Thursday, March 22, 2018

Podcasting 101

Podcasting 101:

I'll have to go back an check how long I've been doing audio podcasting. Still it started with me doing a few minutes on my phone and sending it in to What Did You Play This Week as segments somewhere around episode 45 and has grown to regular 10-15 minute segments and a separate hour long 'conversation' show.

Before I start I need to send a thank you out to Gil Hova who is a former sound engineer who edits his own and several other podcasts and gave me a few pointers to get me started.

So how do I do it?

Like most everyone else I use the free Audacity software to do the bulk of my sound editing.  

For purposes of recording my own segments or with guests I use a piece of software called Amolto. This is NOT free but worth it. I use this for two reasons. It 'syncs' with skype and records my calls as they start, it also splits the call into my microphone side and the caller side (everyone on the speakers even if I have multiple callers). If the call quality is good and the recording doesn't need a lot of editing I can often use these files and get things edited quickly.  

For better sound quality we ask everyone on the call to record themselves then send the files to me so I can bring them all into audacity and I can mute dogs in one file or a cough in another, etc. It is important that everyone wear headphones when they record so they only record their voice and keep the volume down on the headphones so sound doesn't 'leak' and get picked up by the recorder.  You can also adjust your gain on your microphone to minimize this.  Everyone should save their files as a WAV or FLAC - these are loss less / uncompressed methods. Yes, they are larger but they will not line up in your audacity if people use different compression methods and you will have an editing nightmare.

Even when guest are recording on their end I run Amolto as a backup recording in case we have a problem with some one's files. This has happens.

If your software doesn't have the option to record in mono I change all the files to mono. It makes the files easier to edit as well as most podcasts are produced in mono.  Also, I tend to listen to podcasts with one ear bud in at work and when they are in stereo with one speaker in one ear and one in the other it sounds weird.




The next step is to run some noise reduction on your files.  I usually run this on each track.  It is helpful to have everyone start with 10 seconds of silence so you have a section of silence to 'grab' as  your baseline.






After all of the all of the files have been inserted and aligned give it a listen. One way to help get things aligned is for everyone say one-two-three and clap, this shows a spike you can find and align the tracks or everyone say their name so they are all on in about the same spot and not over each other. I mute out sections I do not want to hear, cut out segments that do not work, cut and paste fun parts to the end for a 'blooper' reel, etc.  Sometimes I may need to listen several times to make it work.  There are options for listening at high speed just to listen for those errors then you can pause and fix them. 



Once the overall segment is where I want it - I export it as a .WAV file.  At this point I run it through a program called Levelator.  This sort of balances out the highs and lows of conversation and puts everyone at a relatively same volume.  For a single speaker this is not a big deal but for multiple speakers this important to me although it takes a little while in computer time.  You don't want to do this with any of your music or special effects in - you add those later.  This is a simple program - you just drag the exported .WAV file over the Levelator icon on your desktop and it runs and creates a new file with the word "output" added.

I start a new audacity file and import the output .WAV file back in to audacity and then I add my pre-recorded intro and exit music as separate tracks. I use the fade options to make it fade out as the speaking starts.  I do the same when I want to add some music or sound effects during the discussion.  Example of a levelated track with intro with a little overlap below.




When things sound great then I export to an MP3.  I usually use the highest quality settings to keep the sound quality best over file size issues.  You may need to download some additional MP3 converters in addition to the basic audacity program - it should be outlined on their page where to get the codecs. How do the files get sent to the airwaves?  I'll have to leave that question up to our chief at WDYPTW HQ.

My equipment is an old laptop that we were had replaced but still works for skype chats and editing sound files. After recording a while and realizing I liked it I upgraded to a Blue Yeti microphone on a standard floor microphone stand from a guitar store. It just plugs into your USB port and sounds great.  I also have a pop filer but I'm not sold they are necessary.  I've found adjusting my gain to and keeping my mouth close to the mic keeps extraneous noise out and me sounding good.



Interview tips:
I'm a big fan of being prepared.  We do this with google documents.  This also applies to my recording segments. I have a script of what I plan to talk about in a google document that I can share with my guests and/or co-host. The nice thing about documents is we can work on it at the same time and I can edit it during the show if things come up and everyone sees the new format. Seeing the script in advance gives guests an idea of what you might be asking, and sometimes they have said 'hey don't bring that up' which could have been awkward otherwise. I schedule our calls in advance with a calendar item to make sure everyone is on board and this also helps alleviate time zone issue.  Lastly I try to send out a reminder email/text/DM that day just to make sure everyone is ready.  A web cam is not necessary but I find recording with a camera allows for picking up on nods and other cues to keep the conversation flowing.

Final tips:
Just do it.  Record some things, edit some things.  Send them to friends for feedback or even post them.  They don't have to be perfect. Tell people you are new and ask for comments. This blog is the result of several new pod-casters asking me for tips and me deciding to put them in one spot to share.

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