Quite a while ago, I wrote about the dead-simple process for setting up a microphone with Fedora’s PulseAudio sound system. That was part 2 in a series that was meant to discuss creating a better podcast. At the time, I meant to follow up with a piece on how to do some audio sweetening to make your recording sound better to your listeners. Unfortunately, life and work got in the way, and I didn’t get to part 3 — so here it is, hopefully better late than never.
Thanks to John Poelstra for inspiring me to write this. We had a nice conversation about audio the other day, and I figured it would be worthwhile to capture some of what we spoke about, but also to explain better some of the concepts I tried to pass on to John but perhaps didn’t do it well.
I’m going to assume at this point you’ve been able to capture your audio from a reasonable mic source into Audacity using the record function. You should now have an audio capture with a visible waveform in your Audacity window. Before we move on, you may want to save your Audacity project, or maybe just write the audio to a simple .WAV format file using the Export function.
Audacity lets you not only record audio, but alter it based on algorithms that range from the simple to the highly complex. Audacity is compliant with the LADSPA standard and can use LADSPA plugins to perform some very interesting, useful, or even downright disturbing changes on your audio tracks.
Of course, you don’t have to search them out or build them on your own. There are tons of very useful LADSPA plugins for audio programs available in Fedora repositories. One set we’ll be using is the TAP (Tom’s Audio Processing) set. The package in Fedora is ladspa-tap-plugins; make sure you install that using the Software Manager or another tool before proceeding. Also, you’ll need to restart Audacity if it’s already running, so it will recognize the new plugins.
Keep in mind, however, that all the effects in the world won’t make a crummy recording suddenly sound great. A lot depends on the quality of the original recording, and of course that starts with using a decent mic. “Decent” need not mean “pristine” or “expensive” for amateur use, however. There are solid podcasting mics available at reasonable prices, some less than US $100. Here are a couple easy changes you can make on a moderately good recording that will help it sound better.
You won’t find precise settings below, because the recording you make is going to be different from anyone else’s. You’ll need to listen carefully to decide how to alter the settings for each of these effects. Don’t be too drastic — sometimes a subtle touch is all you need to go from “OK” to “wow”!
Here’s a final note about a setup tweak in Audacity: I find it’s really helpful to change the interface preferences so the VU meters show a wider signal range. By default, they go down to -48dB, which isn’t enough to see what’s happening with noise, especially when you’re working with digital audio that’s capable of a high dynamic range. Open Edit, Preferences and choose Interface in the dialog. Change the meter/waveform range to at least -96 dB, which is the range of 16-bit audio. (You can choose more range if you like, but at our level of work, it’s probably not necessary.)
First, let’s eliminate some noise in the recording. Do try to minimize noise by making your recordings in a quiet room, away from loud equipment like computer fans, air conditioners, your snoring dog, and so on. But I’ll assume you’re not doing your recording in a pristine environment like a treated studio. So you’ll likely have some significant noise in your recording. (If you are recording in a treated studio, good for you! But don’t lord it over everyone, though — remember no one likes a know-it-all.)
At the beginning or end of your recording, locate a section where there is no speaking or substantial background noises, such as from a squeaky chair. Use the mouse to drag through that section of your recording. You only need a second or so for this process to be effective. After you make the selection, you can hit Play to just play the section in question, to verify there’s no sudden noise other than the ambient environment. Watch the playback meters, and hopefully you’re seeing noise at somewhere around -70dB to -60dB or so. That’s actually quite noisy, but hey, we’re all friends here!
Now from the menu select Effects, Noise Removal. In the dialog, select the Get Noise Profile control in the frame labeled Step 1 to analyze the ambient noise in your selected audio area. This should be a very quick operation, and the dialog disappears. Audacity has stored a frequency profile for the selected noise for you to use in the next step.
Now use your Home key to move the time cursor and deselect the audio. This means the next process will run against your entire track. Select Effects, Noise Removal again, set the appropriate parameters for Step 2, and then select OK. If you’re not sure what to do, the defaults (24dB reduction, 150Hz frequency smoothing, and 0.15 seconds attack/decay time) are not bad for beginners, so feel free to try them out. You can use Ctrl+Z to undo each attempt after trying different parameters. What you’ll see is that after running the noise removal once, if you play a “silent” section again, the noise floor will be much lower!
Now it’s time to boost our signal. Unless you’ve taken a lot of time to set up a gain structure for your audio input hardware, your signal’s probably pretty low. Your speaking voice may only be peaking at -20dB to -15dB. That’s very quiet compared to everything else your listeners hear on their speakers, where music typically peaks at almost 0dB (and way too often, if you ask me, but that’s an entirely different topic for another article and another time).
Use the Effects, Amplify control to boost the volume of your audio track. Set a new peak amplitude of close to 0dB. I often use -1dB or -0.5dB. Select OK to apply the amplification, and you’ll see the amplitude of your signal (the “width” of the waveform) grow significantly. Before you go any further: TURN DOWN YOUR SPEAKERS! If you’ve been recording and listening for a while, you’ve likely turned them up a lot to make up for the lower signal of your earlier recording. Now is a good time to lower the volume, so you don’t blow yourself out of your chair by playing your newly amplified track.
Note: Depending on your recording situation, the equipment you’re using, and the recording you’ve made, you might want to use a high-pass filter or an EQ to gently roll off very low frequencies, such as under 80 Hz. If you’re recording a voice in a quiet room, signal under that level usually comes from bumping the mic or whatever it’s attached to. If it has a lack of shock protection, that bump sounds like a booming impact in your recording. Rolling off those low frequencies can lessen the effect. Of course, you’re always free to re-record and edit to fix a particularly glaring problem!
Adding some warmth
Now, if you’re heavily into music or audio, you might have already taken care of this step in your original input. In that case you probably didn’t need a lot more amplification of your track, either. But if you didn’t warm up your recording by running through a tube preamplification stage (preamp), you can fake it to some degree using an excellent LADSPA TAP plugin called, appropriately, TAP Tube Warmth.
In your Audacity menu, choose Effects and look at the bottom of the menu that appears. You’ll see numbered lists of plugins. Unfortunately, there are so many plugins available they won’t all fit in a single menu, so they’re numbered by Audacity when it starts up. Look through the list for TAP Tube Warmth. This plugin will add some of the subtle, pleasing harmonic overtones that help make good announcers — the Leo Laportes and Bill Goldsmiths of the world — sound so pleasing to the ear. Of course, if you sound like Gonzo the Muppet, TAP Tube Warmth may not be a total solution, but it might help!
The higher you set the Drive level, the more fuzz you may hear as a result. Try not to overdo it — you want enough harmonic content added to warm up your voice, but not enough to be distracting or overpowering. A setting of somewhere between 3-5 is usually best. Experiment with the tape/tube slider to find a pleasing combination of the sound of tube warmth and analog tape squeeze. Starting with all tube is typically best, and moving to the left a bit at a time until you’re happy with the result. (Leaving it at 10, all tube, is fine too.)
One of the best-loved and most often used (many would say overused) tools in the audio engineer’s bag of tricks is the compressor. A compressor allows you to reduce the difference between loud and quiet areas of your recording, so your voice feels more present to the listener. Using compression allows you to overcome passages where your voice changes volume drastically, for example if you moved slightly away or toward the mic while recording.
Like amplification, compression can help the listener pay attention to your voice even if they’re surrounded by other loud noises — like listening through earphones while on a subway car. Speaking volume that veers wildly between loud and soft, like loud hiss and poor recording quality, is the mark of a substandard podcast. It’s important to recognize, though, that a voice blaring at a single volume for long periods will make your listener feel fatigued or even agitated, even if they don’t know why. So do listen critically to your work, and avoid over-compressing.
There are other effects you can apply, but be careful and sparing if you want the result to sound natural. You might find an EQ (equalization) plugin helpful to cut annoying frequencies or compensate for a flattening of the voice. Some people apply a curve to mimic the frequency response of a well-known microphone like the Electro-Voice RE20, although it’s really difficult to get the result to sound genuine. If you don’t have a genuinely deep voice, you may find it helpful to give a slight boost (be subtle!) to the low-mid range frequency.
Reverberation is another possibility, but don’t overdo it. It’s probably not your goal to sound like you’re in Mammoth Cave or St. Patrick’s Cathedral! A little goes a long way to establish a space around your voice. Again, experiment in a good listening environment to see if this is something you like or even need.
Hopefully this will put you on track to start creating better podcasts, or maybe if you weren’t interested in it already, you’ll try your hand at it. A minimal equipment investment can lead to hours of fun. But remember that the most important part of podcasting is that you have something interesting or informative to say. All the equipment, technique, and software in the world isn’t as important as creative expression that makes your listeners respond, laugh, and think.
There have already been plenty of posts about all the good stuff that happened at FUDCon Toronto 2009, so just repeating the same details would seem like gilding the lily. Easily over 200 attendees as of Day 1, and we had other people showing up over the weekend, and students stopping in on Day 3, asking questions and sharing stories. A great facility at Seneca, thanks to Chris Tyler and crew. Lackluster broadband at the hotel, but a great hack suite experience nonetheless. Questionable pub surroundings, very little sleep, loads of fun, and a marvelous event overall.
Day 0: Not much other than checking in with the hotel to make sure they were ready for the bus. Dinner with Greg DeKoenigsberg, Howard Johnson, David Huff, Yaakov Nemoy, and many other Fedorans at the infamous “Irish Pub.” Arrived a bit late for the actual FUDBus landing, but got to greet almost everyone arriving at the hotel. Then realized everyone was going to the pub again and cursed the fact that I hadn’t had a healthy snack to get me through for a late night dinner.
Day 1: Realized we just broke BarCamp — at least as a “do everything the day of” event. In the future, we’ll need to have a night event for our scheduling. The consolation prize, of course, is our “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to talks: more than we can fit in the schedule, to be sure. Thanks to Yaakov and an intrepid crew of volunteers, we also had almost every talk logged on IRC so that remote contributors could “listen in,” ask questions, and participate from afar.
In between event troubleshooting and hallway conversations, I caught part or all of:
There’s kind of a trend there, since I’m keenly interested in the experience of Fedora and how we might all bring our individual skills to making it better. I also gave my own wacky commentary on Fedora and some ideas on thinking beyond our subjectivity to broaden Fedora’s reach, widen its appeal, and attract more contributors to what I think is ultimately a more sustainable approach to working in the free software community.
On a semi-related note, there’s a saying you’ll find on my blog site. You won’t see it in RSS readers of course. It reads, “Esse quam videri,” which means “To be and not to seem to be.”* The free software distribution that we enjoy comes to us thanks to the efforts of thousands of people upstream from Fedora that write some of the code we use, and one of the things we need to do over the next year is redouble our efforts to support them. In addition, we need to recognize all the Fedora contributors who are vital parts of upstream communities, and support them as well. And in doing that, we need to be true to our FOSS philosophy and practices — walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
I drew a brief metaphor in my FUDCon closing comments on Day 1 to $FAST_FOOD.** Leaving aside all my veggiesaurus friends for the sake of argument, the success of $FAST_FOOD implies that a great number of people find $FAST_FOOD’s goods to be tasty and affordable. And the advertising and marketing of $FAST_FOOD sure tends to reinforce that — even going so far as to imply their food good is for you, and high-quality.
But unfortunately, the widepsread, negative side effects worldwide, from obesity (yes, I’m looking at you, mirror) to agricultural nightmares to economic problems, tend to say otherwise. There are better ways to produce nourishing food, and promote healthier and more sustainable lives. And in the same way, there are better ways to produce free and open source software that don’t sacrifice freedom or choices for users, and promote “healthy” upstream collaboration and cultivation.
And that’s what Fedora represents to me: being this sustainable force, not simply appearing to be so.
So, back to my FUDCon tale: Following the technical sessions in BarCamp, of course there was the world-famous FUDPub event, dominated by snicky-snacks and pool sharks. I also got to meet, live and in person, previously virtual-only friends like Adam Miller and Karlie Robinson. I also tried to troll Max Spevack, but was too earnest to carry that off properly, and failed miserably (sorry Matt, I tried). Max is a master at this so maybe I need to take some lessons! Or alternately, in the future I’ll just stick to wearing my heart on my sleeve, which apparently suits me better.
Day 2-3: We moved to a different building where the hackfests would be more effective, putting people together in small rooms or around workgroup-sized tables for better face-to-face exchanges.
To start off the day, I gave an introductory talk on PyGTK development, aimed at people who were in the position I was last year — understanding the basics of Python, and knowing how to write basic programs, but not understanding how to build a GUI around it. I explained things in rudimentary terms, such as how events work with GTK, the inheritance model for objects, and how to look up properties and functions using system resources like DevHelp when writing code. These were the things that were so difficult for me to wrap my head around as a liberal artsy non-programmer, every time I sat down and tried to bridge this gap, and I think I hit the sweet spot for a bunch of the attendees. And fortunately, there were a couple experts in the room too, who I could rely on to tell me if I was Getting It Wrong, or offer additional advice to the attendees.
A bunch of people took this information and started thinking about cool ways we could extend and, to some extent, universalize PulseCaster to meet more of our media origination needs. We did some brainstorming about use cases and also interface design to support them; that’s hard work but very worthwhile, and also incredibly important to me because I want a tool that meets the GNOME HIG and remains simple, slick, and usable by non-technical people. I’m really keen on working on this more over the next few weeks, especially during my vacation time when I can set my own agenda.
During the rest of these days I had a number of meetings with different people to understand issues, listen to ideas, give feedback where it was wanted, and facilitate everyone else’s FUDCon experience:
Day 2 ended with a nice dinner with Max, Matt Domsch, Dennis Gilmore, and some other Fedora folks at the Ice Cream Patio. Christopher Aillon and I split a nice bottle of valpolicella, although I think that I probably got the better part of a 60/40 split, and the food was very good, especially the dessert (my amaretto trufata was excellent, and if Dennis wasn’t so imposing a figure, his raspberry crepe would have been in danger too if I could have distracted him somehow!). We talked a lot about disasters for some reason, and hearing what Matt and Christopher had both experienced in the way of real estate catastrophes, I felt completely humbled about my stupid and trivial basement leaks.
Day 3 ended quite differently, with dozens of Fedorans crammed into our hospitality/hack suite at the hotel for hors d’oeuvres and fun conversation. For the most part, people set their laptops aside and wound down from an action-packed weekend. My manager, Tim Burke, VP of Linux Development at Red Hat, was there too. I do have to say that it is incredibly empowering and supportive for one’s manager to show up at the most important regional event as a participant — and at the risk of sounding like a suck-up I think that’s one of the things I really like about working with Tim. Maybe I’d better say something negative to balance it out — we wish he’d brought beer!
In general, this FUDCon was one of the most exciting events I think we’ve ever had. It was certainly one of the, and maybe the single, largest ever. I’m really grateful to all our contributors who made it such a success, bringing their talent, their knowledge, their passion, and their willingness to help others contribute to free software through Fedora.
Coming up to this event, I’d been struggling a bit with some mental and spiritual exhaustion. This event helped me get Fedora back into perspective and reminded me what a beautiful thing it is to be surrounded by wonderful, smart people — and how much we can accomplish when we bring our ideas together and compare them constructively to find the best way forward. Thank you to every single one of you who participated either on-site or remotely, for the gift of renewal.
See you at the next FUDCon!
* The original Cicero quote is also worth knowing: “Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem to be so.”
** I’m not naming one here to avoid the obvious legal entanglements.
UPDATE: Apologies to Colin for absent-mindedly fubar-ing his last name.
If you did a BarCamp presentation at the FUDCon Berlin 2009, I’d really love it if you’d do the following:
Note that the CC BY-SA license means that your material can be used and remixed by others, just like Fedora itself. I used it for my keynote slides, as I do for all my Fedora slide decks. Share the love (and the data)!
Wednesday was the beginning of LinuxTag and as always the efficiency of our Ambassador contingent was plain to see. The booth was in fantastic shape, with plenty of “Four Foundations” decorations and also a projector to show off slides that offered excellent Fedora messages and data about the upcoming FUDCon event. There were also new, free-standing, vertical banners using the “Four Foundations” logos that look simply superb.
I hung around the booth a little from time to time, but as we found last year, having too many staff in the booth is an impediment to actually talking to passersby about Fedora, so I used the time to talk with people like Joe Brockmeier from openSUSE, our own LinuxTag/FUDCon master organizer Gerold Kassube, and of course did some catching up with Max. I also met a number of contributors in person, such as Nicu Buculei, who are much renowned in the community but with whom I’d never had the chance to be face to face. This is actually one of my favorite things about FUDCon — the way it brings people together with social bonds that are stronger than what can be forged over email or IRC.
Max and I recorded a podcast interview with the Linux Outlaws, which you should be able to catch soon on their feed. We had a great time doing our typical tandem routine as Abbott and Costello, talking about Fedora features and about how our community has come together for the FUDCon event. I shared an interesting lunch of fresh cooked gnocchi and some strawberries (shoutz Mo!) with Spot and Joe Brockmeier, where we talked about some of the current misinformation flying around about Mono, as well as cows. (Ahem.)
I managed to find a few minutes to work on some of my slides, and also to talk with the folks at Vanager about their VPS solution that offers many Fedora releases, including Fedora 11. At some point, someone (Gerold?) convinced me that even a married guy is allowed to pick up a girl now and then.
Yesterday I spent some time in the morning doing more slides and email, but then cut loose to help Max with some of the assembly of FUDCon materials. We went over the logistics for the next day and I helped with some of the signage and other odds and ends as I could. We also did another great — well, we sure enjoyed ourselves — interview with Radio Tux. Some of my favorite moments from the broadcast:
Later, returning to the FUDCon space, and in a fit of total abandon, I decided to exercise my minimal artistic skills by gussying up the schedule board. The results weren’t bad, and I had fun contributing something other than talking-head antics to the proceedings. Hopefully people get a kick out of them today while they’re attending FUDCon day 1. More on that in my next post!
I had a great flight yesterday from Dulles to Greenville — the plane was very sparsely filled, and I had an exit row all to myself! It made for a great work environment even with a short flight. When I landed and picked up my car, I was both horrified and amused to find out it was bright yellow and had a spoiler. I’ll try to find time to take a picture because that car is so not me.
Arrived at the hotel fine after a ~40 minute drive, but needed to wait for a clean room. I soon found out why: the Southeast Linux Fest had almost 500 pre-registrants — for a first-year conference!. The hotel was full, and although I did get my room after a short wait, I also found out that thankfully there are other hotels in the area, several within walking distance.
I met up with David Nalley in the speaker/organizer lounge, where I deeply regretted not being hungry because they had BBQ there. We chatted and I went off to my room to catch up on some email and other tasks.
We gathered across the street at a restaurant called Rockhoppers that is decorated in penguins. Could that have been more fitting? I think not! Soon it was overflowing with penguins of a different variety, many seeking sustenance in the form of beer. I ended up at a table with some hilarious and fascinating people from around the region. Ian Weller showed up just after first round (don’t worry, Ian’s mom, he had Dr Pepper) and we enjoyed some really excellent dinner and laughs.
I got to talk to Richard Weait from OpenStreetMap for a bit about Moksha, the framework that underlies the new Fedora Community portal, and we caught up on my own hometown LUG, which he visited a couple of months back, much to our delight (and record-breaking attendance).
Finally, I went back to the hotel to bone up on my keynote for Saturday night, and then I fell prey to the curse of Fedora Project Leaders past: rewrote the whole thing less than 24 hours before the event. Wish me luck!
I’m going off to find Greg DeKoenigsberg and whoever showed up to man the various booths. Red Hat, as a Platinum sponsor of SELF, is supposed to have a nice presence here. I’ll be at the Fedora booth on and off, and at the Red Hat booth (wearing a different shirt) for a little while this afternoon. My keynote is at 5:00pm, after which I’ll be looking forward to tomorrow’s Fedora Activity Day with a bunch of the Fedora Docs team members.
Due to my travel to this week’s Fedora Activity Day in Raleigh, and the marketing work around the release, I find myself a little strapped for time and with a lot of writing to do. Tomorrow I will probably be absent from most IRC and only addressing critical email so I can get those tasks done.
This weekend is the Southeast Linux Fest (SELF) and we’ll have Fedora Ambassadors on hand to celebrate the event, and the release of Fedora 11. Clint ‘herlo’ Savage is giving a talk on making your own custom Fedora Remix, and I have the honor of delivering the evening keynote. I’m really looking forward to this event, and encourage you to come by and say hi if you’re attending.
“C” also stands for “Community.” Why bring this up now? Because along with Leonidas roaring to life this week, we also have some other great news to share with our (little-”c”) community members:
Fedora Community – the new collaboration site for Fedora contributors! Fedora Community is powered by Moksha, a new, revolutionary, and 100% free software web framework that will deliver on the promise of a true infrastructure of participation.
As with all the code we build in the Fedora Project, Fedora Community is 100% free and open source software, from soup to nuts, with no proprietary bits, and no closed back ends. Because it’s built in part from best-of-breed free software solutions like Python, Turbogears, jQuery, ToscaWidgets, AMQP, and others, it provides an incredible amount of flexibility, power, and simplicity for anyone wanting to extend it.
Over the coming months, the brainshare behind Fedora Community will be showing our contributors how they can create new and exciting capabilities for the portal using Moksha. Even though the site currently focuses on software maintenance, in the future our community will be able to solve myriad problems with the tools it showcases. Translators, writers, designers, community organizers, system administrators — all of our groups of crafty contributors will be able to make use of the platform for real-time collaboration.
The site is not perfect yet, but it was important to everyone working on it to give the community a full experience of what the future has in store, as close to the F11 release as possible. And we can’t wait to see what our community does with it next!
I want to thank the Fedora Community team, John ‘J5′ Palmieri, Mairin Duffy, Tom ‘spot’ Callaway, and Luke Macken, for their tireless work on this new system, and for the innovation in the new Moksha framework, which has application far beyond Fedora Community (check out CIVX for a taste thereof). I also want to give special thanks to the intrepid and ever-vigilant Fedora Infrastructure team, which pulled out all the stops to get this site out — in the midst of record-breaking traffic due to the Fedora 11 release. You guys are the bee’s knees!
Do I sound excited? Oh yes, my friends. The infrastructure of participation has arrived — where it goes next is up to you.
First, if you have questions like this, it’s super-easy to get answers in more immediate and helpful forums. There’s the venerable but still well-populated fedora-list, the general user forum on IRC Freenode at #fedora, and the large community at Fedora Forum, all of which can help with general user questions.
Having said that, in Fedora 11 this is remarkably easy. You just install the pulseaudio-module-bluetooth package, and use the existing Bluetooth applet to pair your audio device with your Fedora system. PulseAudio will be able to see and use your Bluetooth audio device. I’ve done this with my cheap-o little Motorola H500 earpiece and it worked like a charm. I didn’t try this in Fedora 10, but I believe that module exists there too.
If you weren’t able to attend the town halls, you missed out on seeing the FESCo and Board candidates answering questions from the community about their views on the Project, the distribution, and the future. However, all the sessions were logged and linked on our Elections wiki page.
Thanks to the candidates and to the other community members who made this process very worthwhile. Also, I want to extend special thanks to Matt Domsch for coordinating the schedule, Thorsten Leemhuis for his hard work on the pre-town hall questionnaires, and to John Rose, Chris Tyler, and Max Spevack for moderating the town hall meetings. It’s great to see community participation in democracy in action.
Elections are set to start later this weekend for both the Board and FESCo, along with the release name for Fedora 12! Get your ballot pencils ready.