I’m the host of a fun technology podcast called The Impromptu. We’re a six-man operation. When we started it, I had no idea what I was doing and over the course of the last two months, I’ve finally figured out a good way to do it. I wanted to share my methods and some advice with fellow podcasting newbies.
There’s a few great podcasting guides floating around the internet these days, but for those who may care to take a glance at how we do things around here, I’ve written this podcasting workflow just for you. I was inspired by a recent episode of the Mac Power Users podcast in which David and Katie take us in up to our necks in the various subjects that relate to producing a podcast.
Five out of the six of us use Blue Microphones’ Yeti USB condenser mic, and they’re honestly the best you can get for the money. They have a built in audio interface, so there’s no need for an external one or mixer. They just plug in and work- and they sound really great.
Personally, I employ a CAD GXL2200 condenser mic that I’ve had for years and have used for various musical endeavors that hasn’t ever let me down. It’s very sensitive, and in this case, can sound overloaded if you’re too close to the microphone and will produce very undesirable results. However, used with care, it sounds perfectly adequate. It doesn’t compare with a $300 Rode mic, but it does the job. In most cases, anything other than the built in mic is always a step in the right direction. I’m serious- nearly anything is better. This particular condenser is a standard XLR mic, which requires an external device of some sort to make the conversion from analog to digital signal. For this, I have a Yamaha MW10c 6-channel USB mixer that works wonderfully, but there are more compact audio interface available.
Pop filters are incredibly important. So much so that I can almost always instantly tell who isn’t using one when I listen to ours or another podcast. The issue at hand is the way ‘P’, ‘T’, and ‘B’ sounds enter the mic. When you don’t use a pop filter, a huge burst of air hits the sensor at once, sending a, well, POP sound onto the recording. For someone speaking a lot, it’s really really important that you take care of this problem by getting a pop filter. There are ways to deal with these sounds in post-production, but nothing is as true a solution as preventing the problem in the first place.
Pop filters act as air diverters, pushing air away from whatever is on the other side of it, and they’re most effective when placed away from the microphone. I’ve found the optimal distance to be between 6 and 10 inches from the mic. If you’re too close, diverted air still hits the sensor and pops. If you’re really limited on space, there are double pop filters available with back to back screens that will let you get closer to the mic.
Most of us use basic ones. However, some of us still don’t have them, and though it isn’t always terribly noticeable, the occasional pop will need to be adjusted in the the mixing process.
Background noise is perhaps the single most difficult thing to deal with after recording is done. Talking, running fans, or street noise are nearly impossible to deal with if someone is talking while it’s going on. Though noise gates do help (more on that later), if a fan is running audibly while you’re talking, once the noise gate kicks in after you’re done talking, it’s obvious what is happening, and impossible to fully correct.
The only way to guarantee a nice clean sounding show is completely eliminating background noise before you record, and that includes your own headphones and isolating your mic from your desk.
For hearing the conversation, I recommend using earbuds or closed-back, sealed headphones. This way, no sound leaks into the mic, which creates an echo effect that can be tough to edit out. Also, if possible, get a real mic stand and a shock-mount. This will eliminate any vibration that makes its way from your desk to your mic. I use a boom stand that swivels over my desk when I want to use it. They’re pretty cheap, and very worth it when it comes to avoiding noise.
At The Impromptu, we use a number of different software solutions to produce the podcast. We need apps for recording as well as post-production. First and foremost, we use Skype as the basis of our conversation. It’s not perfect, in fact a lot of times it flat-out sucks. But it’s the best solution for group voice chat we’ve found, so we stick with it. Each of us records audio on our own end. This ensures a good quality file even though Skype sounds like a long distance phone call most of the time.
The basic workflow is as follows. Skype facilitates the conversation, audio is recorded on each member’s computer. The resulting recording files are uploaded to a shared folder on Dropbox, which I pull down to my own machine, and are then added to a new project in Logic Express as individual tracks for editing(more on editing in a minute), then bounced to a file which is run through Levelator, coverted to an mp3, and then uploaded for distribution.
For recording purposes, there’s several apps that will work. Quicktime is a great free solution, and works fine for most purposes. A step up from QT, Piezo is really the perfect balance of simplicity, functionality, and cost for podcasting. Piezo allows you to record a number of different inputs, apps, and sources. You can even record an entire Skype call (which is very handy as I’ll explain in a minute). Personally, I use Audio Hijack Pro. It’s fantastic to use and incredibly powerful. I barely scratch the surface of what this app can do. For our purposes, I have it set to record both the Skype call and my own audio into two separate files.
Because we use Dropbox to share our recording files, we need to keep our individual files’ sizes to a minimum. This means we all record our own audio at about 256 kbps. This isn’t optimal. These files are lossy and eventually some quality loss will occur, though it may not be entirely noticeable. In a perfect world with unlimited Dropbox space, we wouldn’t have this issue and could record to uncompressed AIFF. That being said, I welcome any alternate solutions.
When all is said and done, and I bounce the project to a single audio file, I convert it with XLD to a 128 kbps mp3 for upload to our Rackspace server where we host the files.
The Editing Process
So I’ve covered the technical details behind the Impromptu. The next step is putting every audio file into a project in Logic Express, where each track can be tweaked. A six-man show can be quite time-consuming as you can probably imagine. I start up a project with 8 tracks. The first track added is the Skype master track. This lets me line everyone up as quickly as possible when their track is added to the project. We try to start recording at the the same time, so that makes things even easier. I line up the files, trim the beginning chatter and mute the Skype master. Then I can start editing.
The Noise Gate
This is an area I’m still getting better at. It’s tricky to get the noise gate settings just right, and you really have to pay attention as you listen through the show to make sure you set the correct threshold. The trick is to set the noise gate to mute any consistent background hum, but not cut off any words. I start around -25dB and go from there. The typical threshold sweetspot for all six guys is between -25dB and -30dB. Logic has a few presets for the Noise Gate filter, and I usually select the Backing Vocal Gate for each track which seems to work well, and then back off the threshold to -25dB.
Clicks, Taps, Bumps, and Coughs.
The most time-consuming part of all this is editing out the stuff the noise gate won’t catch, but still doesn’t belong in the finished product. I’d love to give the Impromptu guys a hard time for their inability to sit still(seriously though, they aren’t bad), but the reality is that you just can’t expect complete silence for a typically 90 minute show. Fortunately, Logic makes it easy to cut out the distracting noises that come through the mics. I just select the Marquee Tool for the left click tool, and start playing the show. When a noise comes up, you don’t even have to stop the track from playing, just select the offending track region with the tool where you see the blip, and tap the delete key to cut it from the track. Easy as that.
Having six guys can lend itself to several instances per show where we’re talking over each other. I do my best to keep editing to a minimum, but there are appropriate times to trim down to only the person making a point.
It would also be a good time to mention that you make sure that your individual tracks are nice and big on the screen, so you can scan for noises by looking at the tracks as they go by. In the lower right hand corner, you can adjust the zooms, or you can just hold Option with a two finger drag up and down or sideways to adjust respective zoom levels.
Equalization is fairly important. If a decent condenser mic was used to record, you probably won’t have to do much besides some basic adjustment, but if you have a member with a sub-par mic, chances are you’ll have to spend some time making sure his or her track sounds at least similar to the rest of them, as a big difference can be distracting. I usually add just a bit of top end or take a little of the low (which has basically the same effect). If a speaker isn’t using a pop filter and sitting fairly close to their mic, it may behoove you to subtract a little extra low end overall form their track to help take the ‘boom’ out of the ‘pop’s that will inevitably show up.
I also add a bit of compression to each track. The type and amount will vary from person to person. Adding compression can also affect the EQ settings you used, and vice versa, so be sure to pay attention when using these two in combination.
Bouncing, or exporting, to an .aiff file is the next step. I use the mono setting, as stereo is basically worthless since everything is centered. After export, I use a little utility called Levelator which acts as a number of different tools to finalize the file and level everyone out.
These are just a few tricks I’ve learned over the last few months of podcasting. Certain things you just have to get used to. Eventually you’ll get better and it’ll become more natural and you’ll be quicker. The first few episodes took me several hours to finish because I had no idea what I was doing. I was just making everything up as I went, trying to do my best. Now, I can finish an episode in a little over 2 hours (which includes listening through the whole episode).
Thanks for reading. Get at me on Twitter if you have any suggestions or comments.
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Here’s a list of things we use:
Logic (Logic Express is no longer available)