Welcome to episode # 067 of the Mark in Russia Broadcast and I’m Mark. You can listen and/or watch all of my episodes at www.markinrussia.com
Today I’m going to talk a little bit about one aspect of podcasting and also hopefully steer fellow podcasters toward some useful Android apps.
When you listen to this episode, you really need to listen to it from my website. There will be many links in the shownotes and also screenshots of the apps.
A few days ago, Dave Jackson, of the School of Podcasting, asked a question in one of the Linked in podcaster groups I follow. He asked if anyone knew of any cart machine app available for Android. This question really attracted my attention because I’ve also been searching for the same type of app without any success.
Now, most of you know what I’m talking about, but for those that do not, let me quickly describe what this cart machine is. It is actually known by several names, and this is why it is very hard to find when doing a search. It is also known as a music cart, a sound cart and a soundboard. This is a program which, in its simplest description will create buttons with text on your computer, smartphone or tablet, with each button connected to a sound file stored on your hard drive or memory stick. So, when you press the button, the sound file will play.
This is useful for a podcasters or radio broadcaster in the respect that they are able to press a button and get their intros, stingers, sweeps, jingles, commercials, sound FX, outros, etc. while continuing their program. In other words, these are added on the fly, rather than in post. The biggest benefit in my opinion is that it saves a lot of time for a person who runs their own program and takes care of editing.
Being a PC kind of a guy, I can’t speak for the Apple crowd; other than I know that there are apps available for Apple. Being an Android kind of guy, this kind of pissed me off that these apps are not available for Android users, which actually is the majority of smartphone users. I was disappointed when I couldn’t find one and I guess when I saw Dave’s request, it just sparked me back into action. I’m typically a search genius, in the respect that I don’t give up until I find what I’m looking for, so I also viewed my previous failure to find said app as a personal affront. The end to the search story is that I went to the Google Play Store and this time used the word “Soundboard” in my search phrases and this way was able to find out that the reason for the difficulty in finding one was that this same thing as a program on a computer is not called a soundboard, this is used when speaking about apps for phones and tablets.
OK, enough of that.
For my PC I use a program called “Sound Byte” made by “Black Cat Systems” (http://www.blackcatsystems.com/software/soundbyte.html ). This program is available for Macs, PCs and Linux. The price for the standard program is $39 and for this you get one “Rack” which consists of 75 “Carts”, or buttons which you can then link to any file you wish. For $79 you get 5 “Racks”, each with 75 “Carts” or buttons, for a total of 375 files, and for $149 you get 50 “Racks”, or a connection to up to 3750 files. You can assign a hot key to each button if you wish and the amount of stuff you can do with each file is actually quite amazing. For example; you can fade in or out each file, loop each file, there are actually up to 20 different options for each sound file that each button controls. I highly recommend this program to anyone who would like to use a sound cart, but at this time it is only available on your computer. The real advantage of having more than one “Rack” is so that you can set up racks for more than one type of podcast and just add the additional buttons as you need them. With one rack I need to delete most of the buttons and add all new when I switch podcasts. I’m currently trying to find a hack where I can just store the info for each rack in an excel file and just quickly populate and save all of the different combinations I use.
So, why would anyone need an app, either Android or iOS if such powerful programs are available for such a small price? Well, for the same reason why many internet broadcasters record their episodes into a digital recorder, rather than into their computer. One of those reasons is to get your broadcasting equipment away from the possible noise and clutter of your computer; however, if you are using a soundcart type of program, you are still tethered to your computer. The Android apps I’m about to discuss will cut that cord and allow you to power off the computer or record away from it. Besides, it just feels cool pressing the screen on a smartphone or tablet, as opposed to pressing keys on your keyboard.
I’ll need to preface my suggested apps by saying that they perform only a small portion of the functions available on my computer program, but they can still do the job for you.
I had to think of what the minimum features are that I need when I’m doing a podcast and here is the list I came up with:
1. The ability to add a button which connects to my sound file
2. Identifying text on or under each button
3. The ability to loop and play on top of a sound file (needed for background music)
4. The ability to start and stop the sound file by just pressing the button
5. Having volume adjustment for each button
Anyhow, these are the criteria I set out to find in an app. On top of which, the app also had to have a free version available for me to try out.
Of the five minimum criteria that I set for myself, the best I could meet with any one program was four out of five. To make matters more confusing, of the three finalists I found, two actually have the same name, so I’m also using the developer’s name as an identifier.
Let’s first look at an app called, “Custom Soundboard”, and the developer is “Project Trinity”. Here’s a screenshot:
You also have the option of changing the button colors, but each soundboard will have all of the same color.
This app if free and here is a link to the download page:
Of the five criteria I set for myself, this one meets, 1, 2, 3, and 5. It doesn’t meet desirable point #4, which is the ability to start and stop the file just by pressing on the button. You start it this way, but in order to stop, you need to go into the menu to do this. Otherwise it is a nice little app for free.
The second app is called, “Soundboard Creator” by Froghut Labs (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=de.bigbyte.tools.soundboardcreator&feature=also_installed )
Here is a screenshot, which does not do this app justice:
Now, this app only meets three of my five criteria I set. It does not have individual volume control and also will not allow loops or playing over the track with another on top. You would certainly think that by not meeting two of the five criteria that this app would not be a finalist, but the reason it made it to the finals is because when you press and hold the button it opens a new screen with a very cool picture of the waveform, along with two very intuitive sliders which you can use to cut and trim the file, and then save the revised version. Although this is not the app I will recommend, I will say that this feature makes it worth having on your Android device, just for the ability to cut and trim.
The app is free and the buttons are also pretty cool, in my opinion.
The final app finalist is also called, “Custom Soundboard”, but the developer of this one is Andro iX (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ix.com.android.CustomSoundboard&feature=related_apps )
Here is a screenshot:
It looks a little “Plain Jane”, but it does meet four of the five of my criteria. The one is doesn’t meet is having a separate volume control for each button. This app does have more than 190 reviews, with an average score of 4 out of 5 stars.
Now I’ve told you a little bit about each of the three and now I’ll tell you which one I chose to use and also why I chose it.
The one I chose was the last of the three, the “Custom Soundboard” developed by “Andro iX”. I was torn between the first app listed and the last app and the reason I chose the last app, was because I can easily enough control the volume this app is feeding into my mixer, right on the mixer itself. It would be better if I didn’t have to do this, but another option I have is to record the file at a lower volume. The only file affected is my background music and I can solve this. The missing volume adjustment for each button is easier for me to overcome than the inability to stop the sound file by touching the button, as I found as the weak point in the first app I spoke about. Stopping a file is certainly something I’ve had to do live several times. When working alone, it’s too much to have to go into the menu to do this.
Actually, I used the new free app to create this podcast. Now I can see where the computer sound cart I usually use is a little smoother, but still, this app certainly produced quite usable results. It’s not the last time I’ll use this.
My main reason for needing this app is because the size of my house does not allow me a large enough area to concentrate my “studio” in. I actually have two work stations separated by about 20 feet (6 meters). My computer work station is rather cramped when I put everything together there and also requires that I assemble and then disassemble all of my audio gear each time I want to make a broadcast. I’ve now added a separate “Broadcast station” where I can assemble all of my audio gear and leave it set up, but don’t wish to clutter it up with the computer equipment each time I want to do an episode. Besides, I actually find it easier to have a small touchpad right in front of me to activate the sounds, rather than the computer, which requires that I be located very close to a possible noise source.
I’m looking forward to the time when a more full featured sound cart is available for Android. I also need to say that my methods for selecting, what I feel is the best app was not very scientific. I tested about 10 different apps before narrowing the choice to the three which I’ve spoken about today. But I just tried out ones that I found while searching and there may be the perfect app waiting out there already, which I didn’t find.