brian on 2007.09.25
at 09:46 pm
This October will be my first anniversary in podcasting. I’ve learned a lot in that time, and still have plenty to learn I’m sure. Podcasting is still a young endeavor, but I’m happy to find more and more quality podcasts daily. I’m happy to see so many new faces in the game. But, there’s a learning curve in podcasting. I offer this post as assistance to those who are just getting started. These are the things I’ve found most valuable about getting good audio fidelity, which is so important, in my opinion, to keeping listeners.
Bonus Tip #–1 – If there’s a PodCamp near you, regardless of your experience, go to it! They’re phenomenally useful! What a great place to start.
Bonus Tip #0 – buy a Mac. Don’t think you like Macs? Hear me out. The software the comes inside makes podcasting significantly easier. GarageBand is a great piece of entry-level software that no other piece of podcasting software matches when it comes to ease of use, and cheap power. If you use a PC, Audacity will probably be your free weapon of choice, and it’s powerful, but damn hard to use. However, Mac or PC, if you need a application to split stereo tracks into two separate files, Audacity is the only app I know which does this. Apple’s cheapest Mac is the Mac mini which is plenty powerful enough to do everything you need. As with any type of editing (video, audio, photo) more RAM is always better. An iMac or MacBook would also make awesome podcast rigs. Plug a USB mic in, like the Blue Snowball, or the dreamy Røde Podcaster, and you’re set for instant one-track recording.
Tip #1 – learn how to speak into a microphone. Sounds stupid, but what you may not realize is that there’s technique here, that varies from mic to mic! Many microphones need to be address from only a couple inches away. Your mic should include documentation on how to “address” it, and there is a sweet spot. Also not all mics make all voices sound great. You may have to experiment. May I suggested not speaking directly into the mic, straight on, Instead, address it at a 30-45 degree angle. This is to reduce “plosives” the big bangs and pops of various consonants like “B” and “P.” If you’re blowing your air past the mic instead of directly into it, you can greatly reduce these without buying mic accessories. Oh, and don’t tap or bump the table your mic is on!
Tip #2 – Most mics are designed for only one person to address them. If you have multiple people, you’ll need multiple mics. A Mac should be able to handle multiple USB mics, but I’d be surprised to see it operating three simultaneously. Otherwise, if you’re going to do a lot of podcasting with multiple people in person – you’ll want to look into professional style mics with XLR connections, and a mixing console to plug into your computer. When we need to use multiple mics, we use the Alesis Multimix 8 Firewire mixer, which allows us up to 4 XLR inputs, and 8 channels total. By the way, these tips are obviously for non-mobile podcasting.
Tip #3 – Audio Compression. When you think of “compression” and podcasting you may first think that MP3 is a “compressed” music file. When you record anything you’re going to edit, you should record in an uncompressed, or “lossless” format, like .WAV and .AIFF. Then when all your editing is complete, then compress the out put. It will lead to a noticeable improvement in audio quality of your final product. However, there’s another kind of “compression” in the audio world – “audio level compression.“ This allows you to take quiet voices and loud voices and equal them out. If you’ve ever cranked up the volume to hear someone who was quiet, then cringed when another speaker came on which was really loud? Compression would have fixed this. In GarageBand, you’ll find compression is a per track effect option, play with it to find the optimal setting. You can also set compression on the master track, which will help balance musical versus vocal passages, which are another common trouble spot. Adjust each individual track’s volume first, then apply compression to iron out the overall dynamics.
Another option for compression is a cool, free little automatic app called Levelator. It only works with uncompressed audio, so if you record in compressed formats, as I’ve recommended against, you might add several steps your production to gain automatic compression. I use this myself. The website describes the app as “It’s not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three.” Just drag your audio on and the rest is entirely automatic.
Finally, here’s my work flow – most everything we make into a podcast is recorded in WAV format on a pro-level mobile deck (Marantz PMD660 with XLR mics), edit the ums, and ahs, etc with Rogue Amoeba’s Fission app (lossless editor), run the audio through Levelator to see if it helps, then drop the audio into GarageBand for arrangement and audio effects, and export from there to MP3. Sometimes I use Bias SoundSoap to get ride of annoying background sounds if necessary. Once I’ve added podcast art and ID3 tags in iTunes, I upload the audio file to our server with Panic’s Transmit. From there I use the WordPress plugin “podPress“ to publish the podcast on our blog and it also pings the iTunes Podcast Directory. I hope to get us listed in other podcasting directories shortly.
When we do remote interviews, we try to use Skype with Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro to record the two sides of the conversation on to stereo tracks. If I need to clean one side of the podcast and not the other, I first edit the file in Fission. Then, I seperate the stereo tracks in Audacity, clean one side with SoundSoap, then recombine them in Audacity. I later mix the track down to mono, because conversations sound weird with wide-seperation stereo.
So these are my big three (ehem, five?) tips for beginners. They’re certainly not exhaustive, but they should give you some basics to start with an investigate further. Have a listen to our podcasts and let me know what you think! Good luck, and send me a link to your masterpiece!
BTW – this post was inspired by a little advice I passed along to a few new podcasters across the pond, best of luck chaps!
Posted in: Apple · Hardware · Media · Podcasting · Software · Technology · Web
Ken Ivey said on 2007.11.07 at 12:06 pm
Thanks for this most informative post. I don’t have a Mac, but you’ve just about sold me!
Great ideas & thanks for the step-by-step instructions. I just bought Adobe Soundbooth (bundled) – do you have any experience with it?
Thanks – Ken
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