So... You want to start podcasting...
Are you sure?
Ok. Well, here's how we do it on the Irrational Confidence Podcast.
If I had to guess, I would say this is probably the part that is ignored by most people wanting to start up a podcast and yet it's probably the most important part. Each episode of our podcast, believe it or not, is planned out beforehand. No, we don't script anything, but we do plan what topics we're going to talk about and in what order.
We use a shared notebook on Springpad to organize show topics and create an agenda for each episode. We also talk—a lot—via email and twitter direct message about the upcoming show for most of the week before we record. If you're doing a podcast with another person, communication before recording will make or break your show. Brandon and I generally agree about what we want to do with the show and what topics we want to cover, so this isn't too difficult for us. But, you really have to be on the same page about everything from show length to who's doing intro/outro. It's important.
To help prepare, and to test our original workflow and our recording equipment, we did a complete test episode (eventually released as Episode 06: The Lost Episode) where we went from start to finish. I even edited it and uploaded it to a dummy site so Brandon and I could listen to it and make changes before we did E01.
Before you record one second of audio you need to get some equipment and make sure you have the right software for recording. We both have Macs so that's what I'll be talking about. If you have a PC, um, go buy a Mac.
Microphones. We both have a Blue Microphones Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone. It's a really good, inexpensive mic for recording a single audio source–like your voice. It's USB-only so you can plug it right into your computer and start recording (just make sure you have it selected as input if your Mac has a built-in microphone...). When I got my microphone I had Beatrix test it out for me...
Talking to Each Other. We talk over Skype. The quality isn't always great (see especially the sound artifacts in Episode 08: The Music Men in which it sounded like we were possessed by demons) but it works well enough for us to have a conversation. Until our latest episode I was recording both sides of our conversation via Piezo. Piezo works fine to do that, but the Skype quality was crap.
Now we're both recording our sides of the conversation in GarageBand on our own machines. After the show is done Brandon exports his and sends it to me via DropBox and I put them together in GarageBand. It takes a little longer to get the episode turned around, but the quality is so much better that it is definitely worth it.
Dropping Markers. Why would you want to do this? Well, if I cough and want to edit it out a marker would help me find it without having to re-listen to the entire track. Also, I like to mark funny parts that might make a good pre-roll opener. And I also mark spots where I might want to drop in sound effects or music.
To do this in GarageBand, you have to have the Podcast Track visible (and GarageBand must be the active window). While recording hit P to drop a marker. If you double-click on the podcast track you can see a list of marker times. Easy-peasy. And way simpler than trying to use the stopwatch on my iPad like I was doing before we started recording directly into GarageBand.
Once you're both ready hit record (on both sides if you're recording separately like we are) and do your show. We try to keep it between 45-90 minutes—although we are rarely under hour and the music episode is close to two hours. Once we're done and I have both files it's time to edit...
I'd love to tell you that editing a podcast is an art and that I love to do it. Um, no. It's a means to an end. I do it and I try to do it really well because I want out podcast to sound really good but it's pretty tedious and takes a lot of time. And it's not easy to do when you are tired from recording late because your kid doesn't go to sleep until 8:30 and then the episode goes long because you're talking about a good topic and GarageBand is being stupid and won't let you import the files in that format and... Next thing you know it's well after midnight and you have to be up for work in the morning and, well, that episode is gonna have to wait a day or so.
Editing is the part of podcasting that you do because you have to. It's worth doing right, though, because this is where your podcast goes from being just a phone call to being a professional-sounding show. Extra effort in editing will give you a product you are proud of.
So. How do I go about editing Irrational Confidence?
I pull the two tracks—one for me, one for Brandon—into GarageBand on separate tracks. I have a preset for the tracks that is loosely based off of the Male Narrator Noisy preset. There are also two tracks with that same preset that I'll use for the pre-roll once I select it. And finally a fifth track for the jingles and sound effects. I use the volume fader a lot on that track.
I have the opening music start right around five seconds in and I start my track—when I start the intro—at the appropriate spot in the music. Then I line up Brandon's track to mine. It helps to mute the music track for that because it could take a few passes to make sure they're lined up right.
That done, I start going through listening to the markers. If it's a spot for music or sound effect I split the tracks—carefully splitting both mine and Brandon's at the same spot (shift-click to select both helps a lot here) so they don't get out of sync—and put in the effect on the jingles track. I adjust the timing and volume fader to get it sounding right. That can take a few passes and a lot of tweaking. Once I've selected a bit for the pre-roll I copy and paste the appropriate sections to the empty pre-roll tracks at the start before the music. Then I add and fade-in/fade-out the music at the end.
Editing and production done? Nope.
Once the edit is done and I'm happy with it I export the whole thing in uncompressed .aif format. The resulting file is huge, around 1.5 GB or so. I do this so I can run it through a program called Levelator, which does what it says on the tin:
So what is The Levelator®? It's software that runs on Windows, OS X (universal binary), or Linux (Ubuntu) that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast or other audio file for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It's not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It's much more than those tools, and it's much simpler to use.
Basically, it just makes the file sound better, more even, more professional. And Levelator is free, so why not, right?
Then a quick trip back through GarageBand to compress and Boom. A brand-spanking-new episode of Irrational Confidence that sounds great but is only 30-40 MB.
Posting and Distributing.
How do you get your auditory masterpiece into everyone's ear-holes? The magic of the internet, of course. I've set up a second blog on my website that has the episodes as posts. I upload them and add some show notes and the RSS for that site becomes the feed for the podcast. Simple. Of course, it's simple because I'm already paying for Squarespace and they make it super easy. Your mileage may vary.
You'll have to submit your podcast feed to iTunes if you want it listed there but that process is pretty simple: open iTunes, go to iTunes store, click podcasts, click Submit a Podcast on the right sidebar and follow the instructions. In a day or so you'll get and email saying its approved (or not, I guess?) and then people can find it in there. If your audience uses podcast apps like Instacast or Downcast or even Apple's Podcasts.app they can just plug the feed into there and it will pull it up for them to listen and subscribe. And they can always just listen directly on your site in their browser, I guess.
If you think you might want to do a podcast I would recommend trying out a test episode, whether you're doing it with one or more other people or solo, and go through all of the steps to get it posted. See if you're happy with the end product and whether it was worth it to you to go through the effort and spend the time. If so, then keep doing it. Week after week after week...
For Brandon and I it's well worth it. We enjoy doing it and (we like to think) our audience enjoys listening to it.
Some helpful links: