Tag Archives: content

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.

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:

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.

Optimizing Videos for Mobile: Keep it Big and Keep it Small

1 Feb

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!

Producing videos for mobile devices is not hard to get right but its easy to get wrong. If the end result is going to be streamed over a mobile network and displayed on a screen only a few inches wide, there are 2 simple keys to keep in mind: Keep it Big and Keep it small.

Keep it Big

When I say keep it big I am referring to the visual content. Make sure all people, images and copy in your videos are large- so that people can clearly see them when viewing a 3-inch screen.

Focus of shots

Make sure the focus of your shot is large – taking up about at least 1/3 of your screen space. If you are interviewing a subject for instance, don’t use a long shot, otherwise it will be much harder to see when shrunken down. The same goes for using images. If there is a detail of an image, crop and zoom way in on it as opposed to having people squint their eyes when observing a detail.

High resolution images

In order to create those detailed crops, it is important to work with high resolution material. Though creating a very high resolution final video is not recommended due to bandwidth, the content that you are using while assembling your video should be as high resolution as possible to give plenty of headroom for downscaling. In other words, if you have an image of a painting and you want to bring out a detail in the lower left corner, you can crop it so that the detail still fills the frame of the video without becoming blurry or pixilated.

Use large, bold fonts

Though it may look a little bit silly on a normal monitor, using larger fonts for titles, lower thirds and subtitles will vastly improve legibility. I also would stay away from heavily ornamented and thinner fonts like Zapfino and the like. You just want to stick to bolder or stroner fonts, and if using a program like final cut, I wouldn’t really go below 28 for the size of your text.

Keep it Small

When I say keep it small I am referring to the output size of your video file. Though this can be an intimidating procedure with all of the different options when rendering a movie, there are really just a handful of terms that are worth familiarizing yourself with in order to get the smallest compression possible without compromising the quality.

Bit or data rate

This refers to how much information per second is in the final video, affecting the resolution or quality. This also affects file size, so if someone is downloading instead of streaming your videos, a smaller bit rate would be wise.

Frame size/dimensions

The frame size is the physical dimensions, usually in pixels, of your video. Seeing as how all mobile devices will play movie files in fullscreen, this isn’t crucial to match the output of your video’s dimensions to an iPhone, but it is good to be aware of so you don’t make a huge frame (like an HD size of 1280 x 720) and waste unnecessary file size.

Frame rate

A standard component to how video works and has always worked, the frame rate is the amount of still frames per second in your video. When making your quicktime movie, I mostly leave this one as is or whatever it was shot at. However, sometimes to help improve streaming videos if the buffering is taking a really long time, you can cut the frame rate in half for smoother streaming performance. In some cases this can make the video look worse, so always test it before publishing to make sure the video doesn’t look choppy.

If you have any other tips to share or issues you’re having that you need some help with let me know in the comments.

The Basics for DIY Museum Audio Tours

30 Dec

This post is the first in a series of “do it yourself” articles by Glenn Forsythe, Chief Soundscape Architect here at TourSphere. We hope you find it helpful!

With the advent of portable and affordable digital recording devices, we are all the benefactors. Being in charge of your own audio tour content can save you a lot of money – so even small museums can have professional-sounding audio tours.

What it does take, however, is a little bit of insight to know how to maximize the quality of your finished product. This post will help provide you with some fundamental concepts that, when utilized, will guarantee never prefacing your project with “sorry about the sketchy sound quality.”

Before going through any specifics, the most important thing to stress is what techniques will remain true to virtually every recording situation, and can make or break your audio.

Getting Started: Recording Level

Probably the number one biggest culprit in bad audio is recording level. Either too quiet or too “hot”, a poor signal is a mortal sin in audio production. The recording level is the amount of “gain” or amplitude that you are letting in to your recorder from your microphone. Too much gain in your recording level will result in the dreaded “clipping,” sounding to our ears as distorted and abrasive. Too little gain will result in legibility issues, which can’t necessarily be fixed by simply making it louder later (all of the noise in your signal will be boosted too, causing background noises to be amplified, too).

So how do we control these problems? The most important thing to know is how to look at the level meters on your recording device. Digital signals are measured on a scale where zero decibels, or 0dB, is the maximum amount of input a recording can have before distorting. A bit counter-intuitive, but absolutely no sound should ever have the meters hover at or above 0dB.

You also don’t want to overcompensate by having the signal hovering too low at around -32dB either, because the signal is too weak. It can be a bit tricky, because the volume of people or objects you are recording can be very dynamic, causing peaks and valleys in the signal. However, if your meters are registering an average between -12dB and at most -3dB, you should be safe and get a good recording level.

Consider Your Location

The other critical consideration for recording decent audio is your location. This is where it gets tough to control the elements, especially if you are outside in a noisy environment. What you can do is try to pick locations that minimize extraneous sounds. Your best bet for recording audio-only is to find the quietest room where people aren’t going to be in and out, opening and closing doors and talking over the subject. You also don’t want to pick a room that is next to a furnace, computer server room, or any kind of loud hum or steady noise floor. Though some post-production software can reduce this, it is always best to avoid it from the start.

Finally, if you are recording inside, I would try and stay away from highly “reflective” spaces. All traveling sound interacts with barriers (i.e. walls, floors, ceilings) differently depending on the material of the barrier. Some reflect the sounds, others absorb them. Try to avoid spaces that have lots of marble, concrete, or stone walls and stone floors, as well as vaulted ceilings or other large spaces with an echo. Sometimes these spaces can’t be avoided, but if you have the option of finding a medium sized office room with carpeting and without excessive hum, your end result will be much better off.

One trick to measure sound reflection is to clap loudly in the room. Do you hear an echo? If so, you better find another recording space.

Recording level and environment will be important for every recording device you will ever work.

Make sure that you are recording digitally. Of course there is a huge world of digital recording devices, but this is definitely something where higher price doesn’t make or break what you can do. You really don’t need anything with too many bells and whistles. Unless it has a high-quality built in microphone, I would just make sure that it has a standard XLR microphone input on it, so that if you get a nice microphone later on, you don’t have to lose any quality by adapting the connection. (I won’t get tech-y with an XLR explanation, just know that it is the standard way of connecting most microphones and is a three-pronged input). The only other feature that is really important for digital recorders is for the microphone preamps (what boosts the recording signal to be recorded) has what is called “phantom power,” or a 48v power reserve needed by condenser microphones. Condenser microphones are pretty much ubiquitous, and usually reproduce a more accurate, clean sound. If you ever get one in the future, they do need this 48v of power to operate, so when looking for digital recorders I would make sure this is included.


Let’s briefly mention microphones. Yes I said briefly, because discussing mic selection can be about as unending as picking out ingredients to cook virtually any known dinner. They all have different outcomes, flavors, and prices. Luckily for us, we don’t have to bust out the white truffles to get a tasty recording.

So what do people in the field use? It depends on the project and environment, of course, but a very common microphone type is a “shotgun mic,” so named for its gun barrel-like appearance. The reason why this mic is so widely used for on-location recordings (especially video shots) is that their radius for picking up sound is very narrow. In other words, wherever you point the microphone will pick up that sound much louder than surrounding sounds, even at a distance. This gives a much better pinpoint accuracy so that the person or object you are trying to record gets the most of the signal without extraneous noises. These are commonly a type of condenser microphone, so they will require that 48v power from your recorder.

Another common microphone to use are lavaliers, or lapel microphones. These are very small mics that can be clipped on to a subject’s shirt directly under their heads. These are ubiquitous with video shoots, because they are the easiest way to get close to your subject without being seen very easily. The wireless ones can be a bit more expensive than others, but there might be times where the investment is worth it.

Of course there are dozens of other types of microphones out there, but these two are very common in productions that aren’t done in recording studios. The final type of mic worth mentioning is the one you may already have. Chances are, someone went to Radio Shack a while back and bought some hand held mic that currently resides at the bottom of a junk drawer. Believe it or not, using the checklist of recording techniques we discussed, this one might do just fine. You could use a $1000 microphone but if you ignore our recording tips, you still won’t get anything more usable than your Radio Shack special.

What is your experience with recording audio? Any success stories, or disasters, you want to share?

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