How I podcast

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I’ve had a lot of people asking me about podcasting recently.  Not surprising given how much podcasting I do these days.  I mean, I’ve got the Functional Nerds with John Anealio, the SFSignal podcast and the producer gig for Mur Lafferty on I Should Be Writing – that’s a lot of gravitas under my belt.

So, I thought it might be nice to do a little post here and talk about the various programs and whatnotall that I use – give you a sense of what goes into producing a typical podcast.

Skype

Skype: Click for a Larger View

First up is Skype – a free VoIP program.  VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol which is a fancy way of saying – we talk computer to computer over the Internet.

Skype is free to download and install, and free if you’re talking computer to computer or, as they say – Skype to Skype.  You can also do conference calls with up to like 20 people I think (could be more)- I’ve never pushed that to the limit. For podcasting, six is probably the max you want, any more than that and everyone is talking over each other and it becomes difficult for the listener to pick out individual voices (my opinion).

Now Skype can also do video calls and if you had the right software, I’m sure you could record that.  However, video conferencing has only just recently been released for Windows and not for Mac – since I use a Mac, I have not played with that feature yet.

Skype can also call ‘regular phones’ (so, land lines, cell phones – any phone number, really) but that costs extra.  Depending on the plan you choose, it could cost you anywhere from $0.023 cents per minute on the pay as you go plan or $3 a month for the US & Canada, $8 for ‘Unlimited North America’ or $14 for ‘Unlimited World’ which includes 40+ countries.  So, there’s a lot of flexibility there.

Since we do a lot of author interviews and not all of them are tech saavy or have the equipment to do a Skype call (headset, mic), I do pay for one of the monthly plans so I can call people up.

Skype is available for both Windows and Mac but the Mac side, I feel, doesn’t get a lot of love and new releases tend to come out for Windows first.

WireTap

WireTap: Click for a Larger View

Now, Skype is only the first piece of the podcasting puzzle.  With Skype, you can call and talk to people, but you can’t record those calls.  It would be a nice feature add for them, but I don’t see them doing that anytime soon SO, I had to go out and find something that could record Skype calls.

What I found is a little application called WireTap.

WireTap is a little program with a big kick.  It takes up practically no space on my screen, is always ‘on top’, and can record sound from any application running.  It is Mac only – sorry Windows people.  No WireTap for you…

I use it to record both Skype and my own mic – essentially putting the two input sources on separate tracks.  I can adjust those tracks as needed, boosting the audio, removing background noise, etc.  WireTap has a decent set of tools for editing sound files you record, which it keeps in a library.

Here’s what the completed audio file looks like, at which point I can edit – whatever I need to do.  Notice one track is gray, the other a pale blue:

Click for a larger view

I can change formats (Wave, MP3, AAC & a slew of others), make cuts and add effects:

Click for a larger view

Because some folks voices come through louder, or quieter, than others, I could spend a lot of time futzing with the audio to try and get everyone up or down to the same level, or I could be smart and go out and look for something that will do that for me – enter Levelator.

Levelator

Click for a larger view

This free program (donations are encouraged), was created by podcasters for podcasters.  Levelator is offered on the Conversation Network website, is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux, and is the simplest yet most powerful tool a podcast can have in their arsenal (again, my opinion).

In the early days of the Functional Nerds podcast, I noted that John Anealio’s baritone voice would often drown out my voice.  I would spend a lot of time trying to boost my audio or lower his.  It was a pain in the ass and would take me hours of playing around with various audio tools, settings, equalizers and the like to get it in the ballpark of where I wanted it to be.  Add a guest and it was worse.

So, I went looking for something that could help me out.  That’s when I found Levelator.

From the website: The Levelator®…is software that runs on Windows, OS X (universal binary), or Linux (Ubuntu) that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast or other audio file for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It’s not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It’s much more than those tools, and it’s much simpler to use. The UI is dirt-simple: Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler’s application window, and a few moments later you’ll find a new version which just sounds better.

And, it really is that simple.  I export all my recorded files from WireTap as WAV files, then I drop them onto Levelator and let it do it’s thing.  The file it creates has all the voices balanced out at the same level.  It takes from five to fifteen minutes depending on the size of your file and cuts a massive amount of time off of my editing time.

GarageBand

I never would have started podcasting if Apple hadn’t made it easy by creating a piece of software called GarageBand.  Sorry again Windows folks, GarageBand is part of iLife and is Mac only.

When I first started podcasting under ATFMB, I would record directly into GarageBand from my mic.  All the editing, sound effects, clips, music, etc was all done inside of GarageBand and it really was pretty simple.  You just had to click the ‘podcast’ button.

Click for a larger view

Things have changed a bit – I use a lot of other pieces of software to record the podcast, but I still use GarageBand to put all the pieces together into a single file.

For a simple enough piece of software to use, Garageband really does have a lot of features and tools – most of which I never use.  I have a template setup for both Functional Nerds and SF Signal and all I have to do is drag and drop the WAV files onto the appropriate tracks.

Click for a larger view

I keep notes when I’m recording, noting time stamps, when something happened that needs to be edited out, when we officially started, ended, etc.  I can quickly jump to those points in the recording and do whatever editing I need to do.  The artwork is already part of the template so I don’t have to change that every time, but I do have to change the text associated with the podcast (this is what shows up when you play the podcast inside of iTunes or on your iPhone / iPod).

“Hey, ATFMB? What about all that music and stuff you put in?”

One very cool feature is that GarageBand is made by Apple, therefor it talks to other Apple software like, for instance, iTunes:

Click here for a larger view

I created a couple of iTunes playlists long ago; one for all of John Anealio’s music that I’ve purchased or downloaded (depending on how he offers the tunes) – this way I can always add a little something of John’s to the end of the podcast.  I have a second playlist called ‘Podcast clips’ – this is where I put all the little TARDIS, BSG Cylon sound bites and whatever else I need.  From the side panel, I can just drag and drop them onto a track and then edit as needed.

Pretty slick.

Amadeus Pro

Amadeus Pro does what GarageBand does only a little differently.  I use it for the I Should Be Writing podcast because it’s what Mur uses and prefers, which is fine with me.  It’s a new piece of software to learn and play with, which is always cool (well, mostly – I mean, MS Project wasn’t fun at all to learn… but that’s a different story altogether…)

Click for a larger view

Amadeus Pro, another Mac only program, is offered on the HairerSoft website for $45.  It’s plugged as a ‘powerful multitrack audio editor supporting a variety of formats including MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, Apple Lossless, AIFF, Wave and many others’ and it’s not wrong – the software has a massive amount of built in tools to help you get the best out of your recordings.

I find myself using the Fade IN / Fade Out, Normalize (Very similar to what Levelator does) and Silence Generator a lot.

Click for a larger view

Just like with GarageBand, you can drag and drop audio files, creating new tracks that you can move, edit and manipulate as needed.  You can zoom way in or way out depending on what you’re doing and what you need.

I fully admit that I have not explored everything that this software can do.  Yet.  Each week I learn something new, some new trick or an easier way of doing something and then I slap my head and say, “Why didn’t you think of that before?!”

I haven’t decided yet to standardize on either Amadeus Pro or GarageBand – yet.  Both have their pros and cons so, for now, I use both.

Equipment

Okay – so, the last piece to the whole puzzle is the equipment I use.

I bought the Alesis Podcast Kit from Amazon; it included a very nice USB mic with stand and a set of nice headphones.  I added to that a pop filter – this is a filter between you and the mic that protects the mic from your spit, and cuts down on popping noises that can happen when you say certain words.

My Podcasting Mic & Headphones

The Pop Filter

The Future

Part of my plan for the future is a mic boom.

A Microphone Boom

With one of these either mounted to the wall or clamped to the desk, I could get my USB mic and it’s very long cord, off the desktop and away.  When I am recording, I simply pull the mic to me and do my thang – when I’m not, I push it back and out of the way.

Haven’t decided on which boom mic to get just yet – I wish there were a way to find one locally that I could take a look at.  I’ve been to some music stores but they don’t carry this style.  Eventually I’ll just have to take the leap of faith and order one from Amazon, see how it goes.

Well, that’s it – there’s my podcasting 101 tutorial.  Hope this helps answer the questions some of you have been asking me in person and on twitter.

~P

4 comments for “How I podcast

  1. November 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Audacity (another audio editing proggie) also has a normalize/leveling filter. Back before I got a Blue Snowball mic, I’d get a noticeable amount of hiss — not overwhelming, but noticeable — and there’s an Audacity filter to remove that as well. I’m moving over to GarageBand since I finally figured out how to do a couple of things that seemed obvious in Audacity before.

    The pop filter, I’m guessing, wasn’t part of the podcast kit, right? I’ve seen & heard of several homebrew ones, including a used nylon stocking over the mic.

    • Patrick Hester
      November 8, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      Nope – the filter was separate. Yeah, there’s not much to the filter itself but it’s worth the price IMHO for the clamp/mounting gear and bendy frame thingie…

      ~P

  2. Ace
    November 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I don’t podcast but I’ve acted in a large number of podcast audiodramas. I’m one of those who uses a homebrew pop filter made from a wire hanger and one of my wife’s old nylon stockings. Works out pretty well for me.

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