How are my Levels?

Auphonic is an online company that has made normalizing and equalizing your audio file as easy as a few clicks, a short wait, and then downloading your perfect sounding audio file.

Podcasting 101: How Are My Levels?

By Alex C. Telander

 

One of the most inviting aspects to making your own podcast is that there’s not really a rule book to follow. There’s no publishing house vetting what type of podcast you want to make, whether you’re doing it right or wrong, and the audio drama community is welcoming and incredibly inclusive and supportive.

So you’ve got your well written script, a variety of impressive sound effects, some great original music, and your talented cast of voice actors spread around the world all with their own microphones. The first episode you’ve just finished putting together sounds great and you feel you’re ready to hit the upload button and make your podcast a reality . . . except you just did a final listen and you noticed not everything is at the same volume.

You’re using three actors in this episode and in the dialog scenes one person sounds louder than the other; the music is too quiet, and the sound effects are too loud. You just want everything to be at the same level. You’re not really sure how to do this, and definitely not without it taking a long time . . . and you’re exhausted. You’ve been working your butt off the whole last week and you’ve got to be in to work early tomorrow. So what can you do? Enter Auphonic.

Auphonic Productions is an online company that has made normalizing and equalizing the many parts of your audio file as easy as a few clicks or taps, a short wait, and then downloading your perfect sounding audio file. And the real awesome thing about it is it’s basically free.

Auphonic was started by founder Georg Holzmann when he was at university, working on audio processing, signal processing, and audio engineering. He had been listening to a lot of podcast creators telling him the most difficult part is always the audio post-production. Holzmann started working with a podcast creator, looking to ‘automate his work flow’ and make the post-production easier. He worked on creating elaborate algorithms, especially with [the] adaptive leveler, which matches the loudness of different parts of a podcast, as well as developing other tools involving encoding, tagging, and the distribution of the podcast.

Holzmann decided to make a product out of it and applied for a grant in Austria, where he’s based, and formed a team. The first version of Auphonic was released in 2012 and was originally completely free, but once the grant expired, it was necessary to introduce a pricing model.

The beauty of Auphonic is you can create an account for free, and by doing so you automatically get two hours of free audio processing time per month. There’s a lot you can do with the many settings of this free account, but I’m going to concentrate on a quick and easy overview for now.

Auphonic’s Goal

The goal of Auphonic is to automate all the audio post-production once you have your music and dialog recorded, as well as making the steps after the audio recording is complete easy and efficient. The adaptive leveling algorithm classifies different segments for different speakers, as Holzmann explains, creating a balance between the speech and music parts, and when the two are playing together, “otherwise one would destroy the inner dynamic of the music.”

Auphonic is looking to make it so none of the post-production audio work needs to be done manually. It has also expanded its capabilities to include working with audio not just in podcasting, but also with radio stations, conference recordings, lecture recordings, and even television and film. Pretty much wherever dialog is mixed with music, Auphonic can be used.

Ever since its release, Auphonic has become a popular audio editing program to use, whether it’s with the online version, or the desktop app version. Users range into the hundreds of thousands.

Auphonic Quick and Easy

So you’ve got your free account all set up, you’re ready to make the most of your two hours of processing time, and you just want to make that first episode sound balanced and even. Where do you start?

You go into the New Production menu. Choose what file you wish to upload. Make sure ‘Leveler’ and ‘Loudnorm’ boxes are checked, choose your Loudness Target – there’s a setting for Podcasts and Mobile – and hit Start Production. And that’s pretty much it. You’ve done the hard work. The next screen shows an upload bar, as it uploads your audio file, and depending on its length this can take a couple minutes at most.

Then you wait a little longer. You can close the screen if you want and you’ll get an email when you’re audio file is all ready to download. A few minutes later you’re following the link to the page with a clear download link for your audio file. And below that is a cool looking graph showing where the volume was raised and lowered in your audio file. You can even click on an option to see the original version superimposed over the new one to show what was changed.

That’s it. Download your file and you’re ready to go. You can relax, knowing you’re audio now sounds leveled and great.

Auphonic’s Advanced Parameters

There’s a lot more you can do with Auphonic depending on your experience level and comfort with audio processing. The beauty of the program lies in the interface: you have the option of a very simple and clean layout that’s quick and easy to use, or a much more in depth display where you can customize exactly how you want your audio processed.

Firstly, your file can be either audio or video (here is a list of all the supported audio and video file types for Auphonic).

When uploading your file, you can choose to upload your audio via your computer or device, or via a website. You can choose a specific intro/ outro to add to the beginning/ end of your audio file through the same upload methods.

The next category is Basic Metadata, where you can choose the title for your audio file and select a file image to upload that will be attached to it permanently, along with details such as Artist, Album, and Track. Extended Metadata lets you create a subtitle, choose a genre and year, and create a Summary. After that you can add details about the publisher, URL, license, license URL, and Tags. You even have the option to create your own license.

Next section is Chapter Marks, where you can either import specific chapter marks that you already have in your audio file, or add your own. Once this has been done you can choose what format you want the final version of your audio file to be, along with choosing the Bitrate, adding a Filename Suffix if needed, as well as a few more tweaks.

There is also a handy section on Speech Recognition, which offers affordable speech recognition in 80 languages. You can register a speech recognition service and get it added easily; more can be found out about that here. Publishing/External Services such as Dropbox, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Libsyn (to name a few) can also be registered and added.

The final section, and perhaps most important, is the Audio Algorithms section. There are six options to play with in this category; the first four can be checked or unchecked, while the last two can be adjusted with a drop-down menu.

Adaptive Level: Corrects level differences within one file between speakers, music and speech, etc. to achieve a balanced overall loudness.

Filtering: Classifies the lowest wanted signal (male/female speech, base in music, etc.) and adaptively filters unnecessary/disturbing low frequencies in each audio segment.

Loudness Normalization: Adjusts the global, overall loudness to the specified Loudness Target (using a True Peak Limiter), so that all processed files have a similar average loudness.

Noise and Hum Reduction: Classifies regions with different backgrounds and automatically removes noise and hum in each region.

Loudness Target: Set a loudness target in LUFS for Loudness Normalization, with higher values resulting in louder audio outputs.

Reduction Amount: Maximum noise and hum reduction amount (in dB), with higher values removing more noise. In Auto mode, a classifier decides if and how much noise reduction is necessary (to avoid artifacts).

When I’m using Auphonic for adjusting audio files for Ostium I have all four options checked, with Loudness Target set to -16 LUFS (Podcasts and Mobile) and the Reduction Amount set to ‘Auto.’ And when I download the edited audio file, it sounds just perfect.

Auphonic Range

If you find that the two free hours per month for your audio work is not enough, there are two main options you can choose to add more time: you can pay a monthly, recurring fee of $11 for 9 hours, or $23 for 21 hours, or even higher totals of hours depending on what works best for you. Alternatively, you can get one-time credits of 5 hours for $12, 10 hours for $22, and a number of higher options. And if you’re looking for some Auphonic software to acquire and download, such as desktop apps, there are options for that too, which can be found here.

Auphonic Future

For the future, the team behind Auphonic is looking to build new leveling algorithms, with more detailed parameter settings, as well as building new desktop applications. They’re looking to develop the levelers to be more universal and not limited to just podcasts or speech audio. They are really looking to push the audio envelope: to work on improving and creating new things with audio.

Whether you’re a professional sound engineer or a complete novice when it comes to things that make noises, I definitely think you can’t go wrong with choosing Auphonic to magically make your work sound great.

PodernTimes and Alex C. Telander are not sponsored by Auphonics in any way.

PatreCon 2018

Chad Ellis went along to PatreCon 2018 to learn more about monetizing and gaining financial independence through your art.

PatreCon 2018

By Chad Ellis

So two weeks ago I was at PatreCon 2018 in Los Angeles, and as the name suggests this is a conference hosted by Patreon. It first kicked off back in 2016, with the aim of bringing creators together in a collaborative and educational way, to help everyone grow and build creative and financial independence for their projects.

The 3-day, invite-only conference was a relaxed mixture of lectures and workshops that ran from the 1st to the 3rd of November. Aimed at giving you the skills, tools, and mindset to take your creative business to the next level. To build alternative monetization streams, hiring and support for your workforce, and much more, all through the lens of industry experts and peers who have walked the walk.

With almost fifty speakers, a mix of Patreon staff and creative peers such as Amanda McLoughlin, Broke-Ass Stuart, Bryanda Law, Jackson Bird, Steven Ray Morris, Lauren Shippen, and Zach Valenti to mention just a few, you can imagine not only did we get some great insight into raising up our products, but had great fun at the same time.

PatreCon was as inspiring as it was unexpected for me. I first heard of it from some guests at my Halloween party, and after an entire articles worth of serendipity, dive bars and roof top haunts I had an invitation from Julia Schifini of the Multitude collective. I arrived with the intention of capping off a wild week by hanging out with some podcast friends, and I walked away with a fundamentally changed viewpoint of the relationship between creator and fan.

How do you get paid as a creator?

It’s a difficult concept for a lot of us to wrap our head around. There’s impostor syndrome (why would somebody want to pay for something I made?), there’s over politeness (I can’t ask people for money), there’s self limitation (I’m already making $100 a month, it can’t go higher than that!) It’s difficult to value our work when we’ve grown up in a culture that only values art that’s already successful. One minute we’re tripping over ourselves to get a picture with a celebrity, the next we’re asking the person who says they’re trying to make it as an actor what their day job is, as if they are defined by the thing that pays the bills.

Let me set the scene. You enter one of the most Blade Runner looking buildings in Los Angeles holding a box of donuts. The donuts are important. You pass couples pushing strollers and rocking baby bjorns, turns out there’s a New Parent convention going on in the upper levels. You’re directed down a staircase to the basement. What could easily be a sterile, windowless environment is lit up in gentle reds and blues.

You almost collide with a familiar face. Parasocially familiar. It’s the star of that one YouTube series your best friend is a fan of. They comment on the donuts. You walk by a wall covered in the stages of the creative journey. You see a list of events. They say things like “Building Community” and “Navigating Financial Independence”. You take in the event space, the perfect amount of room for just over 300 people. Their badges all read the same thing. “Creator”.

This is PatreCon. A place for established creators to speak honestly and intimately about every aspect of existing as a Capitol P Person on the internet, and getting paid while doing it.

I found my people in the corner, other figures in the Audio Drama world. Creators, writers and actors of shows like Ars Paradoxica, The Far Meridian, Tides, Bright Sessions and Wolf 359. I exchanged hugs and set down the donuts. They had so much to tell me. There was a guy who made a suit that plays music based on your movement. There was a woman who’s making a podcast reviewing all of English apocalyptic fiction in chronological order. Zach Valenti is typing notes on this wild retro-future keyboard.

The donuts start to work their magic. A stranger eyes them. You gesture to the open box. They come over and introduce themselves, followed by the go to question of the weekend. “What do you create?” This happens again and again. Ice broken. You’re ready to dig in to the Con.

Between panels, workshops, and talking with other creators there was a lot to take in over the weekend, so I’d like to share my biggest takeaways with you, and after that, there’s a link at the bottom to Patreon’s YouTube channel that has over seven hours of video content from the conference.

“Your 1,000 most hardcore fans”.

A popular topic of conversation from a panel the day before. The idea is that in a world of several billion people there are 1,000 fans who would pay you $100 a year to create what you wanted to create; you just need to find them.

For people who don’t want to do the math, that will net you $100,000 a year, a seemingly unattainable amount of money… until you start breaking it down.

On an individual level $100 a year is just over $8 a month. And most creators don’t need $100,000 a year. Could you find 500 of your biggest fans? 250? I’ve always assumed I’d need to reach a small countries worth of people to make any kind of creative living. Now I’m focusing on reaching that one fan at a time and providing them with attractive Patreon perks to stick around.

“Let people give you money. Don’t limit yourselves.”

Hanging out with other creators doing completely different work and reaching completely different fan bases definitely stretched my idea of support potential. It’s not up to you to decide what other people spend their money on. And if they want to give some of that money to you? You should let them. Patrons were giving one guy I met $5,000 to write a daily fiction story online. A YouTuber I met makes 2-3 no frills videos a month and has thousands of Patrons. I’m not saying that you’ll make a solid living off of Patreon. I am saying that there are no rules, and there might be a lot more people out there who will happily throw you a few bucks a month if they like what your doing. Let them.

“Be true to yourself. Niche is good.”

Sounds a bit cliche but it’s the best thing you can do to build a dedicated fan base. I follow my favorite creators works no matter what they’re making. A book? I’ll read it. A video? I’ll watch it. A podcast? I’m already listening. You’re not going to get that kind of following if you’re constantly chasing what you think will be successful instead of making the thing that you really want to make. The creators I met at PatreCon were passionate about the often very niche thing they were making. Your values come through in all of your work, your fans will identify with those values and the hardcore fans will follow your lead.

“Pay attention to the cost/benefit of what you’re offering”

Creating a thing is a lot of work. Adding more to that thing could lead to burn out, and it might not even be helping you that much. Are your Patreon rewards sustainable? Do they get in the way of making your main thing? Are they attracting new Patrons?

What about merchandise? I really want to make enamel pins for my show, but the minimum order costs hundreds of dollars. Am I reliably going to sell all of those pins and make my money back? I have a great idea for a shirt but that art for it will cost me $90. Am I confident that I will be able to sell enough shirts to cover the costs of making them?

Some people like paying for signal boosts on platforms like Instagram or Facebook. How many people are you reaching with that boost? How many of those people are likely to turn in to fans? Is there a better way you can spend that money?

One size does not fit all, an effective strategy for you will likely differ from your peers. It’s good to check in every few months to make sure you and your Patrons are getting the most out of your relationship.

“You have value. Your work has value.”

My musician friends are often baffled by the kind of support people can pull independently via something like Patreon. In the words of my roommate, you grow up thinking that you don’t have any value until a Label picks you up and decides you’re worth investing in. It took attending PatreCon to shake him out of this mindset. And it’s a difficult thing to shake. Later on in the Con he commiserate with Jack Conte, a musician and the founder of Patreon. Jack shook his head and said “Yeah. I hate that”.

A screenwriter doesn’t need to wait for a show to pick them up. An actor doesn’t need to wait for a Director to cast them. And a musician doesn’t need to wait for a label. We’re living in a time where you can build a direct relationship with your audience and where that audience can support you. It’s not easy, but the power is yours. You just need to figure out how to reach them.

The convention ended with a great big party, the perfect way to spend time with the people we had met over the weekend. The question of “what do you create?” persisted at the open bar and between sessions at the photo booth, but now the conversation went beyond that: how are we going to apply what we’ve learned? So while creators piled into the Karaoke room to belt Bohemian Rhapsody, I walked away with a lot of changes in mind for my own Patreon.

 

I hope that this overview has given you some food for thought for your project, and if you need some more convincing, or just want to watch some really insightful and motivating video, then check out their video contributions of the conference on YouTube!