Pages Navigation Menu

Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

Making audiograms with SpareMin Headliner

This piece will show you an easy, free and quick way to turn your audio clips into highly engaging shareable social assets using SpareMin’s Headliner service. If you want to skip my self-indulgent background preamble and get straight down to business click here.

Learning visualisation tips from television

Beach telly by Jonas Bengtsson on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons licence.

Beach telly by Jonas Bengtsson on Flickr.

I’ve been working on a television project for the last year. I applaud anyone who can dedicate their working life to the medium.

Compared with radio production, television can be a ceaselessly, frustratingly time consuming place in which to get things done. You often need a dozen or so skilled people all working in perfect sync and talking to each other. Telly needs well-oiled systems, faultless organisational planning and a big bucket of team motivation.

All of this presents a good leadership challenge of course and I am enjoying it.

The project has also taught me about what I’ll call Attention Management in a Visual Medium: quite a different kettle of eggs from commanding listener attention through audio.

Eye v Ear

The poet W.H. Auden suggested that the ear is lazy and craves the familiar while the eye is distracted and craves the novel. Radio exploits that lazy ear through consistent station sound and the companionship of the medium. Television relies much more on what’s new, bright and shiny and TV people use calculated techniques to manage your attention on screen.

For example, look at television’s graphic name straps. They swoosh onto the screen with a fancy animation, forcing your eye to track to the lower third of the screen at exactly the right moment to absorb the text. By contrast, once they’ve done their job it’s considered good TV practice to gently fade them away so they don’t draw your attention to something it’s too late to read.

As visualisation creeps up on radio, I find some of what I’ve learned in television can be useful in radio too. Today, radio has to compete for attention in visually attractive places like app stores, social platforms, in connected cars and on screens of all sizes. We make shortform videos, clip shareable moments from studio cameras and exploit social platforms to push our content and our brands out to new audiences.

A Big Broadcasting Corporation recently conducted a bit of internal research against the audio clips assets it shared via social media. It found that engagement with audio clips accompanied by video was many times higher than for those that appeared with a static image.

However (and here’s the interesting bit), even the presence of a simple modulated waveform and text subtitles made a huge difference to engagement rates. The human eye is attracted to movement. We’re just like cats.

Playing with SpareMin Headliner

As Earshot reported in August 2016, New York Public radio WNYC created the Audiogram format and then open-sourced their code so others could built upon it. The BBC created an Audiogram production tool for its teams that integrates deeply with its internal systems. If you work at the BBC I recommend you have a play with it.

For everyone else, SpareMin has created Headliner. It’s an elegant way to apply Audiogram waveforms, images, text and video to audio and has particularly found favour with the podcasting community in the US.

SpareMin has worked hard on the UX. The platform is a joy to use and to look at, and they have a licensing agreement with Getty Images that helps you ensure your work looks good too. You can add high quality images from Getty that are relevant to the editorial subject of your clip.

All the current functionality on Headliner is currently free to use and the company tells me they plan for the Audiogram generator tool at the heart of the platform to be free forever.

So what can you do with Headliner?

New project options

1. You can create a simple audiogram from your audio clip with a background image and eye-catching moving waveform.

2. Alternatively, you can add appropriate images to accompany your audio from the Getty Images library, Google Images, Microsoft or Pixabay.

3. Or you can build from scratch, adding layered images, subtitles, video and an audiogram waveform in a linear editor interface. For radio brands who need consistent control over their look and feel this is the option I would recommend.

Editor

Whichever way you choose to create in Headliner, you can decide whether to optimise the output format in landscape, square or portrait aspect ratios:

Choose project aspect ratio

For a background, you can add your own images, video files, a branded watermark and subtitles.

Rather wonderfully, subtitles are suggested from an automatically generated transcript of your audio, using speech-to-text analysis:

Subtitles 1

This feature doesn’t always hear everything right but it’s a good start and I expect will get better over time through machine learning. Are you British? Set your project to the English (UK) settings to force the correct spelling of words.

Once Headliner’s had a go, you can jump in and tidy up the text quickly and adjust the timings of subtitles for maximum impact with the audio:

Subtitles corrected

One thing I learned from television: put the subtitles on screen momentarily before the relevant audio starts to maximise intelligibility. Headliner lets you adjust the In and Out times very accurately.

These customisation options allow you to tailor the waveform hue, style and position to match your brand’s colourway and work in harmony with your background image.

Customise the waveform colour

I recommend finessing your audio and normalising levels before you import into Headliner, but both the wizard and the editor screen allow you to top and tail audio if you’re working with clean speech.

Audio trim

Upon export you have some options to manage the tradeoff between quality and file size, and options to snap on an Intro or Outro:

Export options

This timesaving feature is useful if you have a common branded sting or a sponsor to credit. You don’t have to edit it manually onto the video file. Headliner does that for you.

And here’s an example of what you can make in Headliner in just a few minutes, using a short clip from a recent edition of the Earshot podcast:

Summary

Headliner’s feature set has just about everything you need to make attractive shareable visual assets from your clips.

Having used it and trained others on its use, I would suggest the following:

Steve’s tips for using Headliner:

1. Prepare your audio before you import it with consistent levels, tight edits and tidy fades. Headliner handles the visualisation extremely well but that’s no excuse for sloppy audio.

2. Work out a routine workflow. Put your audio and video assets in sensible folder locations so you can snap them all together quickly in the Headliner interface without wasting time hunting around your folder trees.

3. Prepare visual branding elements that work together nicely with the Headliner Audiogram waveform and are unique to your brand. Get a design eye across this. You only have to do it once.

4. Use an up to date browser. I’ve found Headliner works on the latest builds of Firefox, Safari and Chrome but not always on older browsers.

5. Keep your look consistent. While Headliner doesn’t have a Template feature as such, it’s easy to copy a previous project and use it as the basis of your next one. Fonts, colourway and subtitle animation style are part of your identity so keep them consistent from one piece to the next.

Finally, remember this visualisation technique is a way to convey your audio. Be careful not to become visually overwhelming at the expense of your product. Do enough to attract the eye but let the ear win too.

Disclosure: SpareMin is a supporter of Earshot – why not click their lovely banner – but this article was written by Steve alone and is not sponsored content. Earshot is editorially independent and does not write for money.
Sign up for free email alerts