Archive for the ‘Audio’ Category

Lucky to replace what was lost

Yes, it’s true that I turned 30 almost a week ago now. Age is but a number, and I hardly feel old. Lord knows I hardly act my age, so it was actually pretty nice to get numerous gift cards to Futureshop.

Being that we have absolutely no idea what happened to the 2G iPod nano shortly after our trip to Kansas City, the timing is nice. I know it made it back to Vancouver, but there is a good chance that it was stolen. In it was not only the iPod nano, but so was the USB cable, ear buds, and the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo that was so vital to our mobile podcast recording adventures.

On our way home the other day, we stopped by Futureshop and cashed in on the following.

4G iPod nano

JBL Reference 210 ear buds

Not bad, and it’s nice to have an iPod again, not to mention some nice ear buds with really impressive quality. Still getting used to the UI of this generation of nano, but I’m really enjoying getting caught up on podcasts. All that remains is to replace that mobile recording element, and I’m banking that the built-in support for voice recording on this 4G means good things. That will be hopefully solved shortly.

Podcasting is like recorded history

I’ve been thinking about this lately, but what is the point of having a podcast when you don’t keep your episodes archived and available over the long term?

Podcasting, in its true form, is prerecorded media that is ready for download and playback, video or audio, at any given time. Unlike traditional, broadcast media, your audience doesn’t have to be there when it’s available or remember to set their recording apparatus, because the use of VCR’s is dwindling as we speak, just so they can be in the know.

When you podcast something, you publish it for the world. It’s shiny and new, ready for the devouring crowds to eat it up. Then it gets old when you publish the next one, but a month or so down the line, someone discovers it. They share it with a buddy, post a link to it on their blog or Facebook profile, or subscribe to your podcast just because they found something in your archives from a year ago. This person even goes through everything you have ever produced just to get caught up.

I’ve been doing this myself over the past month or so. I’m an admitted listener of the Daily Source Code, but I’m not a daily listener. It piles up on me, and I’ll go back to hear the conversations just because I find personal enjoyment from the conversations on that podcast.

I even do this to everything DaveO produces, get caught up on CNet News Podcasts because even though it’s from three weeks ago, I still like to hear the tech news that I might have missed while riding the bus. Remember when Microsoft wanted to buy Yahoo? It was fun to listen back on how that one played out, and that’s just a sample of short term history.

Even though the Vancouver Giants missed their chance at a repeat for the Memorial Cup this year, you might find enjoyment to hear the audio adventure that DaveO took when they had a public celebration for the team at Vancouver City Hall. A very good piece of historical evidence for you right there.

If anything, it’s something that you made and long term proof for anyone to stumble upon. The longer it’s there, the better chance it gets to soak in the Google juice and be discovered. However, if you are going to take the media away, do your best to remove all traces. Nothing more disgruntling than clicking on a link to an MP3 and it being not found.

What does it take to podcast The Crazy Canucks?

A first, sneak peak at how The Crazy Canucks is made

I’ve been thinking of doing a more, detailed post about how a typical episode of The Crazy Canucks comes together, but I’m going to make a simple list of all the gear we use to make it work.

  • Skype – Without this, we have no podcast. With Alanah doing her thing on the island, Dave on the north shore, and the rest of us in Vancouver, this is the crucial piece of software that ties us together. This also allows us to bring on any other guests that also use Skype on their PC.
  • Ubercaster – This is the recording software that I prefer to use. I’ve watched Ubercaster go through the ropes of development and been impressed with every step of the way. It also has a built-in function to record Skype conversations, making it even easier to record our conference call. It is worth the time to setup templates for your podcast because it makes it very easy to fire up the program, open a template, conference call on Skype, and you’re rolling.
  • Levelator – Due to the various setups that everyone has and the fact that Skype is really difficult to control audio input levels on, I always export the vocals first to run them through Levelator. You might not get the best audio quality from our “Voice Over IP Hot Stove”, but at least you’ll be able to hear all of us.
  • Apple iMac – This is the work horse that ties together our recording hardware and software. Speaking of…
  • Behringer Eurorack UB1204FX-PRO 8-channel Mixer – With anything you do in the world of recording and/or broadcasting, you can never have enough inputs. Most podcasters don’t need this much, but I’m a geek. You never know what you’ll wanna try to do, and this mixer has a slew of other nice features as well.
  • Shure SM7 and Behringer XM2000S microphones – I have one of each of these, and perhaps a bit more of overkill for the average podcaster. However, I’ve been doing the radio thing for ten years now. I have accumulated a collection of toys.
  • iPod nano (2nd gen) + Belkin TuneTalk Stereo – This is what I’m using to do mobile recordings these days. The quality is really surprising, and for podcasting, you can’t ask for more than something that sounds good as well as being small and very portable. Records stereo WAV’s at 44.1Khz as well as mono. I also put a standard microphone wind screen over the Belkin add. Additionally, I taped down the small switch on it because it had enough movement on it that it caused a slight rattle in the recordings.
  • FeedBurner – We push our RSS feed through their service simply because they are really good at what they do.
  • WordPress + PodPress – This is the CMS/blogging platform that we use to publish TCC episodes. PodPress is a plugin for WP that we use on the site that allows people to listen to our podcasts from the website as well as download them or make them available in our RSS feed.

Making it all come together has taken me about a year and a half to get efficient at. Every episode has something different to it, and I’m very much a fly by the seat of your pants editor. As the recording is happening, I can envision how I’ll go back and edit something, make a mental note as to where it was in terms of time of the epsiode, and get the podcast encoded and uploaded in about 20-30 minutes after we are finished recording. After that, it’s just a matter of making the blog post and publishing it to the world.

Guest editing for the Canucks Outsider

HockeyNW.com DaveO had the opportunity to catch the celebration of the Vancouver Giants success in winning the Memorial Cup at Vancouver City Hall this past Tuesday afternoon. He captured some great audio, even snagged an interview with the legendary Pat Quinn!

The only issue he had was cranking out the audio into an all out podcast episode, so he asked if I would help him out. We’ve talked about this concept before, and it worked out fairly well. When you have all the audio laid out for you, it’s easy to put it all together. It also helps that Dave is really good at formulating an entire episode in pieces, all set up for sliding them together and splicing music to segue between all the parts.

It was a treat to do it, and I could really get used to the production side of things if I ever found myself doing this on a regular basis, full compensation, of course.

You can find episode #54 of the Canucks Outsider at HockeyNW.com, edited by yours truly.

NPR: Fix your podcasts

The following is a message that I sent NPR regarding the quality of their podcasts. I’ve been telling a lot of folks about the problems that I have with some of their offerings. So to put money where my mouth is, I’m taking the advice of writing them. Maybe there will be others out there who feel the same way.

Hi, NPR.

There is something I’ve been wondering about your podcasts. Actually, there are a couple of things. Maybe I’m just picky, but I wanted to let you know about some things that really bug me about the podcasts you guys are producing.

First off, the hourly news updates that you guys provide drive me nuts for a couple of reasons. At the very beginning, it takes nearly 20 to 25 seconds to get to the actual news. It’s prefaced by a sounder to introduce the podcast. That is then followed by a sponsorship announcement. Is that a big deal, maybe not, but let me continue.

When the little mp3 finally gets to the news, the decibel levels are much lower than that of all the stuff at the very beginning. Some days it’s worse, other days it’s better. The point is, when I’m out for a run, I have to crank up the volume to hear anything. Then when the next item on the playlist comes up, my ear drums are attacked.

This is not the only feed that is guilty. Maybe you guys are not the guilty party, but being that you serve up the feed for “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? – All the News that Isn’t“, I’m lumping them into the same group. Unless you crank the volume up, you hear Feldman mumbling with some sporadic laughter from the crowd. Come on, guys. I love public radio, and you are making it suck.

Why is there no compression or normalization to these podcasts? This is an easy solution, but it’s been this way for a long time. After complaining about this to numerous friends, I’m taking the step of letting you guys know how I feel. As someone who lives outside of the U.S. but enjoys what NPR offers, you shouldn’t forget about people like myself. If you give us quality content, then we might just think about giving you some quality donations when you need it.

Sincerely,
John Bollwitt

Tips of the podcasting tricks

I’ve been a long time reader of PodcastingTricks.com, and the site is very resourceful for those looking for ways to get into podcasting. At the same time, there are folks, such as myself, who like to stay up to date with other things going on in the medium. Trust me, you are never a true professional, no matter how much you’ve seen and done. If you are not constantly learning and trying new things, especially in podcasting, then you are bound to have a rude awakening at some point.

Everyone has tips for doing things, and podcasting has about a million of them. PodcastingTricks.com just posted “Seven Steps to Successful Podcasting” that, for the most part, are very useful to anyone new to all of this. You can check it out for yourself, but the part I want to highlight is step number seven.

7) The only piece of gear advice in this post – get a great microphone. I know some of you were hoping this was an article describing the seven pieces of gear you need to buy in order to be successful at podcasting. If only that it were just a question of gear. Unfortunately, just as buying the same golf clubs used by Tiger Woods won’t help you shoot under par, using the same gear as Howard Stern won’t make you a star. But there is one piece of gear that can make or break a podcast, and that’s the mic. There’s no undo button for the microphone. It’s the most important part in your audio chain. If the sound coming into your computer is bad from the start, you’re swimming upstream the rest of the show. That’s why this is the place to spend the lion’s share of your budget. Buy the best mic you can afford first. Then everything else can follow over time. If you’re miserly here, you’ll regret it later. [podcastingtricks]

To all newbie podcasters, tread lightly on this point. I have heard so many people in podcasting say that if you are going to do this, then go buy the most expensive mic that you can. Based on my experience of buying equipment for radio stations, price does not account for quality products. Let me say that again. Expensive does not mean that you are buying a great microphone.

There is a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo that can make your head spin when you get into the gritty details of how a microphone is engineered. Omni-directional versus uni-directional, and so on. If you are uncomfortable with all of that and don’t know where to start, think about it on a consumer level.

Where ever you buy something from, find out their return policy. Can you buy it, try it out, and then get a refund if you don’t like it? Worst comes to worst, you can always try to sell it on eBay or Craigslist. However, getting your money back might make you feel a little less like you’re going all in on an unsure hand.

There are a lot of things that you can do to aid in your disadvantage of not having great equipment. If you are big on post-production, meaning editing your audio after recording it, learn the software that is available to you. Applying filters and effects can change the quality of your audio dramatically. You might not be able to get it broadcast booth quality, but in podcasting, does that really matter? Just get it to where it sounds good to you.

Mixers can also do a lot for a mic. Adjusting the gain and messing with the EQ’s can make the cheapest microphones sound just as good as, if not better than, the most expensive stuff. Additionally, mixers can also do a lot for your space, reducing background noise and room echoes. Think about that before you start stapling egg crate foam to your walls.

The point is, be careful, do your homework, and see what other people are doing. Chances are, if you email a podcaster about their setup, they’re going to get back to you. At the same time, get started on your own project, with a bare bones setup, and just get used to it. No one is perfect out of the gate.

When it comes to equipment, you want to make sure that this is something you want to stick with over the long term. Think about that before anything else. If you lose focus and stop doing this after your third episode, you’ll have a $600 mic sitting around and a story you’ll share from time to time of, “Yeah, I had a podcast once.”

Ubercaster is getting ready for official release

I got an email from the folks at Ubercaster about the coming plan for the official release of their podcasting program for the MacOS.

Hi all,

after a long time of silence, we’re proud to announce the launch of
our Übercaster pre-order offer.

Until the end of the beta phase, you’ve got the chance to pre-order
Übercaster with a 15% discount off the regular retail price.

This means: Order Übercaster now and pay only $69 (US) instead of
$79.95. In addition to that you’ll get the following advantages with
the ordered license key:

– No expiration of the program.
– Free updates including v1.x
– Upload feature unlocked (disabled in the free beta).
You can automatically upload your shows during the release process.
Several network protocols are supported: in addition to FTP, SFTP,
WebDAV and .Mac, Übercaster also supports native upload to XML-RPC
services like PodShow.com, including the automatic creation of blog
entries.

Ordered license keys will be sent immediately.

Übercaster’s pre-order phase starts today and ends with the
introduction of Übercaster’s final release.
Podcasters are still invited to join the free beta test.

I’ve been using Ubercaster for all live recordings of both podcasts that I produce, especially The Crazy Canucks. For a beta program, it has worked really well up to this point, but the final encoding of any episode is still questionable. In fact, I’ve been exporting uncompressed audio files from the program and doing all final encoding of mp3’s with iTunes. My ear could pick up a noticeable difference between the two, but I need to make another comparison with the latest build.

It was only a matter of time before the testing phase would end and the final release of Ubercaster would be unveiled. In PC world, Castblaster is the Windows equivalent for recording podcasts in real time, and the price sits at $50US. I’ve never used it, but everything I have heard about it makes it very similar to Ubercaster.

Everything that I’ve done up to this point would make Ubercaster worth the purchase, more so if you can get in on the pre-order phase. In fact, I even got Rebecca comfortable with using it. The interface is easy enough to understand that training her was very easy. You can get a prime example of it here on her take over of the last six song on RadioZoom.

The one thing that is uncertain is how much longer the beta phase will be. The amount of new builds coming out during this pre-release phase has gone up quite a bit. I have yet to try out the latest version, but the stripping of the beta label for Ubercaster seems that it will happen later rather than sooner.

Audacity 1.3.2 beta released

For open source audio editing, Audacity is a pretty powerful program. In the world of podcasting, it’s one of those tools that are used widely when looking to keep the cost down for producing content. And by cost, I mean that it’s free.

The developers behind the application are working on the final release to version 1.3, so I’m curious to see how much their work has progressed. I’ve actually ditched the last, official release of 1.2.5 and worked completely in 1.3.0b for the last few months. It’s worked like a charm for everything that I’ve needed from it.

The latest beta version of Audacity was released yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to play with it a whole lot, but the details about 1.3.2b on their website has me a little anxious to see what’s new.

New features in Audacity 1.3.1 and 1.3.2

  1. Improved Toolbar Docking
  2. Track focus for improved keyboard navigation
  3. Repair and Equalization effects
  4. Timer Recording
  5. Project saving and recovery
  6. Selection Bar
  7. Mac OS X features

New features in Audacity 1.3.0

  1. Collapse/Expand Tracks
  2. Multiple clips per track
  3. Improved Label Tracks
  4. Other features

[audacity]

Even though Audacity doesn’t look as pretty as all those other programs that you have to pay big bucks for, it can do a heck of a lot for you if you take the chance to learn it.

Followup thoughts on Levelator

My initial post about Levelator was more to raise awareness about this application.  As I said before, this is a brilliant concept for podcasters and audiophiles everywhere.  It’s a drag and drop program that compresses, levelizes, and limits your audio, all on its own.  What more can you ask for than that?

Within minutes of making that first post, Doug Kaye dropped by my blog and offered some thoughts on what I can do to make my use of it better.  Ignoring the pretty cool fact that he is one of the orginal podcasters, I thought it was great that one of the main guys behind this application was quick to offer solutions on Levelator.

I have an episode of RadioZoom that I will released later today, if not tomorrow, in which I have my first venture into utilizing this program.  I am very impressed with what it did to a single AIFF of nearly 38 minutes of audio that I recorded with my mic and minidisc.  It was a mobile interview, and this application just cut my editing time by over fifty percent.

The quality is just as impressive.  It gives you solid sound that can take hours of tweaking, depending on how precise you want your audio to be.  I can get pretty picky some times, but this is an answer to that for sure.

Team 1040 Podcasts: Vancouver Canucks Hockey Games

Rebecca and I missed the game last night between the Canucks and Oilers, and for good reason. Thanks to J.J from the Canucks Hockey Blog, I was able to get him to txt me the final score. 2-1 Edmonton for the final. Not the prettiest of games, and I’m sure we’ll discuss this on the episode of The Crazy Canucks that we plan to record tonight.

I did subscribe to the Team 1040 AM Vancouver Canucks Podcast that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. At first, I thought it was just the talk shows that they do about the Canucks, which was completely true. They took “Canucks This Week” and sent it out via podcast, commercials and all. Not a horrible listen as you get a little caught up with highlights from Tom and Shorty.

To my surprise, after the first game of the regular season, all three periods of the game against Detroit showed up in my iTunes. These are exactly what you hear on the radio, but this isn’t AM radio quality. The sound is excellent. Dare I say it, but the commercials even sound better when it’s not coming across at 1040 kHz. Could have swore that I just heard some plastic crinkling in the background. Maybe it’s the sound of Larschied’s beer cups?

The downside is the size of the mp3’s. I’m listening to last night’s, final two periods right now. The 2nd came down at 128kbps, almost 58 minutes long, and 52.5MB in size. The end of the period just saw the audio go dead, so there was about 18 minutes of “dead air” as they transitioned into intermission. The 3rd period was even bigger, downloading a 256kbps mp3 at just over an hour in length and 113 MB in size. (Like the 2nd, the end of the 3rd period podcast had almost 26 minutes of “dead air” tacked on at the end.)

That’s a lot of space being eaten up on the hard drive of my laptop or my iPod, not to mention the time it takes to download. Perhaps this is something that can be changed in the future. I’m thinking that a standard of 96kbps would be an excellent sample rate. That would bring the size down considerable. (Hmm, maybe I should send Team 1040 an email with a link back to this post.)

Team 1040 AMListening to this as I write this post, there’s a commercial running for their podcasts. I should also mention that they do the same for the BC Lions, but I haven’t checked that out.

This would be ideal for someone who is a transplanted Canucks fan who wants some sort of play-by-play action to feed their need. Sure, it’s time shifted and you’ll have to do everything you can to avoid hearing the outcome of the game before you get around to listening to this, but there are some great advantages. Fast forward through commercials (standard TV break is two minutes) and skip the intermissions. There are kinks, but I’m sure they’ll get those worked through.

If you’re like me, you just want some recap on the action while going about your day. Sure, we got the score at the end of the game last night, but I would have never known how close the Canucks came to tying it up at the end of the 3rd with a pulled goalie. TV highlights can’t fill the void that Shorty gives you when the game is on the line in those last minutes before the final horn. Not too bad.