Audio in BoardDocs

The Era of Podcasting

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 using simple web tools.

How does it work?
First, you digitally record the meeting to a digital recorder or computer. After the meeting is over, you slice up the recording by agenda item, making a separate file for each item. Next, you load the audio file to the existing BoardDocs agenda item, or post the files to your 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. In this article, 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 had the ability to 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
Let's 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 upload the audio file(s).

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. Let's cover what each of these components are and how they work. If you really don’t care how they work, we can just say it's "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, but board rooms will generally use electrostatic or dynamic microphones. Electrostatic are usually better because of the lower mass of the moving parts, but they often require external power for theirinternal electronics and are generally more expensive.

Dynamic and electrostatic microphones come with different pickup patterns. A wider pattern indicates that the microphones will pick up 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, followed bycardioid, then hyper-cardioid, and then unidirectional.

In sound reinforcement situations, the most common pattern will be unidirectional, because by limiting the field, you will get less feedback. You know what feedback is;it'sthat high-pitched squealing sound that comes from the speakers. While any system will generate feedback if turned up enough, unidirectional microphones are less prone to producing it.

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), it is usually sent to the mixer.

Sound mixers are analog or digital devices that take analog signals from multiple sources, and then combine them into one or more signals. In the mixing process, most mixers provide the ability to shape the sound of individual and mixed sources. Mixers also controlthe relative and mixed sound levels, which is why they have so many knobs. Some feature automation that turns off the microphone when not in use, limits the sound if somebody speaks too loudly, and prioritizes some devices over others.

From the mixer, the signal is usually transmitted to amplifiers for sound reinforcementand/or recoding devices for recording.

Recording Devices
Meeting audio isoften recorded onto some type of tape. Recordings made to cassette are analog recordings. In some cases, meetings are recorded to digital devices like a minidisc, or a digital recorder. If the meetings are videotaped, the audio is sent to the video recorder and picked up with the video signal.

Digital Recording Hardware
Even though you may be currently recording the meeting, the sooner you get the recording into digital format the better. If you 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, so it's better to avoid converting from analogif possible.

Digital Recording
Recording sound digitallyinvolves 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 in size. CDs are created at 44,100 times per second and use numbers in the 16 bit range. 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. Youwill want to generate much smaller filesso they are easy to download overthe Internet. There are a few pratices that can help you achive this; sample with less frequency, record in mono (one channel) vs. stereo (two channels), and most importantly, use compression. More on file size later.

Recording Devices
Technologies in this area are evolving quickly, but let’s cover what is available today. Basically, youhave two options;1) use a computer with Digital Recording Softwareand a sound card to record the meeting, or 2) use aSolid 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. You will want to select one that will easily work with your computer. In most cases, that means using a system with a USB port, 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 provide a better interface with your existing sound equipment. Here are some examples:
Marantz PMD660 Professional Solid State Portable Recorder
The best option is a PMD661 MKII Solid State Recorder. It features non-stop record with 72 hours of mono recording at the BoardDocs recommended 32 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 and support direct microphone connections. It even has a built in microphone for meetings in smaller rooms. 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 need for post production.
Roland R-05 High Resolution Wave and MP3 Recorder

At about $200, the Roland R-05 Studio Wave and MP3 Recorder is another option. If you are looking for high-end sound performance in a hand-held package, this is the answer. It does not have the flexibility of the PMD661 and records large files that will need to be edited using the included software. That said, if you are recording live music or meetings in several rooms, this is the unit to consider.

TASCAM HD-P2 Portable High-Definition Stereo Audio Recorder

At almost twice the price of the PMD661 the HD-P2 records in stereo from 44.1kHz to 192kHz, at 16- or 24-bit, to affordable Compact Flash media. This professional unit features more inputs options and a larger display. The unit even includes a FireWire jack for the fastest possible transfer of files to your PC or Mac computer.

As tempting as it is to use a computer to digitize sound, 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 to 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.

Digital Recording Software
If you have selected a digital solid state recorderlike 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 “postproduction” simplybecause these are tasks that are perfomedafter 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 likelyaskan AV or IT person to help you.

The software should meet the following criteria:

  • Ability to run on your computer
  • Ability to normalize and compress sound
  • Convert file formats,sampling and bit rates
  • Save files in theMP3 format(32 or 48 kbps mono)
  • 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 your computer isa Macintosh, you should use Peak Pro from Bias. If your computer isa PC, you should use Sound Forge from Sonic Foundry.

The Meeting
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 intelligibility of your recording. If you move your meetings, test the set up 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 eliminate the need toseparateyour large file into segments. 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 final recording will bepostedto the web, selecting the compression and appropriate initial recording format will save time as well.

WARNING: following are some technical sounding numbers. Don’t worry; just match the recommendations below to your device.

The recommended final format for spoken word is MP3 mono 32 KBps. Files in this format will be clear and will not take long to download. If you want better sound quality, then consider 64 kbps mono, but no higher as bit rates of 128 and 320 are really reserved for music and will quickly use up space.

Please Note: The bit rate of an MP3 file specifies the output stream, which isthe number of bits generated per second of audio. This is different that the sample rate we discussed earlier.

After the Meeting
OK, now it is time to go to post (that is short for post production). If you recorded in the proper format and were able to generate separate files for each agenda item, simply copy the files to your computer and attach them to the contentfield 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 field. If you want to make them available to the public, place them in the Public Contentfield. That's all there is to it - 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. Next, perform a Save As to save the file in the MP3 24 KBps format. Now you are working with a copy of the file in the MP3 format. 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, remembering 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 willnot be a concern. Remember that 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, somestakeholders maystill be using dial up or have slower Internet connections. They 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 them 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 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.

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