ocenaudio is a wonderful, freeware, audio editor that runs on macOS, Windows, and Linux!
It’s a very capable tool that is always adding new features. Today, we’re focusing on Punch Recording (or Punch & Roll).
ocenaudio is a wonderful, freeware, audio editor that runs on macOS, Windows, and Linux!
It’s a very capable tool that is always adding new features. Today, we’re focusing on Punch Recording (or Punch & Roll).
OcenAudio comes through with a feature that I mentioned to them back when I interviewed them in May of 2014. Isn’t it great to find a developer that really listens to the needs of the users?
The configuration is as simple as enabling 3 Checkboxes in the preference window:
Like the programs that I scripted, OcenAudio doesn’t have true non-destructive editing (for that you’d need Reaper, ProTools, Logic Pro, etc). So, if you forget to turn on the second checkbox you will find the program inserting your new audio before your flub instead of writing over the mistake that you wish to replace.
With this new native feature OcenAudio sets itself apart from other simple editors and earns a spot closer to that of a traditional DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It seems to manage memory better than Audacity. It runs on more platforms than TwistedWave. It doesn’t require a subscription like Adobe Audition. What’s not to like?
Doing proper research before recording an audiobook can be crucial to the success of the project. If you’re like me, the research happens in fits and starts. Sometimes, making notes while reviewing the text, and sometimes having moments of insight only after allowing the text to sit for a while. Having a reliable way of collecting and organizing these bits of information can simplify the process.
Once again, I am talking about a Trusted System. In Parts 1 & 2 of this series, I focused on tasks and setting priorities. You may remember that in Part 1, I said that if you had important information that was not immediately actionable, you should file it. Preparing to record an audiobook is a great example of uncovering high value information that fits the bill.
This is one of the times that I turn to Trello.
Trello is a free-form organizational tool. The metaphor it uses is a simple one: Lists and Cards. You put information onto cards, and you put those cards onto lists. Once you start playing with Trello, you start to understand how the flexibility can be quite empowering.
Here is a link to an example of how I use Trello for audiobook research: Audiobook Preparation
Four lists: Characters, Locations, Chapters, Pronunciations
I make new cards as I move along, I make new lists if needed. The cards have text, images, video, audio, and links. I can access Trello from anywhere, because it is web-based. It has an intuitive app for both iOS and Android. I can invite other people to share the board, like a proofer or editor. And, leveraging Trello’s calendar and email functions, you can easily connect it to your inbox.
And, as you can see, I can make a board public so people like you can see how I use the tool. All of these features are part of their free service. No catch. They built the tool originally as an in-house tool they used among themselves while working on other things. They found it useful and decided to share.
Do you use Trello? Something else? Let me know in the comments below.
Either Google’s GMail or their newer Inbox are good candidates to live at the core of your trusted system. Though the two applications store their data in the same place, their behaviors differ enough to merit looking at them separately. Let’s start with the elder of the products — Gmail.
When loading up GMail, it is easy to see how you might implement the workflow described in Part 1 of this series. You can even use filters and labels to highlight those reminder messages that I mentioned. There are many articles around the web that can help you create useful filters or even become a GMail Master.
There is a Task List built into GMail. Add to that the integrated Contact List (not to mention Google Calendar) and things start to make sense — send/receive mail, create/complete tasks, and organize/categorize contacts, schedule/track appointments… Yes, you can begin to see how this system might work.
But, what if you want a little more? What if you would like GMail to be just a bit more CRM-like? That’s simple. Install Streak.
Streak adds CRM features to GMail and the single user version of the product is completely free. Instead of Sales Funnels, Streak calls them Pipelines. Start with a default Pipeline and customize it for the way you work.
Streak doesn’t take over your whole GMail experience. Instead, it waits until you choose to manage an email by adding it to a Box at the beginning of a Pipeline. While you are communicating with a potential client if they start a new thread or use a different email address, you can add those to the box as well, giving you a central place to manage all of the pertinent communication.
As an interaction progresses, you move the Box from Lead, to Contacted, to Pitched and eventually to Won or Lost, depending upon the outcome of your negotiation. The stages can all be customized. Adapt them to the way that you work.
With Tasks and notes inside each box, there is really no excuse to not have all of that data ready when you need it.
Beyond the Pipeline, Streak offers:
I’m probably leaving some things out. They are adding new features all of the time. If you’ve ever considered a CRM, Streak is a great way to test drive one from the comfort of GMail.
A second plugin to consider adding is called FullContact. And, as the name suggests, it’s focused on enhancing your Contact Management experience. FullContact helps match data in your Contact List with your connections on social media bringing as much data as it can find to you. Empowering you to make better decisions when you reach out to a potential client.
FullContact has two parts, an app (web, iOS, Android, Mac) and a browser plugin. The app is an enhanced address book that is surprisingly good at finding and merging duplicates and tagging your data. The browser plugin replaces the ads in GMail with a quick overview of what FullContact knows about the person with whom you are communicating.
FullContact is free and it’s paid features are an interesting add-on including the ability for the program to add data it finds in email signatures and taking pictures of business cards with your phone and having real people add that to your database as well.
With these two plugins, GMail becomes a powerhouse. But, what if you find that a bit intimidating? What if you’ve tried Google’s new Inbox and you like what you see there? Can you do any of this with Inbox?
Inbox is Google’s attempt to adapt email to a task-based paradigm. Hardcore GMail users have a hard time adapting to the change but those who do seem to really enjoy Inbox.
Emails are stacked and grouped like papers in a physical inbox. When you sit down to triage your inbox, you’re expected to do one of the following things:
If you read Part 1 of this series, the workflow above might look familiar. Inbox eliminates the need to email yourself. New Reminders can be scheduled and Snoozed right along side email messages. Reminders can also be created within Google Calendar and Google Keep (a note taking program). Google Now can also show and manage Reminders on your mobile phone.
If you don’t feel that you need Streak’s Pipeline feature, putting Inbox, Calendar, and Keep together, start to feel like fun way to go. But, what about FullContact? The app still functions as expected, but the browser plugin does not work in Inbox — yet. The FullContact team says this feature is currently in beta testing. So, if you don’t need that feature right now. Try Inbox., you might like it.
Future parts of this series will move beyond software and look at other aspects of running your own business. If there are any topics that you would like me to cover, let me know.
What web apps and plugins make up your trusted system? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Even us creative types need to remember that when all is said and done, we are running a business. And businesses live or die on information. Oodles of information, that may or may not be useful, come our way — all day, every day. Without a reliable method to parse all of that data, valuable connections and opportunities may get lost in the noise. To handle this, we need a trusted system.
Basically, you need a simple, reliable place to put your stuff so it (a) won’t get lost, and (b) won’t get ignored. Both A and B are equally important!
The best system is one that you will actually use. You could spend a lot of time learning a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) but if it doesn’t fit easily into your daily workflow, you’ll never even open it.
So, let’s start with a system that you already have. No really, you already do have one. It’s your email program and its connected address book.
It’s time to start thinking of your Inbox and an inbox.
Many of your tasks already start as email. The simplest way to get the rest of your tasks in there as well is to send them to yourself as emails too. After a while, jotting quick emails to yourself becomes second nature. Once it does, you can finally relax and trust that important things won’t get forgotten. They are all in your inbox awaiting your attention.
Now that all of your tasks are in one place, let’s turn our attention to resources. I’m talking about your address book (or contact list).
Most modern email programs have an option that automatically adds people with whom you correspond to the address book. Add to that the fact that every mobile app in creation wants to sync its data with the address book on your phone and you already have access to an incredible amount of information at your fingertips.
Cleaning up this data can seem like an impossible task, especially if you have never done it before. But, going through it all can help you better understand your own communications and your business in general. It’s well worth the time.
In addition to the basic contact information, try adding some of this information to each entry:
Once the data has been cleaned and organized, you’re ready to get started. It’s time to triage your inbox with a process that might look like this:
Is it actionable?
At its core, that’s it. Of course, over time, you will start to see where other tools that enhance things might be useful. Things like:
There are lots of tools online that can add these features, some free, some paid. Now that you have a good idea about how you work, you’ll be able to find the ones that work best for you. And, now that you’ve developed a trusted system, those tools will be ones that actually get used.
The goal of this article was to talk about concepts and systems that could be applied with any software. In my next post, I will talk about my own experience with some specific tools that help make this work with either GMail or Google’s new Inbox by GMail.
What’s your trusted system? Any experience with GTD? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
iZotope must be feeling the heat! RX has some solid competition in the audio repair space coming from the talented coders at Acon Digital. Acon having set the price of their Resoration Suite at $99, may have been responsible for iZotope’s recent promotion of a new version of RX on sale at $99 (regular price $129).
The RX Plug-in Pack has essentially the same feature set as Acon’s Restoration Suite. So these two products are perfect for a direct shootout. But, what would you really learn if I did the shootout? Not much. After all, I’m not recording in your space, with your mic, facing the issues that you face everyday.
So, here’s how to do a shootout on your own…
Fortunately, both products offer free demo versions. The RX Plugin-Pack is fully functional for 10 days. And, The Restoration Suite’s demo adds a short period of silence at irregular intervals. Keep this in mind when comparing the results.
Now, here’s the fun part. You know how you go out of your way to make sure there are no interruptions when you record a session? Don’t do that.
Grab some copy, preferably something with a few plosives and some sibilant sounds. If you can’t find anything, try the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.
Before you record, you might want to forget to close the door all the way. Or turn on the dishwasher, or the air conditioner, or the — you get where I am going here.
You want a good read in a sloppy environment. Got it? Good.
Record it a second time, but get right up on your microphone and be a bit too loud — on purpose. This will make sense later.
Wait, you aren’t done recording yet. Go find a small fan, a hair dryer, a blender…
You’re looking for things in your environment that make droning noises when they are used. Set these things up so they can be heard inside your usual recording environment. Have a friend turn each thing on/off one at a time while you do another take.
If it’s trash day in your neighborhood or there is construction going on nearby, open the windows and record another take with those sounds as well.
Each of these interruptions has its own sonic signature. And, since no two recording setups are truly alike (believe me, even two identical professionally built booths in two different geographic locations will sound different), your studio will be unique in which frequencies it handles well and which ones seem to pass right through and wind up on the recording.
Now, save WAV files of these recordings being sure to name them so you know what they are:
You get the idea…
Now, install both demos into the audio editor of your choice. No, really, right now, install them, I’ll wait…
Stop. This is the first test. And, it has nothing to do with the audio you recorded.
Don’t skip this step. It’s more important than you think. If you’re having issues later on, this test is usually a pretty good indicator of how helpful the parent company will be when solving your issue.
Now, open each of the components in your audio editor of choice. Yes, right now, seriously, you know the drill…
Some plugins expect certain features to be present, but some audio editors don’t implement all of these expected functions. If the components don’t work, it is more likely the fault of your chosen audio editor than the plugin. But, that’s another issue.
Now it’s time to get down to business. Open two copies of a single sound and play with one de-clicker, de-noiser, de-hummer, and de-clipper where you think they are needed.
Before you compare the results, I have a question for you.
Again, a well designed tool is usually a well supported tool. Assess both the interface and your experience using the tool.
Now, sit back and compare the results. And, get a friend to listen to the files as well and give you their opinion too. The more feedback, the better.
Wait, you aren’t done yet. Think of a simple question to ask both iZotope and Acon Digital. And, pose those questions via twitter. Links to their accounts are below:
By now, you know why I’m suggesting that you do this. A responsive company is usually a company that stands behind its products.
What were your thoughts? Results? Share them in the comments below.
So, you’ve recorded, edited, proofed, and finally mastered your audio. It’s ready to head off to ACX or off to a publisher. Well… you THINK it’s ready… you HOPE it’s… You get the idea.
You know that you’ve put in oodles of work getting this audiobook done, but if only there were a way to double check some of the basics, that would make you feel so much better. I felt that way too. That’s why I wrote 2ndOpinion.
It works on both Mac OSX (tested on 10.10 & 10.11) and Windows (tested on both 7 & 10).
Many of the points listed above have simple fixes that can be handled automatically. If 2ndOpinion finds any of these issues, it fixes them. If it finds more complex issues, it lets you know. Take that information, fix the issues, and run the software again. Or take it to a reputable audio engineer and they will fix it for you.
And, 2ndOpinon is free to use on any projects you like. If you’d like to support future development, you can always buy me a coffee…
Sometimes, the best audio engineering job, like the best haircut, it the one that passes unnoticed. The result seems so well-suited and natural that you’re not quite sure if anything has been done at all. In the case of a haircut, this is often the result of asking the hairdresser to simply “take a little off the top (or sides, or back).”
If the volume on your audio is generally within an acceptable range, but your peaks jump a bit higher than you would like, a Limiter (specifically a Hard Limiter or a Brick Wall Limiter) may be a more appropriate tool than a more generic Compressor.
In our fictitious example, lets assume that during some more exciting parts of your recording, your volume jumped up to about -1.0dB but didn’t actually peak (go above 0). You were asked to deliver a file with peaks no higher than -3.0dB.
You could try to fix this by Normalizing the entire file down to -3.0dB. If you did the entire file would get quieter by 2 decibels, and that is not the goal. The volume in most of the file feels perfect, you just need to control those peaks — “take a little bit off the top” — as it were. This is why you might want to use a Limiter.
By configuring a Limiter with both the Threshold and the Output set to -3.0dB, only the parts of your audio that exceed -3 will be affected at all. Since this leaves the bulk of your audio untouched, the result can be a lot more transparent and natural than other types of compression.
If your audio needs to be made slightly louder and have very specific peaks, you would move the Threshold down until it affects a bit more of your audio, maybe as low as -12.0dB. All of your audio below that line will remain unaffected while the parts above will be “teased up” a bit. Depending upon how agressive the Threshold you could go from adding a bit of body to a flat hairstyle to something that seems more like glam-rock or punk. So, be careful!
Two of my favorite Limiters are Event Horizon by Stillwell Audio and LoudMax by Thomas Mundt. Both are intuitive and can be incredibly transparent. Try them both out and see which one works better for you. Is there another Limiter that you think I should try, let me know?
Something has changed. You bought a new mic? A new pre-amp? You added some new sound treatment? Or, your set-up is the same, but the room its in is different? Any variation in your recording space means that you really should go through all of your settings again. Don’t be afraid. There is no reason to be overwhelmed.
If you take it step-by-step, it’s really not that difficult to do.
And, for today’s text, let’s choose something with lots of sibilant and popping sounds…
How about the theme to Gilligan’s Island? It’s a great practice text since it has most of the offending sounds (S, P, T, etc), and it’s kind of fun to say.
What we are really looking for is The Goldilocks Zone — not too hot, not too cold, not too hard not too soft. You want it to be “just right!” Unfortunately, “just right” is a subjective thing. So, let me give you a good starting point.
Think of your head as a globe. With your nose as longitude 0°, latitude 0°, move your mic to 45° north (up) and 45° east or west (right or left).
Set it 7 inches away from you and point it at your mouth (or slightly down toward your chest for a bit more resonance – but be careful with that).
Using that as a starting point, shift the mic slightly north, south, east, and west until you feel that you have found the truest sound. Currently, my microphone is about 37° to the right of my nose and about 40° up from the level of my nose.
Place your hand in front of your mouth and start reciting “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” over-and-over again. As you do this, move your hand away from your mouth. Odds are, you will stop feeling the rush of air at about 7 inches. And, the point of offsetting your microphone like this is not only to eliminate plosives, but other stray noises as well.
Even with good mic placement, it is still a good idea to use a pop filter. After all, no one’s perfect. People will pop from time to time. Good mic placement reduces the amount of work that you are expecting the filter to handle. When you add the pop filter, be sure to leave space between the filter and the capsule of your microphone. And, do not make it parallel with the capsule of the mic either. Parallel surfaces of any kind increase the possible sources of noise.
Make a quick recording of yourself and ask someone else, “Does this sound like me?” (Do not ask, “Does this sound good/deep/cool/etc?”)
Starting at 50% gain, adjust your volume while watching a meter. You want to find a volume that allows you to really act. You don’t want to be set so loud that any kind of intensity sends your levels too high. Since, in this example, we are delivering an audiobook file to ACX, the highest level that we would want ever see on that meter is -3dB. Odds are, you will wind up with peaks quite a bit lower than that, at -9dB or -12dB.
Now reduce any ambient noise in your recording space before measuring your noise floor. Our goal is to get a noise floor at or below -60dB. If you can’t achieve that, do your best to get a number as low as possible.
Remember, we are dealing with negative numbers here. So -60 is actually lower than -40.
Between -59dB and -50dB is pretty good, between -51dB and -45dB is okay, and between -44dB and -40dB is acceptable. The higher the number at this point (the closer it is to zero), the more work you will need to do in post-production to fix your audio.
If the software that you record in has this feature, consider adding a Limiter to your Input FX Chain. Input FX exist between your microphone and the recorded track. They are applied before the recording is saved. Once they are applied, they cannot be undone. The goal of the Limiter in this case it to catch an accidental spikes in your volume.
If, after setting your levels, you are finding that the bulk of your dialog is hovering around -9dB, try that Input Limiter set with both a Ceiling and a Threshold of -6dB. This still allows you a 3 decibel change for excitement but keeps the potential range of volume in check.
Set a High Pass Filter to 80 Hz and a Low Pass Filter to 16000 Hz. When ACX processes your audiobook, they strip out these frequencies anyway, so you don’t need them. Listen to a segment of room noise through this filter. Odds are you’ve dropped a few decibels. Lots of machines in your home emit very low rumbles below 80 Hz (your furnace, AC, refrigerator, washer, dryer, etc).
If your noise floor is below -60dB now, you may be able to skip steps 5.
An Expander makes quiet things get quieter. So, make note of your original noise floor before step 4. Set the Expander’s threshold a just a bit above that number. And set its ratio to 2.1:1 as a good starting point.
If you don’t have an Expander, avoid using a Gate if possible. Gates are not as gentle as Expanders and are much easier to detect in spoken word recordings where there is no background music to help hide the edit.
If room noise is still an issue for you at this point, you need to consider changes to your space. Sound treating materials or even a vocal booth may be the real long term solution.
This is the point in the process for Noise Removal Tools and DeClick/DeCracklers if you need them. You have removed all of the extraneous noises from your audio. So, a Noise Removal Tool can focus on just the true problem sounds. That way, you can use it with to the lowest possible settings. This will have the lowest possibility of introducing sonic artifacts (odd/unnatural sounding spaces in the audio). The same holds true for tools that attenuate mouth noises.
If your noise removal tool allows you to submit a sample of the room noise, record a good 30 seconds to a minute of how your room sounds without you speaking. Save it as a noise profile. Remember, the goal here is to reduce the ambient sound of your room to below -60dB, not to remove it entirely. So, adjust your settings accordingly.
Mouth noises are best addressed with non-technical solutions in your mouth, not on the recorded audio file. The interesting thing is that most of the “folk remedies” (green apples, water with lemon, black tea, neti pots, saline nasal sprays, etc) do seem to actually work. In addition to the lubricating qualities of these remedies, they also serve to make you more conscious of the problem. That consciousness is key in developing the skill to eliminate the problem on your own.
Most tools that we use to reduce mouth noises were not actually designed for use on the human voice. For the most part, they were designed to remove clicks, crackles, and pops from old vinyl phonograph recordings. Keeping that in mind may help you understand how the tools affect your recordings.
Again, the goal is to reduce, not eliminate, sounds. Silence rooms are unnatural. Human beings breathe, and breathing is a sloppy business. Natural recordings are easier to listen to for long periods of time. And, an audiobook is a long form interaction with your audience. You want to be as natural as possible.
Find a transparent compressor set at 2.1:1 at most. In this context, transparent means that it doesn’t add any of its own flavor to the audio. Set the threshold a few dB under your peak. This will tighten up your audio without giving it that BIG RADIO sound.
Most people get a bit too heavy handed when given an equalizer. For most voiceover, you want to keep it as natural as possible. I recommend using an EQ with fewer controls (like a tilt EQ). This will help you learn to use a light touch (since small changes will impact the whole spectrum).
If you feel that you are just too sibilant, this is the point in your chain when you should run a De-Esser. Essentially, a De-Esser is a compressor designed to squish S-like sounds. Over doing it can make you sound like you are lisping. So, once you think it sounds good, its best for you to run it by someone else before permanently saving the settings.
Q: But wait! Since the De-Esser is a kind of Compressor, shouldn’t it go right after the regular Compressor? Or maybe before the Compressor to squish those S’s beforehand?
A: Those are all good thoughts. And, on your particular voice (with your particular software) you may be right. Try it at this point in the chain first. Because this is the place that you will really hear those S’s pop if they are actually a problem. Once you have a setting that you like, move it around in the chain of things. Find what sounds best to you.
If you do add a De-Esser to your chain, I strongly suggest that you find a vocal coach to help you address the problem at its source.
Configure a hard limiter with a Ceiling of -3dB and bring down your threshold so it is near the output level from your equalizer. You are not trying to force all of the peaks up to -3dB. You are just trying to guarantee that the peaks will never exceed -3dB. What you really care about is being as close to -20dB for your Average RMS. The further you bring down that threshold, the louder the final recording will seem. Since RMS measures perceived loudness, a file with peaks of -3dB with an average RMS of -23dB will seem quieter than a file that peaks at -5dB with an average RMS of -20dB.
Q: But isn’t a Hard Limiter a kind of Compressor? Do I really need up to 4 Compressors to get the job done?
A: Yes, a Hard Limiter is a kind of Compressor. We are using each of the 4 Compressors differently: the first one keeps you from spiking your input level, the second tightens up your mix, the third reduces sibilance, and this one makes your sound louder without changing its shape or texture. You could turn off all of the other compressors and just keep this one if all you need to do is bring up your volume. Compare how your audio sounds with each compressor turned on and off. Decide for yourself what sounds best.
No, seriously. Stop right here and save everything! Go into each plugin, effect, and app and make sure that you save all of your presets. Use a unique name like “Audiobook Settings – 29 January 2015“. Please consider adding dates to your settings files. It is very helpful if you are ever asked to match the sound you had on a previous project.
Grab a ruler and some masking tape. Use them to measure and mark the distance between your desk, chair, mic stand, and anything else that is in the booth. If you are using a boom arm, use tape to mark how extended you have each section. You’ve just done a lot of work that is dependent upon you maintaining a consistent distance between all of your components. You should never put yourself in a position where you don’t know if something moved. Save yourself worry later, take the measurements now.
For my example, I used plugins with very simple interfaces. I did that so you could easily see what each plugin is doing. Many of the plugins I chose were simplified versions of plugins that can be found at Stillwell Audio. They make some wonderful plugins at a fair price. You should really check them out.
The Tilt EQ I used in this example is the Niveau Filter by Elysia. While not formally labelled as an Equalizer, as you can see in the video below, it does affect audio in a similar way. It is a free download and should work with just about every program that can use plugins.
Also, please note that I avoided discussing things that would apply only to a particular DAW or recording program. The only feature that may not exist in the program that you are using is Input FX. While incredibly helpful, Input FX are not absolutely necessary to get the job done.