Podcasting Setup 2017

In which I discuss my podcasting setup and how I expect it to change…

I've recently started podcasting. I have two podcasts:

It's been a fun learning curve so I'm going to try and distil what I've learned into this post and also create a snapshot of my current setup.

Equipment

My current podcasting setup during the recording of an episode of Dr Wilko's.

At a basic level you need:

  • A computer
  • A microphone
  • Headphones*

It also helps to have:

  • Pop filter
  • Second computer†

*This is to stop your speakers interfering with your recording.

†This is the quickest way to setup recording 2 streams. One of your mic and one of the stereo mix for the conversation.

Computer

I record in Audacity which is available on Windows, Mac and Linux so you can be pretty varied in your choice of PC as long as it meets the minimum requirements. I alternate between using my laptop (a few years old) or my desktop and both record without issues. I use the same computers for editing with little issue although a newer one would probably encode faster than my current setup. On average it takes about 3-4 minutes to encode 1.5 hours of audio to mp3 with my setup.

A second computer for recording the WASAPI/stereo mix of your voice chat is useful if you regularly have a large number of guests. It also gives you a backup if one of your guests can't record their own mic or has issues.

Microphone

You need a microphone to record your audio. If you are getting into podcasting regularly it is worth picking up a decent entry-level mic. I went with the Blue Yeti USB microphone as I was able to pick it up for around £100 from Amazon. If you are thinking more long term and have more money to spend you can buy an XLR‡ microphone and pre-amp.[1]

With your guests I would suggest they use something better than a basic webcam or headset mic. Although, in a pinch these are fine. In my opinion it is your guests' content that is more important than sound quality. You can also improve some issues with their sound in post (see below).

A pop filter is a cheap way to avoid the harsh sound of plosives. If you don't want to buy one for about £5 you can use fabric to make your own makeshift one.

 ‡This is a standard microphone connector that is supported by most audio hardware.

Software

At the most basic you need:

  • Recording software
  • Voice chat software (if recording over the internet)

You also might want to consider:

  • Extra post-processing software
  • Chapter software

Recording

Audacity is Open Source and free. If you are starting out that is perfect. It's fairly easy to get started with but you will need to setup a few things:

  • Download the LAME mp3 encoder to export to mp3. [2]
  • Setup stereo mix/WASAPI recording if you are recording a voice chat. [3]

The benefit of having your guests record themselves is you get clean tracks that don't overlap. You also don't get the sound artefacts caused by a poor connection during your call. The negative, however, is that editing time is increased as you juggle multiple tracks.

I have also recently found out to my cost that issues can arise when the raw files are moved as a guest lost one of their recordings. To prevent that I recommend exporting as a 32 bit WAV immediately after recording. This is a lossless filetype and so it will be as large as the Audacity project. It's also easier for your guests to upload a single WAV file than a bunch of folders.

Post-Processing

Currently I'm editing in Audacity as well. I'm just going to list a few of my post common editing techniques I use here:

  • Noise reduction: We still haven't bottomed out a recurring noise issue on some of our recordings. Luckily it seems to be a fan or something else that is at a constant pitch so it's easy to remove. The key thing to do in Audacity is to first get the noise profile from a small section of clean noise. Then you select the whole track and apply the noise reduction. Normally I use between 12 to 30dB of reduction with a sensitivity of 24 and 1 smoothing band. Noise reduction is in the Effect menu. [4]
  • Sync-lock tracks: As we record with multiple tracks I normally get guests to call out "1, 2, 3, mark!" at the start of the episode. This the lets me align all the track using the Timeshift tool. After that you can use the Track menu to sync lock tracks. Now the track will stay temporally locked to each other whatever you do. Be aware this means deleting a section of 1 track will delete the same section on all tracks. [5]
  • Ctrl + Alt + K: This keyboard shortcut deletes the selected audio without moving the tracks. Use this to delete audio from one or more tracks but not the others. This works well in conjunction with the sync-lock option above. [6]
  • The Envelope Tool: If you have a loud noise that you want to keep in the final audio file (e.g. laughter) or just if one person is closer to the mic for a few sentences the envelope tool is your friend. With it selected you can adjust the amplitude of the track in multiple locations without affecting the rest of the track. I normally aim to keep the amplitude peaks within +/- 0.5 total amplitude. [7]

I'm sure I'll add more tricks to my repertoire as I continue editing and I'll put them in a future post.

Voice Chat

Currently we are using Discord for our voice chat. The main thing for a voice chat client is it needs to be reliable and at the moment Discord is doing a better job for us than Skype. Other benefits are that it allows us to have listeners on the servers who are muted but can listen to the recording. This might be a way to enable a live chatroom in future for our listeners where they can interact during a recording.

The group text chat feature is also very well put together.

Additional Software

There are a variety of post processing tools specifically for podcasting now. The one I am most likely to try is Hindenburg Journalist which would also replace Audacity. The main draw is the automatic levelling to help ensure the podcast has the same volume from episode to episode. I also want to try Auphonic's free offering which allows up to 2 hours of audio to be processed for free each month.

I want to start adding chapter marks to my podcasts but there doesn't seem to be a good native app for Windows at the moment. There is one for macOS. I have found a set of free Python tools that I intend to test. [8] This is another reason I'm tempted by Hindenburg Journalist as it also offers chapter support.

I've written a short guide on contributing to a podcast for our guests that you can find on the docs page. I will try to keep it up to date as it is a useful tool to pass to new guests prior to recording and as a resource for my readers.

Tom Out!

References:

[1] Podcasters Studio: Podcasting gear, http://thepodcastersstudio.com/gear/

[2] Audacity Tutorial: How To Convert Wav to MPS using LAME, 

[3] Recording Computer Playback on Windows, http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/tutorial_recording_computer_playback_on_windows.html

[4] How to Remove Noise With Audacity, https://www.podfeet.com/blog/recording/how-to-remove-noise-with-audacity/

[5] Using Audacity: Moving Tracks, http://wikieducator.org/Using_Audacity/Moving_tracks

[6] Keyboard Shortcut Reference, http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/keyboard_shortcut_reference.html

[7] The Envelope Tool, http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/envelope_tool.html

[8] Chapters.py, https://bitbucket.org/nicfit/eyed3/src/fbaea04d773383b17a1f585af6b006a8c1b9b1e9/examples/chapters.py