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Podcast tech roundup

Submitted by Jason Griffey on January 29, 2009 - 9:35am

As I was getting ready to leave for ALA Midwinter 2009 in Denver, I found myself packing an almost absurd amount of electronics. For those who don't know, I'm mostly responsible for the podcasts that show up from time to time on LITABlog. For the last few years I've been capturing the audio for programs like Top Tech Trends, and manipulating it so that it can be delivered to the fine people out on the Intertubes.

I realized as I was packing that I never posted about the tech involved, and who doesn't like a great tech-roundup post? So here we go: How I podcasted from ALA Midwinter 2009.

The Core
Nothing really happens without my Black Macbook 13", running OS X 10.5.6. For actual audio capture, I love the simplicity of Audacity. I've done some capture in Garageband before, and if its my own presentation I'm trying to record, I actually use the built-in record feature of Keynote. But for the basic "I need this audio", I almost always swap back to Audacity. It's free, and open source for all major platforms.

The Inputs
You can't get good audio without a good microphone. When I'm capturing ambient audio, I use a Blue Snowball USB microphone. It is a little bulky, but does a great job capturing good audio, even in a huge room and with omnidirectional sources. It just plugs directly into the Macbook, doesn't need any external power, and does a great job.

If I'm capturing just myself, I often use another product from Blue, the Snowflake. It's a portable version of the Snowball, but is more directional. Works amazingly for interviews or voiceovers, though.

In the case of something like Top Tech Trends, where the venue is normally a room large enough to need a sound system, the very best sound will be gathered from plugging directly into the AV, rather than capturing over the air to a microphone. To that end, I've put together a little package of connector cables that I travel with, all with the goal of getting the audio directly off something and into the minijack on my Macbook. These include RCA -to-minijack, 1/4" mono RCA adapters, XLR -to-minijack...in all, maybe 6 different cables all with the goal of ending up at a minijack and coming into my Macbook. With these, more or less regardless of the AV system, I can hijack the audio into my computer.

The Processing

Once I've got the recording, I normally listen through sections in Audacity, paying attention to where it't too loud or too soft, and run a Normalization filter on it. This averages out the sound, bringing the louds down and softs up. I might also clip the beginning and the end, to make it more compact.

The Output
The files are then saved to MP3, and I check the file sizes, adjusting the bitrate down a bit if the sizes are just ridiculously large. There's no absolutes to this, just playing around with the sizes. Voice doesn't really need much bitrate to still be good quality.

Once I get a file that looks like it will work, it gets uploaded to the LITABlog media folder with my FTP program of choice, Transmit. I type up a new post, and use the Wordpress plugin PodPress to attach the MP3. PodPress notifies iTunes that there is a new podcast, and adds the enclosure to the RSS feed, and also adds the in-line player to the post.

And then, finally, you get to listen to it.

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Comments (19)

it is very interesting

it is very interesting

I've been coveting the H2

I've been coveting the H2 for a while now. It's definitely on my "purchase soon" list...every review I've read has been outstanding, and I've seen lots of first-person accounts that speak to its utility. I'd love to know what mic add-on you got for it, if you get a chance!

I've also heard good things about the H4, which even has XLR inputs!

That's a great recommendation for other librarians, and is absolutely a great piece of kit.

*stalks off to try and figure out how to rationalize purchase of a Zoom H2*

Thanks Jason. This is what I

Thanks Jason. This is what I needed a couple of months ago when I was investigating this.

I was after something that librarians could use when mike and Audacity would not work - eg. visiting speakers who didn't want to be miked up, interviews with people walking around the library.

I ended up buying one of my favourite gadgets ever - a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder . You can slip an SD card into it, press the big red button to prime it, press the big red button to record, then press the big red button to stop it - simple for any librarian. The sound quality is outstanding, and it can be used as a mike input with Audacity also.

It also has multidirectional mikes inside, so you can set it to record all in front of it (eg. the speaker) or everything around it (eg. speaker and audience).

For walking around the library recording interviews, I bought a unidirectional mike that plugs into it so that you can get the person speaking, but not the background noise.

This is not a critique of the Snowball or any of your setup , BTW - just a bit of a rave over one of those cute little gadgets that sometimes come unexpectedly into your life that you fall in love with :)

I really wished the

I really wished the discussion on this topic would have continued as I think many librarians could learn from it and have questions, but the "attacks" have killed those chances.

These are books I would be

These are books I would be willing to recommend providing alternatives to the Yamaha text:

Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Podcasting
By George Colombo & Curtis Franklin Jr.
Published by Que
ISBN 0-7897-3455-9

Podcasting Hacks
By Jack D. Herrington
Published by O’Reilly
ISBN 0-596-10066-3

Radio Drama Theory and Practice
By Tim Crook
Published by Routledge
ISBN 0-415-21603-6

If the Yamaha book doesn't work for you, these should.

Mike

Jason, For traveling that's

Jason,

For traveling that's works. I find that $100 digital voice recorder, a decent mic and a inexpensive pair of headphones will do a very nice job for under $150. The digital recorder can be uploaded to your computer and treated from there. That is what we use on the road and recording interviews at conventions. Yes it can be done cheap.

It can be done for cheap, at home with a Tapco Mix 60 ($59.00) a couple MXL 990 ($45 - 69 each) Miscellaneous cables and connectors and use the computer to record. Less stress on the processor and editing in Digital is way better than analog. The idea is to get the best possible audio into the system to begin with. The post production can be used for other things than trying to correct what was put into the computer.

I am not trying to slam anyone, just trying to help people get the best audio that they can.

Mike

Thanks for posting this,

Thanks for posting this, Jason--having a how-to laid out in simple terms definitely brings podcasting within reach. It can seem a very daunting topic, but having it broken down succinctly like this is really helpful.

I have had a hard time finding a mic I can use on my Mac, which requires a "line-in mic," which is more powerful than the mic that comes on $20 headset mics. Thanks for the suggestions!

This is exactly the type of information that we should be sharing with each other, especially in tough economic times.

Frankly, what Jason is

Frankly, what Jason is offering is an affordable solution.The other solutions are for the weel endowed financially.

I'll go with one more reply,

I'll go with one more reply, just because I'm feeling spunky. But after this, I'm done.

Stephen, TWiT is a non-travelling podcast that relies on a TON of free software to happen (Skype being the primary), and is basically a one man show in studio (with a producer and engineer). CNET is owned by CBS for FSM's sake, and also does their thing in studio, mostly (BoL, Loaded, etc). Reisiner and Dvorak are, again, single person shows with non-mobile rigs.

To compare _any of these_ to podcasting a conference is insane. You're dealing with multiple hotels, differing connectivity, rooms that vary from 20 people to 500 people in size. And if you think that these are examples of the average podcast, you are just wrong. Exemplars, yes...no one does podcasting as well as Leo. But it's a completely different thing. In every way.

Next: I don't remember recommending readings in my post. What I thought I did was talk about my setup, and how it works. If people _want_ a bibliography for podcasting, I'm sure that any number of librarians have those ready for the reading. That's not what this was, and again I say: you missed the point.

Penultimately: How do I measure success? Modestly. But I'd compare litablog's 85,000 podcasts served with any other library podcast series, anywhere. 85K people who weren't at these events were able to take part, listen, and be involved. That's the measure of success.

And, lastly: let's be upfront here. You are commenting on a podcast post as someone who sells podcasting services as a commercial enterprise. Poking at the content of the post is one thing (if you were even close to right, that would be better, but still). But poking at the content in order to make your services seem "more professional" is just wrong. And yes, that is exactly what I think you are doing.

Multiple experts have chimed in here in the comments (David Lee King was a pioneer in podcasting in libraries, and has presented more times than I can count at the national level on the subject). I've been doing this for years, and have no shortage of experience and technical knowledge to draw on. I stand by my article, its contents, and will continue to tell librarians that yes, for less than they spend on books in a week they can produce and provide podcasts for their patrons. Easily, cheaply, and on their own.

David, I'm sorry but you

David, I'm sorry but you leave me wondering. You wrote: "Book or no, What Jason described above works great. The majority of podcast, lifecasting, and video shows successfully use similar processes and equipment." What podcasts, lifecasts, etc. are you referring to? The TWiT network most certainly does not run the way Mr. Griffey describes. Neither does CNET. Independent tech personality Don Reisinger doesn't either nor does John C. Dvorak. Also, what are you defining as successful?

I'll finally unpack the rest of my kit from the move and we'll likely be giving some positive recommendations for texts to use in the next LISTen episode. Jason's plan of action is hardly standard let alone mainstream. There is even an O'Reilly text in the matter (Podcasting Hacks) that would be a better reference for LIS educators than this.

Jason - Outstanding post

Jason - Outstanding post highlighting how easily librarians can contribute to the conversation via these tools. This is a roadmap for creating programming for users - teaching them how to do it as well as a cost-effective plan for those librarians interested in audio. Thanks!

Michael: OK, whatever. I

Michael:

OK, whatever. I don't have a real beef with that particular book (though I still stand behind my claim that it's a bit outdated) - it's a fine book. A lovely book.

But it doesn't talk AT ALL about what Jason just shared (I know - I've read it). That book simply doesn't discuss capturing sound via a laptop, easy-to-use software, and a USB mic.

Book or no, What Jason described above works great. The majority of podcast, lifecasting, and video shows successfully use similar processes and equipment.

Way to go, Jason - you rock!

ps - Michael, "If virtual is the only way to go, then why are Neve, Toft Audio, Solid State Logic, Millennia, Euphonix and others making "hardware"?" - at least two of those are digital mixers, using "virtual" technology. Just sayin.

Thanks, polllyalida! Glad

Thanks, polllyalida! Glad you found them useful.

As a musician elected to a

As a musician elected to a leadership position by his peers in his local community, I must note that the Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook is the basic primer for understanding audio and the use of microphones in the context of the room. Be the room large or small, you will still have to deal with reflections of sound and good mic placement. The understanding of signal flow from the source to it's destination has not changed over the past twenty years. It is the same for live sound as it is for recording. What is outdated with microphones, cables, mixers and outboard equipment? If virtual is the only way to go, then why are Neve, Toft Audio, Solid State Logic, Millennia, Euphonix and others making "hardware"? There is a greater number of Pro Audio hardware and microphone manufactures than 30 years ago. The same physics and principles apply in the virtual and physical enviroment. Unless you understand signal flow, you cannot get anything adequate for reproduction in later listening or recording.

If you would like to discuss this further, contact details are on my website. I am willing to talk about audio. Yes, the telephone number shown on the website really does work and I do respond to e-mails or have my admin assistant handle such for me initially.

Great tips, thanks so for

Great tips, thanks so for sharing these details. I'll be pointing students in my podcasting classes to this post. They always have questions about how to record meetings inexpensively. This is just the ticket.

I suppose, Mr. Kellat, that

I suppose, Mr. Kellat, that I can only be glad that I am not recording for LISFeeds.

There is a large gap between the ought and the can. Capturing from soundboard is certainly standard in any situation, and while the omnidirectional setting on the Snowball doesn't compare to multiple mics all being balanced by a mixer, well...not all occasions call for said elaborate setup.

The point of the post, which I think you may have overlooked, is that it is possible to capture and distribute audio very, very inexpensively these days. Discounting the laptop, it's possible to put together a traveling setup like I've described for a few hundred dollars. And to do a very, very good job of capturing audio with it.

Hey Jason, this is a useful

Hey Jason, this is a useful post. You don't try to give us all the podcasting answers -- just what works for you in these settings. The Snowball and Snowflake microphones are good finds. (Excellent prices on Amazon!)

I'd be curious how you got iTunes going for you. If you're looking for future post ideas that could also help a buddy ;-)

Stephen - that book is 20

Stephen - that book is 20 years old, deals with largely out-dated equipment, and is focused primarily on rock music sound reinforcement in a concert hall - it doesn't really deal with RECORDING at all. How in the world does that relate to this post?

The setup Jason describes works well - good mic close to his head for personal recording, and plugging into the sound board for a larger venue. The only way to better that is to hook up splitters to each mic and send that to a second system for recording only purposes.

Thank you for this. I will

Thank you for this. I will refer it to Mr. Engineer and he'll probably have another installment of Tech for Techies to respond to it. There is much I could say but I'll leave it to him to speak with authority.

Based upon how you describe your recording set up, the newly rebooted LISFeeds would not include content prepared this way. Consulting this text might help you in appropriately recording events: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/21122556&tab=holdings?loc=37403#tabs . That text is somewhat regarded as a foundational standard and would be well worth reading to see how to appropriately record situations such as large rooms.