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Round One on Podcast Production

(No, this is not an April Fool’s Day joke. Or it’s the world’s most boring one.)

The other day, I was showing my business manager, Justin Smith, how I go about producing an episode of The Voice of the Revolution. We started talking at around 7pm as I did my pre-post-production (what I call it when I’m working with the files before I start editing). It wasn’t until 9pm that I actually starting editing the source files.

It was around 9:30 that I really wished I had just recorded the screen and our conversation, because I’m sure others would benefit. (As would I — I don’t lay claim to doing this as well as I could, but because amateur/self-production is so cloistered, learning better techniques is a slow process.)

So I’m going to start a series that I’ll update from time to time. I have a lot to say about making an episode of any of the podcasts I do, and packing that into one blog post is madness. This post will serve as an introduction, for you to get a sense of what it is that I do.

The Voice of the Revolution is, on average, a 40 minute show. I do my damnedest to keep it from going over 40. There are four segments of varying length, three of which are done by the two co-hosts via Skype, and the remaining one being an interview done by one of the co-hosts and a guest.

Recording the three co-hosted segments takes a 35-45-minute session. The interview on average around 15 minutes.

And it takes me around seven hours to make all that into the end product.

That’s three hours less than it took when I started doing The Voice on episode #19.

“Holy fuck, Ryan, that’s a long time!” you might say. I know some of my podcasting cohorts tell me that. However, in the real world, a ratio of around 10x-time is a decent rate of production. I’m pretty comfortable with that, given that I’ve put a lot of pride in my abilities as an audio producer. But what I’m doing isn’t complicated, it’s just time-consuming. Anyone can do what I do. And I want to show you how.

This initial post will talk about the software I use and my overall philosophy on content.

Software

Even though I have a Mac, I haven’t found software that I’m happy with yet. So I keep an XP boot and run Adobe Audition 1.5. Audition isn’t available for the Mac[1], but if it was I would make sweet, sweet love to it. (And would actually bother to upgrade.)

Audition is a great waveform editor and multi-track mixer. For those who aren’t sure what I mean by that, a waveform editor is a program that manipulates the sound file — cutting, muting, adjusting, etc. A multi-track mixer is a program that lets you manipulate the way multiple sound files playing on top of and along side of each other.

(That’s a pretty simple description. I’m sure those who don’t know what I’m talking about are cringing at it. But then that description isn’t for you.)

That’s my main bit of software, my workhorse. But I use a couple other tools as well:

SoundSoap 2 is what I use to do some sound cleanup. But noise reduction and sound cleanup will need to be a post all of its own.

For doing all my remote calling work, I use Skype and with it PowerGramo Pro. I’ve been using PowerGramo Pro for years and it’s always been reliable. (Though, twice I fucked up by misconfiguring it, so user error is possible.)

And because I’m using Audition 1.5, which doesn’t handle .ogg files, I use Audacity to turn the .ogg files that Brennan sends me from his copy of PowerGramo Pro into .wav files. Otherwise, I stay the hell away from Audacity. It’s a fine program if you’re starting out, and I do recommend it for the newbie podcaster, but once you’ve been around the block a bit you’ll see where it’s frustratingly deficient.

Philosophy on Content

Justin was telling me that there’s a clear signature to anything I produce, that he can tell something is “a Ryan Macklin production.” Josh Roby once spotted that I started producing the Voice of the Revolution before we told anyone (which I think was episode 22 or 23, giving Brennan a few episodes to see if it worked out for him). That’s largely because of my take on content. (Which I’m pretty sure I talked about on this blog a year ago, when I was less consistent with updating it.)

Mechanically, I’m a subtractive editor — I cut what I don’t want from a source file to make my target file. But I don’t think of myself like that. I look at what I’m leaving in as additive, as having passed a litmus test for content. And that test is that it fits in one of the three categories:

  • What’s said relevant information for the topic at hand (which is the point of anything I do[2]), or
  • What’s said adds to the speaker sounding human (and thus reduces listener distraction), or
  • What’s said adds to the noticeable rapport between the hosts & guests (which serves as a proxy rapport between the speaker and listener).

This means I don’t cut every “um” and stutter. This means that awkwardly-timed laughter might actually stay in the file. This means I cut when one of us rambles off topic, unless that ramble helps build rapport and I’m not seeing that built well beforehand.

I came up with these rules a couple years back, and I talk about them whenever I do a podcast 101 type of panel. The latter two are actually things that forced me to stop editing every stutter, um, and pause in the source file — a bad habit I had for about six months.

Next bit of content: the end result is king. If the recording has to be shifted around and be “out of order” in order to make more sense for the end result, I do that. Nothing in the recording is sacred. The end product is everything. So I will occasionally re-organize the file by cutting and moving around (though that’s usually difficult, for a number of reasons that’s also its own post).

That’s it for now. I’m over my 1K wordcount limit, and I’m late on finishing up March’s Voice episode. Back to work!

(If you have a specific topic you’d like me to talk about, feel free to ask in the comments. I have several in mind already, but think of it as voting for which you want to see first.)

– Ryan

[1] If you have a suggestion on Mac software that is comparable to Audition, I would love to hear it.

[2] This totally betrays the sort of podcaster I am. While I’m happy to participate on rambly panel shows, I will never produce one.

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3 Responses to Round One on Podcast Production

  1. David Gallo says:

    I think getting to see your workflow is more educational than any behind-the-scenes sort of stuff. Your philosophy on content is interesting, but not as informative. It helps me think about content and sort of meta-edit, but the workflow is king and can make or break a person when it comes to recording, editing, and/or producing.

    A workflow can also impart all that other information too, without beating you over the head with it.

  2. Ryan Macklin says:

    David,

    Noted. You’re right, I’m not telling you how I’m executing my philosophy (mainly because I don’t have the time right now to make those posts), but I’ll keep that in mind with my next set of stuff.

    – Ryan

  3. I found this very interesting, Ryan. I’d very much like it if you were to continue the series.

    Your 10x figure is not surprising to me, it’s the same figure I was working with back in my Shoutcast radio days.

    I’d be interested in knowing what in particular you find limiting about Audacity as compared with Audition. I mean, I know Audition has a ton more “stuff” like plugins and whatnot, but with a dedicated sound cleanup tool and the standard waveform editing / multi-track mixing controls, what else do you need?