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MULTIMEDIA

How To Recording Podcasts

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For several years now, I have produced the weekly Macworld.com podcast. Over time, I have adjusted some of the tools and techniques that I use to do this, but the basic workflow has changed very little.

Gear and location

We typically record from one of two places. One location is the “Podcave”, a studio in the Macworld offices equipped with four Shure SM58 microphones (go.macworld.com/sm58) with pop-filters suspended from Heil HB-1 boom stands (go.macworld.com/hb1), Sony MDR-V6 headphones (go.macworld.com/mdrv6) for each participant, a PreSonus FireStudio Project multichannel audio interface (go.macworlkd.com/presonus), and an iMac running GarageBand to record everything. The other location is my home studio, where I use a vintage AKG 414 microphone along with an Apogee One USB interface (go.macworld.com/one) plugged into my Mac Pro.

AKG 414 microphone

AKG 414 microphone

The locations have in common a measure of isolation and prophylaxis. The office studio is well insulated from outside noise, and we’ve taken various steps to prevent people inside the room from adding unwanted noise. For instance, the table-mounted boom stands are padded at the base to keep tabletop taps from traveling up the stand and getting picked up by the mic. Likewise, cables are strapped well out of the way. And the top-filters are placed far enough from the mic’s business end that it’s nearly impossible for a speaker to be so close to the mic as to overdrive it.

Because my home is in the country, I have little outside noise to deal with other than an occasional rooster crow or horse whinny. A Do Not Disturb sign keeps family members out of the area. I use as many fan less devices as possible. And I have a floor-standing tripod mic-stand equipped with the same kind of pop-filter arrangement as at the Podcave, so I can’t overpower the mic.

Remote recording

Because of my home’s out-of-the-way location, in-studio guests are extremely rare. Instead, I record remote guests over Skype, the free Internet voice messaging application. To do this, I use Ecamm Network’s $20 Call Recorder (go.macworld.com/ecamm). You can reach Call Recorder, when it’s installed, directly within Skype: Open Skype’s preferences, click the Recording option, and create your own recording settings. Once you’ve done so, a small Call Recorder window will appear whenever you launch Skype. To begin recording both sides of the conversation, click Call Recorders’ red Record button.

When you’re done recording, Call Recorder creates a stereo QuickTime movie file: One channel holds your audio track, and the other the contents of the Skype track. Call Recorder comes with a set of tools for splitting and converting the resulting file into separate audio tracks, which you can then drag into GarageBand for editing.

The primary files

QuickTime movie file: One channel holds your audio track, and the other the contents of the Skype track

QuickTime movie file: One channel holds your audio track, and the other the contents of the Skype track

When possible, we don’t use the Skype recording. Skype can be unreliable – cutting out, dropping calls, or producing unattractive audio artifacts at times. And even when it behaves itself, in a multiple-participant podcast, a Skype track leaves you to deal with various voices recorded at volumes that may differ wildly.

Instead, we ask participants to record their parts separately and then upload them to server where I can retrieve them and incorporate them into my GarageBand project. The result (usually) is a clearer recording. But if participants can’t record their side of the conversation, or if guests don’t have time to do more than talk and run, or if something goes wrong at their end, we cross our fingers and fall back on the Skype track.

Cleanup time

One big challenge of using guest-recorded tracks is that you have no control over their gear, their microphone’s gain or the room they record in. The recording levels may look great, and audio may sound fine on the Skype track; but when you receive each participant’s recording, the volume may be too hot or too low, distracting hack-ground noise may intrude, or the guest may have spent the whole podcast drumming on a desk – a habit the mic faithfully picked up.

At one point I tried to fix the worst of these problems by adjusting GarageBand’s controls and effects plug-ins. But the built0in tools can be a little broad in their abilities, and you won’t find a command that tells GarageBand, “Make sure that every track’s level is about the same, even when someone whispers or shouts.”

For really tough edits, you’ll want to switch from GarageBand to Adobe Audition

For really tough edits, you’ll want to switch from GarageBand to Adobe Audition

When I’m faced with a particularly challenging mix, I turn to Adobe’s $349 Adobe Audition CS6 (go.macworld.com/audition). Audition is specifically designed with audio editing and cleanup, not music, in mind. As such, it contains a lot of solid tools that can help make podcasts sound professional.

One command can balance volume among tracks. Removing constant noise is a matter of first sampling the offending sound and then applying and tweaking a filter to exclude it.

If I have to deal with a Skype track that suffers from poor equalization, I have several controls on hand that can help make the track sound more natural. If a participant lacked a pop-fitter and the recording has loads of plosives, Audition gives you a couple of ways to tackle them. In addition, unlike GarageBand, Audition has a ripple-delete feature. Select a portion of the recording that you want to delete, and then impose the ripple-delete command; at once, the problem audio will vanish, and the content following will automatically appear at the spot where you marked the cut. GarageBand requires several steps to do the same thing.

Export business

After cleaning up the recording’s audio, I export the mix as a single mono track. Then I import the track into a new GarageBand Podcast project.

Why not just export from Audition and be done with the job? The reason is simple: enhanced podcasts. The two basic categories of audio podcasts are audio-only and enhanced. In order to make a include graphics and chapters. Chapters enable listeners to skip to the portions of the podcast they wish to listen to.

If you include three topics in your podcast, for example, listeners can easily skip directly to the chapter (topic) that interests them most. For many podcast listeners, chapters are a welcome courtesy.

Most audio-editing applications are clueless about producing enhanced podcasts but fortunately, GarageBand isn’t. Creating an enhanced podcast takes a bit more time, but it’s time well spent.

After adding the chapters, graphics, music, and podcast information, I choose Share ª Send Podcast to iTunes and then export the podcast as a 64-kbps mono file, which delivers good enough sound quality for a spoken-word podcast while also maintaining a reasonable file size. A script in our content management system takes the podcast, prepares it for streaming and downloading from our site, and sends the iTunes Store the information necessary to enable our podcast subscribers to obtain it there.

When I’ve completed all of those steps, I’m generally ready to start planning the next week’s podcast.

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