What Major Change Is SoundCloud About To Make To Their Mobile Apps?

Soundcloud 250What is SoundCloud planning for their next mobile app release for at least iOS and presumably Android? On Friday (June 6, 2014) I received an email stating this:
We noticed you've used our app to record and upload tracks to SoundCloud. With an upcoming version of the app, we'll be making changes to the way tracks are stored on your phone. If you have tracks that you've recorded but haven't uploaded, please follow the instructions below to save them. You can upload the tracks to your SoundCloud profile, or you can download them to your computer. Please do this as soon as possible to ensure that you don't lose anything you've recorded.

I cringed when I saw this... because I do use the SoundCloud app on my iPhone to record tracks for my "The Dan York Report" podcast and I do keep a number of different unpublished tracks sitting in the SoundCloud app. Often I may record a sound somewhere with the intent of later folding that into a recording (and which, admittedly, I often wind up never getting around to doing).

The key message of the email from SoundCloud is this:

YOU WILL LOSE YOUR TRACKS THAT YOU HAVE NOT UPLOADED UNLESS YOU TAKE ACTION BEFORE THE UPGRADE!

The email points out that all you need to do is upload the tracks to your SoundCloud account - and you can do so and make them "Private" so that they are only visible to you. They also note that you can download your sounds to your computer if you would prefer to do that. I chose to upload my tracks to SoundCloud as private recordings.

IMPORTANT: Note that when you upload your tracks to SoundCloud, the original date information will NOT be saved! That track you recorded in December 2012 that has the title "Sounds from Tuesday evening" will be uploaded to SoundCloud with a timestamp of when you upload the track. So if the date of the original recording is important to you, you may want to incorporate that date into the title of the track BEFORE you upload the track.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, the email from SoundCloud helpfully provided this image showing tracks that have not been uploaded:

NewImage

I cringed when I read the email from SoundCloud for a larger reason. This upload of local tracks was no big deal. I was done in maybe 5 minutes. My larger concern though is... what is SoundCloud going to do to the recording experience?

Right now I mostly used the SoundCloud iOS app to record my TDYR podcasts (as I explained in an episode) as my TDYR podcast is all about trying to see how minimally and easily a podcast can be recorded.

However, the SoundCloud app seems to continue to move to being more about music consumption rather than creation. This started a while back when they moved "Record" from the home screen to being under the "..." menu choice. And then we haven't really seen any improvements or changes to the recording capability.

Will they improve the recording experience? Or further de-emphasize it?

We'll see... but in the meantime if you have any local recordings in the app you need to do something if you want to retain any of those recordings.


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A Critical Audio Setting In Live Streaming With Google+ Hangouts On Air (That I Missed!)

Do you have the correct audio stream configured in Google+ Hangouts On Air (HOA) when you are doing live streaming of an event using a HOA? When we ran our live stream out of ION Krakow on Monday, I mentioned that we hit the undocumented 4-hour maximum time limit, but we actually had a larger issue that for the first 1 hour and 45 minutes -
our live stream's audio was terrible!

Truly un-listenable at times. :-(

It turned out that while I had correctly configured Google+ HOA to use the proper video setting for the "Wirecast Virtual Camera", I didn't realize that I had to separately configure the audio seeting to specifically pull in the audio stream from my capture device:

Googleplus hangouts audio settings 450

I just mistakenly assumed that HOA would pull the audio from the camera... but instead it was getting the "Default microphone", meaning the mic on my laptop.

Interestingly, we didn't discover this in testing because when I was doing the testing with a wireless microphone I was sitting at my laptop and so naturally the audio quality was excellent. I did walk up to the front of the room at one point but even then there was no one in the room and my voice could be heard well.

The good news is that I had a separate recording going from the house mixer into my Zoom H4N, so I have a complete audio track for the event. Now I just have to go back and create a new video recording, stripping out the old bad audio track and syncing the backup recording. Not ideal but will at least give us videos of the sessions that we can upload.

The bad news is, of course, that the experience of the initial viewers was quite poor and I'm sure some of them did not stay around to watch more of the session under the assumption it would remain that way.

Why did it take so long for us to fix it?

Well, I was the one operating the livestream and I was speaking at the beginning and then moderating a panel discussion, so it was purely the case that I wasn't in a position to be able to diagnose and sort out the fix. During the break I finally had a chance to do so.

It was also a valuable lesson in monitoring. To look at the audio levels I was watching the graphical meters in Wirecast but I wasn't watching the level in the Google+ HOA screen! That was ultimately how I realized what was wrong. It also pointed out that we need to be running a second machine that is watching the actual livestream so that we can hear the issues ourselves.

All in all a valuable set of lessons that I'll be adding to my checklist for the next time we do a livestream using Google+ Hangouts On Air.

P.S. The key point of the whole exercise was to prove we could livestream an event out over IPv6, which did in fact prove to be successfu1!


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SoundCloud Rolls Out Auto-Sharing To Google+

Soundcloud iosYesterday SoundCloud released a new version 2.6 of their iOS app that for the first time allows sharing to Google+. This is rather intriguing because right now very few applications are able to share directly into Google+. Google has very tightly controlled access to their Google+ APIs to the dismay of many of us who want to more easily share the content we create into our Google+ accounts.

The new SoundCloud app for iOS provides the following new features related to Google+:

  1. The ability to login to SoundCloud with your Google+ credentials. This is only really useful to people who are new to SoundCloud as it simplifies the account creation process by letting you login with your Google+ ID.

  2. The ability to share sounds out to Google+ from within the iOS app.

  3. Automatic sharing of new sounds you create to your Google+ account.

The last one is the most interesting to me and the focus of what I'll write about here. I'll note, too, that according to multiple reports, including an article in TheNextWeb, the ability to login to SoundCloud via Google+ is also available in the Android SoundCloud app, although apparently the sharing is not there. The automatic sharing is centrally configured in SoundCloud's web interface and so may not have a dependence on the mobile app.

Automatic Sharing From SoundCloud To Google+

This is again the most important feature of the update to me. SoundCloud has for quite some time had the ability to automatically share any new sound you upload out to Twitter, Facebook (including Facebook Pages) and Tumblr. This new release adds Google+ to the mix.

You need to login to your SoundCloud account and go to Settings -> Connections. Once there you will see a new Google+ button: Sc connections

Selecting the button allows you to go through the standard Google+ process to authorize this application to connect to your Google+ account. Once you do that, you will see a new connection at the bottom of your list of connections: Sc googleplus

Somewhat bizarrely it doesn't use a Google+ icon but rather something that reminds me more of MySpace.

Similarly, over in the iOS app, after you save a recording and are getting ready to post the sound to SoundCloud, the "Sharing Options" now have a Google+ option at the top - but without any icon: Ios app sc 1 In theory, this should all allow the auto-publishing of links to new sounds out to your Google+.

Sounds Great... But Didn't Work :-(

So, after configuring all of this, I recorded a new episode 5 of my The Dan York Report on this topic... and it did NOT auto-post to Google+. When I was in Google+ there was a yellow message that appeared several times at the top of my screen that said something like:

"Oops... there was a problem posting "TYDR #005 ..." Retrying.

Unfortunately it appeared and disappeared too quickly to get a screenshot.

Manually Sharing From SoundCloud Web or iOS App

The good news is that the SoundCloud web also provides a mechanism to manually share a sound out to Google+. If you click on the Share icon on the page for a sound, you can select the Google+ tab: Soundcloud sharing and then write a message about the sound and choose who to share it with: Share on googleplus

Similarly, you can now do this sharing from within the iOS app itself: Ios app sharing

I'm showing these windows for sharing the sound I created, but this could be for ANY sound that you listen to within the SoundCloud app or web interface.

So What About That Auto-Sharing?

Why didn't my first episode after configuring Google+ integration auto-publish out to Google+? I don't know. I'm going to assume this was perhaps a "teething pain" as the folks at SoundCloud get this integration working.

Regardless, it's good to see this integration with Google+ happening (assuming it starts working) and more apps being able to connect into Google+.


An audio commentary about part of this announcement can be found at:


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What Is The Future Of The Levelator? (The Podcaster's Ultimate Quick-Fix Audio Tool)

LevalatorWhat does the future hold for the awesome "Levelator®" tool, now that The Conversations Network is shutting down all of its websites at the end of 2012?

That's certainly the first thing that popped into my mind when I heard the word that Doug Kaye was declaring "Mission Accomplished" and shutting down the TCN websites and moving their content to other locations.

The "Levelator," in case you aren't aware, is a truly awesome piece of software for Windows, Mac OS X or Linux that can take an interview recorded with varying audio levels and turn it into something great for listening. As the bottom of the Levelator page says:

Do you believe in magic? You will after using The Levelator® to enhance your podcast. And you'll be amazed that it's free, now even for commercial use.

So what is The Levelator®? It's software that runs on Windows, OS X (universal binary), or Linux (Ubuntu) that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast or other audio file for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It's not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It's much more than those tools, and it's much simpler to use. The UI is dirt-simple: Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler's application window, and a few moments later you'll find a new version which just sounds better.

For those wanting the gory details, the site contains a detailed description of the "Levelator Loudness Algorithms" that explains how it does its magic. The FAQ, also, includes some helpful information.

Normally, when I'm recording podcasts in my home office with my podcasting rig, I'm able to control all the audio levels, even if I'm interviewing someone over Skype. So in those cases I don't need the power of the Levelator.

But... if I'm recording an interview with multiple people over Skype, I only have one feed for Skype into my mixer and so I can't control the varying audio levels for the different speakers.

Similarly, if I am recording a panel session typically speakers are sitting at different distances from their microphones and they naturally have different levels of their voices.

In either of those cases, the Levelator has been a HUGE help in making my recordings sound that much better.

It's also insanely easy to use - just drag a file onto the interface and drop it. That's it.

Now it's now always on target. A time or two I've actually liked the original better, but that's often because I've got noisy backgrounds or other issues. But probably 95% of the time it does a truly wonderful job making the audio sound better.

So what is its future?

I don't know.

Doug Kaye's post about the future of TCN says only that they intend to continue to make the existing content available. It's not clear from reading that what will happen to the Levelator. Will it be updated? Will someone continue to maintain the software? Will it be open-sourced so that the community could maintain it? Or will it just fade away?

The @levelator Twitter account did provide some hope in an October 3 tweet saying plans are still being discussed:

Levelator future

I do hope Doug and his team are able to find a way to keep the Levelator around. It truly is an awesome tool and it is and was a tremendously generous gift to the Internet community to make it available for free.

I look forward to learning its future... and meanwhile, I've made sure I've downloaded the most recent version so that I'll have my own copy around for a while.

Have you used the Levelator before? Has it helped you? What would you like to see the TCN team do with the Levelator?


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Using iRecorder on the iPhone For Quick Podcasts - With WiFi Transfer

Ever needed to record a quick audio recording on your iPhone and then rapidly transfer it to a computer? There are many recording applications out there for the iPhone, but one I've found helpful is the aptly named "iRecorder".

On Friday I read an email from Shel Holtz that he and Neville had to record this coming week's FIR episode on Sunday morning and they needed our reports by then.

Knowing that today was going to be crazy and also knowing I had a number of tasks to do yesterday that kept me away from my office where my podcast rig is located, I whipped out my iPhone and used iRecorder to record my report. The interface itself is super-simple to use - just one button to push to start recording.

Irecorder

The reason why I like iRecorder, though, is that it has an extremely simple WiFi interface for transferring the recording. I just tap the down-arrow icon in the upper left corner and... ta da... it gives me a URL to hit in my browser:

Irecorder wifi

A quick trip to that URL in my browser shows me all the audio files I can download:

IRecorder browser

A click on the link and the audio file is down on my computer. Now all I did was bring the audio into Audacity, do a minor bit of trimming and then export it to MP3 to send to Shel and Neville.

Simple. Easy. Fast.

Now, I don't feel the audio quality is as good as what I get on my podcasting rig, but that's understandable... this was an iPhone being used as a field recorder. It was a bit too "hot" for me with some clipping going on. But it enabled me to get a report quickly together and submitted when I didn't expect to have time to do so.

It's a cool little tool... and you can find it in the iPhone AppStore.


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Experimenting With SoundCloud For Audio Podcasting

SoundcloudAs I've mentioned on my last several reports into the For Immediate Release podcast, I've been experimenting over the past few weeks with SoundCloud as a platform for posting and sharing audio recordings.  If you are a SoundCloud user, you are welcome to follow along with my experiments at:

soundcloud.com/danyork

So far I have been mostly posting my weekly FIR reports and a few other samples... but over the next bit I'm intending to post some more audio recordings as I try out a number of different applications.

I was toying with using SoundCloud for a bit... and then was inspired by what C.C. Chapman did with the platform for his audio reports from his recent trip to Ghana.

I've been looking for a bit for a place to just post random audio commentary that didn't fit into FIR or other sites. We'll see what precisely I do with it over the weeks and months ahead.

If you'd like to try it yourself, signing up for an account is free - there is just a limit on how much audio you can post with the free account.

And as to how SoundCloud is different from Audioboo or the many other similar services, I would direct you to my latest report into FIR #651 where I covered this precise question!


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Why Apple's move to take iTunes DRM-free matters...

After tweeting this in response to the MacWorld keynote today:
twitterdanyork-itunesdrm.jpg

I had a couple of people ask me what DRM is all about and why it matters. So here's my take on why DRM for music matters to me.

"DRM" is "Digital Rights Management" and if you want the gory details Wikipedia has a lengthy article but essentially DRM is "copy protection" in either software or hardware form that restricts your access to some digital media to only "authorized" devices/programs/computers/etc.

In the context of iTunes, it is the software that restricts you to only being able to play purchased music on specific computers or devices. When you buy a song from the iTunes Music Store (that has DRM), you can play that song only on computers that are authorized through your iTunes Music Store account. If I recall correctly, you are limited to 5 computers. If I have a new laptop or iPod or whatever, I have to authorize that device before it can download and play the music.

Proponents of DRM for digital music files, primarily the music companies, promote DRM as a way to ensure that artists (and those companies) get paid. Their fear is that without DRM people will just wildly copy music all over the place and the companies and the artists won't be paid. And to a certain degree this is probably a valid fear.

The problem is that to a user DRM is often a royal pain-in-the-neck.

If I have a physical CD that I rip into online music files on my system, I can then move those files to any other server, to another disk, to another music player, to another laptop. There is no DRM and I can just move those digital files around the same way that I could a physical CD. It makes it trivial when you find that all your music is filling up one system and you want to move it to another and have music play out of that system instead of the one you are using now.

With DRM-restricted music, you can't always do this. You have to authorize the new system. When I went to sync a new iPod to one of my systems, I had issues where it couldn't download the music because it wasn't authorized, etc., etc.

It makes me not want to buy music online.

Or, at least, DRM-restricted music. After having so many headaches recently with moving some music around when I was trying to free up room on a system, I decided that for a future purchase I was going to find DRM-free versions, even if it meant going out and purchasing the physical CD and ripping the CD into MP3s. Then, of course, I discovered the Amazon MP3 Downloads. Same basic prices as iTunes (cheaper in many cases) and without any DRM.

I own the digital music files and I can do with them whatever I want to do.

I can move them around. I can put them on different music players in my house.... basically everything that I can do with a physical media like a CD (or tape or album for those who remember such things). And yes, those who are unethical can of course copy them and give them to other people. But the point is that the digital media is now mine to do with as I wish exactly like the physical media is. I am in control.

I have therefore almost no incentive to purchase from the iTunes Music Store when I can get it from Amazon (unless, of course, the music is exclusively available in iTunes).

Steve Jobs wrote about this back in February 2007 when he wrote this:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Today, it seems, Apple has reached that state... they said that 8,000,000 songs will be available DRM-free now and all 10,000,000 songs will be available soon. You will need to pay a bit more (and that extra 30 cents probably goes to the record companies) but at least it is mine and I can play it wherever and whenever I want.

That is why I was so pleased with the Apple announcement.


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Marantz video demonstrating their new PMD620 portable recorder

As listeners to FIR may know (or longtime readers of this blog), I'm a big fan of the Marantz PMD660 and have been using it now for recording interviews in the field for most of 2 years, if not longer. It's a great unit and I've been very happy with it.

However, it's rather on the large side (looks like an old tape recorder!) and I've always been looking at the smaller units like the Edirol R9, Zoom H4, m-Audio MicroTrack, etc. Out at the New Media Expo last fall, I saw the preview of Marantz's new PMD620 and was quite intrigued. Not enough yet to buy one, but after my last trip where the PMD660 took up so much room in my travel bag, I am starting to think about it again.

Anyway, the folks at Marantz have now put up a YouTube video talking about the product:

FYI, I found it on their Education Blog after receiving an email from them announcing the video being on their blog. The comments are amusing because predictably someone was asking if the video was an example of the audio quality (or lack thereof) of the PMD620 (it wasn't).

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Trying to kill a buzz in a podcast with Audacity

Frustrating night tonight... I was doing the post-production on a Blue Box Special Edition podcast of the 90-minute workshop that I did along with podcast co-host Jonathan Zar and security researcher Shawn Merdinger out at O'Reilly's Emerging Telephony conference last month.  Unfortunately, even though I'd jacked into the mixer provided at ETel (or perhaps because I was connected into the mixer), I wound up with an annoying buzz throughout the recording.   I can only guess that it was something with one of the audio components in the setup for the room out there at ETel.  I've seen a buzz be created by something as simple as a bad wire or a connector not fully inserted into a jack.  In any event, I wound up with a buzz.

Since I had solved (and blogged about) a similar issue before using Audacity, I spent literally a couple of hours trying to kill off the buzz.  I used hi-pass filters.... notch filters... equalizer effects... all sorts of things.  Searched the web, the Audacity wiki and more.  Unfortunately, this particular buzz seemed to be located right down on the end of the frequency spectrum where our voices are also located!  So when I used a high-pass filter to allow through only frequencies over, say, 300 Hertz, you could hear the effect on our voices.  If I moved the high-pass filter down to say 100 Hz, there was no impact on our voices, but the buzz was still at full strength.  Move it up to 500 or 600 Hz and the buzz was reduced... but so was the quality of our voices.

Wanting to get this episode posted today, I finally gave up and ran it as it was recorded, which was not overly appealing to me.  I always strive to have the highest audio quality possible, which is why I spend the time I do on post-production.  But in the end, there was just no way I could figure it out.  Perhaps with better tools... or more time... perhaps not.  Fun, fun, fun...