Aug. 3rd, 2016

dogriver: (Default)
When I left Internet radio earlier this year, I had no intention of coming back, at least not for a long while. I felt I'd lived out my lifelong dream of being a broadcaster, I'd taken the dream as far as I could, and I just wanted to move elsewhere and see where life tok me. Through no fault of the station or its people, the process just wasn't fun for me anymore, and I saw that as my cue to make a dignified exit. Besides that, there was this whole business of getting married that required my immediate attention.

So no one was more surprised than I was a few weeks ago, when I tuned in to Mushroom FM and heard my voice on the air again. What had happened? Had I been drafted, forced back on the threat of being force-fed Pepsi? Roped in?

The answer was the latter: I'd been roped in ... by the lure of new technology, something which, to me, is often an irresistible force.

The process itself, called voice tracking, is nothing new - it's been around for decades. The basic idea is that a broadcaster is presented with a playlist for the program to be aired, then he or she records the voice breaks for that program, and if it's done right, the listening public has no idea the poor broadcaster hasn't been sitting there all night enthusiastically introducing his or her tunes. I've heard it done, with varying degrees of transparency, since my childhood in the seventies, when a low tone was used to signal the tape machines to be in sync with each other. Pretty smart stuff, really. You might be surprised at how many "local announcers" are really professional voices from across the continent being paid to sound local.

So if the technique is not new, where does the new technology come in? Combine the ingenuity of the people behind Station Playlist, which makes much of the software that comprises the backbone of Mushroom FM, with equally ingenious forward-thinking on the part of the Mushroom FM management past and present, aided by some, dare I say it, ingenious JAWS scripting on the part of Hartgen Consultancy, and you suddenly have a system whereby a broadcaster sitting on a couch in his living room in Winnipeg (that's me) can voice track a radio program housed at, and broadcast from, the station itself in New Zealand. Throw in a lot of hard work by Mushroom FM staff to mark the spot in the songs of the station's library where the vocals begin, and you have, at least for me, all the elements to turn that new technology into the irresistible force I mentioned earlier.

The result is that I now probably put in at least as much time with Mushroom FM as I did before, but I am doing it on my terms. I have ten minutes to spare? Great, I'll voice a few more tracks for Friday's show. I have to do five fifties shows for the week? No problem, as long as they're done on time, it doesn't matter when I do them. I don't feel like hand-picking my show content? That's fine too, the computer's come up with a playlist for me that I can choose to use or override at will.

So let's take a typical program for me, one of my Funny Fridays shows. I start by logging in to the playlist editor and navigating to the time during which my show is scheduled to air. The time slot is already filled up with comedy from the station's library. I have lots of choices here. If there is a song I don't feel like playing this week, I can just remove it, and replace it with something else, either from the station's library or from my own personal library of comedy. If I decide that two songs would be better off played in a different order, I can easily, using standard cutting and pasting, move the songs around however I want them. In this way I can create themes, use what the computer has picked for me, or hand-pick what will be aired. Often I may not like what the computer has picked, but the computer's choice suggests something I'd rather play instead, which can be really advantageous.

After I've organized the playlist into the show I want to broadcast, which I may have done over several sessions in multiple days, I go back and insert the voice breaks, something which itself may be done over multiple sessions. The irresistible technology has again made this very easy. All you need is a working microphone of decent quality and an on-air presence. The software is provided by the station free of charge for you to use. You go to the song before which you want to insert your break, press two keystrokes, start talking, press another keystroke, and pat yourself on the back (optional). That's the shrot version, anyway, but it really is just that easy. If, as I am, you are prone to flubbing the simplest of lines, you can redo them to your heart's content. The software does the rest, putting the voice breaks in precisely the right locations. Because the songs in the library have markers denoting the start of the vocals, markers which the software recognizes and uses, your voice breaks will end right where the vocals start, making your show sound, for all intents and purposes, live. If, also like I do, you have a penchant for not stopping right at the correct moment when doing a live show, this feature is a godsend because the software does it all for you.

Once your voice breaks are created, all you need to do is save your work, which involves an automated upload of all the required files to the station, and then you can sit back and listen to the station put it all together for you.

Does this sound simple? Does it sound like something you would like to do yourself? Well, all I can say is that this new procedure has breathed new life into the broadcasting dream for me; broadcasting is fun again, and I am thoroughly enjoying once more being one of the Fun Guys. If you think this might be for you, I encourage you to visit http://www.mushroomfm.com/join and look at the official explanations of what I have just talked about, as well as information on how to be a live DJ, if that's what you'd like to do. There is a very nice audio demo put together by Jonathan Mosen that lets you hear all the voice tracking procedures in action - it was this demo that got me excited about the possibility.

So check it out, and maybe someday soon, you too will be one of the Fun Guys!

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Bruce Toews

August 2017

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