|How to Start a Podcast (Part 2)

I spent most of Part 1 looking at recording. That was appropriate because I wrote that section while learning the basics of how to record a podcast. Now that I’ve posted three episodes to iTunes and Stitcher (and have recorded a fourth), it’s time to share a bit of what I’ve been learning about the rest of the process–mixing/production and distribution. Maybe someday I’ll have a third post focusing on podcast marketing.

If you haven’t read Part 1 in a while, check it out. I’ve revised it based on what I’ve learned over the past ~3 months. And this blog post just goes into more detail about what is already covered at the end of Part 1. Read that first, so this will have context.

And it might help to know that of the six recording methods described in Part 1, I use “Option 6–Mixer, Mic & Audio Recorder” (Soundcraft EPM6, Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB, Roland R-05; if I were starting over I’d go with Option 5 using a Zoom H6–simple version, complex version).

Mixing and Editing

Some people are able to do a straight show by using a sound cart (Sound Byte or Bossjock) and by talking coherently (ex., Podcast Answerman). It’s the talking coherently part that really gets me. I stutter. I stall. I can’t think of words I want to say. I make weird sounds. I know I do this, and it almost kept me from starting a podcast at all. Guess who gave me inspiration to try to host a podcast anyway? Diane Rehm. I thought, Diane’s voice isn’t one I’d predict could make it in radio, yet she has a brilliant show. Why let my voice stand in my way?

Right, so my raw audio is not ready for iTunes. Not even close. I require a lot of editing to get rid of the long stretches of silence where I’m thinking about what to say or ask next. I get rid of the “Uh, Uhm, so…” garbage that clutters my audio track. And because I don’t yet use a gate (I plan to add a dbx 266xs [$150 + $105 for a box/stand to store it], not the 166xs that also has a limiter for $90 more), I have a fair bit of audio trash on the line that I need to remove. Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time editing my first three episodes, and the fourth will probably take the most time yet.

I use Audacity to clean up my audio files. I import them from my audio recorder, and work on them in three separate sections–introduction, body/interview, and conclusion. In my first episode, I imported all my audio files for each part of the show and tried to work on them with a series of tracks down the screen. My main track. Doug’s track. Ron’s track. The music track. The narrator track. The tracks for parts I had to re-record because the original grammar of the questions didn’t quite make sense when I spliced the two interviews together into a single show. It was a mess.

Now I work on each of the three parts separately and export them when then are each finished. When all three sections are done and exported as three separate WAV files, I import those three into a single new, clean, fresh Audacity working file, line them up (having music fade across these three sections helps connect them into a single experience), and then export the final show. It just works easier this way for me for now.

The introduction has my music track, the narrator’s track, and then another track from me if I feel I need a bit more to set up the interviews. I’ve had a different friend record the introduction for each episode. I plan to continue this for the time being. It’s fun to get friends involved.

The body has my track with my questions and comments, the track of one or two interviewees, and in Episode 3, I had more narration from my friend between the two main interviews.

When I record Skype, I record my voice into one side of the stereo and the interviewee into the other (on my mixer I have my voice panned left and the Skype line/track panned right). This makes editing the conversation easier. I used to split the stereo track to mono before editing. Now I do as much as I can while combined before splitting. This makes moving content easier while keeping the left and right (me and the person/people) synchronized.

Once the flow of the interview is set, I split the stereo track to two monos, and then I’m able to clean up junk hiding in the silent spaces. Episode 2 is a case study in doing this poorly; I left dead space in some places. The first interview of Episode 3 is a case study in why speaker phones are a bad idea for Skype calls. This relates to two tracks, so hear me out. At the last minute, I learned my two separate interviews were going to do it together. But that meant they wanted to use a speaker phone in one person’s office. Unfortunately, the birds outside our home were very loud. The birds should have only been in my track, and then I could have wiped them out from all of my quiet spaces (which is most of the time in my interview style podcasts). Instead, my mic picked up the birds, piped them to the speaker phone’s speaker, the speaker phone’s mic picked up the birds noises and piped them back to the mixer/audio recorder on their track as well. It was impossible to to get the birds out. Three future solutions: (1) no speaker phones, (2) use a noise gate, (3) find a quiet place to record. Or all three!

Then my final section has the outro music along with my final credits, thanks, and a disclaimer.

I use the compression feature in Audacity for each of the three segments before exporting them.

As I said, I work on and export each of those sections independently. Then I open Audacity again, import the three files (intro, body, outro), line them up, and export them as my final file.

A word about using Levelator and Auphonic. I have not used Levelator, so you’re on your own there. And on YouTube you can find plenty of tutorials on using Auphonic, so I won’t go into details now. But here’s what I’ve learned about it: “Adaptive Leveler” is good for the interviews, especially when I have multiple conversations in one episode. However, it messes up the intro and outro music that fade in and out. I want the fade; I don’t want “adaptive leveler” equalizing it. I learned that the hard way. So now once I have the three segments exported from Audacity, I only run the middle one through Auphonic. I use “Filtering” and “Noise and Hum Reduction” along with “Adaptive Leveler.” I don’t use “Loudness Normalization.” It makes the middle section/interviews louder than the intro and outro.

Preparing for Distribution

I now have the episode’s complete WAV file that needs to be prepared for iTunes and Stitcher.

First, I convert it to an MP3 using iTunes. You can watch YouTube videos on this, so I won’t go into the details.

Second, I use MP3 Tag (free) to add ID3 tags and my podcast art (I use the same art for every episode). Some people do this in iTunes, GarageBand, and other software like ID3 Editor ($15). One time I forgot to make the MP3 file, and added the tags to the WAV file. When I realized my error, the conversion process to MP3 removed my tags, so I had to do it over again with the new, smaller file. Convert to MP3, then add tags.

Distribution

First, I upload the file to Libsyn ($5 a month plan). I follow the Podcast Answerman’s advice and use “Add File For Download Only.”

Second–and this will seem ridiculous to some people, but I have my reasons–I use a free WordPress.com blog to make my feed that iTunes and Stitcher pick up. Here are instructions on how to do that. Obviously using WordPress.org would be better, so I could use a plug-in like PowerPress. But hosting a WordPress.org site adds a monthly cost that I’d like to avoid. Plus I was scared off of using FeedBurner, so using the free WordPress blog made sense to me. Here’s the thing. No one knows it’s there. No one ever sees it. That site is just to have a free way to run my podcast RSS feed to iTunes and Stitcher. More on this in the next step in the process….

Third, I make my blog post on the APF blog that has the Show Notes (see all in the podcast category). This is what I promote on social media and on the podcast itself. Why not just run my feed from this blog instead of the secret blog? Because my organization is on it’s third blog in 5 years, and we’re about to move to a fourth (Typepad, proprietary CMS, WordPress, SquareSpace). We are too young and too unstable to run a consistent feed there. With this system, I can move away from Libsyn and away from my current blog/website platform, and still keep a consistent feed via my hidden, free WordPress.com blog. I’m sure there’s a better way, but I’m a newbie and this is the best I’ve been able to figure out so far.

Fourth, I promote the link(URL) to the Show Notes for that episode via Facebook, Twitter, and email. Each of these posts has a link to iTunes and Stitcher, so people can sign up to follow the podcasts there.

For more on each of these steps, check out the resources I listed in Part 1.

BONUS LESSONS LEARNED SO FAR

Episode 1

  • Splicing multiple interviews together to sound like it happened around a table is time consuming and not worth it.
  • Don’t split tracks until all content is in the right order.
  • Don’t change the input recording level between different interviews. Keep it steady and use the mixer to make all adjustments.
  • Skype calls to phones sound better than to computers. Using headsets vastly improves the quality if you have to call a computer instead of a phone. And land lines sound better than cell phones (at least based on my small sample size).

Episode 2

  • Cutting out all sound from both tracks (me and the interviewee) leaves completely quiet dead space, so leave some hum on one of the tracks for a more natural flow.
  • When interviewing in the field, try to have a quiet area. His office was across from the department’s copy machine.

Episode 3

  • Don’t let the interviewee use a speaker phone.
  • A 5am interview after 3 hours of sleep is going to sound tired.
  • Try to have a quiet recording studio.
  • When the interviewee promotes the episode on social media in addition to my own promotion, stats improve.

Episode 4

  • Having two people on Skype at the same time means they are on the same track, which complicates volume adjusting if one person is louder than another.
  • Ask interviewees to use a headset and to find a quiet place to have the conversation.
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