Why is audio important?
With BoardDocs, stakeholders have become accustomed to seeing agenda items, supporting documents, and action details. With the addition of digital audio you can also provide stakeholders the ability to listen to the discussion of an agenda item. BoardDocs makes it easy to record and access audio in context with the meeting, but anyone can post digital audio to the internet with simple web tools.
How does it work?
Digitally record the meeting to some sort of digital recorder or computer. After the meeting is over, slice up the recording by agenda item making a separate file for each agenda item discussed. Load the audio file to the existing BoardDocs agenda item using the document publisher software or post the files to the organization's web site. That’s all there is to it!
What do you need to know?
The process is easy with a little planning and the correct tools. We will cover:
• The Tools
• The Process
• Secrets to Success
What is Podcasting?
According to Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, Podcasting is a method of publishing audio broadcasts via the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed of new files (usually MP3s). It became popular in late 2004, largely due to automatic downloading of audio onto portable players or personal computers.
Podcasting is distinct from other types of online media delivery because of its subscription model, which uses a feed (such as RSS or Atom) to deliver an enclosed file. Podcasting enables independent producers to create self-published, syndicated "radio shows," and gives broadcast radio programs a new distribution method. Listeners may subscribe to feeds using "podcatching" software (a type of aggregator), which periodically checks for and downloads new content automatically. Some podcatching software is also able to synchronize (copy) podcasts to portable music players. Any digital audio player or computer with audio-playing software can play podcasts. By 2005 some aggregators could play video as well as audio. With increasingly robust personal digital devices, such as Sony's PSP or Apple iTunes, podcasting is likely to continue to evolve.
"Podcasting" is a portmanteau word that combines the words "broadcasting" and "iPod." The term can be misleading since neither podcasting nor listening to podcasts requires an iPod or any portable music player.
Getting Started – The Tools
Lets start off by simplifying things. All you need to do is take the audio output from the existing microphone/mixer setup and attach it to some sort of Digital Recorder. Then you will simply use the BoardDocs Document Publishing software to load the audio file(s) into BoardDocs.
Microphones, Mixers and Analog Recording
Most board rooms have already been fitted with microphones, mixers and recording equipment. In some board rooms the primary function is sound reinforcement or to make the meeting loud so attendees can understand what is going on. In some cases the system is used only to record the meeting for record keeping. In any case, the basic components are the same. Lets cover what each of these components are and how they work. If you really don’t care how they work, we can just say its magic and you can skip to Digital Recording Hardware.
Microphones are the devices that convert the sound waves that are in the air to analog electronic signals. There are many types of microphones; generally board rooms will use electrostatic or dynamic microphones. Electrostatic are generally better because of the lower mass of the moving parts, but they often require external power for internal electronics and are generally more expensive.
Dynamic and electrostatic microphones come with different pickup patterns. A wider the pattern indicates that the microphones will pickup sound from a wider field while a narrow pattern indicates sound will only be picked up directly in front of the microphone. There are many patterns, but for the most part the widest pickup pattern used in meetings would be omni, then cardioid, then hyper-cardioid then unidirectional.
In sound reinforcement situations, the most common will be unidirectional, because by limiting the field, you will get less feedback. You know what feedback is, it is that high-pitched squealing sound that comes from the speakers. While any system will feedback if turned up enough, unidirectional microphones are less prone to feedback.
In recording situations a popular type of omni microphone is a boundary microphone. Boundary microphones lay flat against a flat surface, like a wall or table and use the surface to expand the field and sensitivity of the microphone. In many cases a single well placed boundary microphone can record an entire meeting.
After the sound is collected by the microphone(s) is usually sent to the mixer.
Sound mixers are analog or digital devices that take analog signals from multiple sources and combine them into one or more signals. In the process most mixers provide the ability to shape the sound of individual and mixed sources. Mixers also control of the relative and mixed sound levels, that is why they have so many knobs. Some feature automation so when that turns off the microphone when not in use, limit the sound if somebody speaks to loudly and can prioritize some devices over others.
From the mixer the signal usually goes to amplifiers for sound reinforcement and/or recoding devices for recording.
If the meeting is being recorded, it usually recorded onto some sort of tape. Recordings made to cassette are analog recordings. In some cases, meetings are recorded to digital devices like a minidisc, or digital recorder. If the meetings are videotaped, the audio is sent to the video recorder and recorded with the video signal.
Digital Recording Hardware
Even though you may be currently recording the meeting, the sooner we get the recording into digital format the better. If we do not digitize the meeting in real time, you will need to do it later from the analog tape. This is an unnecessary and time consuming process.
Recording sound digitally, involves sampling the analog wave form and representing the analog signal with a series of numbers. The more frequently the wave form is sampled and the larger the number used to represent the wave, the better the sound. Most recording studios sample at 96,000 times per second and use numbers that are 24 bits large. CDs are created at 44,100 times per second and use numbers16 bits. The more often the sound is sampled and the larger the number, the bigger the resulting file. Files can get very large, for example an hour of stereo music on a CD takes about 600 MB of storage. We will want to get the file sizes much smaller so they are easy to download on the Internet. For this we have a couple of options, sample less frequency, record in mono (one channel) vs. stereo (two channels) and most importantly use compression. More on file size later.
Technologies in this area are moving quickly, but let’s cover what is available today. You basically have two options, use a computer with Digital Recording Software and a sound card to record the meeting or and Solid State Audio Recorder that will digitize the sound and save the files to a memory card. The latter is usually easier to use as they often work like a tape recorder.
There are many digital interfaces available for computers, select one that will easily work with the computer you have. In most cases that means one with a USB or for more advanced computers a FireWire connection. You should also limit your search to devices that support professional XLR interfaces. These will more than likely better interface with your existing sound equipment. Here are some examples:
Marantz PMD660 Professional Solid State Portable Recorder
The best option is a PMD660 Solid State Recorder. It features non-stop record with 36 hours of mono recording at the BoardDocs recommended 64 kbps, a menu-driven remote operation, and an EDL marking system for creating new files on-the-fly during the recording for easy file selection during playback. The recorder supports inexpensive Compact Flash Media.
This is a professional grade recording device with XLR inputs that can accommodate line level audio from existing systems, support direct microphone connections and it even has a built in microphone for those small meetings. The EDL file creation feature make this unit the best option for BoardDocs users. In most cases, recordings made with this unit can be placed directly into BoardDocs without any post production.
Edirol R09HR High Resolution Wave and MP3 Recorder
At about $400 the Edirol R09HR High Resolution Wave and MP3 Recorder. If you are looking for high-end sound performance in a small package this is the answer. It does not have the flexibility of the PMD670 and records large files that will need to be edited using the included software. But if you are recording live music this is the unit. With crystal-clear 24/96 fidelity, the R09HR is the new flagship of EDIROLs award-winning R-series recorders. Features 24-bit/96kHz linear PCM high-resolution, low-noise recording Newly developed Isolated Adaptive Recording Circuit (I.A.R.C.) High-grade, high-sensitivity stereo condenser microphone built in Records to SD or SDHC memory card (Up to 32 GB) Compact, hand-held body for convenient portable use Wide view-ability on large OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display Preview speaker built in Wireless remote controller included High-speed file transfer via USB 2.0 connection to computer Cakewalk pyro Audio Creator LE wave-editing software included
More advanced users who would like to record directly to computer should consider one of the following audio interfaces:
Edirol UA25 USB Stereo Audio Interface
The UA-25 is a powerful USB Audio/MIDI interface designed to offer premium sound quality, rugged
durability, and complete portability to the computer-based audio engineer.
The UA-25 is compact enough to travel anywhere you can take your computer. Although you will not need the MIDI interface, this is a good choice for most applications.
Echo AUDIOFIRE2 Compact Firewire Audio Interface
The AudioFire2 from Echo Digital Audio is a compact FireWire audio interface that still provides high performance. The Four input, six output unit features fully balanced input and output, separately addressable headphone output, S/PDIF I/O and MIDI I/O. Power for the AudioFire2 is provided through the FireWire bus or from the supplied external power adapter. MIDI and S/PDIF I/O is available via a custom cable that is removable for added flexibility. Tracktion software for Windows XP or Mac OS X is included for a complete portable recording system. Please note: your computer must have a Firewire interface to use this unit.
Alesis IO2 2-Channel Portable 24/96 USB Audio Interface
This is an excellent “no frills” unit that will do an excellent job. It is a tough-as-nails, portable 24-bit/96k interface that’s unbeatably priced. This ultra-sturdy device features aluminum housing and is USB powered. Complete with low latency ASIO 2.0 drivers and even includes Cubase LE recording software, just add a computer and record right out of the box.
As tempting to use a computer to digitize sound is, for meetings many better options are now available that are easy to use, take up less space and are less prone to crashing. These devices will digitize the sound and save it to either a memory card, like the kind used in digital cameras, or onto some sort of media, usually a minidisc. Once the file has been stored on the memory card or other media it can be copied to the computer and manipulated by the Digital Recording Software. Some examples of these devices are:
Digital Recording Software
If you have selected a Digital Solid State recorded like the Marantz PMD660, you can skip this section. Solid State Recorders have the capability of saving the files in the correct format and provide an easy way of creating separate files for each agenda item.
If you have recorded the files are on your computer, you will need some sort of way to manipulate the digital file prior to uploading it into BoardDocs. We will call this process “post-production” because it is what occurs after the initial production. Don’t worry; you do not have to be an audio engineer to make this work. With some practice and planning, manipulating audio files is a lot like working with word processing documents. Anyway, you’ll probably get an AV or IT person to help.
The software should meet the following criteria:
• Ability to run on your computer
• Ability to normalize and compress sound
• Convert file formats and sampling and bit rates
• Save fines as MP3 files
• If you want to save files as CDs for archiving, the software should allow you to burn audio CDs as well
Let’s look at a couple of software packages. While there are many, and most of the products above will come with a basic software package, you should stick to the main two. The selection will be based on the kind of computer you are using. If you use a Macintosh you should use Peak Pro from Bias and if you use a PC you should use Sound Forge from Sonic Foundry.
Work with your AV and/or IT department to connect and test all components and assure that you can record and capture audio for all participants. Use headphones connected to the recording device to play back the recording and double check the sound quality and legibility of your recording. If you move your meetings, test the setup in each room as room acoustics will affect the quality more than anything.
When the meeting starts, simply start your recording device to record the audio. Here is where you can really save some time in post production. By selecting a recording device that allows you to mark when each new agenda item starts, you can save the time in post separating the one large file into separate ones. Whether you use a recording device or software a little planning here will ease the process.
Also the recording format you select with your recording device may help as well. If the primary use of the final recording is going to be posting to the web, selecting the compression and appropriate initial recording format will save time as well.
WARNING: here come the technical sounding numbers. Don’t worry; just match the recommendations below to your device.
The recommended final format for spoken word is MP3 8 Bit Mono 24 KBps. Files in this format will be clear and will not take long to download. FYI: Most people prefer 192 KBps Stereo MP3 for music to be played on most MP3 players.
Please Note: The bit rate of an MP3 file specifies the output stream: the number of bits generated per second of audio. This is different that the sample rate we discussed earlier.
If you get complaints from users that the files are too large and slow to download, then consider dropping the bit rate to 16, if you want better sound quality, then increasing the bit rate to 32 or the bit depth to 16.
After the Meeting
OK, now it is time to go to post (that is short for post production). If you recorded in the format and were able to generate separate files for each agenda item, simply copy the files to your computer and attach them in the contents field of the corresponding agenda item in BoardDocs. If you want only the executive readers to be able to listen, then save the MP3 file in the Executive Content Section. If you want to make them available to the public, place them in the Complete Access section. That's all - you are done!
If you need to separate the files, clean up the sound or convert the file format, now is the time to use the digital recording software. If you used an external device to record the meeting, attach it to your computer and transfer the file(s) to the computer with the digital recording software.
Start by opening the file and if necessary convert it to Mono. Then perform a Save As to save the file in the MP3 24 KBps format. Now you are working with the MP3 file and the original file is still intact and can be used later to create a CD.
Now copy the part of the file that corresponds to the agenda item discussed and create a new file from the data that you copied. Save the new file using the agenda item number as the file name and remember to save it in the MP3 format.
Note: Creating audio CDs from files with higher bit rates or non-compressed files is preferable as they will sound better and file size when creating audio CDs is not a concern. Remember the maximum audio CD length is 80 min. Regardless of file format audio CDs will always hold a maximum of 80 minutes of audio. If you create data CDs by simply copying the MP3 files to the CD you can save all but the longest meetings on one CD.
Secrets to Success
Keep the file size small. Balance the quality of the audio against the file size. When in doubt, go with the small file size. While file size is not a concern for users with broadband, many stakeholders still are using dial up and will appreciate the smaller files and quicker downloads. Take steps during production to minimize time in post. Utilize recording techniques that create separate files during the recording process and record in the final format that you plan to use. Try different techniques and keep modifying your procedures until you find the best process that works for you, your organization and your stakeholders.
Adding audio to your agenda items can complete the experience of stakeholders and enhance the historical documents. Imagine, being able to view the agenda item, the supporting documents, LISTEN TO THE DISCUSSION and see the vote. All in a searchable archived document.