While we all love the sound of our own voice, sometimes it needs a little garnish. But the prospect of creating a voiceover track enhanced with background music or sound effects can be a little daunting for those of us who don’t use audio editing software. Now there’s a free online application that allows you to start getting creative with sound, without shelling out cash and disk space.
What is Myna?
Myna is the audio editing ‘wing’ (ahem) of Aviary’s free online media creative suite, which also includes photo and graphics editors, screen-capture tools, and more advanced music creation tools. Like all the other imaginatively-named tools, Myna is a web-based application that can be used straight from a browser once you’ve set up an account on the aviary.com site, and lets you edit and combine audio tracks and save out your creation as an mp3 or WAV file. The business of importing audio tracks, mixing them together, setting different effects, mixing down the final piece and exporting it as a usable file is all done in your browser window, and every work-in-progress can be saved to your online profile. Myna allows you to put together your own portfolio of creations, tinker with them any time, anywhere, and even share them with Myna’s online community. It’s simple enough to use that even I was able to create a short track that combines voice with music, which you can hear in action here:
Getting up and running with Myna is very simple. Visit aviary.com, select Myna from the list of applications on offer, and go through the familiar process of setting up a username and password to create a profile. From the Myna homepage, you can also watch a demo of Myna, and interestingly you can also open up the soundtrack to the demo in Myna’s editing mode, so you can see how the authors put it together.
Once you’re ready to get started, Myna launches in a new browser window and launches you straight into a visual, timeline-based audio management interface. This type of view will be instantly familiar with anyone who’s used more traditional audio packages like Audacity or Nero WaveEditor, but the clean and simple layout makes it accessible to novices as well. A minimalist approach to displaying the various tools also helps to make this a friendly and inviting application to play with.
You get started by uploading an audio track from your PC, or by recording one directly via your microphone. For my trailer, I used an audio mp3 for the music, and recorded my voice directly as a separate track. Uploading a track into the system takes longer than it would to import a track into an offline application, but that’s probably not a huge issue for amateur users. Once a track is uploaded, it appears in your online assets library and can be drag/dropped into one of the track layers on the timeline, where it appears as a coloured block with a waveform pattern to give you a visual representation of the sound. The timeline can be set up to display time in seconds and minutes, or cleverly matched to the tempo of the music track to show you the beats and bars instead.
Recording voice is also a breezy affair. There are clear, essential microphone controls and a decent graphical EQ readout so you can keep an eye on your levels and avoid pops and booms, monitor the recording as you go, and filter out echo if you’re recording in the empty back office with a handheld mike. One serious drawback is the time limit – you may only record up to two minutes for each import. Although it’s easy to repeat the recording process and then stick the separate pieces together, it could be very irritating if you’re recording a voiceover for a whole presentation. Then again, there’s always the option to record in a different application and then import the track into Myna for the editing process.
Mixing , Processing and Chopping
Once you’ve stacked up one or more tracks in the timeline, you simply drag them around to get them to start and stop at the right time, and drag the edges of the block to trim the start or end of the track. You can set the track to ‘snap’ to the timeline, which is useful if you’re mixing together a few different pieces of music that follow the same tempo, or move and trim freehand if you need to be more precise. At any time, you can review how the whole track sounds, by playing from the beginning or from any point you click on, and you can mute any of the tracks if you just need to monitor one or two. Because I had to slice bits out of my music track and then blend them together to make a very short extract, I went with the more precise option, and found I could zoom in and out of the timeline very easily using keyboard shortcuts, which made it simple to trim the music exactly where I wanted it.
Putting two or more tracks together allows you to crossfade between them, set up panning between the left and right channels, and adjust the gain on each one to get exactly the right balance. I admittedly struggled at first to uncover the more advanced control knobs, but a quick look around the Aviary help forums soon guided me to what I needed, and gave me some useful tips. Adding effects like fade in/out and setting levels to tracks uses a graphical point-and-drag system that’s very pleasant to work with and provides an intuitive visual of what your music is doing at every stage, although advanced music editors may find it a little too simplistic for precision work.
The effects available for processing sound are on the ‘lite’ side. A menu panel offers a handful of basic processes and filters, including pitch-shifting, reverb, flanging, and EQ modulation, each with a range of knobs to twiddle, but serious musos will find the selection lacking when compared with, for example, Audacity’s comprehensive array of effects. Nevertheless, there’s enough here for amateur voiceover artists to add some depth and colour to their voice tracks.
Cutting up music or voice tracks is also pretty simple to do. Toggling the ‘edit’ cursor allows you to drag-select a swathe of sound and then cut or copy it. The chunk of music can then be pasted elsewhere in the same track, or into a new track, and moved around and trimmed as necessary. It took me about twenty minutes to slice out the finale part of my trailer soundtrack and paste it next to the intro section and crescendo, then trim both parts and crossfade them until it sounded reasonably seamless – well, you can judge for yourself! It’s a fiddly process, listening over and over and trimming or extending the edges of the tracks to get a smooth transition, but the visual interface and simple controls make it a far less frustrating experience than some other packages I’ve worked with (and paid handsomely for).
After the editing is complete, Myna will ‘mixdown’ your cuts into a single track which you can then download. For my 60 second track, the whole process took just over four minutes. There are currently only two formats available – WAV and mp3. Mp3s come out at a bit rate of 128 kbps, and there is no option to select a higher rate, which is disappointing, although the WAV version of the file (larger filesize) was much sharper.
What works, what doesn’t?
Myna is clear, simple to use and a great deal more intuitive than most packages I’ve tried – including expensive ones. The fact that it’s online means editors are able to access their tracks and play or edit them from any PC with a web connection, which also opens up the application for collaborative work. If you’re bound to your office PC and restricted against installing new programs, a web-based application might be exactly what you need.
Performance is entirely dependent on broadband speed rather than soundcard or processor capability, and even on my fibre optic connection there is a difference in the time to import and export tracks between Myna and other applications – but we’re talking about a difference of a couple of minutes, so this won’t put off many people.
If you’re new to audio editing and have fairly modest requirements, there is a great deal about Myna to like. For basic to intermediate tasks, such as creating a background music track or adding sound effects to a voiceover, Myna proves an efficient and pleasant tool. The excellent aviary.com website has numerous demos and tutorials, as well as the ever-growing community-based help section that makes for fun and informative browsing, all of which do well to help experienced editors fill in the gaps and navigate the interface, and guide complete beginners up the shallow learning curve. Once you’ve mastered the basics, Myna is a reliable and enjoyable application that makes everyday audio chopping and mixing simple and fuss free, although for serious users there isn’t much to push the creative envelope. The limited process effects and very short recording window will prove annoying for those seeking a ‘one-stop-shop’ editing suite. But if you need to whip something up in a hurry, the simple and intuitive interface, lively support and community areas, zero disk space and zero cost factors all add up to give Myna major appeal.
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