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A Summary of Some New Features in Version 5.2 of the StationPlaylist Suite.

Introduction.

I have been testing version 5.2 of the StationPlaylist products for six weeks now and I hope I have provided useful feedback to the developers concerning a number of issues.
This is a very significant new release.

The official help documentation and release notes in the Email accompanying an upgrade to version 5.2 of Studio and Creator provide the official tutorial on how to use the new features. What follows is a brief summary of what I have found to be the most useful innovations for me.

I have tested the new upgrade:

  • In live broadcasting environments;
  • Through our station Team-FM in continuous automation mode over a number of weeks, and;
  • Extensively with voice tracking.

From an accessibility perspective with JAWS, the scripts for these products have had many changes and this is the version which will be focused on from this point forward. So, if you are interested in obtaining improvements to the JAWS scripts, you should be running Studio and Creator version 5.2.

While there are improvements for users who broadcast live, you are likely to benefit enormously from this update if you voice track any shows (although not remotely), and if you run a PC in automation mode to host a radio station for example. The products are extremely stable in automation mode and can run for weeks at a time continuously without an issue.

Voice Tracking.

One of the best improvements in this release would be the voice track facilities. At this point, what I am about to describe does not relate to remote voice tracking.

To explain further, remote voice tracking, while it seems attractive, does have a number of limitations.

You cannot pause during recording, so your voice breaks may well include fluffs or stumbles, together with key clicks and additional extraneous noise. Best results are obtained when voice tracking on a local PC which is where the focus is in the 5.20 release.

There are two major features worthy of note.

  1. The first is a completely redesigned recorder for creating the voice tracks. Of course it is accessible, and shows the incoming and outgoing songs visually on screen, and available in JAWS by pressing ALT+3. This gives a useful reminder as to what you have played and the upcoming item. The recorder also allows you to pause during recording.
  2. It can record in extremely high quality sampling rate and mono/stereo if desired. These files can be edited, perhaps to include additional programme elements, to reduce background noise or to ensure that the voice track speech coincides with the end of a file. All of this gives a show a very polished feel about it, and would equate to something you would conceivably hear on the radio.

One of the advantages of using the new recorder is that you can record your voice tracks while hearing the outgoing and incoming songs. There are several Radio Buttons which govern the recording of the voice break. You can choose to record as you would have done so before, using the automatic setting, which means that the voice track will play at the end of a track in the natural way or upon a predetermined outro time, (see below).

You can also record an outro only, or both an intro and outro. This final option is very useful, since you can determine precisely when your speech should commence on the outgoing song by listening to it, how long the voice break should be, and when the incoming song should start. It also means that if you are voicetracking a show where you haven't specified any intro or outro times, it's not too important because, using this method, you are telling Studio where to place the speech in relation to the songs. In other words, you are specifying the outro and intro times as you go along. It's very cool if you want to work in this way.

The procedure would be as follows:

  1. Select the Radio Button so as to record the voice track relative to the outgoing and incoming song.
  2. Press Enter, (the default keystroke for initiating the process). The final portion of the outgoing song will begin to play.
  3. At the desired point in the outgoing song, press Enter again and begin speaking. You will hear the song fade down so as to accommodate your speech, if appropriate options have been set so to do in Studio.
  4. When you wish the next song to begin, press Enter and continue speaking.
  5. Prior to the beginning of the vocals, stop speaking and press Enter to conclude the process.

A handy feature in this recorder is that if appropriate, the last few milliseconds can be removed from the recording so as to potentially erase any key clicks for example which may be very helpful. This also applies to the recorder used for remote voice tracking and is the only major change in this regard. If you are going to use this feature, be sure not to press Enter to terminate the recording as soon as speech has stopped else you may find the final syllable will be cut.

To repeat, the recorder can create files using a variety of formats including wav and in mono or stereo. This ensures optimum audio quality is achieved for the voice breaks, and allows for editing. Bare in mind that, if using the above described method of manual recording by hearing the outgoing and incoming songs, editing will cause some timing issues, so you would only want to do that if you were going to select the Automatic setting. This in itself brings me to a useful point.

If using the setting where Studio will automatically calculate the voice break timings, (and particularly when voice tracking remotely), you should pay careful attention to your outro's. Great emphasis is often placed upon marking the start of the vocals, (the intro time), but the Outro's are just as important!

If you do not specify outro times, Studio will typically wait until the song is fading down prior to starting the subsequent voice track. This is not what happens in a radio environment in many situations. A DJ will often talk over a song well before the natural fade, so think about that when preparing your shows and mark the outro time appropriately.

Overall, this is a wonderful recorder and it works extremely well, but I haven't finished with voice tracking yet. There's another excellent feature to write about.

When you listen to a show, particularly one which is voice tracked, you will often hear that a song is too loud or too quiet. Sometimes, the speaker will be far too loud and the song intro is at a low volume to the extent that you cannot hear it, or alternatively, the intro is far too loud thus drowning out the speaker's words. To compensate for this, audio compression is often applied to the speaker's voice, which to my mind does not give the voice quality a natural sound, particularly if audio compression is already being applied to the overall mix.

This problem has been recognised by the developers of StationPlaylist Studio, which is why they have introduced a feature called Replay Gain. This allows the file tag to be altered so that the music is played at a desired volume level. For tracks with a very loud introduction for example, you may wish to reduce the volume using the Replay Gain feature to ensure that your words are not lost during broadcast. Similarly, for a song with a low volume introduction, you'll want to increase the volume so that the listener is aware of what is to come. There are a number of presets you can choose from or specify your own custom level, which is what I prefer to do. It's an incredibly useful feature and one which I would now not want to be without. In summary, it gives you complete control as to how the show should sound.

When focused in the Track Tool, pressing ALT+G using the JAWS scripts will activate Replay Gain, whereupon you can adjust the controls to suit, particularly the volume slider for the custom level. Then, activate the Start Button to apply the desired setting.

Crossfading.

Until now, Studio has intelligently calculated the crossfading of music tracks, spots and commercials, based on specific criteria. When you play a track, the calculations are made and, assuming you have the option set to update the file tags, you're in good shape most of the time. Of course you have always been able to change any aspect of the crossfading yourself, so if a song has a quiet ending, you would want to ensure crosssfading does not occur, or at the very least, you would apply it at a point in the song which does not interrupt its natural ending.

In 5.2, the crossfading of tracks, spots, commercials and voice tracks are all adjusted individually, through Tabbed Pages which can be found in Options, File Input.

There are default settings of course, which did not suit my preferences. Some of this relates to the audio compression being used, but I was finding that songs and spots either contained sharp fades, or items were not playing quite as quickly as they used to.
One reason for this is that Some additional intelligence has been added to the crossfading system.  Songs that have a manual Segue value set at a position where the song volume is high will be detected by Studio and a steeper logarithmic fade will be used to prevent the end of the track overpowering the start of the next track.

After a good deal of time being spent on this issue, I now have in place the following settings which are extremely acceptable, however they may not suit your particular tastes. You will need to experiment to find out what suits.
The end result however is that when adjusted, the crossfading is far better than it has ever been, but see note 2, below. Meanwhile, here are my recommended settings.

Songs Tab.

Cue at -33
Segue at -20
Overlap to -14
Min Overlap 2.5
Max Overlap 8.0

Spots Tab.

Cue at -33
Segue at -18
Overlap to -14
Min Overlap 0.5
Max Overlap 3.0

A few additional notes:

  1. The Breaknote to disable crossfading is used now for songs only. This is particularly beneficial if you want to schedule an hour, as we do, where crossfading is not appropriate with the exception of spots or commercials. I like this very welcome addition.
  2. When the above settings have been adjusted, the majority of crossfading should be excellent. However, you will want to listen to your station extensively, and take careful note of any song which is being inadvertently truncated. If you hear such a song, you should adjust the segue point in the song to a more precise time. The segue is the point where the next track will potentially begin to overlap, as described in our "Broadcast It" audio tutorial on StationPlaylist. I cannot stress enough how important this is, particularly if you are hosting a station in automation mode.

Hooks.

If you listen to a radio station, you may well hear a small preview of some of the songs to be featured in the upcoming half-hour or hourly-block. This will be in the form of a song snippet or two. In StationPlaylist terms, this is known as a hook, designed to "hook" people into listening in for longer! That's got to be good!

In your Creator rotations, you can specify a position a hook should be in a playlist, or several hooks if desired. This is done by:

  1. Placing focus at the point in the rotation where the hook should be.
  2. Add a new category containing tracks which you have marked with hooks (see below).
  3. Tab to the "Make Hook" button or press Control+H.

You can also manually specify the hooks by inserting a Breaknote as follows:
*hook=2
and
*hook=4
for example.
This will play a few seconds of a song which is second and fourth in the playlist, so in a live situation, this may well be the way to go.

How does Studio know which parts of the song to play?

If you have entered the hook positions manually into the playlist, by default, it will play the segments as specified in Studio's options on page 1 of the Advanced Tab. If introductions have been specified it will play those instead.

However more usefully, you can specify the parts of a song yourself, by loading a track into the Track Tool and marking the relevant sections. This is done by playing the track, and at the appropriate point, pressing letter H to mark the starting segment of the hook, and J to mark the end point.
The hook segment can be heard by pressing Control+H to hear the start and Control+J to hear the duration.
This allows you to mark a part of the chorus for example which is likely to be memorable. People are more likely to identify with a part of the chorus than a song introduction.
Certainly if you are scheduling hooks using Creator, the specifying of hook values is critical.

Up Next.

Within your metadata that you send out to the internet, (currently playing song artist and title information), you can now specify the next song to be played out, either by artist, title or both. This is achieved in Options, Now Playing, Stream Metadata.

As stated in the release notes, the syntax might look like this:
%+1n
or
%+1a
where "n" represents a song title or "A" an artist.

Studio is very clever in this regard. As you approach the top of the hour, the program will work out whether existing songs in the playlist can be accommodated within the hour, and, if not, will output the details of the first song in the upcoming hour.
Please note that you cannot use this feature when using cue sheets.

Additional Points Worthy of Note.

Record to File configured in the Output options / Record tab now supports recording the audio before or after the DSP.  The previous method was always before the DSP.  Now recorded files can include the DSP processing for such purposes as archived shows. For example, if you have applied audio compression through a DSP, this will be included in the recording.

You will notice a new Tabbed Page under "Options" which is entitled "User". This allows specific options to be set relative to a Studio user, such as "Accessibility Mode". By default however, they apply to all users so the majority of people will not have to be concerned about this.

Script Changes.

The scripts for JAWS, to be released when the final build has been tested, take account of the new features in 5.2. In addition, when pressing ALT+Enter to examine the properties of an item, moving to a field, adjusting it and pressing ALT+O to activate the "OK" Button, pressing ALT+Enter on a subsequent item should cause focus to be set to the field in the dialog box where you left off. This applies to Studio and the Playlist Editor and was introduced at the request of a customer.

You will also find that adjustments have been made to Enhanced Arrow key mode, so that pressing Down Arrow on columns 7 to 18 now work correctly by only outputting the column information. This is particularly useful when scanning down the outro column for example to see which items in your playlist have been correctly marked up.

JAWS Table Layer keystrokes can now be used, although the toggle of Enhanced Arrow key mode, Control+SPL key, still works just as it did before.

Speech History, Insert Space then H, now works correctly.

There are also global keystrokes to adjust the system output volume of the computer's primary sound source. Press Control+Windows+Shift+Up and Down Arrows to do so.

In StationPlaylist Creator, press SPL Key then T to hear the total time of the rotation in hours, minutes and seconds format.

In the Playlist Editor, you can now:

  • press SPL Key then T to hear the total time of the playlist.
  • Press SPL Key then S to hear the time the item is scheduled to play.
  • Press SPL Key then D to hear the date and time of the playlist.
  • Press SPL key then R to hear the rotation name.

Conclusion.

There are many many additional features and fixes in the new release of the products. This is definitely an upgrade you want to take advantage of and I would highly recommend you keep your support arrangements with StationPlaylist current.

Do enjoy the new update!

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