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The Importance of Owning Your Own Content

20 Feb

Imagine hiring a carpenter to build you a new kitchen cabinet. You pay him for the job, he builds something pretty spiffy, and you’re pleased. But then you read the fine print in the contract, and you see that even though you paid him for the work, he (not you) actually owns the cabinet. 

Many museums have experienced something similar (although hopefully it didn’t come as a surprise) when creating an Audio Tour or an App. You hire an outside company to produce audio or video content, and it stipulates in the contract that they have partial or complete ownership of the content.

This means that you don’t own what you paid for. It means you have to get permission – and perhaps pay a fee – to make any changes, or to use that content in places other than your audio tour.  And it doesn’t expire after a year or two – that applies to the life of the content.

This is the way it was done, at times, in the past. Please do not let this happen again. 

Times have changed. The market is competitive. Production costs have come spiraling down. You can either produce high-quality content in-house or often hire it out for a reasonable price. And you will own the content 100%.  

Owning your content means you have FREEDOM!  It puts you and your organization in control and it means you can get more value out of your audio tour content.  If you have 10 videos that showcase your museum and its collection why not extend the use of those videos to beyond the tour?  You can place them on your website, put them on your organization’s FaceBook page, in email newsletter’s etc.  In this era of mass-consumption of information, content truly is king.  Make sure you own yours.

Have you run into this issue? Where you used a third-party to produce content – and they retained ownership? Any advice you’d give to other folks out there based on your experience?

For more on producing your own content in-house check out our do-it-yourself series.

Five Easy Ways to Create Content for Your Mobile App

16 Jan

For many museums, hotels and tourism sites looking to create an app, one of the more daunting aspects of the process is creating the content that will go into the tour itself. As we hear so often with social media, it’s essential to have great, engaging content to draw your visitor in and ensure the app enhances their experience with you, whether they are accessing it on-site or remotely. One of the benefits of TourSphere is that we make it extremely easy to create an app by providing you with an easy way to organize your content into a virtual tour. Of course, that means you must have content to organize. Whether it’s audio clips, videos, photos or text, there are easy ways to create engaging, interesting and professional content quickly and on a budget.

  1. Enlist the Interns: If your interns are sorting through spreadsheets and delivering mail, you’re not using them right. College students are extremely familiar with recording video and audio on their iPhones and editing it quickly and professionally. Give interns ownership of a piece of content–whether that’s an interview that needs to be recorded, voiceovers, or an existing piece of content that needs cleanup and editing. With inexpensive equipment and software, they can create fantastic and creative pieces of content. This method not only gets your app content done well, it also gives your interns a purpose and sense of accomplishment.
  2. Tap Into After-Hours Talent: Before you decide to hire a voiceover artist or team of historical re-enactment actors, check around the office to see what your colleagues are doing after hours. Do some of them have theater degrees collecting dust or recurring roles in community theater? Do they have the perfect voice for narration? Don’t assume you need to pay a lot of money for great work in these areas. It’s important the work is professional, but often this can be done by enlisting the help of the people who already work at your organization–and the project can be a lot of fun for them as well.
  3. Use What You’ve Got: Do you have a bank of professional photos of your museum artwork or the various areas of your hotel? Use these as a way to guide on-site visitors and a way to orient those using the app remotely. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Simply freshen your collection by adding anything new and including great write-ups about each site or, better yet, audio narration on each tour stop.
  4. Outsource It: When you don’t have the time or the expertise in-house to create excellent content, it’s time to turn to the experts. While we encourage building your own app with our TourSphere Builder, we also offer content development services that take the burden off you and allow you to feature professional, integrated photo, audio and video content in your mobile app.
  5. Invest in Inexpensive Hardware: If you’re planning to create a lot of content, it’s likely worthwhile to invest in some hardware like a camera or audio equipment that will make high-quality multimedia content. Thanks to technology, it’s not expensive to buy equipment that makes fantastic recordings–sometimes even a good iPhone app will do (for more on this check out our DIY content series). And this provides you with the ability to update your content quickly and easily if you need to change your app. If you’re recording video, plan to invest in a tripod–a steady shot is the difference between an amateur and a professional recording.

Tell us: What are some creative ways you’ve developed your app content?

Who Should Be Our Narrator?

13 Dec

When developing your mobile tour, there are many ways to make it particularly memorable for your visitors. One is choosing to incorporate audio into the tour in the form of a tour guide or narrator.

There are many options for narrating a tour, from a single, anonymous voice to a celebrity to a collection of different voices. At TourSphere, we’ve seen many tours come up with inventive takes on the narrator. Here are some things to consider as you decide who will be the voice of your app and, by extension, your museum, tourist destination or other site.

  • Who Might Be the Ideal Guide? For every location, there’s a potential protagonist, and that character–fictionalized or real–can act as your narrator. Developing a tour for a natural history museum? Dream up an archeologist and hand her the keys to the tour. In Miami: An Insider’s Walking Tour, South Beach native, bikini model and bartender Claudia guides the user through the city–the perfect authority for one of the country’s hottest destinations.
  • What Local Celebrities Can You Tap? Boston’s HarborWalk App features an introduction by the city’s mayor, Tom Menino. His distinctive voice and local celebrity status add gravitas and entertainment alike to the app, and his heavy Boston accent provides just the right amount of local flair.
  • Who’s an Insider? Who knows every corner of your tour? Who has insider information that visitors wouldn’t uncover by asking staff or reading signage? That’s the perfect person for narration (and you should be tapping them for content too!). The Mount Auburn Tour provides a specific “Dave Barnett’s Mount Auburn,” which features narration of the cemetery’s special features through the eyes of its president and CEO.
  • Can You Tap Your Board? You may have hidden talent right on your board–the perfect source for professional, insider’s, and pro bono narration. Consider the tour of the Boston Public Gardennarrated by Henry Lee, a longtime Bostonian and President of the Friends of the Public Garden–a perfect example of an insider who can add style and flair to your tour.
  • Are Multiple Narrators Better? Some tours are better told by a variety of voices. If you’ve got great stories to tell, consider weaving together a variety of voices to create a tour with more depth and dimension. Whether through reenactment or interviews with relevant people, this option can draw in your listener in a personal way.
  • Do You Have Hidden Talent? The most popular option for our museum and nonprofit clients involves finding employees, volunteers or other stakeholders at the organization who have acting or voiceover experience and tapping them as the “anonymous” narrator voice. This option provides a polished presence at a minimal cost.

Before you begin developing your app within TourSphere, decide whether you want your narrator to be a celebrity, organization insider, anonymous voice or combination of styles. Consider creating a presence for the narrator within the app and introducing them to the user with visuals and a bio, whether real or imagined. Use the narration to further draw users into your tour and make them feel like insiders.

Need inspiration? Here are some of the notable narrators that have appeared in TourSphere tours:

Exploring Estates Around New England: 5 Venues to Visit This Season

13 Nov

Around New England, there is a plethora of historic homes, estates and museums to check out for locals and tourists alike. At TourSphere, we love exploring both the well-known and hidden gems around our area. Today, we’ve decided to share some of our favorite estates around New England, picked out especially for you to enjoy during the upcoming holiday season!

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

A cozy little “estate”, just outside of Boston, MA, the Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is the setting for the well-known novel, Little Women. Visit this historical venue, where Louisa May Alcott both wrote and used as a setting for her book. When walking through the rooms, you’ll find the majority of furnishings and setting just as it was when the Alcott family lived there in the 1800s, complete with the desk that Louisa wrote at. If you visit during the month of December, they also offer a holiday program on the weekends.

Phillips House

Amidst the Witch Museums and tourist landmarks in Salem, MA stands a grand historic home on Chestnut Street. The Phillips House is a true New England style estate, built by Captain Nathaniel West in 1821. When you visit, you’ll find  a unique collection of early American antiques, as well as Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts. You can also enjoy a Thanksgiving celebration with the Phillips Family on November 15th.

Victoria Mansion

If you are heading up North in Maine, be sure to look up the Victoria Mansion in Portland. A summer home to Ruggles Sylvester Morse, the estate was built in 1860 and is also known as the Morse-Libby House. Considered as one of the most splendid examples of pre-Civil War architecture, the opulent estate is decorated to the nines with lavish, intricate details throughout.



Mark Twain House

A well-known household name, Mark Twain is an American icon. However, most New Englanders don’t realize that his house is right in Hartford, CT.  Visitors can peruse the impressive home, where Mark Twain and his family lived from 1874-1891 and Twain wrote some of his most famous works including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and The Pauper and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The House’s Annual Holiday House Tour takes place on Sunday, December 2nd, so be sure to visit this destination.


The Rocks Estate

And now that we’re in the spirit of the holidays, here’s another one of our favorite estates to visit during the season! Located in Bethlehem, NH, The Rocks Estate is best known as a Christmas tree farm. But, when you are there picking out your tree, don’t forget to marvel at the rest of the 1,400 acre estate. Walk around the well-kept trails, learn how maple syrup is made, and enjoy sights of the preserved wildlife around the grounds. During the holidays, there is a plethora of festive activities to partake in.


We hope you’ll take some time and enjoy a few of our favorite estates around New England! Happy travels!

Creating an Award-Winning Mobile App

16 Oct

After all the hard work you’ve put into developing your app, it’d be nice to get a little recognition, right? As the app landscape has exploded over the past several years, so have mobile app awards programs. At TourSphere, we’ve seen many of our clients win awards in their respective industries for fantastic apps that they’ve developed using our platform.

There’s nothing that inspires creativity than seeing what other great apps have to offer, so we thought we’d give you a taste of some of the awards TourSphere apps have won.

So how do you win one of these awards? Our biggest recommendation to you is to check out what’s available for awards in your industry and to get out there and apply for them. Spread the word about what your organization is doing that’s innovative, both within your industry and in general, with your mobile app and digital program.

If you’re building an app and would like to apply for a mobile app award yourself, here are a few you can check out!

  • The Webby Awards: Includes categories like Best Use of GPS or Location Technology, Best Use of Mobile Video and Integrated Mobile Experience
  • Digiday Mobi Awards: Honors overall excellence and breakthrough achievement in mobile media, marketing and advertising.
  • Media & Technology MUSE Awards: Recognizes outstanding achievement in museum media.

Share with us: What are the app awards in your industry?

Getting Spooky: 10 Unique Halloween Tours from Around the Country

28 Sep

At TourSphere. we’re big proponents of any kind of tour. Whether it’s in-person guides leading you through exhibits or one of our mobile apps giving you the low-down on little-known city tourist attractions, tours are a great way to get the most from your visit anywhere. And in autumn, when the air is crisp and the nights longer, there’s no better way type of tour to try than one that incorporates ghosts, ghost stories and other haunted happenings.

We’ve compiled a list of our top 10 picks for Halloween tours across the country. Think we’re missing one? Add it in the comments!

  • Tour Witch City: We’d be remiss not to start in our very own backyard with “The Witch City.” Salem, MA was made famous by the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s. More than 300 years later, Salem has stayed rooted in its history with a variety of haunted and witch-related attractions. For more of a hands-on experience, check out Spellbound Tours, which combines the history of the Salem Witch Trials with ghost hunting.
  • Ghosts and Gimlets: Enjoy a drink or two with your paranormal sightings on this tour of Savannah, GA’s haunted pubs. The walking tour covers 300 years of history, ghosts and pirates and helps to explain why Savannah is considered the most haunted city in America.
  • Civil War Ghosts: There are ghost sightings, and there are historical ghost sightings. If the latter is your thing, check out Gettysburg Ghost Tours, which takes you through “No Man’s Land” to the most haunted hallways and buildings in this famous Civil War battlefield.
  • Eat, Drink & Be Scary: The Ghost Hunt at the winery Marjim Manor in Appleton, NY provides hungry participants with appetizers, a wine tasting and two glasses of wine–all the better to see ghosts. The Buffalo Paranormal Detectors bring in ghost detection equipment and leads the group through the estate to see what they can find for Halloween inspiration.
  • Hotel Haunts: The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, CO might be better for a good scare than a good night’s sleep. Known as one of the nation’s most haunted hotels, falling liquor bottles, the roaming ghost of the hotel’s founder and mysterious switchboard calls are all part of the tales you’ll hear.
  • Redrum for Real: If you find yourself in Estes Park, CO, around Halloween, it’s time to pay homage to the master of horror himself, Stephen King. Tour the Stanley Hotel–King stayed in Room #217 when writing The Shining and based his horrifying tale on the location. The tour also covers ghost stories, haunted rooms, and a spooky underground tunnel.
  • America’s Glitziest Ghosts: Las Vegas isn’t necessarily the first place that comes to mind for Halloween, but Haunted Vegas Tours shows the haunted underbelly of a city known best for showgirls and gambling. Check out the “Motel of Death,” where a number of celebrities have died , and the home of one stubborn Vegas spirit, who refuses to leave despite numerous attempts at exorcism.
  • Terror in Texas: Thanks to its Wild West history, Galveston, TX has many tales of murder, revenge, passion and more–many of which have resulted in unsettled spirits hanging around even today. The tour is based on eye-witness account of paranormal activities and incorporates spine-chilling ghost stories.
  • Haunted Mansion: A tour of the beautiful Biltmore estate is a must-do in Asheville, NC, but their latest offering puts the bizarre past of the Biltmore Village on display for those who love a little haunting with their history. Learn about serial killers, curses and a kangaroo that arrived from another dimension in this unique Halloween tour.
  • San Diego Spirits: Considered the most haunted city in the West, San Diego boasts creepy graveyards, haunted mansions, and The Travel Channel’s “Most Haunted Site in America” (The Whaley House). Enjoy racy, historical tours with a haunted twist on the Haunted San Diego Tour.

How do you get spooked in your hometown? Share your picks for the best ghost tours in our comments section!

3 Mics to Turn Your Phone into a Recording Studio

31 May

This post is part of a series of “do it yourself” articles by Glenn Forsythe, Chief Soundscape Architect here at TourSphere. We hope you find it helpful when creating your own audio and video content!

As we have covered in previous installations of our DIY series, there are quite a few options for getting great production values without spending a fortune on equipment. For getting good audio, the basic elements will always be the same: clear sound source, microphone, cable and recording device.

In this post we’ll take a look at microphones that can transform your phone or tablet into that high-end field recorder without the high-end price tag.

  • Tascam iM2: If you are an iPhone-Pad-Pod user, this would be my top pick for doing any kind of recording. This stereo microphone and preamp combo uses the same mic and hardware as the DR handheld recorders, which are great portable recorders by Tascam. Full level control and adjustable stereo condenser microphones basically make this suitable for any kind of field recording. Plugs directly into the docking bay for a nice stable connection. ($65.00)

  • Tascam iXZ: This also says that it is for the iPhone, but the output is a standard eighth inch plug, which theoretically should be able to work anywhere. This is a microphone preamp, which is very useful if you already have a microphone you like to use. Other than providing an XLR input to connect a microphone, this gives you the ability to change the level of your signal, as well as providing “phantom power” for condenser microphones. ($39.00)

  • iRig Pre: Also formatted for the iPhone, this is basically the same device as the Tascam iXZ, which allows XLR microphone connections, phantom power and level control. This does have a headphone output which is quite helpful, seeing as how the headphone jack of your phone is being used by this device. Also comes with two apps for recording. ($39.00)

Do you have any secret tips for great recording on a budget? Please share! And let me know if you have any questions about recording your own audio and video!

Planning a DIY Mobile App for Visitors

5 Apr

So you’ve decided to create a mobile app to enhance the visitor experience – that’s great! Now what? Well, a little strategizing can go a looong way. Sure, you can always go with an on the fly, kitchen sink approach, but we often find that method to be a little frustrating – often accompanied by a lot of backpedaling. With a little forethought and communication the process can be quite smooth.

Get ideas for your app

One of the best ways to think about how to approach your smartphone app is to look at what other people are creating. Remember, all apps had a planning stage, and it’s a great to see the end result. Navigate various mobile apps and note things you like – and dislike – about them.

As you go through existing apps, you’ll begin to see they have elements in common:

  • a home or introductory page
  • a list of services or points of interest
  • a property map
  • an about us or contact page, or both!

You also have to remember that as an organization, you are connected to hundreds, if not thousands, of people – you are in a prime position to gather info. Ask your future users what they would like to see or hear in your app. Ask your front end and floor staff what questions your visitors are asking and what suggestions they are making – you’ll probably begin to see a pattern.

Think about your content

Now that you’ve done a little research, ask yourself some questions:

  • What type of content do I already have access too? (Are you converting an audio guide into a smartphone app? Do you have videos? Photos? Text for all of your pages?)
  • What additional content do I need to complete my app?
  • Is it important to give users quick access to visitor information such as hours and contact info? What about certain points of contact once your visitor has arrived?
  • How many tours/routes will I have? How many points of interest will there be?
  • Do I need a map to accompany my app? How many? (Do I want to use the geo-locate capabilities of a Google map because there are outdoor points of interest? Do I have access to a custom map for your property?)
  • Do I want my users to access an RSS feed or blog to stay up to date with ongoing events?
  • Would my organization benefit from responses from a survey?
  • Is there a need for a keypad? Are my points of interest numbered and easy to spot?
  • How can I use the app to further promote my organization?

Determine the flow of your app

You may find it helpful to visualize what your final app will look like. You don’t need any fancy tools to do this, the classic pen and paper approach will work just fine! If you’re not crazy about showing off your drawing skills, opt for something more sophisticated. You can always download a free trial version of a mockup program, like Balsamiq.

Try creating a mockup of the general flow of your app – begin with your “Home” page and the main navigation buttons – think about how visitors will use them to navigate your app and your museum or property. What features of your app should be highlighted and easy to find?

Your mockup will serve as a your blueprint while building your app.

Gather your content

Once you have a general idea of the direction your app will take, and have determined what content you need – pull it all together! When you get started with your app, one way to keep it moving smoothly is organization and making sure your assets are the proper quality, file types, and ready to be placed in your app.

It helps to organize your files in an orderly way. Simple, easy to identify, and consistent naming conventions are very helpful. Think about other contributors that are helping you create the app. If they were to look at all the files you’ve gathered, would they be able to determine which files go where?

Now that you’re a few step closer to creating your app, don’t forget, one of the many benefits of creating your own app is that you have the flexibility to change your mind!

Is that a studio in your pocket? (or “awesome apps for audio”)

30 Mar

This post is part of a series of “do it yourself” articles by Glenn Forsythe, Chief Soundscape Architect here at TourSphere. We hope you find it helpful when creating your own audio and video content!

Are you creating an audio tour or recording some audio interviews? I have good news! You need look no further than your inside pocket for a completely portable, high-quality recording device. In this post we’ll compare a few apps that can transform your phone into a your very own recording studio. (yay for technology that saves money!)

First, let’s talk about what you need in a recording app:

  1. For serious recording you should always record in an uncompressed format (.wav or PCM) and a sampling rate of at least 44.1khz. Don’t worry if this sounds too techie here, just put this on your checklist when choosing your recording app.
  2. Another basic feature that’s super helpful in recording is the pause button. You’d be surprised how many free apps out there left out the pause button in their design… it really helps! This way you can just hit “pause” instead of creating a new audio file every time you stop recording (which can get very messy in long recording sessions).
  3. The last and apparently hardest to find feature for a recording app is a nice set of level meters. Good levels are the  most critical feature for good recording quality. You NEED to monitor your input recording level.

Here’s a quick list of a few recording apps worth checking out:

PCM Recorder (Droid/Free): Very basic, but produces quality recordings. Allows sampling rates up to 48khz, which is great for recording audio for video.


Virtual Recorder (Droid/Free): I love that this app uses an old tape machine design for the interface. This app has many key features you want: pause recording, level meters, level boost and though it is fixed , it does have a good sampling rate.


Audio Recorder Machine (Droid/$3.96)This has all of the base features as Virtual Recorder but for a few bucks you can get a much slicker interface with an improved file management and sharing design.

Blue FiRe (iPhone/Free) Though lacking level monitoring, this is still a pretty straightforward free recording app for the iphone that produces high quality WAV or AIFF files.


FiRe Field Recorder (iPhone/$5.99) This app is by far the most complete package for recording. With a feature list longer than this post, it’s still very intuitive and easy to use. This would be worth spending a few bucks on if you want to expand your options and have an interface that gives you a more pleasant recording experience.

So there you have it, any of these apps will get the job done.  Next up, I’ll be sharing my list of preferred mics to pair with a smartphone app to give your organization the crisp, polished sound quality that will leave sound nerds wondering what recording studio you use.

Do you have any secret tips for great recording on a budget? Please share! And let me know if you have any questions about recording your own audio and video!

Providing Context to the Visitor Experience

21 Feb

In medias res – it’s that writing technique (first utilized by the Roman poet Horace) where the author inserts the reader into the midst of the action. Suddenly we are on the front lines, in the middle of battle. Where are we? What’s going on? The author deliberately withholds this information, instead letting the reader gradually deduce the context over time.

It’s an age-old literary technique, used by Roman poets and James Bond novels. Is it effective in museum exhibits? Does it provide a good visitor experience?

Recently, I visited an amazing exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in DC: Anglo-Saxon Hoard: Gold from England’s Dark Ages. I entered the exhibit, and marveled at the first thing I saw: three display cases of Saxon gold – brooches, necklaces, a sword pommel from a Saxon warrior.

Sword hilt fitting

These were remarkable artifacts. Yet I gradually began to crave more than just the text about each object on the information panels. I wanted context – what was the meaning behind these artifacts? Were they connected in any way? Where were they found?

I felt like I was reading a great book that had begun in medias res. And what I really wanted was some context, to provide meaning for me as I explored the exhibit.

Twenty minutes into my visit, I wandered into a small theater where I watched an excellent and dramatic 15-minute film… and everything suddenly made sense. The film told the remarkable story of this exhibit: the artifacts were all part of The Staffordshire Hoard – the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered. It had been found by this dude with a metal detector in a farmer’s field in England.

Wow. That is awesome.

Suddenly, the exhibit made sense. I had the context I had desired. And that context transformed the remarkable but disparate artifacts in the exhibit into a single cohesive narrative. The individual pieces turned into that thing we are all searching for: a remarkable story. I saw the exhibit with new eyes, and renewed awe.

Is it feasible to provide contextual information to visitors at the beginning of their museum visit? Do you prefer to have the visitor enter the exhibit without context (in medias res) – or with context? What tools can help provide this context – orientation films (as in this exhibit), museum smartphone apps or audio tours, or printed interpretive guides? I would love to hear any thoughts or experiences you have with this.

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