How to Even Out Sound Levels In Your Audio/Video Project

How Uneven Audio Happens In Your Projects

Sometimes, when you’re putting together an e-Learning project or even a simple  audio/video blog post, you end up with funky sounding audio levels.  Some parts of your clip seem louder, while others sound softer.  You may have seen this happen, too, when you conduct an audio interview with one or more people who are each at different distances from the microphone.  The folks who are closest to the microphone sound louder than those who are further away.  This is a leveling problem.

audio file that could use leveling

One way to fix this problem is to tweak your audio clips with an audio editor like Audacity (free), SoundForge (not free), Soundtrack Pro (even more not free), or something similar.  You would basically highlight the sections you want to make louder (or softer) and then use the Amplify effect in your audio editor to nudge it up (or down) in an attempt to “level out” the entire clip.  The thing is, that could be a lot of tweaking if you have a lot of interaction in your interview or if you’re compiling a lot of different audio files into the same project.  That’s where a free software tool called Levelator can help do the heavy lifting for you.

What Is Levelator?

Levelator is free software (available for Windows and Macintosh) that automagically adjusts the audio levels within your audio file for variations between one speaker and the next.  It’s like magic… only real.

In the video above you can see a before and after comparison of an audio file that I use to demonstrate Levelator.  Take a look.  I think you’ll be impressed.  (If not because of the ease with which this free software tool can help level your audio, then I’m certain you’ll be impressed with my rendition of “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers….”  😉

How To Record and Synchronize Video Screen Recordings From Two Monitors


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A great question was asked by one of my viewers about recording videos on dual monitors.

Hi there I am looking for a solution for recording Dual monitors in seperate videos if at all possible? For instance I want to show myself editing Audio and syncing it to a Picture which is on another monitor seperately. I need to be able to show both Monitor videos simultaneously. Is there an easy or cheap way of doing this? thanks!

The answer is yes.  Though there are ways that hard-core video professionals do this with video boards and other peripheral hardware.  (If you’ve done this before, I’d love it if you shared a link with information about the hardware you use and how you set up to capture your multiple video and audio sources.)

But, for purposes of screencasting, all you’ll need are two different screen recording software.  One software (e.g., Camtasia) should be setup to capture activity on one monitor, while a totally different other software (e.g., Screenflow, Screenr, GoToMeeting, Webex, etc.) would be used to capture activity on the second monitor.  Audio capture should be on, as well, on both software.

The trick, though, is getting set up properly during the recording phase (i.e., “production”) so that you’re in a position to sync up both video clips later when you edit them together (i.e., “post-production”).

In the video above, I show you how I did this using Camtasia and Screenflow on a Mac platform.  However, you can also do this even if you’re set up on a PC.

Check out the video and let me know if it helps.  Also, if you’ve done something similar to this, I’d really appreciate you sharing your technique in the comments below.  Share-share alike, right? 🙂

[Off-topic for Veteran’s Day] Veterans: A Closet Full of Guns and Ammo?

proud-veteran-usnVeterans are people, too, my friends

Like you, as a citizen of this great country I’m grateful for the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.  And, as a veteran myself, I’d like to express our appreciation of your willingness to honor us on a day such as today.  But, I’d also like to challenge you.

You see, from my vantage point, far too many of us don’t always see our veterans for what they are:  people and world diplomats.  The fact is, some — not all, but enough — of us occasionally fall into that hole where veterans are objectified as “…a closet full of guns (and) ammo… As if to be pulled out like a lawnmower whenever the grass gets too unruly.  But in fact, a key differentiator of our military is their capacity to think, help shape strategy and even carry diplomatic relations on the world stage.  Consider the diplomatic roles of esteemed veterans such as Collin Powell, David Petraeus (recent events notwithstanding and which shouldn’t diminish his great contributions), or Army Special Forces Major James Gravrilis.  Far from being a closet full of guns and ammo, our veterans perform brilliantly as military diplomats who have independent will and a moral compass that guide their capacity for critical analysis.

“A Closet Full of Guns and Ammo”

A couple of months ago, on the heels of the embassy attack at Benghazi, one of my professional acquaintances publicly expressed his frustrations about that attack in a post on one of the popular social networks.  In that rant, he described his home-spun foreign policy of “Overreaction.”  And he demanded (in rant-wise fashion) that our elected leaders adopt it.  In one paragraph he expressed the following in apparent reference to the citizens of non-American countries (bold highlights are mine for emphasis relevant to this discussion):

“…if we’re gonna be just friends, you need to know something about us.  We’re going to overreact.  A lot.  In ways that you’ll find very extreme. So if you or some of your more excitable lads kill an American, we might go totally overboard and drop a few thousand bombs on your capitol.  If that American is an ambassador, we might roll tanks through your cities and start executing anyone wearing your military’s uniform. Then, of course, we’ll leave. We’re dangerous, ignorant Americans after all. We just wanna be left alone, and if not left alone, then we might be really, really unpredictable. And we really might not care that various other countries “condemn” our actions, or pass UN resolutions…

He goes on like that for a few more paragraphs and closes his rant this way:

“Just think of us as that crazy neighbor…that quiet, keeps-to-himself neighbor with a closet full of guns, ammo by the thousands, and who-knows-what-else.  And he might be a little bit unstable from his war experience…

Incredibly, many of his readers (though not all, but sadly many) actually applauded this “policy.”

Military Diplomats

Contrary to how easily some would classify our veterans as a “…closet full of guns (and) ammo…”, the fact is, our veterans are not trained to be the “John Wayne” or “Rambo” stereotype who stoically obeys orders without question.

In fact, a unique differentiator of our military citizens is their ability to ask relevant questions and critically analyze local events as they carry out those orders.  In many (most?) cases, they’ll actually shape the orders themselves.

Don’t get me wrong.  I share my acquaintance’s frustrations about our American citizens being attacked any where in the world.  I may even applaud the flag-waving nature of his rant.  But characterizing our veterans as executors of a policy of “Overreaction” doesn’t honor them.

My hope for today, and on all days after Veterans Day, is that when you see rants such as that above, that you show gratitude for the true contributions of our veterans by reminding such authors — and their readers — that typically when “we” say “we” will “drop a few thousand bombs on (another nation’s) capitol…” and “…roll tanks through (their) cities and start executing (their citizens)…” and “…test some of the thermonuclear ‘stuff’ in our inventory…,” that you remind them that blindly carrying out the wishes of a “crazy neighbor” is not the mission of our service members.

Being belligerent is easy.  The hard part — the part for which we should truly thank our veterans — is their capacity for being the human filter behind the trigger.  They are the heroes who exercise restraint in their use of force, while critically analyzing and adapting to events even as arm-chair quarterbacks — and their followers — spout ill-conceived home-spun policies of “Overreaction” at all cost.

Part 4: The Tin Can API – What the Presidential Election and the Tin Can API Have In Common

DevLearn12 Q&A Panel – Everything You Need to Know About Tin Can

>> Previous articles in this series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 <<

As I publish this post (Part 4 — the last — in this Tin Can API audio interview series), the 2012 presidential election will have been well underway.  And, just as the eventual outcome of the presidential campaigns have yet to be decided, so too does the landscape have yet to emerge for eLearning solutions based on Tin Can.  But, it can also be said that just as the presidential campaigns are (both!) off to a strong start, so too is Tin Can rolling with strong momentum.

Big News!

I mean, consider that the AICC (Aviation Industry CBT [computer based training] Committee) announced just last week that they’ll be adopting the Tin Can API as the underlying technology for the next generation of their CMI 5 (Computer Managed Instruction) specification.  (Ref. “Really Big News” and “ADL and AICC Collaborate On the Experience API“.)  That’s significantly huge news.

Also, since having gone public with the Tin Can API last (June-ish?), there are already some 30-ish vendors who have already adopted Tin Can for their service offerings; more are on the way.  Finally, if the standing room only crowd for the DevLearn Q&A Panel (“Everything You Need to Know About Tin Can“) is any indication of the interest eLearning developers, service providers and software vendors have in it, then it’s definitely a campaign to watch.

Video / Audio Panel Q&A

The video above is primarily an audio file.  It’s a recording of the DevLearn Q&A panel session about Tin Can.  It was held on the last day of DevLearn12 and commanded a standing room only crowd.  I overlayed headshots of the panelists to make it easier to keep of track of who had the floor at any given moment.   The panelists included:

mike rustici

Aaron Silvers

Clark Quinn

Julie Dirksen

Stephanie Daul

Take a listen.  It’s well worth the time to pay attention especially if you’re an eLearning industry professional.  Between this panel session, and the previous three interviews in this series, I think you should have a pretty good head start about Tin Can (Experience API) and the implications for your projects and/or service offerings in the future.

If you have colleagues who don’t yet know about Tin Can, feel free to pass this article along.

Part 3: The Tin Can API – The Compelling And Practical Use Cases You’ve Been Waiting To Hear

vTrainingRoom“Help me understand a use case for Tin Can.  And, can you tell me how your company is using Tin Can in its services?”

Having just wrapped up two prior interviews with one of the guys over at DevLearn’s “Tin Can Alley,” (see Part 1 here) and with the guys over at the Callidous Cloud booth (see Part 2 here), I then stopped over at the exhibitor booth for VTrainingRoom.  They were “Tin Can Adopters” (a prominently displayed badge identified them as such).  There I spoke with Managing Partner Michael Roberts where I posed to him the questions above.  Refreshingly, Michael was up to the challenge.

If the previous two interviews did a great job of giving us a high-level picture of the Tin Can API data flow, then vTrainingRoom’s Michael Roberts was stellar in his ability to articulate a couple of compelling and practical use cases.

learning record store

(courtesy: scorm.com)

During our interview, Mr. Roberts deftly walked me through a scenario using the plausible example of an instructor led CPR course, with a subsequent hands-on lab, followed by actual usage information transmitted from an automated electronic defibrillator (AED).   Now think about it; what if you can gain insight from information transmitted from each of those modalities, and do it all from one information repository?

Listen Closely

Take a careful listen as he describes this scenario in the interview.  It occurred to me during our interview that what he described was precisely the kind of visual that many of us  relatively non-techie eLearning course developers and instructional designers were pining for as we struggled to wrap our collective heads around what Tin Can can ultimately offer.

Below is the audio of my interview with Mr. Roberts of vTrainingRoom.  You’ll remember how noisy the exhibitor hall was.  So, set your expectations appropriately as you listen in on the interview below.  However, to make it easier for you, I also took the liberty of transcribing the interview immediately below the audio file.  Accordingly, I recommend you click “Play,” then scroll along as you follow the audio via the transcript.

I think you’ll find that, after having listened to the playback, you’ll have a better grasp of the value proposition for Tin Can.  Armed with that, you should have an easier go of it as you build a case back at home base for conducting a pilot of the Tin Can API.

(Minor plug here for this helpful DevLearn sponsor…) Consider, too, that companies such as Mr. Roberts’ vTrainingRoom stand ready to help you in that endeavor.  And, of particular note is the LRS (Learning Record Store) product they’ve already established called vTrainingTracker.  (We talk about a free version of it during the interview.)

Finally, if this article helps you, then please share it with your colleagues.  And, I’d be interested in hearing from you via the comments below if you plan on implementing any type of a pilot of Tin Can in the next 6 months.

Audio Interview:  Michael Roberts, Managing Partner, VTrainingRoom

Part 2: The Tin Can API – A Learning Management System Vendor’s Perspective [w/ audio]

How Can You Use The Tin Can API In Your Informal Learning Networks?

calidus tincan api

In part 1 of this series (ref The Tin Can API – Why Should eLearning Professionals Care?) I shared with you an audio recording of the interview I conducted with one of the contributors to the Tin Can API consortium.  In that interview, Ali Shahrazad from Saltbox Services helped us gel with the basic relationship of the Tin Can API (a.k.a. “Experience API”) to a central data repository called a Learning Record Store (LRS).

We learned that Tin Can is a new API (application program interface) standard that lets you, me and other vendors (of, say, LMSs, eLearning authoring tools, CRMs, websites, custom applications, etc.) send information about activities by our users within those various platforms to a Learning Record Storage (LRS) database.  Once in such an LRS (which itself can be a hosted service or an otherwise proprietary toolset including the LRS with reporting, visualization or other analytics tools built on top of it), we can then analyze that information to get more robust insights of activity-type information about how users use (Tin Can developers like to say “experience,”) those various platforms.

In this second part of the 4-part series, I’m including the audio interview I conducted with representatives from Callidus Cloud — the company that creates, among other things, the hosted LMS platform I’m currently using with one of the companies I work with.

The audio’s a little hard to decipher in a number of spots.  So I included a transcript of the interview immediately below the audio file.

This interview reinforces the concept of Tin Can being primarily a conduit (think: plumbing) via which to send/receive user activity information from various Tin Can-enabled software.  (Those software become enabled by developers integrating Tin Can API code with the basic workings of the software.)

Interesting, too, is the observation by the folks I spoke with at Callidous Cloud that Tin Can is just another form of SCORM.  I thought that statement would probably make the Tin Can consortium folks bristle.  But, I also didn’t think it was a description that was too far off base.  Yes, yes, Tin Can is different code than SCORM.  And yes, it’s designed to work with a wider set of platforms than LMSs.  But, I see their point:  like SCORM, Tin Can is essentially a standard code set that all developers of eLearning-type software (and I’m using that term loosely as such software can include social networks, CRMs, and such) can use to send and receive information about user activity to another thing.  Also, just as SCORM information is essentially useless without an LMS, so too is Tin Can information essentially useless without an LRS.

But, take a listen.  And then share your own thoughts:  What do you think?  Is Tin Can, indeed, just SCORM on steroids, as some might say?

Audio and Transcript With Callidus Cloud About The Tin Can API

Part 1: The Tin Can API – Why Should eLearning Professionals Care? [w/ audio]

If you’re at all even remotely associated with support for the eLearning industry (i.e., instructional designer, training developer, software developer, LMS vendor, social networking host provider, CRM provider, etc.) then you’ll be interested in this series.

At last year’s DevLearn conference (DevLearn11), the anticipated release of Articulate’s Storyline authoring tool was all the rage.  This year (DevLearn12), the buzz was all about Tin Can (a.k.a. the “Experience API”, a.k.a. Tin Can API).  In fact, so buzzy was it that I actually heard the “R” word used several times throughout the conference.  And…AND, if you can believe it, the “P” word (*gasp!*) was actually used by one of the guests in a panel session.

eLearning Professionals Are Confused

The thing is, in the months leading up to DevLearn, and extending to the days following DevLearn’s opening keynote, I asked a bunch of you, my professional eLearning colleagues and friends,  if you could explain to me what Tin Can was about and how it differs from SCORM.  Not surprisingly, the answers the lot of you gave were all over the board; they were speculative at best.  Hell, I wasn’t immune.  I read the discussions on the TinCanAPI consortium website and, by DevLearn’s kickoff day, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it enough to be able to articulate a value proposition.

Audio Interview (Part 1): What is Tin Can? What can it do that SCORM can’t?