So You Want To Do a Podcast?

PodcastLogoI get this question a lot and I thought that I’d put together a quick introduction of how we do this podcast in hopes that it helps someone else who is interested in taking up the gauntlet.

We do this show on the cheap.  We didn’t have to, but it turned out that all of the equipment or software that we needed or had on hand was free or cheap.  At some point in time, I may upgrade, but for now, it works for our purposes.

A couple of days before we record, we’ll start putting together the next show, usually by the end of the weekend. We record on Wednesdays, which gives me some time to get it edited before it  gets released at 9am on Friday. Each of us will contribute two stories to our “And Now The News” segment and then come up with something for our final segment, which can vary from week to week.  Usually, Tuesday evening, I will produce a complete set of show notes for myself to go off of.  I have a complete file of show notes for each episode, they have complete intros and outros for each show, introductions for the news stories that I’m responsible for and then a series of bullet points of things I want to talk about with each story.  That doesn’t mean I won’t think about other things as the recording is going on, they’re just to help me remember important story elements.  I’ll include a sample of my show notes here.

Since Mike and I live about 2000 miles apart, sitting down together and recording a weekly podcast just isn’t feasible, therefore we use Skype.  It usually has pretty decent sound quality and it’s free.  The only issue we have with quality, and this isn’t something we can really change, is that Mike virtually always records in a hotel room, using a bad hotel wireless signal.  That’s why, occasionally, you can hear a few digital artifacts in his feed. Sometimes his signal just slows down (we watch the Skype feed) and there’s nothing he can do about it.  I correct for it as best I can in post production.  Now we could, if we wanted, each record our own end of the conversation and I could rebuild the feed on my end and this would certainly eliminate such problems, but so far, I don’t think doing it this way has reduced overall quality enough to go through the extra steps.  I record the calls off Skype using a free program called MP3 Skype Recorder which will automatically record all incoming and outgoing Skype activity and save it to a single file.  It’s not the best program I can imagine, just the best one I can find that actually produces usable results I want.  You do need to be careful and make sure the program is actually recording, there have been times that we’ve had to re-do segments of the podcast because it said it was recording, it just didn’t actually save anything.  We were worried because they announced, starting some time in December, that Skype’s API was going to change and make all of these third party recorders obsolete and we’d have to find another solution.  Luckily, Skype rescinded that decision and it looks like, for the foreseeable future, this system will continue to work for us.

As far as recording equipment is concerned, I use a Pyle USB headset and Mike uses a variety of different built-in and USB microphones, I’ll have to get specifics here in the future.  I do have a more expensive microphone, a Blue Yeti Platinum, but I find that I like the headset because the microphone moves when I do and I don’t have to worry about maintaining a constant distance.  Again, I think the quality is good, therefore I don’t worry about it much.  If and when I decide to replace my headset, I may look around for other options.

So, we sit down and record.  We don’t pay much attention to the length of the recording but it is always significantly longer than the finished product.  We usually talk for 1:40-2:00 hours and almost always record in order to make editing easier.  There have been times we’ve had to record segments out of order and trust me, it’s a big pain in the butt.

Once you have recorded your audio, get a copy of Audacity, a powerful freeware sound editing suite.  I’d actually used it in the past for things and was familiar with it, that’s why I gravitated toward it for the podcast.  There are some routine steps that I perform when setting up the raw audio file.  Make sure you have installed an MP3 decoder, one is provided with Audacity, but it is needed to save and load MP3 files.

  1. Load in your raw audio.  For some reason, the Skype recorder records each side of the conversation in either the left or right channel.  It’s not supposed to but my copy refuses to create a single stereo conversation, therefore I have to do it manually.  It’s quite simple, you just split the stereo tracks into two mono tracks, duplicate each track, assign them left and right channels and then recombine them into stereo tracks.  It took me a while to figure it out, if anyone wants to know exactly how to do it, let me know.  Once you have two stereo tracks, one of one person’s side, one of the other’s, save it as an MP3 file, then erase your original and load that MP3.  Before you save it, make sure that you’re saving at 41000 Hz, which is required by most podcast programs.  Now you might ask why I don’t edit the channels individually, but keeping two channels independently and keeping them synced is a general pain in the backside.  It’s easier to just put it together and edit them as a single unit, at least in my experience.
  2. Once you have re-loaded the combined track, listen to a little of it.  If you have any background noise, select a small portion of it and click on a filter called “Noise Removal”.  Use that selected portion as the filter, so Audacity knows what kind of noise it’s supposed to be removing, then select the entire file and let it process the noise out.  Usually, I just pick a bit of silence as the sample, it’s usually not that silent and I can get rid of hiss and clicks easily that way.  It takes between 6-8 minutes to run this filter.
  3. Next, select the entire file and run “Truncate Silence”.  This will remove all long silences and make your podcast tighter.  I use the default settings, but you have to decide what kind of tolerance you want.  Fair warning, this will tend to cut a significant part of your show, I was surprised that, for a 2-hour recording time, it would cut out anywhere from 15-25 minutes of pure dead air.  Your mileage may vary, depending on how much silence is in your show.  It takes 8-10 minutes to run this filter.
  4. Thereafter, you have to go through the entire show, editing out errors, ums, coughs and putting in show bumpers, sound effects, etc.  I have all of the bumpers pre-recorded and I can drop them into place easily.  To do this, I just open a NEW window, load the effect, then copy and paste into the right place. To start, this process will take a very, very long time.  When I first started doing it, it took me 5-6 hours to produce a 1.5 hour finished product.  With time and experience though, it will speed up dramatically.  I can now produce a 1.5 hour podcast in a little over 2 hours, assuming nothing major goes wrong.
  5. Once the podcast is complete, all bumpers are inserted, all gaffes are erased and  you’re happy, there are  two more filters you want to run.  The first is called “Leveler”.  It will adjust the overall volume of your podcast so that some people aren’t whispering and others screaming.  You can also manually adjust some particularly loud or soft portions by using the “Amplify” filter and entering either a positive or a negative value.  Secondly, you want to use the “Normalize” filter, which will balance left and right channels so it sounds right in stereo.  Even though you are creating completely balanced tracks back in step 1, I find that the left channel ends up being a little more quiet for some reason than the right, thus the need for a balance.
  6. Finally, make sure you listen to your podcast.  This is most important while you’re still learning to edit because you will make mistakes.  In one early podcast, I ended up cutting in an entire news story twice and had I not listened to the podcast, I never would have caught it.  As time goes on and you’re more confident of your skills, listening to the entire podcast pre-release isn’t quite as important but I still make sure I listen to portions of it, just to make sure.
  7. The last thing I do is take the saved podcast into a program called MP3Tag, which allows you to attach ID3 tags to your MP3.  This is necessary, especially if you’re using iTunes to distribute your podcast, as iTunes takes a lot of information from your ID3 tags to properly place your show.

Once you have a product that you’re proud of, upload it to your host, I’ll leave that to you to do as there are a lot of different podcast hosts out there.  From there, it’s just advertising and finding an audience.

We use WordPress as the basis for our site and there are a couple of really good podcasting plugins that will allow people to listen directly from your site, or give the option to download to a MP3 player or other device.  We actually have played with two of them and they seem to both be excellent solutions, you just have to pick which one works best for you.  The one we actually use is called Blubrry Powerpress, it’s actually overkill for what we do but we figured it’s best to be too powerful than not powerful enough.  It will do everything you want it to do and as you grow, the ability to change and improve things is already there.  The second that we’ve tried and still have installed is called Seriously Simple Podcasting and it is exactly how it sounds, it’s a simple solution to podcasting, although I don’t think it’s as powerful as the solution we’re using.  Both are free, although Blubrry has a premium version as well that we haven’t seen a need for, but who knows what the future may hold.

Podcasting is a labor of love.  It’s not a way to get rich, it’s not a way to be famous, it’s something you ought to do if you really enjoy doing it.  If you have any specific questions, by all means let me know by e-mailing and I’ll try to help you.

Leave a Reply