How To Make a Podcast

Since we first started doing the Conference Call several people have asked us how we put it all together. Saying we do it with a couple of tin cans and some string kind of gets old, so Shawn decided we should do a write up for the front page, and then volunteered me to do it. The bastard! (This article is written by Rob Borges, in case you haven't figured it out yet - Shawn)

So what does it take to get the Conference Call up every week? A crap load of equipment, something interesting to talk about (we hope), and someone insane enough to spend hours editing it all together. That last part would be me, by the way.

So here are the answers to all your questions and possibly more than you really ever wanted to know. Enjoy!

Hey let’s start a podcast! Wouldn’t it be cool? We could get a bunch of us on Skype, record us talking for about an hour, and then post it on the web for people to listen to. It’ll be easy. So easy, in fact, that there are thousands of podcasts out there. Anyone can get a bunch of people together in a room or on one of the many voice over IP programs, record the conversation, and post it on the web. Unfortunately what you get out of that can be a pretty mixed bag. There's nothing like listening to people cough, eat pizza and breathe into their microphones for an hour.

When Shawn and I first started talking about doing the podcast the one thing we wanted to make sure of was that at the very least it would sound “professional”. We wanted something that would be easy to sit back and enjoy. I can’t remember how many podcasts I have listened to where one of the individuals, usually the guest, is barely audible and the rest are deafening. This was something to be avoided at all costs, and I think that so far we have done a pretty good job of it. Another objective was to be able to include other people using Voice over IP or VOIP for short. This would allow us to include people we couldn't be in the same room with, like Sean for example. We were also hoping to get game developers on if we were lucky enough. I believe it is the ability to include people using VOIP that helps make the show as good as it is, unfortunately it is also what makes our setup so complicated. So why don’t we start there and talk about the equipment we use.

The Equipment

I remember having several conversations with Shawn about how the show would all come together, but it wasn’t until we finally decided to actually do a test run that I realized just how much equipment we were going to need. Thankfully the most expensive components we already had, and that was the two computers we needed for our setup. Our next problem was a mixer, for without one we were sure to fall prey to the same problems most podcasts face with their recordings. Thankfully we had some great people we could turn to, not only to help find what we were looking for but to also help purchase it under our nonexistent budget. And so it came to be that we ended up with the Presonus Inspire 1394 mixer. With the mixer taken care of the next item on our list was Microphones.

First let me just say that it is completely possible to record a podcast using a regular gaming headset microphone and end up with something that sounds decent enough, in fact Sean still uses one for our show. Having said that a headset microphone can be fairly inconsistent and I wanted to make sure that at the very least Shawn and I had something that I knew would perform better. After looking around at some options I decided to go with the Behringer C-2 Studio Condenser Microphones. While these microphones are used primarily for recording acoustic instruments we found they sounded really nice and as a bonus they were much cheaper than any of the other microphones we were looking at, again a must considering our nonexistent budget. I have been really happy with the way C-2 microphones have preformed, and it wasn't until very recently that we decided to upgrade to something better. In fact Julian was the inspiration behind it.

When Julian became a regular on the Conference Call it took all of one episode for him to realize just how much better Shawn and I sounded, and even though I told him it was mostly due to the compression Skype uses he still went out and bought a mixer and a studio microphone for himself. He’s such a whore. Ever since his purchase however, I have openly lusted over his choice in microphones and have waited patiently until the day I felt I could afford to buy one for myself. A couple of weeks ago Shawn and I ordered two of the Studio Projects B1 Microphones, and we can’t wait for them to arrive. Stupid backorders!

Next on our list of equipment are the accessories. First on that list is microphone stands. Studio microphones are pretty sensitive and most are not meant to be held in the hand. So we bought a couple of stands to put on our desks for when we record. We also bought a couple of Pop Filters which are basically just a circle or square frame that has stretched nylon in between. You place the Pop filter in front of a microphone and it helps prevent the sharp popping noise you get when saying words that start with P and B. You can actually make your own using some stretched nylon and a coat hanger, or if you want something that’s a little more professional looking you can do what this guy did. The last item on the accessories list is a good pair of headphones, the quieter the better. When we first started doing the show I didn’t think much about headphones and figured any kind would do. Boy was I wrong, and I paid for it when editing. Have you ever been out in public and had a kid walk by listening to his Ipod and the music is so loud you can actually hear it coming from his headset? You want to avoid that when recording because microphones will pick that up and it’s a pain to edit out. The closed design headsets are good for eliminating that problem and there are lots of models out there to choose from. The ones Shawn and I now use cost like thirty bucks each and they work great, so you don’t need to spend a fortune, but you could.

Last but not least we come to cables! Cables are often the last thing anyone ever thinks about and where most people skimp when it comes to cost. It’s usually a bad idea. Knowing we didn’t have much of a budget to work with I decided to make my own. I had some excellent quality mic cable at home and I had made cables before plenty of times so I figured it would be easy, right? Oh the hubris! Obviously things didn’t go so well, and we will never speak of this again! In the end my brother helped me pick out some really nice, and fairly inexpensive premade cables and I have never looked back since.

The setup

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Now that you know what equipment we use the next step in getting the Conference Call out to you every week is the setup. While at first glance it may seem a little complicated, it really isn’t all that bad. The key thing to remember is that audio goes in one way and comes out the other. This is true for setting up any audio device whether you’re the head audio tech at a rock concert or just a guy trying to hook up a stereo.

So let’s start where the whole thing ends (where all the audio comes out), and work our way back from there. Our whole objective when recording is to get everyone’s voice into the recording device. In our case it is a computer which is hooked up to the mixer, our next piece in the system, using a Firewire cable. The mixer is where all the magic happens. It is how we are able to get every ones voice recorded at once and have everyone able to hear each other as well.

The Inspire 1394 mixer we use has four channels. This means we can hook up four different audio devices all at the same time and record them to their own track on the recording computer. Two of those channels are for Microphones only and are capable of providing Phantom Power. Phantom power is basically just an outside power source that some microphones require in order to produce a strong enough signal to record. The other two channels on the mixer can be used to hook up anything from guitars to CD players or anything else capable of sending out a strong enough audio signal to record, like for example our Skype computer.

Shawn and I live in the same city so our end of things is actually quite simple. The microphones that Shawn and I use plug into channel one and two on the mixer, which than get sent to the recording computer where it is recorded as tracks one and two. The Skype computer is a little different. The audio signal starts with the people we are talking to over the net. That signal is then sent over the intertubes into our Skype computer and from there gets sent to the speaker output on the Skype computers audio card. We plug that into channel three of the mixer and the signal gets recorded as track three on the recording computer. This takes care of getting all the voices recorded but another important part of doing the show is being able to hear everyone as well. Thankfully another feature of the mixer is the ability to send each person’s voice to everyone else in real time. So I can send both Shawn’s and my voice back to the Skype computer so they can hear us and send their voices to the headsets Shawn and I use so we can hear them. To complicate things even further Shawn and I also record in separate rooms to ensure my voice doesn’t end up recording through his microphone and vice versa, and equally as important, so that I don’t punch Shawn in the face every time he sniffs into his microphone. Thankfully through the magic of the mixer we are also able to hear each other.

That pretty much takes care of the setup, and brings us to the final step in creating an episode of the Conference Call, editing!

Editing

I believe editing is what separates our show from the others, in that we actually do it, a lot of it. In fact I spend hours on each episode, and it’s totally worth it. One of the reasons we have as intricate a setup as we do is that it makes editing the show a hell of a lot easier and in some cases just plain possible. Sure we could do the show with a lot less equipment but then we would face the same problems most other podcasts face. You would have to jack up the volume just to hear Shawn when he spoke and go deaf before you could turn down the volume when I piped up. Or listen to Sean chew his ice while Julian tried to tell us about his latest adventures in Hoop and Stick. It would basically be a mess. In fact I am so averse to having more than one person on the same track that several months ago we started having everyone on Skype record their own track at home, including our guests. After each show everyone uploads their track to me and I synch it up with the Skype track that I recorded before I edit. This method has greatly improved the overall sound quality of the show and while it means I have more tracks to deal with it actually makes the show easier to put together. It also makes it possible for me to edit what everyone says so that it sounds like they all agreed with what I had to say. Not that I have to worry about it much, because really who in their right mind wouldn’t agree with me!

As for what editing program we use, I didn’t have to look any further than the one that came with the mixer. Cubase LE has been great. It works well with the Presonus Inspire mixer, it has pretty much everything I need to record and edit the show, and I really like the user interface. Cubase can be overwhelming for someone just starting out though, so I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. There are a lot of good programs out there it just depends on how much you want to spend and just how many features you need. Julian has fallen in love with a program called Reaper, it is pretty user friendly, has a lot of great options, and is cheap to buy. Don’t have any money? No problem. Audacity is an open source recording and editing program that works pretty well. It also has a lot of great options including some that I use which Cubase LE doesn’t have, and Audacity is really user friendly. In fact it is so user friendly it’s the program we have our guests use to record their tracks when they are on the show.

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In case you were wondering what one of our shows looked like before it was compressed into an .mp3 there you have it. All of those tracks you see are .wav files (uncompressed audio). They can get pretty big, usually several hundred megs each depending on show length. As you can see everyone has their own track and every time I find a noise I don’t like or a section that just doesn’t sound as good as it could I cut and paste, and move and arrange things until it does. Once I get all the sections to sound as good as I can, I mix the project down into a stereo track so that it’s easier to manage and add the music and mix it down again, than I take that stereo track and compress into an .mp3 file. Once the .mp3 file is ready I upload it to a server and when the time comes Shawn creates a post to the front page with a link to the file and voila you have your Conference Call podcast for the week!

So there you have it! It’s a lot of work and even though we’re careful sometimes things go wrong, like losing an entire show (two of them in fact and trust me it totally sucks). Still doing the show has been a great learning experience and I hope you guys enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoy putting it together. I’d also like to take this chance to once again thank all of you who have contributed to the show in some way or another, whether it be help with purchasing equipment, sponsorship, contest prizes, music, audio submissions, e-mails, hell even if it’s just listening to the show. It totally makes it worth it. Okay, I should probably end this before it starts sounding like an acceptance speech.

Comments

Thanks Rob. I'm betting this will be a very popular article. I wouldn't mind seeing more tech/hardware discussion coming to the front page.

I don't take the professional presentation of the podcast for granted. There are countless podcasts out there that sound horrible - some even by alleged tech gurus. I can't listen to them.

But the GWJ Conference Call always sounds great. Well done and nice writeup.

Edit: typo.

Thanks for the detailed article. You guys really do have the best-sounding podcast I know. Thanks for having the respect for your listeners that encourages you to go the extra mile for us.

Cool to see a bit how this works. I have made a single mp3 so far, me reading a book to my kids. They just loved it lol
No pro setup, just my laptop with build in microphone and audacity to record.

Rob,

That's an interesting and cool little look behind the curtain. Thanks for taking the time to write it up.

The podcasts really do sound great. You and the rest of the crew are doing an excellent job on them.

Rob, many thanks for this article! I have pretty much all the equipment/software needed to do a podcast (minus the mic stand and pop guard) so all's i need now is for some of the Eurogoodjers to sign up and we'll start up a rival EuroGWJcast

Excellent Rob, thanks for all the info. Really glad to get an insight into the process behind the podcast. Fascinated to discover that you get everyone to uplaod their own tracks and them synch them up, that's pretty hardcore dedication to sound quality!

@Duoae: Count me in on the list if you need UK representatives

Thanks for all your hard work. I look forward to listening to you nerds talk every Tuesday evening. Sometimes I even fall asleep to your voices.

(This article is written by Rob Borges, in case you haven't figured it out yet - Shawn)

So naturally it was posted under Certis' name.

He was too scared to use the content creation engine. "Save me Shawn! Save me!" he cried.

Will the EuroGWJcast be featuring token Yankee guests?

Good overview Rob. And good work. Thank you.

Just a few comments,

One of the steps Rob was helpful with (and is, on a nightly basis) is mic technique. With a good mic, EVERYTHING impacts the sound. Whether you're straight in on the mic or at an angle. On top or in front, 6 inches or 12 inches. And then there's the environment. By definition we're all sitting next to computers with some level of cooling. Over time, he's coached us on all that stuff, along with things like setting our own levels, modulating our voices, along with a dozen other things we might otherwise have never noticed, like unplugging your phone!

Another thing we've worked on, sometimes consciously but more often unconsciously, is the actual energy and flow of the conversations. It's very easy to step all over each other. Rob can (and does) edit that out by muting the folks who are just blathering, but we try and be conscious of it and save him the effort. There are two ways we do this.

The most important (to me) is mebeam. Mebeam is dirt simple video conferencing software. It runs in a browser during the podcast, and we can all see each other while we're talking. Not only does this let us have some sense of body language (rolling of eyes, flipping people off, applauding) but it also lets us send simple signals (like pointing to yourself or jumping up in down when you want the floor next). The second (which we use much less often) is skype chat. It's obviously distracting to have a second conversation going on in a window, but occasionally (most often when we have a guest on) we'll send a note back and forth to Shawn to mention something, reskew a question, check someone's level, whatever. These kinds of off-mic communications can go a long way towards keeping the energy up.

And last, this is definitely something you get better at. A year or so ago, we would stop and start endlessly, redo sections, mess up technically, come in unprepared. Now we rarely repeat anything, take one or two very quick breaks, and take just minutes to get going. Our prep level is generally much higher, thanks to Shawn creating a full set of shownotes for us ahead of each show, so we know what's on the agenda, what emails we're going to read, and what the hot button games might be. And I for one try very very hard not to talk about anything we're going to mention on the show with these guys until we're rolling tape so as not to lose the spontaneity of saying something stupid on tape.

Certis wrote:

He was too scared to use the content creation engine. "Save me Shawn! Save me!" he cried.

He yells the same thing during Sins and TF2 games.

Pop filters? A separate non-recorded video feed? It all makes sense now.

The homemade pop filter in Rob's link is made from an embroidery hoop and pantyhose. Pretty cool. It's like something you'd see in Laura Ingalls Wilder's pirate radio station, before the MAN shuts her down for playing the rebellious music prairie parents don't want their prairie kids to hear.

I would add from my own little experience doing that short bit I did for the podcast is don't skip the pop filter.

This, by the way, is not the little foam sleeve that fits over the business end of the mic the half-informed trog at Radio Shack may try to claim is one. That's referred to as a wind screen. It's the smaller cousin to the big hairy contraption you see sound engineers use when they're recording on a boom mic for movie sets and stuff.

I recommend you get both if you're going to do anything more than just one guy talking to the world. Since I'm recording in my "office area" (which is where normal people keep a dining room), even if there's no one in the house I had issues with echoes and the shape of the sound.

The foam sleeve is officially for recording outdoors to keep the wind from whistling into the mic. It works pretty well in a pinch, but it has cons. It muffles the sound a bit. But on the good side it also had an unintended side effect of helping clean up ambient noise. If you have multiple people in the same room like I did when I had the boys and their friends recording the sound of that flock of hairy-palmed pubtards you need the help to keep just the sound of the other participants breathing from being picked up. I had six large guys looming behind me, and I swear without the cover the mic was picking the sound of teenage hormones rushing through their veins.

However, when you're recording dialog the loss of brilliance and the dampening effect doesn't help. It took me forever to get the voice over stuff well enough that it didn't sound like Sir Hiss was doing the speaking and it about put Rob in tears even then. http://www.podcastalley.com/forum/ar... has a great little forum thread about various people's suggestions for dealing with both.

Stuff about Pop Filters

It's what MCA was talking about when he said, "Never rock the mic with the pantyhose!"

Incredibly interesting read Rob, thanks. I often comment to people that the gaming podcast I listen to with the most professional sound is the one being done by guys who seem to just do it for the experience. Like so much else about GWJ, I can't say enough how much I appreciate your work, from the writing, to the moderating, to the editing, this really is the best internet community I have ever seen, and probably the most functional community of any type that I have seen. Bravo.

I wonder if the sound clarity can be improved by permanently assigning some people to either left or right channel, like they do with DVD audio commentary sometimes.

GWJ sure has a different take on how to do a podcast. I think everybody else on the internet does the following:

Find an asshole.
Give them a microphone.
Call it a podcast.

Fantastic write up ... thank you very much.

Elliottx wrote:

Find an asshole.
Give them a microphone.
Call it a podcast.

<--- Download soon to be available.

Good info. I've often wanted to record some of my ramblings, but quality and the price to get that quality always made me think twice. Now I know I should just write this stuff down for my blog. Keep up the great work!

Thanks for those tips momgamer and rabbit! I'll keep them in mind.

Destrin wrote:

@Duoae: Count me in on the list if you need UK representatives ;)

If there are people willing to get together and try and hammer out a Euro podcast then i'm game... just not until July comes around then i'm pretty much free for a couple of months.

Dr_Awkward wrote:

Will the EuroGWJcast be featuring token Yankee guests?

Good overview Rob. And good work. Thank you.

As long as they don't mind doing it in the morning (their time) they'd be welcome. One other pre-requisite is that they must have or be able to approximate an extremely slow southern drawl to be able to carry the rest of us through the uninteresting bits of the podcast

Duoae wrote:

Rob, many thanks for this article! I have pretty much all the equipment/software needed to do a podcast (minus the mic stand and pop guard) so all's i need now is for some of the Eurogoodjers to sign up and we'll start up a rival EuroGWJcast ;)

count me in fella!

Elliottx wrote:

GWJ sure has a different take on how to do a podcast. I think everybody else on the internet does the following:

Find an asshole.
Give them a microphone.
Call it a podcast.

That's how I do it!!

Cheers for the article on this, it's made for good reading.

Interesting read on how you do the podcast. The quality of the final product is better than any other podcast I've tried.

Conspiracy theory: one of those "lost podcasts" was the second section of the podcast right after GFW Magazine shut down, and we lost Jeff Green's comments on the situation...what dark secrets could have been revealed? Didn't you have his side of the conversation at least, if each person sends in their own Skype track?

shihonage wrote:

I wonder if the sound clarity can be improved by permanently assigning some people to either left or right channel, like they do with DVD audio commentary sometimes.

But then my broken Ipod wouldn't be able to play it properly, with its broken headphones slot that only plays things through the left headphone. Please don't do that to me GWJ!

Anyways, good article and Rob you definitely sound like an audio bitch with how much effort you go through to make it sound great. I'm glad you do it, it makes it a lot more enjoyable to listen to so keep up the good work!

I've listened to some podcasts that try and do stereo mixes - put your headphones on sometimes and listen to a conversation that's split (i do it for my interviews when I transcribe). Trust me when I tell you its not a good thing.

These are some great tips that people should heed if they plan on doing one of their own.

When me and some of my "Squadron of Shame" buddies decided to make our own podcast, we shared the same goal as you guys...make it professional and give the listener something worth listening to. The first thing we always hear from everyone that listens is "man...you guys really have your sh*t together." It makes a huge difference.

By the way, I've learned of your podcast when Jeff Green made an appearance and immediately listened to every episode that's currently available. You guys do an informative, entertaining, and consistant show that I hope goes on for a long time. GWJ is the first podcast I've added to my regular rotation in a year...and I've tried a lot of shows.

Oh, and if anyone's interested in listening to the Squadron of Shame do some serious chin-strokin' about some underappreciated gems, here are a couple of feeds for ya:

Subscribe via iTunes:
itpc://web.mac.com/davison.p/The_Squadron_of_Shame_Archives/Podcast/rss.xml

Subscribe via RSS:
feed://web.mac.com/davison.p/The_Squadron_of_Shame_Archives/Podcast/rss.xml

awesome article!

So much more advanced than I would have suspected...

It's always nice to get the inside ball on how things are put together =)

First, I'd also like to express my sincere appreciation for an excellent podcast, which a noticeably higher level of quality that one ordinarily finds in these sorts of things.

Second, I can't be the only one who'd like to see, just once, the video part. Preferably set to the Benny Hill Show's theme music, so I can see our beloved Goodjer overlords jumping up and down.

I just want to see everyone taking a shot when Rabbit mentions Flight Simulator or Bioshock. As long as no one drinks for the phrase, "at the end of the day." That might be too much.

Fascinating piece, thanks Rob. A lot tougher than I expected.

I'm with Coldstream, a once off video podcast could be cool. Maybe for episode 100?