How we put together the podcast

Absolutely no one has asked us how we put the podcast together, but I seem to be taking my time writing the next column, so…yeah. Here we go. One of the keys to any podcast is having a nice quiet place to record it that is comfortable. We haven’t quite found one just yet, but we are still hopeful. Until then we are wandering around, but you will want to find a place so that you can leave everything set up.

As for equipment, we began with a laptop, a microphone, and Audacity, a free, but robust, audio recording software. This works just fine for one person (and more if you add additional microphones). But since I have a past life as a musician I was destined to toss down the cash for a more geeky set up. I trolled the internet for a while and came across a few suggestions, a few toys, and then What I was already leaning toward turned out to be the entry level system on podcastrigs.

MultiMixWe purchased the Alesis MultiMix 8 USB mixer along with two MXL 990s mics, and later added a Shure mic. The mixer offers 8 stereo channels, on-board effects, and a direct connect to the computer via USB. This USB connection takes some of the computing load off of your audio processor, so if you are using a laptop or computer with a lesser sound card it is a great solution. If you are looking for a higher end solution look for a board with more channels and firewire (IEEE 1394) many of which will maintain individual channels into your recording software. USB and direct line-in connections usually mix everything down to a single stereo signal.

The mixer is nice, but at first it didn’t offer more than phantom power for the microphones. Phantom power is required for most XLR microphones, but it can be found from other devices. Another option is to use a powered microphone or a USB microphone. Overall, the microphone is the most important part of your set up since that is how your voice becomes the signal that is recorded. It would be wise to take a look at microphone technology and understand the difference between condenser and dynamic microphones. At $60 for mic and shock mount the MXL 990 has apparently become a favorite of the podcasting community. One thing to think about is a good pair of all-in-one headphones and mic. Listening to yourself through headphones as you record is odd at first, but it is a good habit. If you are adding in effects during the show to cut down on postproduction, or doing phone interviews, head phones become a necessity. Earbuds aren’t a good option, it is better to use a pair of over the ear DJ headphones.

More or less any computer will do the trick. Since you will probably want to set it up and leave it, an old computer will do just fine, especially if you can find a way to dampen the noise it generates. Macs, of course, are favorites partially due to the lack of a fan and because they are often a favorite of the more creative. The computer will run your software, discussed below, and act as your recording device. On the other hand you may want to record to an external source. Options include anything from an iRiver to full recording solutions such as options from Marantz and M-Audio. This is nice to have as a back up solution and also if you are recording Skype calls, but is optional.

We are still looking at portable solutions for when we attend conferences. Everything we are running fits into a carry-on bag, but it would be nice to have something even smaller. There are a few options that bypass a mixing board, but the things that are heaviest and most annoying are the mic stands. I would like to hear any suggestions on these topics if you have any.

AudacityFree is always good and all of the software you need to do a podcast is just that, free. Audacity is a solid multitrack, multiplatform, solution that is fairly user friendly and has a quick learning curve. You can record directly in or use it to mix your multiple tracks down in postproduction then output to an mp3. You can clean up your mp3 tag in iTunes or software like ID3-TagIT. There are plenty of commercial software solutions for recording and editing audio out there that you can try out as your needs expand.

If you want to conduct phone interviews you can set up a Skype account to let people call in and leave voice mail or so you can call out for cheap. You will want a fairly stable network connection to avoid some of the noise associated with a VOIP connection. To record this there are some software work arounds, but it might be better to take advantage of one of your available mixer channels to loop the Skype audio so that you can better control its levels in relation to the local microphones.

The other important part, where you can drop the most money, is in serving your podcasts. You want to try to find a service that offers unlimited bandwidth if possible. We have a tiny audience for a podcast, only about 350 listeners per podcast and we are already serving over 20GB of downloads a month. Now-a-days a small podcast reaches thousands of listeners per episode while the large podcasts are reaching tens of thousands. This is where you might want to make sure you have a web-knowledgeable friend to help out. They can help you find a provider (we just moved the podcast to and customize your user interface. If you are going to podcast it makes since to do it well and making a logo and maybe even a blog to support the podcast doesn’t hurt.

The key to serving your podcast through iTunes or otherwise is to set up your RSS feed. Most blog software will do this automatically. We use WordPress to drive VerySpatial, again because we like free, but there are others out there that are both free and commercial. Some like LiveJournal and blogger are free use and you don’t have to worry about a service provider or getting your backend set up, it is done for you. Once you have the feed you can add the iTunes specific tags yourself or use one of the free services out there that will help you with your feed. We use feedburner since it does what we need it to.

Here are a few sources to help you start your own podcast, feel free to contact via email or skype if you have any questions.