Monday, May 18

Making a radio show

Some time ago, I blogged about creating radio features for the Into Tomorrow show and I talked about the products I was using to do that. Namely, the Snowball USB microphone from Blue Microphone and WavePad Master's Edition from NCH Software.

I still have those products and I still use the Snowball microphone any time I need to record more than just my own voice. What I mean is, when I have more than one person in the room and I want to record the conversation (like you would do if you were making a podcast in your basement), there isn't a better microphone for the price than the Snowball.

But now I'm beginning to build complete half hour radio shows for a church. I edit down the sermons for time, record opening and closing voiceovers, and assemble the entire show including musical elements before creating a final mixdown to a finished show.

And I ran into two issues with this process. First, I felt as though I wasn't getting enough low end presence in my voice to be a very good "Announcer Guy." I have the ability to pitch my voice down when I'm doing Announcer Guy, and I wanted to have some of that bass punch in the recording. And second, mastering all the various elements of the show, assembling them into a timeline, and mixing it down was harder in WavePad than I wanted it to be. I couldn't get the effects that I wanted, and lining up the show elements against a timeline in multitrack mode was not working as I wanted.

So I began the search for new products to address these. On the microphone side, I found the Marshall MXL USB.009 24-Bit Studio/Broadcast USB Condenser Microphone, which comes complete with a nifty aluminum "flight case" that carries your expensive microphone safely from place to place. I did order an optional shock mount and windscreen for the product. Take note of that because you will want them and it does not include them. The MXL USB.009 gave me the deep, rich studio sound I wanted for my voiceovers, even while recording in my office at home.

For editing software, I chose Adobe Audition 3. I will admit that editing software is a lot like your favorite pizza. It all comes down to taste, and you will fight to the death defending your choice. (Okay, maybe not to the DEATH, but I've seen some ugliness over pizza, believe you me!) What I liked about Audition was the Mastering Rack that allowed me to assemble my favorite effects, preset the way I liked them, and apply it to a recorded track with a single mouse click. That's a huge time saver! The multitrack mode is excellent. I butt the closing theme up to the 28 minute mark (that's the maximum length of the half hour show) and now I can position all of the other elements so they fit within that. I line up voiceovers with music tracks, to get backing music whenever I want it, and the entire process couldn't be easier.

Recently, I was editing a sermon where the pastor yelled at one point. It totally glitched out the microphone and recording system, resulting in an ugly audio artifact where the stereo effect jumped about wildly and we actually had brief moments of silence on each track, but of a different length and slightly different location. It was a MESS. But I was able to isolate the better of the two channels, copy some noise over the absolute zero silences, then copy a specific length from one stereo channel to the other, and thus completely removed the glitch. I've got no idea how other editing software does this, but with Audition it was easy.

I'm very pleased with the final result, and impressed with the fact that a desktop PC combined with $650 to $700 worth of microphone and editing software can produce something that sounds like it was processed on tens of thousands of dollars worth of studio hardware.

Don't misunderstand me, you're not going to replace recording studios with their gigantic mixing consoles with a couple grand worth of PC gear, but for those of us engaged in the editing and voiceover business, there's no place like home.

Friday, May 1

Palm stomps on TealOS

I have a Palm Treo. That almost sounds like it should be a confession in front of a therapy group.

(Me) Hi, my name is Mark.

(Group) Hi Mark!

(Me) Uh, I'm here because, well...uh, I use this old smartphone that does everything an iPhone can, but just not as pretty, yet it works and I can't stop using it. I'm so ashamed!

(Group) Awww.

In my mind's eye, they'd give me a hug. Or...throw empty iPhone boxes at me. Something like that, anyway.

But that's not why I'm blogging today. I'm blogging today because Palm has taken the role of soul-crushing competition-fearing megalith. You know, the role that Apple usually has?

It's not a secret that Palm virtually invented the PDA and smartphone markets. If they didn't create it, they made the most popular early versions of it (with a very few exceptions). Then along came Windows Mobile, which was a terrible product but managed to gain traction because Microsoft knows how to stubbornly hang on when they want something. Palm Treos with their PalmOS did fine against Windows Mobile, but in a silly moment of sleeping with the enemy, Palm decided to start making Treos with BOTH PalmOS and Windows Mobile.

The problem? Once Treos ran Windows Mobile, they were no different from any other device also running Windows Mobile. You were disconnected from the thousands of third party applications, you didn't experience the smooth and reliable operation, etc. You were... Well, you were one of the herd.

And so, Blackberry chipped away at you. Early versions of that were AWFUL, just awful, but enough corporate types became hooked on them that RIM had plenty of time to turn it into a pretty decent product. Blackberry Curves are rather nice. (Don't get me started on the Storm, though.)

But Palm and their Treos hung on gamely. Until Apple showed the entire world how a smartphone was supposed to be done with their iPhone. Like everything else Apple makes, the user interface on the iPhone was stunning. Gorgeous, simple, functional? I don't have enough adjectives. But! I'm a Verizon customer, with a family of phones (mine, my wife's, the kids), and I don't want to deal with the hassle of moving to AT&T.

So I slog along gamely with my Treo. It's ugly, it's old, but it WORKS.

Palm begins working on a totally new smartphone, the ultra-sexy looking Pre. It has an entirely new operating system called WebOS. The Pre will be available soon with Sprint as the sole provider of service. (I just HATE these exclusive deals.) I won't buy a Pre for the same reason I won't buy an iPhone. I don't want to leave Verizon and deal with all the headaches of moving four numbers, etc., etc.

One of the third party software developers that I like for my Treo is TealPoint Software. When I was doing freelance consulting work, their TealTracker application running on my Treo was the slickest way to track my hours for client billing that I had ever seen. I loved it. If I did that sort of work these days, I would STILL be using it.

TealPoint Software came out with TealOS. It was a front end for the PalmOS that looked very similar to WebOS, and it gave us loyalists who still used our Treos an option to suddenly seem current and sexy again. It also caught the interest of Palm.

I'm not behind the scenes, so I have no idea whether Palm even approached TealPoint about buying TealOS to upgrade their older smartphones. I'm guessing they did not, since it's not in Palm's interest to support Treos not running on Sprint, which is clearly their wireless company of choice now. What we know that Palm DID do was hit TealPoint Software with a "cease and desist" notice. I'm sure it was on fancy lawyer stationery and filled with fancy lawyer words, but you know how these things always go.

Dear Small Guy,

We love the fact that you love our product. Thank you so much for taking time to support it over the years and keep us in business, so that now we can make deals with new companies that unfortunately require us to pretend our old products don't exist.

Your software (which is delightful, really and truly), might allow some of those stodgy old die hards that refuse to discard a working product continue to use those old models. And we can't have that, now can we?

So, this is the part where we need to remind you that we're a really BIG company with lawyers on staff and on retainer, and you're not. You don't even want to know what it would cost to defend yourself against us. Let's not let it reach that point, shall we?

Cease and desist your innovation! Dammit.


Big Guy

TealPoint's not stupid, nor are they rich. As of March 30th, 2009, TealOS is done. No further development, no further support, and will the last downloader please turn out the lights?

Instead of paying $14.95 for an amazing makeover to the still rock sold PalmOS, I have the same choice I've always had. Continue to use a smartphone that gets text messages from the 90's saying they want their user interface back, or deal with the huge cost and incredible hassle of changing hardware and my wireless company.

Thanks, Palm.

Sorry, TealPoint. You guys deserved better.

Now by this point, you all probably think I hate Palm. I don't. I really and truly don't. I love my Treo 700p, it's been my faithful companion for years. I browse the web with Opera Mini, I have maybe a dozen third party applications on it, I use ChatterEmail to track three separate email identities. All fast and reliable, even if they're nowhere near as pretty as an iPhone.

I really like the Pre and its WebOS. If Verizon ever gets the rights to sell it, I'll probably switch to one. Unless, of course, Verizon gets the iPhone first. In which case, I'll have a well cared for, much beloved Treo 700p for sale.