People have been asking how I’ve managed to record Radio BrendoMan and Pop Sickles since I’ve been living in hotels with very unreliable internet access and my desktop computer is in storage. It took some trial and error as we almost lost a Radio BrendoMan episode in the process. Right now for gear I have an ancient Dell laptop running XP and my Yeti microphone. I tried recording using our traditional method of using Google Hangouts and Audacity on my laptop but running but Hangouts on Air brought my laptop to a standstill and the hotel wifi was practically useless. Next we tried using Skype and Audacity and this seemed to work until I tried to sync our two tracks together. It appears that running both Skype and Audacity caused Audacity to stutter a bit resulting in out of sync tracks. Phil was able to fix it by painstakingly listening to the files in real time and deleting the gaps as he found them but it was not a viable option going forward. Back to the drawing board I went.
Pop Sickles was the next test and this time everything worked. After messing around with Hangouts on my Galaxy S4 I determined that the audio quality was pretty great when using my 4G connection. I plugged in my headphones on the phone, started a group hangout with Derick and Benson, and fired up Audacity on my laptop. The recording went off without a hitch since Audacity was no longer competing for processing power. Everything synced up perfectly. It’s not super ideal since you can’t use Hangouts on Air with the mobile app so you don’t have the YouTube video you can use as backup in case something goes wrong and you don’t have the stream for people to tune into and chat on but it gets the job done when the next option is not podcast at all.
Feel free to comment with your suggestions or questions. The main thing I’ve learned from this experience is that you really can put together a podcast in almost any circumstance and with even the crappiest of gear. Seriously you guys, this laptop I am using to run Audacity is probably 10 years old. It takes a while to encode files but it gets the job done. If you really want to make a podcast, gear shouldn’t be holding you back. As I’ve said before, I recorded the original Radio BrendoMan on my sub-par laptop with a $2 PC microphone and I was behind the Great Firewall of China. Phil uses a Rock Band microphone. One of the first podcasts I listened to on a regular basis was a show some guy recorded on his Palm Treo in his car. If you’ve got a good idea, just do it. Figure out the rest as you go.
I wrote this post quite awhile ago but there’s still some useful information here. Feel free to comment with your own tips!
People are often tempted to blow a huge chunk of cash on a fancy microphone thinking it will make their podcast awesome. This is true and also not true. If your content stinks, a fancy mic will do nothing for you. But I’m not here to judge your show. Heck, I still don’t quite understand why people seem to enjoy listening to me talk about teen soap operas and Doritos. If you can only afford a cheap pc microphone, use a cheap pc microphone. You may have to clean up the show a little bit more in the mixing process but as long as you don’t get too close to the mic it won’t sound completely terrible. I recorded my original show on a $2 microphone hooked up to my Dell laptop and nobody ever really complained about the audio quality.
That being said, if you can afford a nice microphone it is probably the best thing to spend your money on. I was lucky and I got a Blue Yeti for Christmas last year from my lovely family. If your family isn’t as awesome, maybe shoot lower. Blue makes a really great line of USB microphones that are all great. Whatever you choose, make sure you know how it works. If you can, get a pop screen, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. You can also make one. You may have awesome USB microphones lying around and not even know it. Phil uses the USB microphone from his copy of Guitar Hero World Tour and it sounds pretty stinking great. I tested out my Rock Band mic and it sounded pretty good. If you are using a handheld mic like that, I would recommend investing in a mic stand.
Once you have your mic and the placement of it figured out, the next thing to do is make sure any unnecessary background noise is gone. When I had a PC with a really loud fan, this meant turning down the fan speed and making sure the mic was pointed away from the fan. It might also mean you need to turn off the AC or any other noise generating device. Sometimes when we recorded Pop Sicklesit got really hot due to this fact as we had no AC and had to close the front door. It really made a difference in the recording though. I know you are a smart person and this may sound like I’m talking down to you but it’s easy to forget minor things like this when it’s time to record.
Create a Template
Anything that streamlines your post-production process is a plus. That way you can spend more time focusing on the show itself and less on the rest of the junk you have to do to get the show on the web. One of the ways I have saved some time is by creating a project template file. It contains my opening and closing music and they are mixed to the way I want. I saved that as an Audicity project. Once I have my finished file of the show itself, I just drop that into the template, do a final check, export and I’m done. Also make sure to save a copy of your ID3 tags that you can load each time, that way you only have to change the title when you save a new episode and you have a uniform set of ID3 tags on all your shows.
Mixing the File
I used to spend a lot of time tweaking the file in Audacity, trying out all kinds of filters and leveling techniques. Then Gates told me about Levelator and all that changed. Once I have our merged file I simply run that through Levelator and then drop into my template and I’m good to go. As long as you keep your levels halfway decent while recording, this is all you need to do. Things get a little more tricky when you are recording in front of an audience or have a ton of guests or people sharing a mic, but in most cases Levelator should be all you need. I would also recommend reading any documentation or tutorials you can find on Audacity or your program of choice as there may be lots of other useful editing tips and tools in there. I just wouldn’t totally stress out about getting the mix exactly right. This is another one of those stress traps podcasters fall into and eventually can cause them to burn out and even give up. Don’t do that!