The Podcasters: James Smith

This is a continuing series in which I interview 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.

James Smith is podcast producer and sometimes host, who has a deep knowledge of the technical aspects behind making a quality podcast.

What podcasts do you host?

Currently producing The Verse podcast which is hosted by Justin Gibson with regular crew members James Griffiths and Alec Fraser. I also occasionally appear on the show. We also just recently joined Fiat Lux, the podcasting syndicate headed up by Ben Alexander

The Verse is a weekly podcast where we discuss an episode from the Whedonverse. It pretty much means anything attached to Joss Whedon is fair game. Right now we’re working our way chronologically through everything which means were just passing through season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We’ve actually mapped it out and if we keep putting out one episode a week, we’ll be going for about 8 years.

Though we haven’t put out an episode in like a year, I’d like to ressurect my first podcast, hosted with Griff, called Twobiquity. It was just a show where we could catch up and chat about what we’d done in the last week including TV, movies, music, you name it, we’d cover it.

The final podcast is Unbiquity, which is outtakes from both of those shows. Sometimes the outtakes are better than the actual show.

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

So I use my MacBook Pro with retina display for all aspects of the show. It’s a beast maxed out with 16GB of RAM and a 768GB SSD. Once a show has been edited, I usually transfer it off to a Drobo FS that’s sitting on my network at home.

In terms of recording equipment, I’m using a Samson C01U which was given to me as a gift a couple of years ago. It’s a decent mic and does the job. It used to be on a static arm, but I managed to rig it up to an Ikea TERTIAL Work Lamp and use it as a boom. It’s noisy if you move it during recording but I generally set it and I’m golden for the episode

I’ve had my Sony MDR-V6 Headphones for about 6 years now and they’re still as good as when I bought them. They’re a great set of headphones and are only about $100.

What type of room do you record in?

I just record in the third bedroom in the house which we’re using as a study. It’s nothing special but there is carpet on the floor which helps to mitigate some of the echo.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

I’m using Logic Pro X to record and edit the show. We use the double-ender technique where each person records their audio locally and then we sync it via Dropbox. If I’m on the show too, I’ll record a local sync track using Audio Hijack Pro so that I can match up all the audio files a bit easier when it comes to editing. I know a lot of people like to use Skype Call Recorder but there have been way too many times when people have lost entire podcasts because it was being used as the only recording method.

Shush is also a great little Mac app which lets you assign push-to-talk or push-to-silence to a function key. iZotope RX 3 plugin works amazingly well in Logic and the Dialogue Denoiser is a lifesaver. I’ll also use iTunes to convert to Bounced AIFF from Logic to a HE-AAC (tiny file size and no discernible reduction in quality) file for the final upload.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

Squarespace – who doesn’t. Feedpress handles the feed – need to do this if you want to move hosts, etc.

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

It’s slightly different depending on whether or not I’m on the call. As said above we use the double-ender recording technique. It’s longer to edit because of syncing the files initially, making sure that they don’t drift, and uploading, etc. But better quality and doesn’t rely upon the Skype Gods as much.

If I’m recording with the gang, I’ll also use this nifty Logic workflow to add markers to the episode for easier editing.

Each co-host has a Dropbox folder that’s synced with me where they drop their uncompressed AIFFs of the recording. If I’m not on, someone else will also record a sync track.

In order to keep in touch, we’ve switched from private messaging in and over to Slack for internal comms. Let me just say this, it works brilliantly and if you’re not using it, you should be.

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

I’m pretty happy with everything at the moment. The only thing that I’d probably upgrade would be my mic. I hear good things about the Rode Podcaster.


The Podcasters : Sean Chin

This is a continuing series in which I interview 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.

Sean Chin is an up and coming podcaster from Toronto, Canada, who is deep into the music and pop culture scene.

What podcasts do you host?

Hello Linus! Thank you for having me in this fantastic podcasting series.

I currently host and produce the Capsule Podcast on Live in Limbo. This show is all about music, film, and pop-culture. I like to think of it as an audio extension of the photo and text-based website. The publication is now five years old and I thought it would be a good time to spice things up. Since starting Capsule at the beginning of 2014, we have been fortunate enough to talk with some phenomenal musicians and artists thus far. And can’t wait to feature more! Right now, we are attempting to put out two episodes per week.

In the past, I co-hosted a campus radio show called Detuned Radio. This show lasted for a good three years. While it obviously was not a podcast, I feel that it gave me a relatively solid foundation of how to present my self “on air” as we like to say. I also got to learn some really interesting things, such as mic technique, how to operate a mixer, and conduct interviews.

In the future, I would actually like to take part in a whole bunch of podcasts. As you may have noticed, there are a lot of topics that I’m interested in.

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

I currently do all of my work on a mid-2010 MacBook Pro hooked up to a Dell Ultrasharp U2412m. My MBP has 8GB of RAM, which is seriously not enough for what I do anymore.

My sword errm…mic is an Electro-Voice RE20. It is incredibly overkill for podcasting. But it is also a radio broadcasting industry standard. I learned about this mic from my time in radio and luckily got a sweet deal on it. It is also the same mic that Radiohead front man Thom Yorke enjoys using for studio vocals. The EV RE20 is mounted on Rode PSA-1 arm, which is really smooth and flexible. Even though the RE20 has some built in pop filters, I still suited it up with an foam windscreen. And to add protection from vibration, I have an Electrovoice 309A shock mount.

The audio interface between my MBP and RE20 is a Zoom H6. This is brand new product that can host up to six XLR inputs and has physical gain knobs. It’s powerful yet incredibly compact. This is useful for doing shows and interviews on the road versus carrying a giant mixer.

The headsets I monitor with are the Audio-Technica ATH-A900X. They are very comfortable and neutral sounding. It’s great for listening to music and editing my podcasts.

What type of room do you record in?

I record in a medium sized room/studio in my house. There are two windows and hard wood flooring, which probably doesn’t help enhance the sound quality. There isn’t too much echo or other random noises that would ruin my recordings. But I know that I should probably add some sound proofing material on the walls.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

Currently, I use Skype for connecting with guests and have Ecamm’s Call Recorder running in the background. I record my own end and then edit in Logic Pro X . I take show notes afterwards on Byword for Mac in dark mode.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

I am hosting all episodes of Capsule on the 400mb plan from Libsyn. It’s pretty good so far. It’s reliable and fast. I really like the statistics that package provides as well.

From there, I created a custom category RSS feed on Live in Limbo’s WordPress CMS using the PowerPress plugin. And then that RSS feed is read by iTunes, Instacast and other podcatchers.

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

Oh boy, where do I begin? I guess it all starts off with a topic or theme of each episode of Capsule. If we have a special guest, then we base the discussion around their thoughts, industry insights, and their new music or project.

From there, my co-host Andreas Babiolakis and I do quite a bit of research before the podcast session. We like to ask questions that artists have not really been asked before to keep things fresh and interesting.

We typically record on Wednesday nights or Saturday mornings. But a lot of time this is flaky, because it ultimately depends on when our musical guest is available. And you know how those types are.

We start recording about fifteen to twenty minutes prior to the scheduled time, just to make sure that everything is running smoothly.

I get asked this a lot. But I never ask our guests to record their own end of the podcast session. In my opinion, it puts too much friction on their part. And they are taking time out of their already busy schedules. So, I am very grateful for that as is. Can you imagine asking David Bowie to record his side of the conversation in GarargeBand?

After the recording is finished. I split the .MOV file made from Skype Call Recorder and then convert it to an .AIFF file. Then, I import that into Logic Pro X with my pre-made template and add my own track. The template I have has separate tracks for me, the co-host, the guest, and bumper music.

When the entire episode is edited, I save it as .AIFF file for archival purposes. And then create a 128kbps stereo .MP3 file in iTunes. Lately, I’ve been uploading this .MP3 file to Auphonic, which does a really awesome job at applying adaptive limiting, compression, and noise reduction (AKA I’m too lazy to do it myself). After downloading this normalized file, I add metadata to it with ID3 Editor.

This “master” 128kbps .MP3 file is then uploaded to Libsyn, which I then insert into a new post on Live in Limbo, along with a graphic and show notes. Podcatchers will capture that RSS feed and disseminate it.

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

As a digital photographer, website runner and now podcast producer, my old but trusty MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM just isn’t really cutting it anymore. Even with Mavericks.

I would love to get a 6-core 3.5 GHz Mac Pro with 64GB of RAM. That is definitely overkill. But I also use it for heavy duty tasks such as editing RAW files in Photoshop and HD footage in Final Cut Pro X.

While the Zoom H6 is great for recording multi-tracks. I found this really neat mixer called the Presonus 16.0.2, and it connects to your Mac via FireWire (or Thunderbolt adapter) and can record multi-tracks. And it has enough inputs to allow you to do a “mix minus” for telephone call interviews with a Telos HX2 Hybrid. It’s a hobby, but I love it.

If you’ve found me interesting, please feel free to follow me on Twitter @SeanChin and my personal blog.

The Podcasters : Erik Hess

This is a continuing series in which I interview 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.

Erik Hess is a man of many talents, from podcasting to web design to flying fighter jets. Yes, fighter jets.

What podcasts do you host?

I co-host Technical Difficulties with Gabe Weatherhead. Before that, I helped Gabe co-host the second half of his previous show, Generational.

We release an episode of Technical Difficulties once a week. One episode per month, we release an hour-long show where we chat with someone about their area of expertise. The other weeks we spend about thirty minutes covering one tech-oriented topic in detail. If fitting a lot of detail into thirty minutes seems like a difficult task, it usually is.

We make up for our short air-time by posting show notes that depart strongly from the traditional, context-free blizzard of links. Our notes provide time-stamped topic headers, asides with additional depth on difficult subjects, and extended commentary that would be too lengthy (and probably too boring) if we put it on-air.

We owe the new format to our silent co-host Potatowire, who wanted to create notes that could stand on their own, and in some ways overshadow the audio recording. They’re an experiment that’s still evolving week-by-week, but so far we feel they’ve been a great success.

What’s your physical rig? (Computer, Mic, headphones, other accessories.)*

My recording and editing machine is a 2012 Mac Mini with a Quad-Core i7 that I bumped up last year to 16 GB of RAM and a 480 GB SSD. There’s a 6 TB LaCie 2big Thunderbolt drive plugged in for extra storage, which comes in handy for uncompressed audio and video files.

As far as audio equipment is concerned, I talk into a Blue Yeti in cardioid mode on a Radius shock mount. That rig and a Nady MPF-6 pop filter are suspended from a Heil PL-2T boom mounted on the back of my desk. I wear a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones which sound great and are extremely comfortable. They connect through the Yeti’s headphone jack, so it’s all USB from there to the computer.

In an effort to minimize clicking and clacking while recording I use a Logitech K811 as my primary keyboard. It’s comfortable, very quiet, and the backlighting has come in handy during early-morning editing sessions. My mouse is a Logitech G700, but I try to avoid it as much as possible while recording. Instead, I use an Apple Magic Trackpad in tap-to-click mode, which is as close to silent as you can get. When editing I revert to the mouse, but the trackpad is still handy for scrolling left-to-right through long audio tracks in GarageBand.

I used to use an iPad mini for mid-show research and communication, and while it was quiet, it ended up being more cumbersome than using a conventional keyboard and trackpad.

What type of room do you record in?

I record in my home office, which is a bit problematic from a sonic perspective. It’s uncarpeted and there’s not much on the walls, so it ends up being a pretty loud space. The Yeti’s directionality helps a bit, and I’ve put a rug on the floor. The shutters on the windows probably help as well. We’ve also got a big dog who likes to bark. You can hear him on a few recordings when I wasn’t able to edit him out.

Overall my office is a nice space to work, it’s just not ideal for recording.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

We start with Skype and eCamm Call Recorder. It’s dead-simple to use and has proven extremely reliable in practice. Gabe and I each record the show to make sure we have a backup, but it’s rarely needed.

Call Recorder dumps the episode into a stereo .mov file, and we use their bundled tools to split the sides of the conversation and turn them into separate, uncompressed mono tracks. From there I import them into an older version of Apple GarageBand for editing.

Thanks to a tip from Ben Alexander of Fiat Lux, we’re trying out a new web-based post-production service called Auphonic that automates a lot of the audio tweaks I used to do manually (and poorly) in GarageBand. Auphonic has got a lot of features and is worth a look for any podcaster who isn’t a highly-confident audio professional.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

Hosting and RSS have been a big challenge for us. Our ideal service would support direct-URL file download, a rich iTunes-compatible RSS feed, excellent stats, some social features, and a top-notch cross-platform web audio player.

That platform doesn’t exist, so we’re currently using a half-broken hodgepodge of services to get as close as we can. As you’d imagine, that approach increases our workload and has often challenged our listeners’ patience. As a result, I’m not recommending our current “solution” to anybody until we can find something that’s simple and stable.

I’ll start where most of our new listeners do, and that’s with iTunes. We struggled for nearly two months to get our standards-compliant RSS feed accepted to the iTunes directory and finally gave up, as Apple support, and even the iTunes engineering team had no idea why our feed was constantly being rejected by their system. In the end we pointed iTunes to our Soundcloud beta feed so we would show up in podcast apps without our listeners having to manually add the URL.

Soundcloud is an essential and occasionally frustrating part of our workflow. On the plus side, it has a great embedded web player, a large community of listeners, and excellent sharing options. It also lets us link directly to time stamps in our show notes, a key element of our section headers and fancy pull-quotes.

Once we got into Soundcloud’s podcasting beta program we had access to an iTunes-compatible RSS feed. As a result, we have them to thank for finally getting our show out in front of most audiences.

On the minus side, they don’t offer a copy-paste compatible direct download URL for their tracks. This is pretty much the only thing holding us back from using them exclusively. We have lots of listeners who prefer Huffduffer or just like downloading and listening to podcasts manually, and we’d prefer a non-hacky way of enabling that.

To provide that missing direct-download capability, we use Buzzsprout. They were our file host for Generational, and we’ve been very happy with their price and ease-of-use. We just kept our account going when we transferred to the new show and everything has been working fine.

Until very recently Soundcloud’s podcasting beta didn’t support full HTML (links, lists, etc.) in the show notes field, which meant no links. For a notes-focused podcast that wasn’t going to hack it, so we offered a separate RSS feed just for the notes. That gap in Soundcloud’s capability has now been fixed, but those RSS feeds will have stay up pretty much indefinitely.

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

We start by collaborating on a list of potential topics and guests in Google Drive. We narrow them down and prioritize the list as a team, then try to select the next show with enough lead time that we have an opportunity for research. Recording day usually goes pretty quickly, and we do our best to knock out a couple of episodes at once so we stay ahead of our release calendar. Some weeks that works well, and some weeks it doesn’t.

Gabe usually creates the show outline as an iThoughts mind-map or a markdown document, and we use that to shape our conversation during the recording. As we work through the outline, Gabe and I keep a back-channel open through iMessage. We’ll probably be moving that over to Slack for our next recording session, since we already conduct the vast majority of our other communications there.

Once the show is saved to disk, I start editing in GarageBand. The show uses a Statamic-based CMS we extended ourselves, and all episodes are saved as markdown files with extensive YAML front matter and custom template snippets for the fancier elements. We don’t take a lot of notes during the show (I’m easily distracted) so I create the initial core of our show notes while I edit, roughing in the general structure, key links, pull-quotes, and time stamps. Our header images are taken from the incredibly rich open-access vaults of Flickr Commons.

Once the editing and rough draft of the notes are complete, I upload the audio files to Soundcloud as a private recording (so it doesn’t go out over iTunes) and push the show notes shell via github to our staging server. From there, Potatowire digs in and adds the detail, backstory and helpful asides that make our show notes really shine. Gabe follows up with an editing pass, adding his own flavor as well as any critical elements we may have missed.

On release day I do a final once-over, upload to Buzzsprout, commit the changes to the show notes, and deploy the site to our production server, which hosted on Webfaction. Immediately thereafter I make the Soundcloud file public, which updates iTunes and sends the episode out to our listeners’ podcatchers. Finally, we tell the world it’s live by sending the episode to Huffduffer and posting it to our Twitter account.

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

In general I’m quite happy about how our setup has evolved, but there are a few places we could still improve.

The CMS is growing and changing every episode as we extend it to handle new or troublesome situations. That sort of regular tweaking will probably continue as the show develops, and if it stops then that’s likely because we’re not doing the show anymore.

Our single-machine all-digital workflow means we currently can’t break our guest’s recordings out onto a separate track for editing without the perils of double-ending. While our new show has cut back on guest appearances significantly, that’s still the next major hardware challenge I’d like to overcome.

Unfortunately that will probably be preempted by our next major software challenge. Since our GarageBand ’11-based workflow is already obsolescent and there’s been no indication that the latest iteration of GarageBand will restore the lost podcasting functionality, I’ve been looking at some other, more capable alternatives like Logic Pro X or Adobe Audition CC. This will likely happen sooner rather than later, but first I’ve got to find the time to learn the new software.

The Podcasters : Chris Enns

This is a continuing series in which I interview 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.

Chris Enns hosts a number of podcasts and runs his own podcasting network. He also hails from Canada, marking the fifth country represented in this series.

What podcasts do you host?

I host a few different shows that are hosted at SSKTN, my own podcast network of sorts, which will be transitioning to a new broadcast site at in the near future:

  • Lost & Lemon: A show with my brother-in-law, also named Chris, where we talk about our respective businesses, lives and other random stuff. It’s so our mother-in-law can keep up with us basically.
  • Show Me Your Mic: A podcast where I talk to other podcasters about their podcasts. It’s an excuse for me to chat up some of my podcasting heroes and get to know new (to me) podcasters in the process.
  • The Intellectual Radio Program: Tim Smith, Adam Clark and myself talk about our lives as world famous podcasters and how we spend all our money. OR the three of us talk about the struggles of balancing businesses, life, hobbies and procrastination.
  • There’s a bunch of past shows on SSKTN that are either in hiatus or are dead like Welcome to the Internet, Colours and Code, Experts on Everything, and Too Lazy to Blog.

I’ve also been doing a daily(ish) solo podcast over at – 10 minutes or less of thoughts on my brain as it relates to my life.

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

You can listen to this in audio form, but here’s a rough workflow:

  • A Mackie Onyx 1620i mixer that’s quite a bit of overkill for what I do currently but I wanted to have expandability options.

  • 2007 iMac that I run Logic Express 9 on. The iMac is on it’s last legs but is hanging in there.

  • A Heil PR40 for myself to sound awesome.

  • One of the first Intel Mac Minis that serves as a Skype box to bring in guests/co-hosts on.

  • A 2012 Mac Mini that I run Nicecast on to send audio to my live stream hosted on Shoutcheap.

  • A mid-2011 MacBook Air that I use for my own browsing/recording show notes/checking Twitter when Adam Clark talks too long (never happens).

What type of room do you record in?

I record in a basement office in our home. I’ve done nothing to properly sound proof/insulate/etc. the room but I’ve been thinking I should put up some sort of wall/floor material to give the room a bit more warmth as right now it’s all flat walls, flat desks, and flat floors.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

Logic Express 9. I’ve toyed with upgrading to Logic Pro X and probably will at some point but right now it’s a case of it’s not really broken so I’m not going to fix it.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

The MP3s are hosted at Libsyn and/or Amazon S3, depending on where the show is in the transition over to

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

  • Record into Logic Express 9
  • Write down show notes in a Markdown file in TextMate
  • Export audio to MP3 in Logic
  • Throw MP3 into iTunes for metadata entry
  • Use Transmit to upload to Libsyn
  • Post show to SSKTN which is a WordPress install with a mix of custom post types and categories for shows.

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

Well pretty much everything about the hosting is going to change soon. Get back to me once is launched later in March, 2014.

I’d love to have a newer computer to edit with and a couple Mac Minis to bring people in on their own dedicated Skype line/audio track. Oh and a few web cams to set up a live video feed. And a studio space that was in a public location where people could drop by and come on air or record their own shows.

So just a few things I guess.

The Podcasters : Anze Tomic

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.

Anže Tomić is popular (and prolific) Slovenian podcaster who has also started to break into English language podcasting.

What podcasts do you host?

I run a podcast network, Apparatus, in Slovenia that is currently comprised of five shows. I host/cohost three shows and the other two have a home on my network.

Of the shows I am on, one is about movies, TV shows, books and the like which I do with a friend who is a standup comic. We invite different guests on and we discuss a movie, show, etc. It started as a Game of Thrones podcast since my cohost translated all of the books and then it expanded into the show it is today.

The next show I do is a casual conversation show with a professional basketball player (a proper one since he played in the NBA and is currently playing for Barcelona in Europe). Yet the show is not about sports at all. We have a guest on most times and we mostly discuss what the guest does and we talk about tech, space, and nature.

The third show is the show I do on my own and is the one that started it all. It’s called Apparatus and it has an English version in the form of Storming Mortal where I put all of the English interviews. The show is a pure interview show where I talk to people about what they do, why they do it, and then we discuss their setup a little. So far I have done about sixty interviews. I do one per week and eleven so far have been in English.

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

This is where I will probably differ form a lot of the people in this series since I use no Apple products at all. I have a PC box I built, that has 16 GB of ram, a 64 GB SSD, and a terabyte hard drive. I run Windows 7 also known as “the only good Windows OS”.

I use the best computer mouse ever built. Ever. The Logitech MX518 (I am on my third one). My keyboard is the SteelSeries G6v2 with blue Cherry switches. It is supposed to be a gaming keyboard, but it really is not and I love it. My monitor is a 24 inch LG model that has no lag. Anybody that was ever serious about playing Street Fighter will know why I bought that monitor.

I record on a Blue Yeti mounted on a Rode PS1 arm and the Blue Radius shock mount. I use the MXL WS-002 Foam Windscreen.

I know people like the Rode Podcaster a lot, but I just do not like the sound I get from it. The Yeti sounds so much better to my ears it’s not even close. AND it is cheaper. It also comes in handy since the interviews I do are mostly done in person, so the bidirectional pattern the Yeti can record in is awesome.

I use the Sony MDR 7506 headphones and they are soooo good since I edit all of my shows and having headphones that don’t hurt after wearing them for a couple of hours is nice indeed. Since my keyboard is loud I use my Asus Transformer Prime tablet to take notes during recording or I use a piece of paper and a pen my dad designed.

What type of room do you record in?

I live in a small studio apartment so, yeah, that’s the type of room I record in.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

I record my end in Audacity. I record Skype with Pamela and that is only as a backup since we do all of our shows as double enders. I edit everything in Reaper.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

My sites are on a shared hosting account but the mp3s are on a separate server with an SSD drive and that helps with the download speed. I used to have everything on that shared server but the shows got too popular and I was afraid I was going to get kicked off.

I used Blubrry hosting for a while (I use their WordPress plugin), but it was a little too expensive. I am about to add a couple of more shows to the network and then Blubrry will become an attractive option again.

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

When I do an interview in person it’s pretty straightforward since I end up with one track which I edit and then ftp to the server and publish. I use WordPress with the Genesis framework which was the best 60 dollars I ever spent.

When we do the double enders I have Dropbox shared folders with the people I record with so they put their end in there. Then I sync, edit, and publish. This all sounds simple and after a while it gets to be that way, but at first you you go through all kinds of problems with syncing, drift, guests recordings being crappy because they used headphones that bleed audio into the mic… stuff like that. I have gotten good at explaining to people beforehand what they should do, and not do, to get a decent recording from them.

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

I am saving to buy a mixer so we will be able to do a live show here and there. I am talking about an actual live show in front of people, not just streaming online. Then there is always the Heil PR-40 which is one of those mics I would like to get and then use my Yeti just for the in-person interviews since it is a pain taking it from the Rode arm every time I go to do an interview.

*For full disclosure, I’ve started using some affliate links for certain items that are mentioned in this series. Any item you buy using one of these links will help support this site.

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.

The Podcasters : Ben Alexander

This is the first entry into a new series in which I will be interviewing a number of 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.1

My first podcaster is Ben Alexander, who hosts a number of shows on his Fiat Lux network.

What podcasts do you currently host?

At the moment I’m co-hosting Pragmatic with John Chidgey, Accessible with Steven Aquino, and Cultivate with Jamie Ryan. I have an interview show, Pulling the String, thats on break for a few weeks while I rethink the format & approach. The Panel is a panel show where three or four guests hop on the line to talk about a specific subject. Seven is my weird fabulist scifi series that I’m procrastinating about the next episode of.

I also have a gaming show called Shooting The Core I’m producing with Blair Atom. We actually record that live, in person in his basement, with a few regular guests each episode. The idea behind that is for everyone to be playing the same video game for about an hour and then capturing the conversation that comes immediately after regarding their reaction & feelings about the game.

By the time this is up I’ll probably have released the first episode of Designing Creativity, which is going to be a short weekly show focusing on a specific aspect of creative work each show. We’ll be looking at different techniques, tools, and theories. I’m trying to do something more scripted, researched and prepped there.

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

I’ve got a pretty DIY attitude towards this stuff. I see a lot of people overthinking every little decision and theorizing some perfect setup and that keeps them from just getting in there and doing the real hard work.

To be honest, I know I’ve got a bit of that demon on my shoulder as well, so I decided early on I was going to spend as little as possible on tools, use what I had available and try to ignore the train spotting mentality.

So I’m using a Shure SM-57 mic via XLR cable into a little Behringer 5 track mixer, a Xenyx302USB, and that goes into my 2011 17” MBP. That machine has a fusion drive and 16 gigs of RAM and the big screen is nice for Logic.

I’ve got a couple different mic stands and boom arms, and a cheap Nady pop filter to help with the 57’s tendency towards loud plosives.

I picked up and used a Blue Yeti for a couple weeks, and we still use one for Shooting the Core – in omnidirectional mode, although we’re planning on just setting up multiple mics as budget allows for it and listenership demands.

What type of room do you record in?

My home office/studio. It’s definitely not an ideal environment. Windows on two sides, the road is out front and the room itself is pretty long. Still, the Shure is pretty good at rejecting room noise and I don’t really think some birds chirping or the occasional train in the background is so awful. Again, I’m not that precious – if I can ship what I can until I get a better room then thats what I’ll do.

If I had a better option I’d take it, but I don’t think folding myself up into a closet to get a quieter room is worth it. And I mean that from a listeners point of view – this is about comfort and flow and energy during a show and you’ve got to be willing to make tradeoffs to put any product out there. We’re not making high-fidelity music tracks here, its talk radio, its AM band quality.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

I record using Skype Call Recorder and arrange & edit in Logic Pro X. Logic can be a bit overkill, but with some customized key commands and templates works pretty well for me. I think Hindenburg’s software looks intriguing and I tried it on a couple episodes but I do enjoy the musical options Logic presents so I think I’m sticking with that.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

I’ve tried several different options. Hosting directly on Squarespace was nice and easy but the total lack of stats was a no-go. Although I’m not using them at the moment I really liked and would recommend them to someone starting out.

Right now I’m using a combination of Squarespace for the website, Squarespace RSS + Amazon S3/CF for low to medium traffic media hosting and Libsyn for the shows with lots of traffic. S3 is great but once a show is getting a couple thousand or so downloads a week I think the numbers start to point back in favor of Libsyn.

I think for someone that doesn’t care about budget as much, just go with Libsyn. If you don’t care about stats or you think it’s a really niche thing, stick with just Squarespace. Probably don’t emulate me at all unless you’re trying to do the same kind of network thing and you want to have lots of control and survey the whole territory.

Incidentally, this is the worst part of podcasting. Hosting, distributing, dealing with discovery, linking, etc. It’s just a mess, the tools are a pain and eat up a lot of time. The reason I recommended is they seem to be really pushing to make things clean and simple and user friendly, which I appreciate. I’m not sure the tool is all the way there yet, but they’re certainly good enough to get started with, the price is right and it’s a small business which I like. I hope more developers and startups move into this space, at least give the big guys some competition, you can feel it in the UI of these tools that there just isn’t a ton of care. Theres a big opportunity there.

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

Hopefully this changes soon with the next version of OS X. Ahem. But at the moment its Skype & Ecamm’s Skype Call Recorder. I’ve got some more complicated setups for The Panel, StC or live shows but the basics are simple and it hasn’t failed me yet, knock on wood.

Once the call is done I run a couple of the automator scripts that come with Call Recorder. One splits the tracks, the other converts to .aiff. Then I drag them into a Logic template I have set up for each show with settings tweaked for the cohosts, all the bumper music in place, etc.

Then it’s just a matter of chopping off the banter at both ends, going through and correcting any major mistakes I noted down during recording, general tightening up. Some shows are more structured and heavily edited than others. Sometimes I’ll go in and do some real surgery, moving whole segments of the conversation around, tightening up rhythms of speech where they got weird. But usually it’s pretty straightforward.

After that I bounce it down to mono 64kbps .m4a’s and upload to for distribution to the endpoints: Libsyn, S3, Soundcloud, etc.

Auphonic is something I’ve just started using recently, and I still need to set up my presets and completely automate the process, but I’d highly recommend checking it out. It saves a lot of time as I can upload once, have Auphonic run some of its crazy German audio engineering wizardry to level things out, reduce noise, and then distribute the final media files. It’s nice to be able to go do something else while the servers handle the busywork.

A couple German listeners had recommended the service to me on different occasions so I finally checked it out and it’s pretty great. Not quite sure how they manage to finance the whole thing but it’s very impressive.

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

I’d like to change almost everything about it. Not a single tool I use is ideal, but that’s kind of the point. I’m very much trying not to over-do it, not to run over that cliff that Horace Dediu talks about and devote time and energy and money to optimize the wrong variable, the stuff that 99% of the market can’t appreciate anyway.

And lets be honest, this community loves to sing the refrain “if you’re not the customer, you’re the product” – well, listeners, you’re not customers. And producers, most of you, you’re not selling a product, because you’re not selling anything. No money is changing hands, that is, except for the money we send to the companies that run the servers and make the mics and computers.

I get a lot of flak for this, and don’t take it the wrong way: we love what we do, we love our listeners, most of us already do it for free and that’s fine. But what I’m interested in changing are the factors that prevent this medium from evolving to a viable, profitable operation for the people that produce. Because it is valuable, clearly theres value here but it either isn’t appreciated or there’s no way to capture it on the smaller scales that most of us operate at, and that increasingly we’re going to see more and more of.

Profit matters. Money changes podcasting from a hobby for those privileged with the time and disposable income and experience to make the kind of stuff that Ben Brooks rightly criticized to something that becomes a viable option for people outside our little bubble.

So there isn’t any one single piece of equipment or technology in the chain I’d like to improve. I’d like them all to be better, but more importantly I’d like to figure out a way to make things so that all falls into the background and the focus can be on the people, on the talent, because THATS where the magic happens.

I think maybe it’s coming in iOS. If we could record FaceTime Audio on an iPhone, if there was a way to get the quality level just good enough on consumer mobile devices, well then I think that would change things and open up a whole new world of options for productions, not tied down to desks or expensive gear or great mic technique. I think thats where the democratization will come from.

Sorry for the rant. I’d also like a Heil mic, a nicer mixer and a quieter room.

1. I must also give a big nod to Shawn Blanc and his Sweet Mac Setups series for partly helping to inspire this series.