Several months ago I was contacted by an app company called VoiceMap that creates and publishes audio tours.
They were looking to expand their tours for Philadelphia (my home city), and asked if I would be interested in creating a tour. I’m always open for a new opportunity to grow and expand as a writer, so I said,
Step 1: Choosing a route and topic.
I spent a lot of time contemplating the topic of my tour. One day, I was standing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, watching enthusiastic tourists taking selfies with the Rocky statue. It made me think of all of the drama and controversy the statue has caused over the years. That thought sparked the thought of one of the greatest art controversies in Philadelphia, The Barnes Foundation. Suddenly I had my tour, Art and Controversy in Philadelphia. A walk down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where I delve into the controversies surrounding Philadelphia’s art scene.
Step 2: Laying out the route.
I walked the route from the Logan Square Fountain to the Art Museum, while speaking out loud the order of locations and the directions, like where to cross the street, where to turn, into my phone’s voice recorder.
The nice thing about Philadelphia is that you can do something like that, and no one gives you a second glance.
I’m more of an artsy type, so I’m not always the best at technical stuff. Fortunately, VoiceMap prescribes to my theory that you can pretty much learn to do anything by watching a YouTube video. They provided excellent, detailed, instructions, in writing, and step-by-step videos, so I never felt lost on how to complete a task.
I was able to go into their system to draw my route and place my trigger points.
Once you download a tour onto your phone, VoiceMap uses your phone’s GPS to trigger content. So for example, as you approach The Rodin Museum, my discussion about Rodin pops into your ears.
Step 3: Research and Writing
This was my favorite part. I love researching and it was neat finding out new information about my city that I wouldn’t have known were it not for the tour.
The writing was a fun challenge. After placing your trigger points, the system figures out approximately how long it takes to walk from one point to the next. Using the time allotted, it gives you an estimated word count. So for example, I had 320 words to talk about The Free Library of Philadelphia. You can stop people for something that you know will go well over the word count, like I did for the Barnes Foundation, but you don’t want to do that for every trigger. The word count challenge taught me how to be engaging, while keeping things concise. It was the most valuable lesson I learned creating the tour.
I submitted the various sections of my writing to my VoiceMap editor, Gary. Gary is fantastic. I was in wonder as he took what I wrote and tweaked a few words here, or changed around a sentence there, and it made what I wrote sound amazing.
Step 4: Recording
Since I do have a background in acting, I thought this would be a piece of cake. I was wrong. I found the recording to be the most challenging of all of the steps. It was the most technical of all of the steps, and I think I let my pursuit for perfection get the best of me. I would record a section over and over and over again, fretting over which take was best.
I regretted writing the sentence, “The prints and pictures department possesses a collection of vintage postcards.”
I actually had an easier time with the longer sections, I think because you get into a rhythm, but struggled at times with some of the shorter sections.
Towards the end, I started to get the hang of it.
Step 5: The Run Through
Like most people, I hate listening to the sound of my own voice, but there was no avoiding this as I had to do a run through of the tour to be certain all of the trigger points worked, that the directions made sense, etc… We did have to tweak a few things, but overall it went smoothly.
As I walked around the Rodin Museum garden, two people were looking at one of the sculptures. They lamented that they weren’t sure what they were looking at. I imagined them with earbuds in their ears, listening to my tour and learning all about the sculptures. It made me smile. It was cool to think that future people could learn and enjoy the sites around the city that I love by listening to something that I wrote and recorded.
Bonus Step: Visiting VoiceMap
VoiceMap is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and it just so happened that we were going to Cape Town.
I got to meet my editor Gary, and the creator of VoiceMap, Ian, for coffee at the Woodstock Exchange Building.
The building was inspiring. It breathed creative energy.
I am in awe of and admire people who come up with an idea, like creating an app where you can download, creative, interesting, audio tours based on storytelling, right onto your phone, and take that idea the distance. After meeting Gary and hearing Ian’s vision, I’m honored that I get to be part of what VoiceMap is doing. I can’t wait to see what their future brings.
My audio tour Art and Controversy in Philadelphia is officially available for purchase/download on VoiceMap. It was a great travel writing experience.
You can listen to VoiceMap’s audio tours in person at the destination, but you can also download and listen to them like podcasts. I downloaded and listened to the Cape Town tours prior to our trip, so I could learn about the area before our arrival. Although I don’t plan on going to Paris anytime soon, I loved listening to the tour entitled, Through fashionable Paris in the footsteps of Audrey Hepburn, since I’m a huge Audrey Hepburn fan. If you are like me and have months of sad, gray, cubicle job days, in between your travels, VoiceMap is a nice way to travel while sitting at your desk.
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