VoiceMap reached a few milestones this month: we published our 800th tour, then we extended our reach to 60 countries with our first walk in Belgium, and yesterday we reached a total of 10,000 ratings across all the tours on the platform.
It took us a full 39 months to get to 2,000 ratings, and 20 more to get to 4,000. Reaching 6,000 took another year, and we reached 8,000 nine months after that, over a period that included the lockdowns of April, May and June last year. The final increment, bringing us to 10,000, took just four months. That’s basically ten times faster than the slow climb to our first 2,000 ratings.
The Dividing Lines tour explores how segregation shaped Kansas City and its urban landscape over the course of a 90-minute drive through its centre. It was produced for the Johnson County Library by Christopher Cook and Nathaniel Bozarth, filmmakers and podcasters who used interview recordings as well as quotes from Tanner Colby’s book Some of My Best Friends are Black to add to an in-person bus tour that was already offered by library staff.
The tour takes education out of the library and turns a drive through Kansas City into an immersive opportunity to learn. It was VoiceMap’s most popular tour in 2020.
This Friday is the 170th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson. In Edinburgh, the anniversary has been celebrated with events throughout the city since 2011, but with level three restrictions in place, RLS Day 2020 has chosen to commemorate the legendary Scottish author online. This includes a crisscrossing of the globe with readings from his work by 19 people in 15 locations, starting with his childhood in Edinburgh, as well as two newly released audio tours. The tours can be used virtually, at home, or on a self-guided, socially distanced walk in the footsteps of the young Stevenson, before he left the city of his birth at the age of 27, never to return.
It has been a challenging year for South Africans and we all deserve a little downtime this Heritage Day. The good news is that, while we look forward to welcoming back international guests when borders open in October, Capetonians won’t need to compete with crowds of tourists to enjoy their favourite local attractions this year. And for those still cautious of venturing out under the cloud of COVID-19, VoiceMap’s Heritage Day promotion means that they can enjoy a free tour of one of the Mother City’s top attractions, in a fun, safe and socially distanced way.
It’s not just a great story that makes a tour. Tasteful sound design and the right choice of music can go a long way to helping bring your tour to life and further immerse your listener in the journey you’re taking them on.
But knowing where to find the right royalty-free sound or track is not easy if you don’t know where to look. So we’ve put together a list of resources where you can find great sounding, useable and best of all, free material.
Once you have the sounds or music you want, you can email them over to your editor. Our audio editors will edit and mix in the sounds for you.
More than any other city, Paris is an infatuation. It’s even a syndrome for some, who find themselves suffering from anxiety and hallucinations – or even physically sick – when the Paris they arrive in is not the romanticised City of Lights they have come to expect. The City of Lights has reached us from afar, through the imaginations of artists, writers and filmmakers. It’s picture perfect – but only from afar, because Paris is also big, dirty and prosaic like any other metropolis, and it has over 25 million visitors per year queueing outside its landmark attractions.
What Paris do you visit, then, when you take a virtual tour? That’s all anybody can do for now, after all – even Parisians, who are under a strict lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. (It’s scheduled to end halfway through May.) The answer depends on what you mean by “virtual tour”. Do books count? What about Zoom video calls with an experienced guide who is stuck in their apartment, just like you, even if theirs is in Paris? Or does the virtual in “virtual tour” refer to a high-tech simulation of reality, like it does in virtual reality? According to one definition, “something virtual is effective in essence but not in name,” which makes sense, but leaves the door open to virtually anything. (You’ll have to forgive me for that.)
I decided to start with the widest range of options I could uncover online, ready for me to do right now, then I rated the best of them using three criteria that you could just as easily apply to non-virtual tours:
It can feel a little bit like magic when VoiceMap tours point out a revealing detail at exactly the right moment, to show you something you’d normally walk by without a sideways glance. But it’s actually a spell that has been carefully produced by our editors, who help every single one of our publishers with the ins and outs of automatic GPS playback.
That’s why we’re surprised by our data, which suggests that for a surprising number of VoiceMap’s listeners, automatic playback doesn’t matter at all. In fact, over the last 12 months, about 15% of them have started tours more than 100 kilometres from their starting points. And about a quarter have used the VoiceMap app’s Continuous Play feature, which is designed for listeners who might be at home washing the dishes, or on their way to work – or on an aeroplane at the start of a trip.
You might know Berlin as the birthplace of European street art. Or perhaps you’re more familiar with it being described as the startup capital of Europe. But the two actually go hand-in-hand because of something you wouldn’t normally call an asset: empty space.
At the end of the Cold War in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the two sides of the city were reunified at the same time as East and West Germany, the capital had a lot of vacant buildings. (It still does.) Rents were low, especially in the east, and artists, musicians and immigrants moved in, establishing new cultural hubs.
Then, in 1990, the East Side Gallery was established, opening up over a kilometre of the Berlin Wall to street artists. It was still mostly blank on one side because to reach it from East Berlin you had to cross the so-called “death strip”, which was patrolled by dogs and booby-trapped with over 55,000 landmines.
Take, for example, some of our free audio tours, sponsored by tourism boards, attractions, community organisations, and others – along with one exception, which is also free, but was published privately by design.
In the City of Cape Town’s 2008 social housing progress report, it states that at least three sites in Woodstock and Salt River – Pickwick Road, Dillon Lane, and the Salt River Market – will be developed into social housing by 2011. Why haven’t they been completed yet?
Councillor Benedicta van Minnen, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements:
This has been an extremely complicated situation, primarily, as it involves the well-being of existing residents. As you will appreciate, a significant challenge in the precinct is how to deal with the low income, and indigent, households that are presently living in the area, usually in an informal manner. In some instances these households have lived in the area for many years. However, the existence of the informal housing is delaying the possible development of formal, affordable rental opportunities on some sites. This situation is, however, not only happening in this precinct but in other parts of the City’s Transport-Oriented Development corridors, such as in the metro south-east corridor, where the intent is to encourage medium and high density affordable rental developments.
Earlier this year a primary school teacher from Saint John’s school in Puerto Rico used our platform to create a tour with her Grade 6 class. Gabriella Centeno and her Social Studies students published an audio tour of the historic centre of old San Juan. Using their imagination, the students brought the buildings to life. This enabled the structures to share their own stories, regaling passers-by with their rich history and tumultuous pasts.
Gabriella and her colleague, Pilar Álamo, found us while looking for ways to make learning more interactive. They wanted to be able to link historical content with modern media so as to grab their students’ attention. A location-aware audio tour provided the solution.
VoiceMap: Do you see potential for apps and other new technology to engage new audiences in Singapore’s street art?
Jaclynn: Singapore’s street art scene is relatively small and unknown – it’s not what you think of at all when you think about visiting Singapore! But visitors are starting to look beyond our typical tourist attractions, and for the independent traveller who likes discovering new things, apps and new technology like VoiceMap are a perfect fit as they allow users the freedom of choice and self discovery in their travels. This is especially important around the arts, which is a pretty subjective topic and different people engage with it in such varied ways.
VoiceMap: Do you see potential for apps and other new technology to engage new audiences in aspects of New Orleans’ culture and history?
Denise: Without a doubt, I see where recent and emerging technologies are truly offering opportunities to explore New Orleans culture and history in novel ways. I’m a traveler and a writer. For me, nothing beats meeting locals on their own turf when I travel. Their voices, their accents, their stories become part of my travel experience. So, on one hand, I would hope that audio tourists drop those earbuds whenever they have the good fortune to interact with real, in-the-flesh characters; on the other hand, I love wandering around new places on my own, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells. That’s where audio touring is such a boon. The voice of a local whispering in my ear and guiding me along a path is pretty darned enticing.
On 25 September, Charles Dickens’ great great great granddaughter and acclaimed author, Lucinda Hawksley, will launch her own downloadable GPS audio walk of Dickens’ London. Listeners can walk in the beloved author’s footsteps, exploring the neighbourhood where he drew inspiration for his novels, many of which were strongly shaped by his childhood.
The immersive audio experience was created in collaboration with VoiceMap, the international walking tour app that released a theatreland tour by actor Ian McKellen earlier this summer. The Charles Dickens from Furnival’s Inn to Doughty Street audio tour was designed to be done at your own pace at any time of day, but this Sunday, walkers will have an opportunity to meet Ms Hawksley during an open discussion at The Charles Dickens Museum, where the walk finishes. The museum is the only remaining house of Charles Dickens in London, and a 25% discount on admission will be offered after the event.
VoiceMap: Do you see potential for apps and other new technology to engage new audiences in aspects of Portugal’s culture and history?
Julie: Absolutely! I am very excited about this location-aware technology and think it adds a whole new dimension to tours. People who would never take the time to read lengthy descriptions in guide books or brochures can effortlessly learn about the place they are visiting simply by listening to stories in context.
For school teacher and itinerant Third Culture Kid Eleanor Nicolás, creating an audio tour of The Hague helped her reclaim her fragmented childhood. The picture above is of a map at Paris’ Gare du Nord train station, taken before Eleanor relocated to her current home in the Netherlands. The airplane from Schiphol is taking off in the direction of the UK, where her family will settle permanently within a year or so.
When I was a girl, especially when very young, I didn’t think much about where I was. Everything was about the now. That changed as I got older, though I was largely focused on my education at school and university. I gave birth to my daughter when I was 33 in France. It was my 12th international relocation. It was then that a huge wave of unresolved and delayed grief hit me.
This grief is characteristic of high mobility third culture kids, who don’t have the time to process the erasure of their worlds and the disruption of a developing identity. I can only describe it as having long carried a broken heart, and finally letting it break. I heard all these bygone radios from my past. I held my daughter and asked myself if I would give her the same upbringing as I had. When the answer was no, I had to ask myself hard questions about what it was that I hadn’t had. One way I did that was to write down what was coming to me in a personal blog and in my first novel. I’ve just finished the first draft.
I love London. I’ve loved London ever since the first time I visited. I don’t remember exactly when or why that was, but my earliest memory of London was a trip around Buckingham Palace. As someone who lives in a town that isn’t the most exciting place on Earth, London managed to offer me a place where everything was happening. I’m a child of the internet generation and I can remember using dial-up when I was as young as 5, so I’ve always had the ability to access more than I lived with, which drove me to want even more.
I think that day at Buckingham Palace has stuck with me all this time because it was a clear reminder that there is life outside the small circle of my hometown, and London is the hub of a lot of it. Inside, Buckingham Palace really is as stunning as people say it is, and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. I can vividly remember listening to the audio walking tour my Grandma bought me, getting to learn even more details about the ornate carvings and beautiful paintings I was looking at. Social history has fascinated me from a very young age – it comes hand in hand with a love of everything that the Arts has to offer – and getting to explore it in such an aural and practical way amazed me. I didn’t have all too many other memorable trips to London though, until I saw my first West End show, Hairspray, about 8 years ago.
Cities are forever changing and shifting, reflecting new trends in the global village. In most modern cities, the word ‘gentrification’ is either bandied about with a smile or spat out with vehemence, depending on whether you’re moving in or being pushed out. But however you see it, gentrification seems an unavoidable force of modern city living. Traditionally industrial or low-income areas segue into trendy up-and-coming locales, bringing an influx of developers and young residents, eager to find new spaces to fill with organic coffee shops and artisanal bakeries.
Holešovice, Prague, is a prime example of a neighbourhood in the infancy of such a transformation, slowly being reinvented piece by piece. Historically, this was an area of heavy industrial activity, with warehouses, low-cost housing and even a sewage treatment plant. Globalisation and the decentralisation of industry from the city have led to many factories falling into disuse, and a new breed of residents and businesses are moving in.
Audio Producer, Geolocation Enthusiast and VoiceMap Storyteller, Miranda Diboll, provides some insight into her BritPop audio tour of Camden. For her, creating a VoiceMap was a way of reliving an exciting past with an “older pair of eyes”.
VoiceMap: Do you see potential for apps and other new technology to engage new audiences in music from the past?
Miranda: There’s a lot of interest in music from previous decades. Anyone who loves music will tend to look back at the influences of their favourite bands and listen to those influences. Britpop is a case in point — it was very much influenced by the 60s, Northern Soul and Mod. Some people wrongly labelled it as a mod revival which it wasn’t, it was much more diverse than that.
Now people are seeing Britpop as much more than just a music craze or some kind of revival. Twenty years have passed and the music stands the test of time. The 90s was an interesting decade, it was a time of hope and celebration of British culture. For young people at the time, like myself, it was the first time we could see the end of years of Tory government. The internet was just round the corner and so was a Labour government that promised us so much. We had so much hope for music and politics! It didn’t last.
So yes, I think people are keen to engage with the past and a VoiceMap tour is an incredibly immersive way to do that.
When I last visited London, I decided to take a guided tour. Strolling along the banks of the Thames, I came across the famous London Plane Trees. It was September, and they were stunning at that time of year: their bark was peeling off to reveal mottled, grey-green trunks. I stopped. Touched the bark; took out my camera. The tour guide smiled obsequiously: “Come along, plenty to see”. I put my camera away and was herded over to a curio shop. Plane Trees just don’t pay the same commission as mini-Big-Bens.
A great tour guide is irreplaceable, but sometimes you just need to stop and look at the trees. You need to get off the beaten track, and explore the hidden, lesser-known side of a city. Sometimes, you need a tour guide with a pause button.