The Podcasters : Andrew J. Clark

This is a continuing series in which I will be interviewing many great podcasters to learn about their podcasting setups. While the content is always the most important aspect of a podcast, the technical craft in bringing that content to the listeners also deserves attention. I hope this series will illuminate that critical piece of the puzzle.

Andrew J. Clark is a man and a mystery, a prince and a pauper, a paradox enveloped in an enigma. He also likes the occasional cocktail.

What podcasts do you host?

I’ve hosted 3 podcasts so far. Firstly was I Like This Podcast, an interview show where I’d sit down (in person!) with writers and directors and talk about three pieces of media that influenced their creative career. I did seven episodes. It’s exhausting interviewing people face to face!

Next came The Menu Bar with my platonic life partner Zac Cichy. It’s the bar for nerds that we wish existed. We go there once a week via Skype – drink, chat, and sometimes talk to guests. It’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever done and it’s hard to believe thats it’s nearly a year old.

The third show was a weird little experiment called the Andrew J Cast – a daily podcast in the vein of Shawn Today with a name SO narcissistic that it still makes me laugh. I thought I’d talk about apps and movies, but it ended up becoming a daily philosophical musing. It had a surprisingly good response and I know it really helped some people. Not planned, but still nice.

I’ve actually just relaunched that as Life and Code and Stuff. I’ll be doing that weekly or maybe fortnightly and focusing more on answering listener questions about dealing with life and stuff, and maybe sometimes code. The first episode has gotten a pretty good response, so I’m excited to keep exploring this solo-podcast-life-advice thing.

What’s your physical rig? (Computer, Mic, headphones, etc.)

I do everything on my 2010 15″ MacBook Pro with max ram and a 512GB SSD. Sometimes I think about upgrading, but it’s still fast enough for most things I do.

I record with the Rode Podcaster setup that everyone and their grandmother uses (presuming their grandmother is a tech nerd podcaster). I’ve used the Blue Yeti but I kind of hate that mic. I’ve found it very dependent on good mic technique and having a decent recording space, neither of which I have. The Rode always sounds good.

I use Apple EarPods during the recording and, controversially, in the edit as well. Something you learn in editing video is to never mix sound with great headphones because you hear detail and subtle sounds that will never be heard from a normal sound system. If I can make it sound good on those then I know it will sound good anywhere. Also, I think a majority of listeners probably use EarPods so it’s nice to think we’re all hearing the same thing.

What type of room do you record in?

Well… I’m in something of a pickle there. I’ve moved house recently and every room in this goddamn place is hard wood floors and high ceilings. My solution thus far has been to record in a corner, on a couch, surrounded by pillows and then do a slight EQ against the echo. Truth be told I’m still not happy with how it sounds but I haven’t figured out a better solution yet. I’d love to build a proper studio or convert the garage, but that seems awfully excessive for what is, at this point, a hobby.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

On The Menu Bar we do double-enders (not a sex toy… in this context) so we record our local track using Sound Studio. We also record the call with Ecamm call recorder so we get an additional local recording plus a Skype track. That way if any computer, application, or recording fails, the episode is still salvageable. It’s not fun, particularly if you have more than two people on the call, but it is still possible.

I edit in Logic Pro and I strongly recommend against using Garage Band. I can understand that Logic Pro seems awfully expensive and complex when you’re just starting out, but I think you’re better to bite the bullet and start learning it. Garage Band seems like magic until you want to do anything outside of its fairly limited skill set, in which case you are fucked.

I used to do a lot of filtering and EQing when I was starting out but now I mostly leave it alone. Now I mainly try and get each persons voice into the same “audio space”. Volume and compression is still something I’m getting the hang of and it’s so easy to get wrong or tweak into oblivion. I love the art of editing and am a bit of a perfectionist but hopefully that’s not obvious. If the episodes sound “right,” I’ve done my job.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

All my podcasts so far have used Squarespace to run the site and generate the feed, and the MP3s themselves are hosted on Libsyn. I put the Andrew J Cast entirely on Squarespace but they seem to have some playback issues for shorter shows so I won’t be making that mistake again. I’d love a solution more focused on podcasting but what other option is there? SimpleCast seems great but you’ll still need to build a website. WordPress? What is this, The Middle Ages?!

What’s your basic workflow for recording a podcast and taking it to the published stage?

It’s pretty simple to record an episode. The hard part is scheduling, dealing with Skype, and then slogging through the edit. 5by5 has the editing workflow down to an art but I still take a while getting episodes finished.

In general publishing an episode to Squarespace is very fiddly and is impossible to automate. There are simply too many switches.

Would you like to change anything about your current podcasting setup?

Like Ben said in your first interview there is a lot that currently sucks about podcasting. I think the main problem is that there is friction in all the wrong places. It’s hard to learn how to edit audio, hard to learn mic technique, hard to setup a website and hosting, hard to link to, hard to share – but worst of all it’s hard to subscribe to.

Subscribing to a podcast you only know the name of is an awful experience. It’s technical and is utterly unfun. Click a “subscribe” link on an iPhone and you have no idea where it will take you! The iTunes Store? Maybe Some other podcatcher? Some other RSS reader? That process is a mess and it’s totally daunting for regular people. They don’t even know where to begin. I don’t think podcasting can become truly mainstream until that gets solved.

I think that’s the existential problem facing podcasts today. They have not outgrown their hobbyist origins. It is still stuck in the plane-made-of-bicycle-parts stage of invention. I think thats why things like Stitcher are surprisingly popular. They remove that initial friction and make it easier for people to understand, as much as the geek loathes it on principle.

In general I think people want to join your team. They want you to enrich their lives. To quote Marco Arment: “Podcasts Are Awesome”, so these problems will get solved eventually. Evolution takes time, but things change because they must.