On a Podcast

Well, it was a rainy, cold, shitty weather weekend, but on Sunday I had a really good time talking to David Thornton for his Luchaskate podcast. I’ll post up a link when it comes out on New Years Day. It was fun being on the “other side” of the process, and just talk and have fun with a good conversation. David is a smart guy – a writer – so he’d done some research and was prepared to talk about freestyle.

Toward the end of the recording session, we talked about bearing spacers. I hope that isn’t too boring. If he cuts it out, I totally understand. I used to think bearing spacers was the most nerdy pet-peeve to be obsessed with. Then I met slalom skaters. I felt better about myself.

2015-12-22 20.27.12Oh, so last week I went to practice freestyle in a parking garage. I skated for less than five minutes and broke my rear kingpin. I had just replaced it back in September. My trucks were really tight. I fixed it yesterday, and changed to a softer bottom bushing and soft risers.

Wish the weather was better. Winter kind of sucks. On the other hand, I enjoy sitting in my warm house and being warm, reading, and getting fat.

Podcasting setup update

I thought this would be a good time to update the info on this site about my podcasting rig.

I’m currently using a Rode Procaster Broadcast Dynamic Vocal Microphone. I’d been wanting to get a really nice mic, and was fortunate enough to meet podcasting magnate Adam Curry at a party last year. Adam recommended the Procaster. I must say — I love it. It gives a nice, rich sound. I use it with a shock mount on a swing arm. So thanks, Adam, for the recommendation.

I’m running the Procaster into an Alesis Multimix 8 USB mixing board, which I frankly am not crazy about. The problem is that the USB out on the mixer does not supply enough volume, and you have to jack the gain and all the levels way up to get enough signal into the computer, which of course sounds like shit.  Luckily, the 2007 Mac Mini I use for editing, and my 2006 13″ Macbook, have a normal audio-in/mic port, so I can go from Main Mix Out of the Mixer into the Audio-In on the computers, and not even use the mixer’s USB port. The good old analog connection supplies plenty of volume with a nice clean signal. No gain noise. No weird hum from the USB port.

When I have people in my little studio for interviews, I use the Audix OM2 Dynamic Vocal Microphone, plugged into the mixer for my guests to use. These are great mics, meant for performance, so they don’t pic up much handing noise. They give a nice rich sound for my guests.

For recording the Freestyle Podcast, I use an application called Audio Hijack Pro to capture my Skype conversation with my partner in England, usually running on the old 2006 Macbook. So the mixer is plugged into that machine. For editing I use Garageband on the Mac Mini, and I also use the Mac Mini for solo podcasting, recording directly into Garageband.

My partner on the Freestyle Podcast uses the Audio Technica AT2020 USB condenser mic. This is a great option for getting into podcasting for a low cost. It’s a fantastic microphone, and a very reasonable price, and since it’s a USB mic you don’t have to worry about mixers and the other expenses.

 

My favorite Podcasts

In no particular order…my favorite podcasts.

I listen to a lot of podcast during my workdays. I like funny ones and also informative ones.

Unless otherwise noted, all of these podcasts will at least occasionally use profanity. Use headphones at work. Actually, there is probably only ONE on the list that is work-safe.

Edit 8/13/2015: Adding the Henry & Heidi podcast, from Henry Rollins. It is mostly just Henry telling stories to his longtime assistant Heidi, but Henry has some good stories. Lots of them.

The Monday Morning Podcast – comedian Bill Burr. Usually Bill and a mic and a recorder. Good.

Pep Talks with the Bitter Buddha – comedian/actor Eddie Pepitone. Love Eddie’s show.

the Nerdist – good podcast – various comedy and nerd topics and guests – by Chris Hardwick.

the Dana Gould Hour – comedian Dana Gould and various guests. Well-produced and thought-out podcast. Dana likes to talk about monster movies.

Point of Inquiry – podcast from the Center for Inquiry, publisher of the Skeptical Inquirer.

Hour of Slack – radio show/podcast from the Church of the Subgenius. Praise “BOB”.

the KunstlerCast – podcast from James Howard Kunstler, who writes about city design, new urbanism, peak oil, and various policy issues.

A Small American City – by Duncan Crary, former producer/interviewer on the Kunstlercast. Duncan’s podcast is about the small city he lives in. He is an expert podcast producer – his show sounds really good. This one is about 99% safe for work. I can’t remember any cursing on it, but I guess it is possible.

The C-Realm Podcast – by KMO. Lots of topics on this podcast. KMO has been podcasting a LOOONG time. Prolific.

 

 

 

Audio Recorders and Podcasting Gear

I don’t usually just post links of stuff to purchase, but here are a few things on massive sale right now that would be good for a podcaster/videographer.

This digital audio is on massive sale, and it a really good one.

 

This is the one I use, the Tascam DR40. It is a fantastic device, as you will see if you look at my podcasting links. Also on HUGE sale at Amazon.

Finally, this is the USB Microphone I use. It is the “old” model, and thus on bigtime sale, but the newer version just has a headphone jack. Other than that, the old one is the same. Great sound for this microphone. Plugs into the computer. Simple.

Podcasting mic issues…

On the Freestyle Podcast, we finally all have good microphones. As I have written before, I have switched to using my Audio-Technica mic, rather than my more complex dynamic mic/preamp/mixer/computer setup.

On the latest episode I ran into an interesting problem. I record in a room in the front of our house. Depending on atmospheric conditions, there can be kind of a low “road drone” noise in that room. The freeway is at least 2 miles away, and you don’t notice it that much just sitting there talking. However, the Audio-Technica is a condenser microphone, and condensers really pic up a lot more ambient sound than the simpler dynamic mics.

So my point is this: on the newest episode the audio from my mic includes this annoying background noise. Sounds like it was recorded in a plane. My voice sounds fine, but that damned noise is there, and my usual trick of using Audacity to remove the noise just didn’t work well. So…I left it in. It isn’t too horrible, but I want the trend to be toward better quality, not worse!

I have procured a few 1′ x 1′ squares of acoustic foam — the stuff they put on the walls of recording studios.  I’m going to line the inside of a box with this foam, and place my microphone inside it, and see if it improves the quality of my audio by screening out ambient noise.

I have also purchased this ART DTI Hum Eliminator, with which I hope to kill the massive buzz from my mic preamps, and use my dynamic microphones again. I may continue to use the USB Audio-Technica mic most of the time if the isolation box works well, but there are situations when I need to use my two Audix OM2 Hypercardioid Dynamic Microphones.

So I’ll be testing the Hum Eliminator this week, and post the results.

On a different but still podcasting-related note, I’ve been checking out a lot of podcasts about podcasting. The best one I’ve found is the Podcaster’s Studio. Really good podcast with very good advice. I recommend it for all podcasters.

Tascam DR-40 Recording Comparisons

PlayPlay

I’m planning a couple of new podcasting projects in which I’ll be interviewing people. My older microphones will work well for this, when combined with my newest acquistion…

tascam2…the TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder. I was looking for an extremely portable solution for getting good quality interview tracks without lugging my laptop around. This device has ports on bottom with which I can attach my two Audix OM2 mics. Without going into too much detail, the device has several recording settings, some of which use only the external mics (rather than the two built-in mics) to create a stereo recording. One mic for me, one for my guest. The Tascam saves all the files as high-quality WAV files. I’ll probably use Audacity to combine the voice tracks into Mono for the podcast.  There’s a built-in preamp, phantom power if you use a condenser microphone, etc, etc, etc.  And man, this thing is simple to use. Very very easy to learn.

It can be a little confusing and frustrating just learning as you go, the way I do. Below are some sample sound files, recorded with various pieces of equipment.

Audio Technica AT2020USB Cardioid Studio Condenser Microphone, samples recorded into Audacity, using a pop-filter (only one mic, even with Stereo recording).

  1. Recorded in Stereo, 16-bit WAV file.
  2. Recorded in Mono, 16-bit WAV file.

Tascam DR-40 Test Samples: I’m extremely impressed by the sound quality from the DR-40. A few notes. I am using Audix OM2 mics for the external microphones. They are not condenser mics. I tend to speak kind of softly, and thus the samples using the external mics sound a bit softer. Really nice sound, but just not as loud. The built-in mics sound fantastic. I’m really surprised that they sound so good. However, when you are using the internal mics, they tend to pick up the sound of your hands moving on the recorder, which is annoying. Not really sure how to get around this…used soft gloves? Are my hands too hard?

So I think that for recording interviews, I’ll probably stick with the idea of using the two external mics, plugged into the DR-40, and just speak a bit louder and bump the input volume up a bit.

  1. Mono,external mic, input volume 70
  2. Mono, internal mics, input volume 70
  3. Stereo, external mics, input volume 70
  4. 4 channel mode – file 1 – the external mics 
  5. 4 channel mode – file 2 – what the internal mics recorded while I was speaking into the external mics. The mics were actually pointed away from me. (in 4 channel mode, the device produces two WAV files).

More internal mic tests…

  1.  Another internal mic test – gets a nice sound, but as mentioned the noise of my hands on the device is very annoying.
  2. Additional Test – input volume 60, about 1.5 feet from my mouth, tight position.
  3. Additional Test – same as above, but mics on wide pattern.
  4. Additional Test – back to tight pattern, device close to mouth. Very good sound quality, but again the noise from handling the device is apparent.

 

Today, in Podcasting News…

I’ve been doing the Freestyle Podcast for almost a year now. I’ve described my podcasting setup before — here.

Then a few months back I wrote this post, describing a few updates and acquisition of a new USB microphone. I was going to just use the new mic for mobile situations.

audiotechWell, last night I recorded the podcast using only the USB microphone, rather than the usual mixing board, preamp, microphone setup. Guess what. It sounded better. A lot better. No annoying buzz from the preamp. No problems getting enough volume to compete with my partners on Skype. The Audio Technica AT2020USB Cardioid Studio Condenser Microphone worked like a charm. It delivered a rich, consistent, great sound.I’m very happy with it. I feel kind of stupid that I’ve been jacking around with the rest of that setup for nearly a year. In this situation, using the USB microphone is not only just as good, but a hell of a lot simpler.

So from now on, for the main recording of that podcast via Skype, I’ll just be using the Audio Technica USB mic.

tascam2I’m planning a couple of new, interview-oriented podcasts. In preparation, I’ve acquired a new digital audio recorder – the  TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder – after consulting with my uncle, who does this stuff for a living.

So far I’m very pleased with it. I’ll be posting more details and some sample sound files this weekend, but let me just state now that the sound quality delivered by this little device is very nice. I think it was a good purchase.

 

Podcasting trick

Since the beginning of the Freestyle Skateboarding Podcast I’ve had a problem.

The podcast is recorded from Skype, using a Mac app called Audio Hijack Pro (see this post for my complete setup).

The problem:  Skype doesn’t allow me to hear my own voice in my headphones. So while I talk to my podcast partners I can hear them well, but really have a hard time telling how loud my own voice is.

The headphones are plugged into my MacBook, of course. My microphone goes into my mixing board.

Solution. I plug earbuds into the mixing board headphone jack, then wear one earbud inside my headphones. I can hear my own voice now and the folks I’m talking to.

Podcasting update

As of episode 4 of the Freestyle Podcast, I feel like I’m getting a better feel for volume levels. I got the levels really nice on Ep. 4, but I had to really spend a lot of time adjusting it in GarageBand. The trick is getting my voice, on my mic and mixing board, and the other guys on Skype, all talking at about the same volume.

But while adjusting the volume took a lot of time, it was worth the effort. Much better sounding podcast.

I also began using a new piece of software on the final edit of the audio file — Levelator. It requires converting the file to WAV format (which I did in Wondershare Converter Pro), then running it through Levelator, which does a nice job of cleaning up the sound, eliminating the spots where it gets way to loud. Actually, it makes the audio sound better all the way around. Read the description. Now, if the levels are REALLY horrible it won’t totally fix it, but it does help for a well-edited audio file.

I also got a USB microphone for recording voiceovers and other solo podcasting stuff. I have been doing the end of the podcast using the built-in mic on my MacBook (I always forget to do it while I have all my stuff set up) which sounds like shit. So I purchased this Audio Technica At2020usb Cardioid Studio Condenser Microphone System with USB.

I did some research and this thing got good reviews. I wanted a mic that is compact enough to take on road trips, but something that will sound good. I’m very happy with this little baby. Just plug into your USB port, turn on GarageBand or other software, and you’re ready to go. It draws power from the USB bus, so no batteries or external power supply needed! It comes with  long USB cable, a nice zippered carrying bad, and this killer little tripod mount, so you don’t have to buy any additional stuff to use it. Lastly, it is very solidly built. Metal body, metal tripod. Really nice little mic. Anyway, I highly recommend this microphone for podcasting, voiceovers, etc., in situations where you don’t need a mixer or multiple microphones.

Podcasting Setup and Process

As I prepare for our recording session for episode 3 of the Freestyle Podcast, I was thinking that a good blog post might be a description of my podcasting setup, and maybe some explanation of the process.

It may seem kind of backwards to be doing an audio-only production on the internet, but audio-only is great! For one thing, like the radio, listeners can enjoy an audio podcast while doing something else. They don’t have to be watching it! I listen to a lot of podcasts every week while I work and I really enjoy them. There are a lot of funny, smart, and interesting people out there doing this stuff.

You don’t need a lot to produce a podcast. Obviously you need a computer, some software for recording and editing the podcast, a microphone (the built-in mic on a computer can work, but isn’t great), and a little knowledge to distribute the podcast.

Technically, simply putting an audio file on the internet is not podcasting. The idea of a podcast is that listeners can subscribe, and their own software will simply download the new material automatically when new material appears. Once you subscribe, the rest is automated.

I use the Mac platform for my home computing, but I will somewhat address the needs of PC users too.

OK, my goals when I began getting my podcast setup purchased were:

  1. To get a reasonably good sound quality using a fairly good microphone, 
  2. Have the ability to have 2 mics in my “studio” for conversations, 
  3. Not spend tons of money 
  4. Be able to interview people in remote locations by phone or internet.

So…

Computer

I am using my 5 year old 13″ MacBook. Any computer with USB ports and a standard 1/8″ audio-in port will work.One nice thing about doing audio-only is that audio doesn’t require quite as bad-ass a computer as HD video requires (at least to do it well).

Software

Editing: I use GarageBand to edit my podcasts. It came on my MacBook, and is inexpensive anyway. I never really used any instructional materials to learn to use GarageBand. It has a pretty good user interface. A free alternative is Audacity, which is available for both Mac and PC platforms. Audacity is good, though I have found it a bit more confusing than GarageBand. One trick for GarageBand: the application defaults to 120 beats per minute, and has a limit as to how many “beats” a track can have, which at the default limits you to importing a little over an hour of audio. If you reset the beats per minute to 60, you double the length of the audio you can import, which should cover most of your needs.

Audio capture: You can, of course, capture audio directly into Garageband from your microphone, but what if you want to capture audio from an internet conversation via an application like Skype? The solution for this, if you are a Mac user, is an inexpensive application called Audio Hijack Pro,which allows you to capture all system audio, and in fact can be directed to capture audio from specific apps. So if you have a Skype session going, you can select Skype as the source of your audio capture. This is what I’m using to capture audio for the Freestyle Podcast, which I then import into GarageBand for editing. I’m not actually sure what you’d use on a PC for this function.

I also use Audio Hijack Pro to capture audio from various web sources like Youtube to use on the podcast.

Audio Conversion: You may occasionally want to convert audio files from one format to another. I use an application called WonderShare, which is better known for video format conversion, but it will also do audio, converting nearly any format to nearly  any other format.

That’s about it for software. Pretty simple.

Microphone and Mixing Board

If you are doing anything involving recording your voice, a good microphone is your greatest tool. If you want to talk to another person right there in the studio, you really want to have a setup that will allow the use of two mics. However, if you only want to use one microphone, here is a nice setup you might start with.

I did a little online research, reading articles like this one, and then went to Guitar Center to shop. They had some nice stuff, and for me it was pretty convenient.

I decided to start with a little more flexible mixing board — one that allows the use of numerous inputs, has some effects, and most importantly, connects to the computer via USB connection. I chose the Alesis MultiMix 8 USB FX. I’ve been very happy with this mixing board. Once plugged into the computer and turned on, it is easy to get all my applications to accept it as the input source.

Rather than spend a lot on a fancy condenser microphone, I purchased 2 Audix OM2 mics. Guitar Center had these on sale for about $50 each. I also got a couple of good mic stands. My one complaint about these stands is that it is hard to get a pop shield (the screen that keeps your hard P sounds from sounding horrible on the audio) to fit very well. I need to work on this a bit. But again, these are $30 mic stands, and they are well-built and heavy. Good stuff.

Now, while working on my first podcast I discovered that I was having trouble  getting enough volume from my mic, through the mixing board, and into the computer. I had to turn the levels on everything all the way up, which resulted in a sound quality for my voice that I wasn’t really happy with. Rather than spending money on an expensive, powered, amplified mic, I got this microphone preamp, also at Guitar Center. It worked really well for podcast #2 — problem solved. Of course, adding the preamp required getting an extra mic cable to hook it all together. I’ll need to get a second preamp at some point, for the other mic.

Headphones

I use headphones while recording, so I can get a good idea of how it really sounds. Also, it prevents my microphone from picking up the slightly delayed version of the conversation coming from the speakers.

A few final words on equipment choice

As you can see, I got 2 mics, a good mixer, and mic stands for around $300. I was prepared to make that much investment, which is not high if you look at the stuff that is available. You can spend as much as you want on this stuff — no real limit. You could absolutely get started with just your software and a cheap USB microphone or your computer’s built in mic, and that might be good for initial experiments, but I really suggest you get a small mixing board and good mic. It makes a huge difference.

If you plan on going “into the field”, you may want to get some kind of digital voice recorder that allows you to record good quality audio and easily import the digital files into your editing software. I haven’t gone this route yet. Likewise, it would be nice to have a more mobile microphone setup, but that is for the future.

The Process

Prior to recording the podcast, I get everything up, make sure I remember the settings for my software, test it all and make sure I’m getting the audio recorded, and test my audio levels.

Regarding audio levels. If you’ve never done this before, audio levels might seem a bit confusing. Here is some very simple advice. Most of your software and equipment will have little meters or gauges that will show the level. In most cases, as the sound volume level gets high, the meter will go into a yellow zone, and then a red zone. Yellow zone means it is somewhat too loud, and will sound a bit shitty. Red means it is really way too loud and will definitely sound like shit. I have had luck with this: I set everything so that it is barely not making it into the yellow during normal conversational volume levels. It should get close to yellow. You want as much volume as you can get without going into the yellow. It should only go there if you really raise your voice, and into red if your really really raise your voice.

So take some quality time before the actual recording to get the levels right. It makes a huge difference.

A few words on editing.

For the Freestyle Podcast, the lads and I actually record over an hour of material from our conversation. Usually about 1.5 hours. I then go through and delete sections that don’t really add to the conversation, are boring, or for some reason we don’t want in there.

Then I do the same thing again.

Then I do it again.

Yes, I chop, then chop, then chop some more. You have to be merciless in the editing process. You can’t be in love with the sound of your own voice. A lot of stuff you might have had a lot of fun talking about simply doesn’t add value to the podcast, and in fact makes it worse. Just like editing an article or a paper. You need to collect material, then only use the best stuff. Kill the rest.

My personal opinion is that 30 minutes is the right length for a podcast. 40-50 is OK, and is where we are on the Freestyle Podcast. I think that because we have 3 people talking, 40-50 minutes works pretty well, but is really, really pushing it. I would like to get them down to no longer than 40 minutes. So even with all my editing, I am still putting up some long podcasts. If you are going over an hour, you need to really reconsider the podcast — split it up, edit more, whatever. Few people are going to listen to the whole thing if it is that long.

Editing audio is time consuming. Unlike video, in which you can zip through and quickly edit something, audio really requires that you listen to the material in real time. This is another reason you don’t want to have a 2 hour podcast.

Format

By format, I don’t mean what kind of audio file you create, but rather this: One person? Two people? Interview? Conversation? Different segments? Give this some thought. A conversation between two or three knowledgeable people can be more interesting than a monologue by one person.

Audio Format

OK – what kind of audio file will you use as the final format of your podcast? MP3? M4A? WAV? From GarageBand, I save my file to the desktop in the M4A format. When I upload it to my account on Podomatic, it gets converted to MP3.

Hosting and distributing your podcast.

You will  need to store your podcast file somewhere so that people can download it. Two popular online services for this are Podomatic.com and LibSyn.com.  I personally use Podomatic, though both are good.  Podomatic.com  gives you a free option to get started with, so you don’t have to buy an account right away.

Podomatic.com gives you some nice features. For one thing, your podcast page on the site has embedded audio players, so people can actually listen to the podcast on your page. It allows listeners to download your show too, and provides links by which listeners can subscribe to your podcast using various services like Google+, iTunes, and My Yahoo! It also allows people to join Podomatic and then leave comments about your podcast. So it really becomes the homepage of your production.

Getting your podcast on the iTunes index is actually very easy. I was surprised. Within two days of submitting it to iTunes it showed up. Here is the process.

OK, well, that’s about it.

Podcasting Articles

Here are a few good articles on intro podcasting equipment. I looked this stuff up while trying to understand what  a mixing board does…

Mixing board, mics, etc.
http://www.jakeludington.com/gadget_envy/20050313_upgrade_your_podcast_for_under_200.html

Recording from the telephone:
http://www.podcastpickle.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=11853

I’ll add to this post as I find stuff.

Web-based video editing application — free — cool

Here’s a story from Salon.com’s techie section, about Flektor, a new web-based video/media editing application (free). Pretty neat. Watch his little movie to really see it work.

http://machinist.salon.com/blog/2007/06/26/flektor/index.html

Thanks to my supercool wife for this link.

Interesting podcasts

If you are interested in skepticism, religion, science, and related issues, you might want to check out the podcasts available as MP3 files from Skeptic Magazine and Point of Inquiry. I’ve been listening to a lot of these lately, and they are really pretty good. Interviews with people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ann Druyan, etc. Good stuff.