even as he reworked everything in an absolutely personal style. But it is the music where his creative intelligence shines brightest. Flair and constant curiosity defined a career that began, on records, in 1967.

It was in 1969 with the release of Space Oddity (in spite of being a commercial flop) that the critics started to follow him with interest. He followed it up with The Man Who Sold The World which was also an initial commercial flop, bit which later was later considered to be one of Bowie’s best albums. The real explosion of Bowie came with the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, in 1972. A handful of songs fit perfectly into the rise of rock and glam at the time, where Bowie finally got due recognition from not only the critics, but the public as well. 

Bowie was a chameleon, always changing his skin. From the beat of Pin Ups, R & B of Station to Station and Young Americans, and culminating with the perhaps a more creative and experimental phase, the Berlin trilogy with Low, Heroes and Lodger from 1977 to 1979. The eighties started with the fascinating and enigmatic Scary Monsters. While Bowie seemed distracted on the musical front this era of his career resulted in a huge hit, Let's Dance in 1983. Produced by Chic’s, Nile Rodgers, this was Bowie’s best selling album of his career. 

In Bowie's career he made several film appearances. Among them The Man Who Fell To The Ground (1976) directed by Nicholas Roeg, the intense Furyo directed by Nagisa Oshima (1985), the musical Absolute Beginner (Julien Temple, 1986) and the controversial Basquiat, directed by Julian Schnaebel.

Three years ago Bowie released The Next Day after a silence that lasted ten years. His last live musical appearance was in 2006, with Alicia Keys. 

Sources closest to Bowie have reported that he battled through liver cancer and several heart attacks to complete this last project. He was spotted in New York at the premiere of his live show “Lazarus.” Then a few days ago, unannounced, there he was again with Blackstar, a magnificent swan song.

Leave it up to David Bowie to orchestrate his exit from this place by turning it into art while leting his fans know he’ll be waiting for them on their next stop. His video for Lazarus, released within hours of his passing is unsettling and makes me uncomfortable.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven

I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen

Everybody knows me now

This way or no way

You know, I’ll be free

Just like that bluebird

Now ain’t that just like me”

I never really knew David Bowie or his music. I never knew a time when I didn’t know David Bowie and his music. I will never forget when I learned of his passing.

4 Major Trends To Watch in 2016

Hipster Philip, always on the lookout for the next trend.

There are four major trends for marketing and communications that will change how digital marketers engage with consumers in 2016. MarCom pros need to be familiar with these trends and figure out how they will be implemented for their clients and campaigns this year.

It is estimated that in 2020 fifty billion devices will be connected to the Internet. If we look closer at these numbers we see that over half of our homes will be connected and fifty seven percent of people in the world will be connected. In many peoples' minds, this raises fear. These connected devices are not only "smart" but many of them are also learning devices. Personal assistants like as Siri, Cortana and Google Now will be integrated across entire platforms and will follow you from device to device and location to location. Not only we will become reliant on them, but they will learn about us from our habits, tastes, etc. We are already seeing in platforms like Google Now and devices like the Nest thermostat. 

Make no mistake, we will be seeing radical changes in the way we live and communicate between ourselves and our smart devices. ...and yes, in a few years you will talk to the fridge and won't even realize how ridiculous that is.

In the future the interaction of an Internet-connected device will be not an option, it will be the norm.

Additionally, we will stop differentiating between offline and online, digital to analog.  In our future digital world and in everything related to communication and marketing, 4 major trends will change how consumers live their daily lives. We will see that brands will find new and exciting ways to connect with consumers with great results.

Digital Marketing Trends

Virtual Reality

While VR is by no means new, the general public will remember 2016 as the year when Samsung, Sony, HTC, Microsoft and Oculus launched their virtual reality platforms to the public. Virtual Reality will open new frontiers in personal development and take the average user's experience to a place they've never been before. The total immersion of the VR experience causes a complete change in the way we consume content, how we learn, and communicate. Entertainment and advertising will never be the same.

Examples:

Land Rover brings new Discovery Sport to life with Augmented Reality. 


The World Economic Forum with the documentary empathize with refugees.


Others: Guided Meditation with its application to bring meditation to another level and NFL, in the world of sport, in summer camps in training

We are facing a revolution that will change the landscape for digital marketing and communications for years. What do you think: will VR be a channel for you / your clients to effectively connect with the consumer?

Real-Time / Short Engagements

From blogs to Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to Snapchat and Periscope. Real-time communication and experiences will be owned and controlled by the protagonists in 2016.

I'm not talking about just any kind of experience. I'm talking about experiences that capture the full attention of the user and force him to participate. Captive engagements. Immersive engagements. Engagements that have an impact on the consumer. We have gone from interactive advertising to Earth Hour, live concerts that only work if you have the lights off. Today, one of the biggest problems for marketers is a clear lack of attention by consumers. More than just a lack of attention, I'd go as far as to say in some areas we can see open rebellion by consumers. More than ever there is a need to create content that really connects with a meaningful impact.

Examples:

Tidal and Usher with his video "Do not Look Away" - By using facial recognition, the user can not move their eyes from the screen without the video / audio stopping.

Multichannel vs Targeted Channels

For the most part, digital marketers continue working on their multichannel online strategies striving to be on all channels all the time. As part of this effort, we have had to find ways to become efficient with our day-to-day tasks. So we start posting similar or the same content on all social networks. I'm pointing at myself along with others. 

What are we missing? We are spreading ourselves too thin and we're not taking advantage of the inherent strengths of each network. We should be producing content that is targeted specifically at each of these channels. We're maturing as digital marketers. Because of our experience we will see a big trend whereby relevant brands will stop being focused on trying to be all things to all consumers on all platforms. They will find the channels where they have natural synergies with the platform they are focused on and the users of those platforms. 

Brands will also be willing to test new social media platforms. You'll find them in unexpected places, especially where their presence brings value. In order to contract themselves in relation to their competition brands will have to explore new forms of communication rather than continuing to post the same drab content on facebook. Seriously, are you still putting most of your energy and resources into facebook? You might as well be posting to Geocities or MySpace. 

Examples:

Levis on Instagram: Due to its popularity with the younger generation, Levi's turned to Instagram to boost its appeal. This case study shows how the jeans brand reached 7.4 million people in the U.S. across a nine-day period, targeting people aged 18-34. 

Audi on Snapchat: Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest advertising day of the year, so how could a car brand stand out from the pack? In 2014, Audi sent followers funny Snapchat pictures relevant to the game in real time. The campaign generated millions of earned impressions and introduced Audi to a new generation of consumers.

A.I. / Machine-Learning 

Artificial Intelligence makes us better... until the robots kill us and eat our brains. Until then though, we will make better decisions, get better information more quickly, get to where we're going faster and won't get all tired having to use our own brains. I'm only half kidding about that. I think. Hang on, let me ask Siri what I think about all this.

Siri says I like it and it's all very positive for mankind.

Technological evolution is unstoppable. With the exponential technological improvement we are experiencing, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to predict where we will be with machine learning and A.I. in a few years. 60% of CXOs believed that their business is not ready to deliver on consumer demand for individually-tailored experiences. 95% said that they will be investing in cognitive solutions over the next five years.

Examples:

Airbnb and "Price-Tips”: Machine-Learning helping homeowners to secure the best price for their property.

CogniToys: A startup of toys for children that answers your questions using the language and appropriate responses to their age powered by Watson, the IBM supercomputer.

Regardless of the name of the trend, what is clear is that the complexity of the market and consumers is such that the most important and relevant brands tomorrow will have to work even harder to create memorable experiences which surprise and delight consumers. This will not be accomplished with traditional advertising and marketing strategies - thank goodness.

Tomorrow's leading brands must not only be relevant and bring value but must get out of their comfort zone and constantly experiment with new formulas, new formats and new social channels. 

How far are you/your clients willing to go to be relevant in 2016? Let me know in the comments.

This article has been cross posted at Geek Beat.

Twitter Updates Its Code of Conduct

The social network seeks to foster more respectful free expression and avoid removing accounts.

In order to foster a more open and participatory respectful expression, Twitter announced a series of reforms regarding standards of behavior in the social network. The idea is to prevent abusive behavior, and eliminate behaviors that incite hatred and violence advocacy groups.

Twitter unveiled some measures, within the framework of the criticism the network has received for their poor regulation and monitoring of recruiting and propaganda activities of organizations like the Islamic State, prior to the attacks that occurred in France.

The director of security and confidence, Megan Cristina explained that "we accept and encourage the opinions and different beliefs, but continue to take action against accounts that cross the line and commit abuses."

Among the clarified rules, the expressed prohibition of the promotion of violence or threats against persons receiving these by race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, gender, age, disability or illness.

Twitter said it will refine its control tools in order to apply more drastic measures against those who behave in a manner not allowed in the social network.

What measures will the platform take when they see an issue? According to the official blog, the first thing twitter will do is block the account for a period of time. Then the owner of the account will be required to verify their email and phone number. Lastly, the account owner will be required to delete the tweets deemed to be in violation of the TOS before the account can ber unlocked.

The reaction Twitter is a response to the request of lawmakers United States Congress, who proposed a bill in which social networks required to report to federal authorities any terrorist activity.

Laney Ironheart: IRT Studio

The Laney Ironheart IRT Studio was among the most exciting products I saw at the last NAMM show. It was debuted as a new model in the well established Ironheart series from Laney. This product delivers an excellent valve head in a low power (15watt), studio unit.

The Ironheart series combines the technical expertise of the West Midlands with efficient production overseas to create a feature set that is hard to ignore. With a low wattage amp head already in its catalog, the next step for Laney was a studio amp head tightly focused on the home recording market. The IRT-Studio is that studio amp. It compresses the head of a 15-watt all-tube amplifier into an elegant and slender 2 rack-mountable chassis. 

As expected, the IRT-Studio is all steel and metal is cleanly cut and folded, finished in satin black with white labeling. As with most steel boxes, we must remove several screws to access the valves. Take care to replace the screws carefully as misaligned holes will cause damage to the threads. 

The IRT-Studio circuits are divided into three main groups : the front panel and the main circuit board occupies the front third of the tray chassis; both valves and EL84 power transformers are mounted horizontally in a smaller grouping to a steel rail, which adds rigidity to the whole structure plate; while the output components are behind another plate, enclosed in a steel shielded to minimize ringing. Laney products generally use toroidal current transformers, but the IRT uses conventional current transformers and output horseshoe. The printed circuit boards are expertly designed and are of high quality. There is plenty of ventilation, with slots underneath and a grid-shaped anvil on top lit from within by red LEDs. There is no fan on this unit. 

When it comes to the rackmount, the manual recommends leaving at least one rack space clear above and below the IRT-Studio; I would go further and suggest that it should be at the top of any rack, because those EL84s expel a lot of heat, which may not be very good for devices that are immediately above it. The lack of an internal fan is not a big problem; in home studios noise can be a distraction. Using the IRT in a direct environment allows the guitar amp to operate in a completely closed box where the forced cooling rack is not essential. 

The IRT has two different output power levels: one for 15 watts and one for less than one watt. There are three channels, with clean and rhythm channels sharing the top EQ, while the lead channel has its own EQ and a separate booster control. The conventional passive EQs utilize pull switches in the bass, midrange and treble to extend the bass response, cut the midrange and expand the treble respectively. I like the red necks on the controls which allow the user to easily see when each switch is activated. To the right of the front panel there are three general controls for dynamic, global tone control (located at the end of the amplification chain), and built in digital reverb.

The rear panel of the IRT-Studio includes a fully-balanced XLR output, with mass disconnection, switching level of + 4 / -30dB switchable emulation and speakers. Next is the USB section, which outputs the fully processed sound on the right channel and an unprocessed sound on the left. The USB Channel has its own level control, and there is a reamplification loop connecting the USB return unprocessed to the input amp. There's an auxiliary input for your MP3 player, a headphone output with its own level control, and a power switch that allows you to monitor whether the signal from the USB or the amp. As if that were not enough, there is a series effects loop with switchable levels, a choice of bypass and, finally, a subwoofer output with switchable impedance and a connector for the IRT foot pedal, which enables remote control channel switching and booster functions both as reverb. 

The IRT-Studio has all the functionality you could ask for from someone who is serious about home recording. I tested the IRT-Studio in a simple configuration using a home PC with Windows 7 and Cubase, and a more professional environment with a Mac with Pro Tools. I also used it as a simple amp, connected to a 2x12 speaker cabinet equipped with Celestion Vintage 30s. The installation on the computer was easy, needing a little tweaking on the Windows machine to bring the audio to Cubase. I followed the recommendation from Laney to download the ASIO4ALL driver, after which the USB port worked reliably. The XLR output with speaker emulation demonstrated a slightly better quality audio; however, the USB output allows the benefit of re-amplification: the outputting a signal of unprocessed guitar to be returned to the amp after it has been recorded, allowing the audio engineer multiple chances to tweak the sound in order to get it right. 

The IRT-Studio is primarily targeted at modern metal players. Certainly the sounds the amp puts out are bright and crisp that sound great when enhanced with a touch of the superbly designed digital reverb of the IRT. The bright crisp tones continue through a strong rhythmic percussive crunch and to powerful blistering solos with a practically infinite range. There's enough room in the IRT-Studio's tonal range to easily handle seven-stringed instruments with low tunings and long sustain. While the IRT works really well; Laney could have done a bit better with the subtle and slightly saturated sounds one would associate with traditional British tube amps but, to be fair, it was not designed for that kind of tone. The pull switches in the EQ controls for both channels disappointed me. They work, but their effect is not particularly noticeable. I found it was better to use the global dynamics and tone controls when I needed to design a new sound. 

The Laney IRT Studio has generally proven to be easy to take out of the box and start using in my review. I was able to record a song that sounded commercially viable without any major problems. If your intention is to used this live, there is barely enough power for even small performances without miking. Of course, with the built-in DI, the IRT is designed for connecting to a PA.

The IRT-Studio has all the features needed to be an indispensable tool for home use and even for the occasional use in a pro studio. Depending on the situation, I'd even take it along for the live performances. Among the genres in which it is intended, certainly it meets all my expectations. Finding all the features delivered by the IRT Studio in a real tube head is a real feat. At this time, the IRT-Studio does not have much direct competition. Most products are digital modeling solutions delivered as software or hardware - good for the studio, but not for both studio and live use. The advantage of IRT is that it can easily pass to one another, or even do both at the same time if necessary, making it practically indispensable when the real crunch of tubes and valves is needed.