Unsigned Podcast Network
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
  The Well Equipped Podcast Rig, and the Podcasters Who Love Them
Part 2 of the Audio Podcast Series

Let’s get something out of the way first. It is simply not possible to list everything that is available to help in developing your Podcast. We’ll just cover the basics and you can expand from there. I may also go into more detail about a specific piece of gear in a future post, so don’t get frustrated if I recommend something and you don’t know what it is or how to use it.

The basic tools needed are as follows:

The computer
The microphone
The audio interface
The software
The compressor
Accessories

The computer

This one is kinda obvious, but not as simple as you think. The recommendations I will make are so you can get the maximum results out of your computer, so don’t worry if you can’t get everything or do everything I say. I am not going to bore you with too much technical jargon, because there is no one computer configuration that is best for podcasting.

Your computer should always be fast enough to run the applications that you plan to use, so check the requirements. You don’t have to get the latest and greatest thing, but remember that depending on how complex your projects are going to be, will be a deciding factor as well. This means that if you plan on doing a project with multiple tracks of audio, and many instances of plug ins(effects), then you should probably get the fastest computer you can afford, and plenty of ram. Deciding between a laptop and desktop is also a moot point. Portability can be nice, especially if you are pressed for time and have to work in other locales. There are plenty of small audio interfaces that can travel well.

And what about the OS? That has little to do with audio, and more to do with software. You should use the platform you are most comfortable with, otherwise adding another level to the coming learning curve. There are plenty of audio software options for both Mac and Win machines. Unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of using Linux, yet. If this changes in the near future, I will add my research to this work. Otherwise, the bulk of the technical aspects shared here will be for Mac and Win OS’s.


Find a computer that is right for you


The Microphone

Choosing the right microphone is extremely important. Making the wrong choice can bite you in the butt in the long run, so be especially careful. You can always upgrade a computer, but you have to buy a new microphone to fix your mistake. That does not mean that you cannot have more than one microphone. In fact, it is always a good practice to have several microphones in your audio arsenal, especially if you plan on doing your Podcast in different locales with different recorders.

There are many characteristics involved with a microphone, and they will all have a bearing when choosing the right mic.

Directional properties. Basically, what direction the mic gathers sound from. There are three major choices. An omnidirectional mic picks up sound from all directions. This mic would be good if you want to pick up background noise. For example, you are recording your show from a coffee shop, and you would like to include a little of the ambience of the room. Unidirectional mics basically pick up sound from one direction. They will have varying polar patterns, such as cardioid and hypercardioid. Unidirectional mics are usually the best for vocals, because you want the recording to be of yourself only. Bidirectional mics pick up on both sides of the mic. This is usually good if you want to use one mic to pick up two different voices, but is not a recommended practice.

Frequency response. This is how a microphone responds to different sounds. Every microphone model is different. It is best to buy one that suits your voice, in fact, if possible, try to test out 2 or 3 and see which one sounds better with the timber of your voice. As a simple rule, the flatter the response, the better. You don’t want to over emphasize different frequencies, because they can negatively impact the quality of your final recording.

Impedance. You don’t have to know what it means, but it can play an important part when purchasing your mic. It basically is the type of resistance your mic has to an audio signal. Mics that have a ¼” or 1/8” connection are usually high impedance, and mics that have an XLR connection are low. Which should you get? The lower the impedance, the better the signal. But remember that the mic impedance should never be lower than the impedance of the equipment that it is connected to, so check specifications before making both purchases. Higher impedance mics are usually the lower priced, and also not used for most professional applications, but again, that depends on your audio interface.


Low impedance- less than 600 ohms
Medium impedance- 600-10,000 ohms
High impedance- more than 10,000 ohms

Proximity effect. This is basically how your mic responds to the distance of the audio source. Vocals are very much changed by proximity. Sibilance such as P’s and B’s can really stand out if you are too close to the mic, so practice with your mic before you start recording. Experiment with distances, but don’t stray too far because the farther from the mic, the louder you may have to turn up your gain, and that can introduce unwanted noise.

There are different types of microphones. The two major ones being dynamic and condenser. The condenser mic has a much more accurate and pleasing sound quality. That is the one I would recommend. Keep in mind though that it requires a power source, usually called phantom power. Some mics will be able to supply their own phantom power via a battery compartment. But the rest will need outside help. A phantom power supply can be purchased separately, or there are plenty of audio interfaces that supply it. The dynamic mic can be hooked up as is, but you will sacrifice quality, frequency response, and strength of signal. They are much easier to control though, because they are not affected by proximity as much as condenser mics.

And remember to always use a good pop filter. A good windscreen is also a good idea when using the mic outdoors when doing a sound seeing tour or interview. And if you are driving and the mic is placed somewhere in the car while recording, always try to put the mic on a cushiony surface that is not attached to the car. This will help lessen picking up road noise caused by bumps and speed. Maybe a piece of foam or even an article of clothing.

Again, I can only point you in a certain direction. Finding the right mic for your specific voice can only be achieved by you. You can always throw caution to the wind and just go for one based on things you’ve heard or read, and there is nothing wrong with this. As long as the quality is good, the mic will still sound good.


Shure microphones for all your recording needs


The Audio Interface

This could be as simple as a built in sound card on your motherboard, or an elaborate 16 input 192 khz, 24 bit quality interface. Whichever path you choose, remember that you will be depending on it to translate your voice to digital data and you would want it to do it’s best. I have an old saying. “Your final outcome is only as strong as your weakest link”. What this basically means is that if you have a $1000.00 mic, and a $20.00 sound card, then you have $20.00 sound. So wouldn’t it have been much better to split the difference and get a $500.00 mic, and a $500.00 audio interface? No matter what price range you are in, get equipment of comparable quality. Otherwise you will pay for it later.

The built in sound card that comes with your computer can definitely be used. Just keep in mind the type of equipment this means you must connect to it. A sound card usually has a high impedance. This means you will have to buy a high impedance mic, and we already know what that means, so keep that in mind. Check the specs of your audio interface before purchasing it, or your mic. You can buy higher quality internal sound cards. They will even come with better connections than the standard 1/8” jack on most generic sound cards. They will have a ¼” connection, or better yet, XLR. Keep in mind that the 1/8” connector is consumer grade, and any professional mic you purchase will not have that type of connection and will require an adapter or impedance matcher, usually called a transformer.

The most popular types of audio interfaces these days are external of the computer, usually having a USB or firewire connection. They are much better than the older internal card, because you now have the ability to have better quality connections, and conversion without having to worry about it fitting in your computer. They come in all flavors. Multiple inputs and outputs, headphone jack, even direct monitoring so you don’t get a delayed effect that you can get with standard sound cards when recording along with a previously recorded track. This is called latency, and could be very annoying, especially when doing overdubs, or corrections.

You don’t have to spend a mint to get a good interface, in fact, the one I’m using was only $100.00 and has 4 inputs, two outputs, a headphone jack, and connects via USB. So buying good gear doesn’t have to be expensive. You can look at the Amazon ads to the right of this article for examples. They aren’t there so I can make money, it is so you can look at your options and what it will cost you, should you decide on that option.


Audio interfaces


The Software

Where do I begin. There are so many choices. Ranging from free, to ridiculously out of reach. Luckily, most software vendors have timed demos, or free versions of their software. In fact, some audio interfaces that you can purchase today even come with lite versions of some major software out today.

Let’s start with the free stuff. There are a lot of smart people out there that can make some good software. I will use an example. Audacity. Many of you have either heard of, or used this software. I have tried it out and am very impressed. This multitrack capable software uses multiple file formats, a built in spectrogram, and pretty good built in effects. It can record up to 16 tracks at once when used with the proper hardware, and also supports VST plugins, although the GUI on them is somewhat limited. But for free, this software program is a definite must if you are a podcaster on a budget, or lack of one.

The drawback of free software is that the creator is limited by their knowledge and/or resources and experience. But there are plenty of software manufacturers that have been doing it for years. Companies such as Cakewalk, Steinburg, Logic, Sony, and Digidesign. And they have excellent expansion qualities. Much more fx are available to the more commercial vendors. Many companies make Direct X and VST plugins for these companies. So the possibilities are endless. For example, I recently did a promo for my show which can be listened to at http://www.unsignedpodcast.com/audio/Dishwasherpromo.mp3. If you listen to it, you will notice that there are three distinct voices. The first voice is high pitched and spooky sounding. The second is a deep voice that sounds like it is in a small tiled room. The third is that of a small child. Would you believe that all the voices on that promo are all the same person? It’s true because they are all me. I did that promo in about 15 minutes using Sony Media’s Acid Pro 5.0. I used the fx from Waves Diamond Bundle. Powerful software can make projects quicker and easier to complete. But of course, it all depends on the budget.

Great deals on video and music software


The Compressor

First of all, there are compressor plugins in almost every software program these days, so some of you in the know may think that they can take the place of a good compressor. That is very wrong. Once you record your voice, you cannot get rid of some problems with even the best software programs or plugins. A good compressor cannot be replaced, and I would recommend one to anyone who is serious about improving their audio.

For those not knowing what a compressor is, I will learn ya. A compressor is basically an automatic volume control. A good analogy is to imagine that a sound man is always at the fader to control the audio. When it gets too loud, he lowers the volume. When it gets too soft, he raises it back up. That is a compressor, only you don’t have to feed it, or stroke its ego. There is much more to a compressor, but will go into it in more detail in a future posting.


Sound and recording equipment


Accessories

The above items I mentioned are indeed necessities, but there are many little things that will have a big affect on your show. Some may not seem that important right now, but if you were to get them, you would wonder how you lived without them.

Good audio cables can make or break your recording. Not just for audio quality, but for construction. There are some cables that are so cheaply made, if you step on them or run over them with the wheel on your desk chair, they will crack or break. So a decent cable is not just for good sound.

Get a good mic stand. Don’t hold your mic if you don’t have to. A mic can also pick up your hand movements, and some people have a natural tendency to gesture with their hands and the mic will go along for the ride. A simple desk stand can suffice, or a super sexy tripod stand with retractable arm will do nicely as well.

I mentioned a pop filter before, but I cannot stress enough how important one can be. Just like a compressor, it is one of those things that can save you time. And they are cheap. You can even make one yourself if you have to.

The next topic will be more technical. I have yet to decide what it will be, but I promise you it will be very important. So until then, I hope you are enjoying this series, and I look forward to hearing the improvements made in your podcast
 
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
  Your Acoustics are Psycho!


Part 1 in The Podcast Audio Series


The room you choose to record your Podcast is as important, if not more so, as the equipment used. A well balanced room, acoustically speaking, can save a lot of headache depending on the potential for acoustical problems. So now let’s pick out our room. The first thing we have to do is pick one that is optimal for recording audio. Comfort is a plus. A decent temperature is paramount so you don’t have to open windows, doors, turn on fans, etc. And it should be the quietest as well. If you can cut down background noise, it will only help for a better sound quality in the long run. It should be the most isolated from the outside world as far as noise is concerned. But there is one myth I must dispel. The first thing people think they need to buy in order to stop sound from passing through wall is foam. Egg crate foam, mattress foam, carpet foam, you name it, they think it will stop sound. That is absolutely, unequivocally incorrect. The only thing that will stop sound is construction. The walls have to be designed a certain way and built with certain types of material in order to be “sound proof”. So let’s just assume that construction is not possible, and we have to work with what we’ve got.

In order to tame the beast, we must first understand it. Sound is notorious for bouncing off of things. When it strikes a surface, it is partially absorbed. However, the rest will pass through or bounce back. And hard, non porous surfaces, such as walls, desks, book shelves, and other types of furniture, are your worst enemies when it comes to recording audio. Think that corner desk where you record your Podcast is a great space saver? Think again. If you are facing the corner in your room, and have untreated walls, all sorts of evil things can happen when recording your Podcast. First, sound, such as your voice, is bouncing off that wall and back into your mic. Second, if there is any noise caused by your computer fan and it is near that same corner, it is bouncing into the mic as well. You could lessen the need for a noise reduction regiment if you plan where you place your rig in the room. Of course, if you have large speakers or monitors, they will bounce as well unless you monitor with headphones.

Absorption, Diffusion, and Bass. Oh My!

So we’ve found the quietest room and we want to face that corner desk towards the corner. What’s next? Let’s start with absorption, the retention of sound without reflection or transmission. This can be helped by putting acoustical foam in problem areas. Large flat surfaces like walls and ceilings. Now covering the whole entire room is not necessary, in fact, it is downright ridiculous. A good example of foam placement can be found in the included picture in this post. Notice how foam can not only serve a function, but also become somewhat part of the décor. Yes, alternatives like egg crate foam and carpet foam could be used, but they don’t have near the absorptive properties of acoustical foam tiles. The investment is not that great either.

Diffusion basically keeps audio from congregating in one area. When diffusing a room, you can actually enhance its audio properties by widening the stereo field, making for a more effective “sweet spot”. It enhances your ability to properly mix your audio, especially when dealing with music. Proper sound diffusion can actually make a room optimal for both recording and monitoring.

Bass can be quite a burden to bear as well. It is, in fact, the hardest property of audio to control, mostly due to the fact that it is omnidirectional. So how do you control something that is all around you? Bass traps of course. Bass traps go in corners where bass tends to congregate and reflect the most. An effective bass trap placement strategy can also be seen in the photo above.

Again, just like the foam tiles, the diffusers and bass traps do not have to be in every nook and cranny of a room. An acoustical consultant can help out with a simple diagram of your room. My favorite guys that I used to frequent in my studio days, are the folks at Auralex. No, I’m not getting paid to say that. I recommend them, because their consulting service is free., But you can choose whomever you like to help you with your room problems. Why do I suggest a consultant? Because every room is different. From the shape of the walls, the distance the speakers are from you, to the type of furniture that is surrounding you. Even different types of flooring. The effects on room sound are different with carpet, tile, wood, and linoleum.

So how much is all this going to cost you? Well, that all depends on the room you choose. With a few carefully chosen items, you can at least improve the room a little. There are ready made kits as well. But what if I don’t want to cover my walls with foam and adhesive? My spouse would kill me for doing that, and I’m already in the doghouse half the month because of the extra time I invest in podcasting. There is a solution to that too. You could actually glue the needed pieces of foam, bass traps, etc, to large cardboard or some type of wood, and construct a sort of makeshift cubicle out of it. It could be torn down and put up in minutes, and again, the expense is not as much as you think. In fact, there are ready made kits for that as well, which is especially good if you don’t have the time or talent to construct them yourself.

Of course, all this is not absolutely necessary. Your Podcast isn’t going to fail because of a little wall reflection or room noise. But if you appreciate good quality audio like I do, and your room makes your recordings more difficult to control, then maybe you’d like to give it a shot. All it can do is help for a more enjoyable recording experience, and even more so, a better listening experience.

The next article entitled “The Well Equipped Podcast Rig, and the Podcasters Who Love Them” will be next.

Stay tuned!
 
Monday, August 15, 2005
  Audio, Thy Name Is Podcast

Introduction to The Podcast Audio Series

With the introduction of podcasts into iTunes, the inevitability of listener turned podcaster only increases its chances. Those who feel the need to share their thoughts, play some music, or start the next great media empire, are finally grabbing at the chance to join this revolution/trend, call it what you want, so that whatever creative venture arises, it will be cast upon the vast landscape of the internet. The topics can vary from IT conversing, a husband and wife in a shack chatting it up, or a wanna be DJ playing independent music from the web.

But varying subjects are not the only differences in a Podcast. There are many different quality levels as well. There are some who come from a strong audio background, and have a polished, radio like sound. And then there are those on the opposite side of the spectrum. One part hiss, two parts distortion, and a dash of background noise, and you have not only a beginner podcaster, but a noob at the mic.

From the microphone, to the audio interface, the choices a podcaster makes, can have a huge impact on the quality of the Podcast. Yes, I suppose content is king when it comes to media, but is it not a good thing to make each successive Podcast your best? Would it really kill you to learn a little about audio, and the equipment involved? I don’t think so.

So with that, I introduce to you the Podcast Audio Series. A comprehensive but simple primer to assist the new, seasoned, or veteran podcaster in improving your sound over a small period of time. In the coming articles, we will go over equipment, simple audio theory applying to podcasters, and the steps needed to make a sweet smellin Podcast. I will even have audio examples in the form of a Podcast to compare the differences in techniques and quality levels. A before and after comparison in audio form. Isn’t that nice of me?

These are some of the subjects you have to look forward to:

Acoustics
Gear
Hookup
Hardware
Software
Functionality
Practicality


Part 1 of this article, entitled “Your Acoustics Are Psycho!”, will be up next, so stay tuned.
 
Thursday, August 11, 2005
  I Podcast, Therefore I Am.
Like Andy Rooney always says, "You ever wonder.....?".

I too wonder, why Podcasting? I could of taken up any number of hobbies. But I didn't. Maybe a little background info will help in understanding this podcaster.

I was born in a small town in Newark, Calif.....Let's move up a little on the timeline. Now a husband and father, I live in the small town known as Newark, California. I guess I didn't get around much. I worked for the same company, Guitar Center, for about 8 years. I also owned and operated a couple of recording studios for part of those years. My wife and I had our daughter 2 years ago, and we decided after she was 6 months old, I would stay at home and my wife would work so that she could get out of the house for awhile. A year and a half later, she gets laid off. So we figured it was my turn to go back to work. So it has been over 2 months now, and I can't find a decent job. So while I am job hunting, I need something to do. Hmmm. So what can I do that could combine my love for all things audio, and the need to sit at my computer at all hours of the day?

I'm broke, unemployed, and have some decent equipment and software left over from my studio and Guitar Center days. I belonged to a video editors group on Yahoo, because I was interested in learning about film. On that board, I met a gentleman by the name of C.C. Chapman. In one of his many posts, he mentioned that he had a podcast. A what cast? This was about May of 2005, and podcasting had been around since about August of 2004. And yet, I had never heard of it. Along with the rest of the world. So I looked up the word podcast, and started doing a little research. And what did I find? 1200 different podcasts available. A bounty of entertainment at my finger tips.

So I listen to C.C's podcast, and then I hear that Adam Curry was one of the founders of this great new invention. Adam Curry? Wasn't he that guy on MTV a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? You know, when they used to play music videos. It was the same guy. But where did all his hair go? So I started listening to his show. Then I tried others. Insomnia radio, Geek News Central, and Hannity Sucks. The Hannity Sucks guy, I don't know what happened to him, but his podcast stopped coming after about 5 or 6 shows. But the shows started adding up. I downloaded iPodder, so that I could get automatic downloads. Subscribed to my favorite podcasts. Before I knew it, I was listening to about 10 podcasts on a regular basis.

This was a revolution in the making. Something to replace radio. I despised radio. I used to listen to it religiously. The morning shows, the great DJ's, and all that music. Several stations to choose from. But then companies like Clear Channel started buying up all the stations and syndicationg content. First my favorite DJ's were dissapearing. And then my favorite stations started playing the same songs everyday. And then they all changed to spanish speaking stations. Can someone explain why I need 6 spanish speaking stations in my area? The rest all played the same music day in, and day out. And none of it was music I liked. Not that there was very good music available in the first place. So I tried switching to AM, and listening to talk radio. I wasn't much into sports, so I tried folks like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Dr. Laura. I actually liked Dr. Laura, but she was on at an odd time for my schedule. Rush and Sean, half the time they woud say the same thing everyday, and none of it was important. It became amusing to listen to them. And the people who would call in. They would either be sheep that all said the same thing. Ditto this, your a great american that, with no opinion of their own. And for the one out of 30 people who did disagree with them, they were chastised to the point that it got personal. So it wasn't even entertaining anymore.

I don't exactly remember the very day I decided to become a podcaster. It's wierd. Now that I've been doing it for a few months, It feels like I've always been doing it. But it didn't come easy at first. Half way into the completion of the original site, my web designers dsl modem crapped out. He ordered a new one, but they sent the wrong one. Than we discovered that there were termites in our house, and had to have some serious construction go on for about 3 weeks. And finally, my web designer had health problems and could no longer make the site. I was dead in the water. But I was determined not to give up. I recorded my first show anyway. Heavier Than Most Show 1. I was so proud. But I couldn't do anything without a website. So I joined the podcasters Yahoo group. I asked what I could do to carry on my quest to become a podcaster. So many people responded, and I finally found a solution which was suggested by the group. Loudblog. What a great program. I was able to easily create my own website with this program. It saved the show. The Unsigned Podcast Network officially went live June 9th, 2005. I did it. My first show for all to hear.

Now I'm no pro morning show DJ, nor do I wish to be. I'm the opposite of radio. I play what I want to play, and I do it because I love the music and want to let other people know about how many talented artists there are out there. Much more talented then most of the "syndicated" crap that is going on today. And I do it for the love of podcasting. I make no money doing it. I wouldn't mind making money from podcasting, but I don't want anybody else calling the shots. So I opened up a store on Cafepress.com and have Google ads on my blog. So far, I've made about 29 cents. Which actually is more than I expected.

And I constantly get better at it. I now have a theme song for one of my shows. A promo for the site, and I have met so many interesting and intelligent people. I use mastering software, and a really good mic. The Rode NTK. A tube mic that sounds fantastic! My audio interface is a little on the cheap side compared to my mic. But it does a wonderful job. It is the Mobile pre USB from M-Audio. Does the job, and it was only about $100.00. I have found a brave new world in music. Artists I didn't even know existed until now. There are more talented artists on the Podsafe Music Network, than there are in all the major labels combined. And I have reclaimed my need to create. Something I thought I had lost when I finally shutdown my studios a few years back. I have the ability to create something from nothing. I have learned how to network with people, and skills that no job has ever taught me. And last, but definately not least, I once again know what it feels like to accomplish something great. To finish what I have started, and work harder and improve upon what I have created.

So now that I look back, and wonder why I became a podcaster, I come up with a few reasons. I am broke, and podcasting can be done on the cheap. I have a lot of time on my hands, and podcasting is a hobby that needs a good investment of time. I have a background in audio, and that only makes it much easier to podcast. But when you really think about it, I can only think of one reason why I truly need to podcast.

Clear Channel. You guys took away my DJ's. You guys replaced my favorite stations. You guys changed the format of radio and turned it into something so devoid of interest to me, that I pursued other avenues. That is why I became a podcaster. Because Clear Channel destroyed my radio. But you know what? I'm glad they did. Otherwise, I, and people like myself wouldn't have become podcasters and podcast listeners. Maybe podcasting wouldn't have even existed or grown as much as it has if Clear Channel and others like it hadn't created such a void.

So I say thank you Clear Channel! Thank you for making me search out another world. It's companies like you that create people like me. People who need more out of life than what you have to offer. I want variety, creativity, and a place to find talented people who aren't tainted by greed, playlists, and bottom lines. And I found that in a podcast. I am a podcaster. I am.
 
Celebrating independant musicians, podcasts, and what they stand for. Also featuring news, reviews, and information about all things independant and what's happening in the world of media. www.unsignedpodcastnetwork.com

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