Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Podcasting - How I'm Doing It

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am getting back into podcasting. I used to host two shows for Firehouse.com, Fire Marshal's Corner and Campus Firewatch Radio but now I am now hosting and producing two of my own podcasts, CRR Radio and Campus Firewatch Radio (links below).

Podcasting is definitely seeing a resurgence, and I find it a great way to learn more about the world, a short bit at a time. I know this is my bias, but I like shorter podcasts, about 20 to 30 minutes for a few reasons. It is about the length of an average drive that I'm doing, or if I'm doing a longer one, such as driving into Boston, it gives me the opportunity to listen to several right in a row. It is also the length of a good workout segment!

Recording interviews

In terms of production, I'm doing the interviews over Skype on my Mac and using the app Call Recorder to capture them. It is a pretty simple app and when I am done recording it then splits the conversation into two tracks, one for my end and the other with the caller. This is very important for the editing process.

Production

I'll admit, I cheat when it comes to editing and use Premiere Pro, a video editing application. Why?

Well, I started by using Audacity, a free app that is really good, but I do a lot of video editing and I'm pretty comfortable with Premiere Pro and I found myself stumbling whenever I tried doing editing in Audacity because it was just so slightly different. Yes, I know Premiere Pro is not built for this (Adobe has another sound editing app called Audition), but for me it really does the job.

But I'll bet as I get more experience I'll look back and say "why did I ever do it this way?"

One of the issues with using Skype is there is a slight lag between when I ask a question and the person responds because it is going out over VOIP. In editing, I'm able to tighten it up a bit so the conversation flows a little bit better.

I have also discovered how much, umm, you know, people use what is, umm, called "word whiskers" when, umm, talking, you know? When listening to someone speaking in conversation we tend to filter these out, but when listening to a podcast recording it can, sometimes, be problematic, so I spend the time to remove these as much as I can from the conversation. It can be tricky if the person is speaking fast and the words are all tight together, but I'm getting pretty good at reading the audio waveform to identify where they are and extracting them.

I'm working on getting a better ear for sound levels. All of the research I've been doing says that you should try to have the levels at about -12db, but when I listen back it just doesn't sound right. I'm trying to avoid letting my ears guide me versus using the sound meters, but I'm starting to think I need to really bump it up a bit. I was talking with a friend of mine who has been doing podcasts for years and he said the -12db rule comes from radio, and he tends to run his a little louder, or "hotter."

Getting people to interview is something that I'm finding to be fairly easy (so far!). I use my network, but I'm also thinking as I'm talking to people, "would they make a good interview?" I have a number of interviews in the can, so now I'm working on editing them together into finished shows...it's good to have content ready to go ahead of time instead of scrambling!

Hosting

I looked around at different hosting platforms and landed on Soundcloud, and I have no complaints so far. It is pretty easy and intuitive, and I'm using the free plan for now, which gives me about 180 minutes of hosting. As you bump up against it, you have to remove the older shows, so I'll have to upgrade to the Pro plan at some point. It also gives me basic stats on downloads and how many people stream it.

RSS Feed

An RSS Feed is how you get your podcast listed on platforms such as iTunes. Whenever I post a podcast, it goes into my RSS feed which in turn makes it show up on iTunes and other hosting platforms such as Outcast. This way people can subscribe to the podcasts and get them downloaded automatically to their smartphones.

Stats

iTunes is the big daddy of podcast hosting, but unfortunately they don't give you a lot of stats on how your show is doing. I use a third-party service called Podtrac to get some stats aggregated from iTunes and Soundcloud, but admittedly it is pretty bare-bones info.

So, take a listen, let me know what you think, I'd love to hear your comments!





Episode 2: Sound

As important as you might think video is, sound is really a bigger part of your production. People are more willing to put up with poor video than they are with poor video. Watch this video to see more about capturing good quality sound.




There are a number of different YouTube videos that cover the idea of sound that I have put together in a playlist. Know of some others? Let me know in the comments box below!

Playlist of everything (well, almost) you want to know about sound

Equipment List

This is a list of the sound equipment I use. This is not an endorsement of any of it and I haven't received any free equipment, payment from the manufacturers, etc. (darn).  I picked this equipment after some online research and talking with my local camera shop.

And, I'll freely admit, I'm not an expert on this, and I'm learning what works and what doesn't by trial and error. And I still have a lot to learn about all of the features and how to get everything to play together.

  • Sound Recorders
    • Zoom H1  This is a a great, simple recorder that I use a lot. It has a 1/8" jack for the lavalier or Rode shotgun microphone, it doesn't have a lot of complicated functions, it just does what it has to do.  It is made of plastic, so, don't expect it to take a beating. I've already had to use some super glue on it. It's small, fits inside a pocket easily, and is my "go to" recorder.  About $100.
      Zoom H1
    • Zoom H4n  This is the big brother to the H1 and it has a ton more features (many of which I really don't know how to do yet). This is one beefy, metal-encased unit, designed to work in the field.  From what I am reading and hearing, this is pretty much an industry standard.  You can have multiple inputs into it, 1/8", XLR and the on-board microphones themselves.  About $260.
      Zoom H4N

      XLR are the more professional microphones, and I'm not there yet (those are the two big cables you see at the bottom of the H4N in the picture above).
      Rode VideoMic

      In case you are wondering why I have two recorders, the simple reason is for redundancy. If one dies, I have a backup. I really use the H1 most of the time because it is just so darn simple to use. I have to get better at the H4, though.
  • Microphones
  • Rode VideoMic Pro
    • Rode VideoMic Shotgun  This is a pretty good microphone. I say pretty good because it looks like the Rode VideoMic Pro might have been a better one to go with because it is easier to change some of the settings on the Pro. On the non-pro version, you have to open the battery compartment and try to reach some impossible-to-reach dip switches...what a dumb design. Here's a review by Caleb Pike from DSLR Video Shooter that I wish I had seen first.

      What I do like about the VideoMic is that it has the 1/8" connector which means it can plug into the camera or into the H1 or H4N. I use it a lot on the camera to capture sound for my scratch track. What's a scratch track? It's not sound that I'm going to use on the final product, but let's me easily sync up the sound file from the external recorder with the video. As I mentioned in the video above, recording sound on the camera really doesn't work well because a camera is designed to...well, it's not designed to record sound.

      It is has a 3/8" thread on the bottom that you can easily screw into a boom pole or, in my case, I use a monopod as a boom pole. You can also remove the head of a tripod and screw it on there, which I have done on occasion as an alternative.
    • Lavalier  I have two lavalier microphones (redundancy) and I really don't remember what ones I bought. However, I am learning that there really is a lot of difference in terms of quality and compatibility that I need to learn more about. I thought, "hey, 1/8" tip is pretty standard...it'll work on anything!"  Wrong. I have to play games between the H1 and H4N sometimes to get them to work consistently. Duh.
  • Cables  This is another area that I am learning as I go. Quality matters. I bought a cable extender for the 1/8" and I was having a heck of a time chasing down the buzz that I was getting on the recorder. Finally turned out to be a bad (cheap) cable. Test what you buy right away and if it doesn't work, return it ASAP and try something else.