Posts Tagged ‘podcast production’
Last week, I was on #zinechat talking about podcasting & new media. As these discussions tend to go, we talked about production. I was asked to go into further detail into two of those production topics by a reader.
Sin #1: Cutting All The “Ums”
I understand the impulse to do this. When you’re editing audio, every “uh”, “um”, stutter, restarted sentence, vowel elongation and the like are discordant notes. Many of us as podcast editors hate those. They grate on us. So we remove them.
I did this in the early days of Master Plan. I thought it was “good audio.” Today, I can’t stand to listen to that. I did what I call today over-editing. The end result was (a) many hours of work on my end to produce the show, (b) a lot of cut waveform artifacts you can hear, and (c) the remove of the human quality in a voice.
It turns out that only I really noticed them. Listenrs, it turns out, are used to human speech. Ums and Uhs and the like are a part of that. However, jarring cuts in the waveform are not a part of that — and those do get noticed by listeners, particularly headphone & earbud ones.
Today, on the rare occasion I still edit audio, I don’t slave over every Um. I only work on the ones that happen in succession — “Back when we were uh uh uh developing Podcast the RPG…” And even then, I’m as like to leave one in for the human element as I am to cut them all. It largely depends on how easy it is to cut all of the Uhs in a moment without leaving a cut artifact behind.
I saw it as part of my duty as an interview podcaster to leave my guests sounding human. A few Uhs and restarts helps convey that humanity in a way we unconsciously recognize. Now, I was incredulous to this idea, until I started watching and listening to professional interview pieces. Stutters are at times left in. They’re character.
And it makes editing easier if you aren’t trying to remove them all. As to which ones I remove? Generally ones in succession (“uh uh uh”), sentence & thought restarts that last ten or more seconds, and anything that makes it hard to understand what’s being spoken.
Sin #2: Separating Speakers in Left & Right Track
I’m going to use a bit of hyperbole here. If you have some people speaking in just the left track, and others in the right track, you either intentionally or accidentally despise your audience.
Often, your listeners are going to be listening on headphones or earbuds. When you do that, you’re saying “fuck you, you don’t get to listen to my show” to:
- Folks partly deaf or completely deaf in one ear — can’t hear half the conversation
- Folks with a sore ear or ear infection — can’t hear half the conversation
- Folks who have inner ear disorders — the conversation is literally disorienting, dizzying (this applies to grossly non-normalized audio as well)
- Folks with suddenly-busted headphones (since they do wear down) — can’t hear half the conversation (this also applies to commuters with stereo system problems, which is much more expensive)
I had this happen on a plane trip once. That…sucked. Luckily, the shows I listened to were in mono.
- Folks with a reason for only wearing one ear bud, like going jogging in a traffic-busy urban area and still wanting to be aware of your surroundings. Cuz, hey, cars.
Some of these situations are temporary, some permanent. But even cater to the temporary — if I can’t listen to your show when people are talking about it, what are the chances that by the time I can, ten other things have grabbed my attention instead?
And that doesn’t even address when the two tracks are not normalized, so that one side is quite and the other loud. There’s one indie podcast years ago that used to do this. I stopped listening the day that the grossly un-normalized spiking laughter happening in just my left ear nearly caused me to clutch my head in pain and disorientation. Remember, we use our ears for balance. Don’t fuck with that, and you’ll keep more listeners.
If you’re just doing a talk show, make it mono (or barring that, identical stereo…which is just like mono except you’ve doubled the file size). Unless, of course, you like telling a portion of your audience that you are comfortable discriminating against them–because that’s what we feel when podcasters thoughtlessly make such audio.
I’ve mentioned before that I think more podcasters take the idea of “seasons” as a silly, “let’s pretend we’re real media” way. Like, “ohh, look at us, we’re season 2! Aren’t we keen!”
Not that I mind people having fun, playing around at something, whatever, but I feel like if that’s what someone thinks of as a season, they’re missing the point. And it’s a point I’ve been talking about here and there for the last year or so. That seasons can be a good idea, if you understand them.
These days, I don’t enter into new projects without some plan of an exit strategy. Things that sounds like they’ll go over forever tend to end at a point of low energy, which is a violation of one of my podcast rules: “Leave people wanting more, not having wanted less.” Which means that with anything on-going (including this blog), I break my time spend doing that into seasons, and choose whether to renew that project after each season.
I’ve been talking with a friend about starting a new show, something we’re both interested in talking about but want to make separate from our current shows. He was worried about adding another ongoing commitment to his life, and I agreed.
“That’s why podcasts aren’t ongoing commitments to me anymore. I think in seasons. Tell you what, let’s try five-episode seasons. If we like our first season, we’ll renew.”
As I described my thought and the advice I’ve given over the years, he came at me with a new thing I hadn’t considered before. “No. I don’t want to do something episode-based. That doesn’t feel like it has a hard stop.”
This blew me away, because I hadn’t considered something based on time-elapsed before. Or, rather, I had and discarded it. “Yeah, but if we say ‘Let’s try this for two months’ and we only do an episode…I dunno.”
We compromised. Five episodes in fourteen weeks. That’s one episode every two weeks, with an extra four weeks to cover life happening. Not that we’ve started that yet, but then GenCon recovery really only started with me last week, and I have a backlog of life. We should be recording our pilot in September.
Another podcast I might be a part of (holy crap, it’s almost like I’m a media producer again) is taking a similar approach, and it’s smart. Small, agile seasons. It gives us a target to shoot for that’s reachable in the short term, a period when we not only can but must seriously evaluate what’s happened, a time where we can plan to take a break rather than it just happening…and lasting several months. Most importantly, it gives us permission to walk away.
Permission to walk away while you’re at a high point is important to being successful at anything. You’ll be remembered for your last acts on something. If you ride something all the way down to it crashing, that’s what people will remember. People give me shit still for Master Plan podfading rather than properly ending (though I am, slowly, getting back on that horse because I feel like I should finish it right, even if that violates my rule above). And that’s the point of seasons — to give yourself permission to quit something while it’s still good when you think you don’t have another full season in you.
Also, funding. But that’s another topic for another time.
(Not sure if I’m going to stick to “Media Monday” as a blog topic, but I’m playing with the idea. We’ll see if it survives a season!)
 Yes, I just said my own idea is smart. I’m a humble guy.
(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.
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, 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), 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.)
 If you have a suggestion on Mac software that is comparable to Audition, I would love to hear it.
 This totally betrays the sort of podcaster I am. While I’m happy to participate on rambly panel shows, I will never produce one.