Vol. 1, Chap. 6: “The Gold Mill”

In this episode, we figure out how to call people eggplants on our way to Popeyes, and then are regaled with the story of a dead miser, his mill, his cat, and the musical man who came up with brassiere.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite abandoned structure and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale.

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales and Twitter @taleinterrupted and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group. Please take a moment and rate us on iTunes, we see all those stars you gave Comedy Bang Bang so we know you can afford it!

Zencastr Audio Tips

Zencastr is a cool service that handles a lot of the grunt work of recording remote participants in a podcast.  We use it for our weekly comedy podcast, Interrupted Tales, and it works very well. That said, it does have some quirks.  Here are some tips and tidbits we’ve found out after using it for a while.

Echo Cancellation

Zencastr expects you may have some audio issues – for instance, guests with bad mics and bleeding audio.  By default, it enables a feature called Echo Cancellation (which is a setting on the host’s audio preferences inside Zencastr). Echo cancellation attempts to remove audio leakage.  But, as noted in the FAQs, if everyone being recorded has a quality mic and headphone combination this is unnecessary and even detrimental —  we found the audio occasionally came out somewhat robotic when participants talk at the same time with echo cancellation enabled.  Disabling echo cancellation made this problem go away entirely.

Running out of space

When recording we would occasionally see low disk space warnings even though there was plenty of space available on Dropbox.  It turns out, the warnings were actually talking about local diskspace alloted by the browser for audio recording which was very low because I was using incognito mode, which leads us to…

Don’t Use Incognito Mode

Don’t use incognito mode. If you need to have multiple browsers for multiple tracks, we’ve found that it works far better to use multiple browser profiles in Chrome.

Separate Soundboard Track

Out of the box, Zencastr puts all sounds from it’s “soundboard” onto the host’s track.  Here’s a workaround for how to get sounds out and onto their own separate track.

Recovering Files

It’s been rare, but on occasion we’ve had an upload fail.  Luckily, most of the time reloading the browser will let the upload continue.  And if you have trouble Zencastr support can help.  But you can also try this snippet which I’ve successfully used in Chrome’s developer mode window if all else fails.

Know any other Zencastr tips? Let us know in the comments.

Interested in remote podcasting but not sure where to start?  Read our first post on the subject.

 

How to Setup a Podcast Soundboard

The Problem

“Mixing is WORK.”  When we were first working on the concept for our comedy podcast, Interrupted Tales, the first thing that became clear is that we had very little extra time to devote to the hobby and needed to make the most of it.  We wanted a professional sounding podcast but didn’t want to spend time every week editing in the same sound bumpers and intro themes.  So we worked on a solution.

Or rather, we thought we already had a solution.  We use Zencastr, which is a service that lets us record our podcast remotely.  And out of the box, Zencastr provides a soundboard tool that lets you mix in music or sound bites live into your recording session.  You can use the default sounds or upload your own mp3s to use. It even lets you do trigger the sounds with hotkeys, and automatically fades out the sound when you hit it a second time, which is invaluable for talking over the end of intro music.   So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, even though Zencastr records a separate track for each participant, the audio from the soundboard gets recorded on the host track.  While that might be ok for some, it caused problems for us:

  1. Post-processing: We do our own post-processing of each track in Audacity.  That includes equalization, normalization, and noise reduction.  Having pre-recorded audio on a vocal track messes this process up.  The highs and lows of a vocal track don’t necessarily match up with the highs and lows of the soundboard audio.  And the soundboard audio has things like the intro theme that was already noise reduced and processed ALREADY – we don’t want to do it again on the hosts track!
  2. Flubs and Edit Points: One of the best tips we received early on in the podcasting process was from Mike Delgaudio, a profession VO artist who provides tips and tricks on his Booth Junkie Youtube channel.  He recommends using a dog trainer “click” button on your vocal track to easily let you identify and edit out flubs or errors in your recording later.  We tried this with a mp3 sound bite equivalent in the default Zencastr soundboard and found that it was still a bit hard to pick out, especially after doing manual post-processing.  But if that click is on a separate track with bumper audio, it is idiotically easy to pick out edit marks.

So, we decided we needed to record a separate track with our soundtrack audio and edit marks.  Easy right?  Not really.  We went through a lot of options before finding something that worked the way we wanted it to.  But first, here were our needs.

The Requirements

  • A Way to Record a Second Track in Zencastr: This is easy but not intuitive to do.  Zencastr knows if you open an additional tab in your browser, and doesn’t separately record a new tab.  However, if you use a second browser (for instance Chrome AND Firefox) it will treat these as separate participants.  Another alternative which we employ is to use Chrome with separate profiles ,  one for the vocal track and the other for the soundboard.  Note: do not try to use Chrome’s incognito function as this has some specific problems with the remote recording Zencastr does).
  • A Utility To Play Sounds: First, we needed a program that would play various sounds on demand. But it needed several features beyond what a lot of cheap programs that come up with a search for “soundboard” do.  First, it needed to have full hotkey support so we could be in a different program (for instance, a browser window) and trigger the sound.  Second, it needed to be able to fade out a sound easily so we could speak over the top of sound bites.  Third, and incredibly important for Windows machines, it needed to output to specific audio output device.  More on this later, but in the end we chose Soundplant which is a cross-platform soundboard utility that costs $50 and meets all of our requirements.
  • A Physical Trigger for the Sounds: Ok, this is not strictly necessary as long as your sound utility allows hotkeys; you just need to remember the keystrokes and hit them at the right time.  But it is cool as hell.  We wanted a live soundboard with easily identifiable buttons that was always at the ready.  So we got a Elgato Stream Deck ($150 on Amazon.com) which allows for completely customizable LED keys.  While it is focused on video/YouTube/Twitch style streamers with capabilities for software like OBX, our use is simpler. We setup our hotkeys to trigger sounds via Soundplant.  Again, this step is not necessary if you are budget minded but it is very easy to use and lets us trigger sounds without needing anything to be remembered or on-screen at the time.

One final need that occurs in Windows (and is really not an issue with the Mac ability to aggregate devices) is the need to route audio properly through different devices.  For this, we found the free Virtual Audio Cable drivers invaluable in letting us manipulate “fake” audio channels to feed to Zencastr.  These drives should be installed before the next steps.

The Solution

Setup Soundplant

Soundplant is pretty straightforward.  You assign a sound (music, a noise, etc) to a key on the keyboard.  You then fiddle with a few options – do you want the sound to loop, or fade, etc, and you can trigger it with a keystroke.  There are three important settings to get right:

  1. Set “Background key input” to true.  This allows you trigger a sound hotkey even when Soundplant is not the foreground window.
  2. Enter Preferences and set “Audio Output > Device” to the virtual audio cable “Cable Input (VB-Audio Virtual Cable)”.  This makes Soundplant act like it is on its own audio channel which can then be recorded later in Zencastr.  Note that this will also likely make it so you won’t normally hear the sound being played in Soundplant, so you might want to wait until you get everything setup correctly to switch the audio device setting.
  3. Enter Preferences and set “Background key input > only trigger sounds” to “Ctrl+Alt+”.  This will narrow the chance that your hotkey will be triggered by accident.

You can have as many or as few sounds as fit on the keyboard.  Here’s an example of ours:

In this case, we’ve got our theme song on trigger on letter “E” when we’re in Soundplant, and Ctrl-Alt-“E” when we’re in a different program.  If we hit that key again, the intro will slowly fade out over 3.5 seconds, just right to talk over.

Setup Stream Deck

Stream Deck is very cool and pretty easy to setup, so suffice it to say that you will only need to use minimal actions to make your Soundboard profile work.  In my case, I only used the “System > Hotkey” action and created a separate key for each sound I wanted triggered.  Here’s an example of the profile for our podcast, and note you can have multiple nested folders of keys:

You can ignore the first row of keys – they get switched out periodically.  The middle row of keys is our intro, bumper and outro hotkeys that follow the rough timeline of the show.  The bottom row has a mute button (which I use in conjunction with a program called Autohotkey to mute my mic temporarily) and a button for the “click” sound that identifies flubs and edit points.

Get that sound for free from Soundcloud here.

To take a specific example, when we hit the button on our Stream Deck titled “Intro”, it sends the Ctrl-Alt-“E” keystroke, which starts our intro theme song playing on the Virtual Audio Cable through Soundplant.  When we hit the button again, it sends the same keystroke, and Soundplant starts fading out the theme song.  Cool, right?

Putting it together in Zencastr

The final step is to join a podcast session on Zencastr with two separate browser profiles and then use the “gear” icon to set up our preferences to record the right audio sources.  Thankfully we only need to do this once, as Zencastr remembers our settings on a per profile basis.

Our vocal goes in Browser 1.  We join the session as “Participant One” and set the Input to our real mic name – I’m using a AT2020 USB mic, so we choose that.  The Output is set to our default output which in my case is my speakers (note that I plug headphones into my speakers so that it doesn’t bleed into my mic).  Picture below:

Now, for our second browser.  We use a separate browser profile (again, details here) and sign in as “Soundboard”.  We then set the Input to “Cable Output (VB-Audio Virtual Cable)”.  This is the output end of the channel coming from Soundplant.  We then set the Output in Zencastr to a dead-end source that we don’t listen to.  In my case this is “Realtek Digital Output” but you may need to play around on your end.

Why don’t we set this to the default output like we did on the first browser?  Well it’s a little complicated to think about, but our soundboard is it’s own participant in the session; Zencastr doesn’t know it’s just a dumb input.  So Zencastr is sending ALL the audio that’s coming into the session back, minus the soundboard’s input because we’ve got monitoring off.  Therefore, we will hear audio from all the other participants doubled up because that’s what the “participant one” would hear PLUS what the “virtual” soundboard user would hear.  We don’t want to hear what the “virtual” soundboard user hears at all… and we will already hear their input on the first browser window.  If that’s too much information, just remember the main point: make sure Zencastr sends the audio output for the soundboard’s browser to an audio output you’re definitely NOT listening to.

Example browser 2 settings below:

And that’s about it.  If everything is set up right, you’ll hear audio from the soundboard play in your speakers (or whatever output you set up for browser 1) when you trigger the right button on your Stream Deck.  It will be recorded in a separate track in Zencastr (and named nicely as Soundboard when you download that track).  You’ll easily be able to pick out audio breaks and edit markers, which should hopefully make editing a snap.

Not sure how to go about remote recording a podcast?  Check out our first blog post on the subject.

Want to check out the final results? Listen to our podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

 

How to Create a Podcast with Remote Participants

Note: We’re Not Experts

There are multiple ways to create and mix a podcast that features remote participants; this post explores just one way that works for us on our podcast.  We’re not podcasting experts, and discovering how to make it work was a lengthy process for us.

Starting Out

When we first set out to create our podcast, my friend and I had the following situation:

  • Remote: We were not located in the same state and wouldn’t be in the foreseeable future.  Any regular podcast would need to involve remote recording.
  • High Fidelity: We wanted the sound quality to be as high as possible for arelatively cheap at-home setup.
  • Willing to Pay: We were willing to pay a reasonable cost for a service that would allow us to record together easily and handle multiple tracks.
  • Flexible but Minimal Editing: We wanted to do the minimal editing required to get a podcast out there but still retain flexibility to cut/trim/mute, etc and have multiple tracks in order to do processing and mixing.
  • Live Soundboarding: We wanted intro and outro themes and musical bumpers inserted live into the podcast, because – again – we didn’t want to spend a lot of time editing afterward.
  • Medium Technical Knowledge: We both wanted to share mixing and editing duties, so we needed a system that was reliable and didn’t require too much technical knowledge.
  • Cross Platform: He’s on a Mac, I’m on PC.  We needed something cross-platform.

Recording Options

There are plenty of options out there on how to record multiple people on a podcast out there.  Here are a few:

ISDN Line

I almost didn’t put this option in here because it is professional-level, expensive and reeks of 1990s technology, but it involves using plain old copper telephone lines to transmit audio directly into some various black boxes that connect together and allow a pro to get your audio.  You can find out a little more here but suffice it to say this was far too complicated a setup for a small podcast.

Record a Skype/Hangout Session

This has got to be one of the easiest methods.  You connect by any number of a methods (headset, external mic, laptop cam/mic, phone call, etc) and then use an external program to record the session.  If you’ve got a business plan, or pay for a service like Join Me you might not even need a 3rd party program.  Simple, effective, free and problematic.

For one thing, you are recording “what you hear” from a Skype call – that is, you’re recording your local and fairly clean audio, but everyone else’s audio as compressed and garbled over the internet.  If you hear a semi-robotic voice from another caller, that’s what it’s going to sound like on the recording.

Second, you are getting a single “mixed-down” track of all the audio.  If guests talk over each other, you can’t fix it afterward by muting one person.  If one person has a noisy mic, you’re going to have a lot of trouble trying to clean it up afterward.

Record Local Audio and Sync it Together

In this situation, you and everyone else on the call (yes, there is still some sort of call – more on this later) locally records their own audio track.  Each person uses a sound tool on their computer (Audacity is free and cross-platform and is the program we use to do audio work) to record just their own microphone input.  Then the locally record files are shared with the person who will do the mixing.  Note that you still need a service like Skype or Hangouts to hear each others voices live, but this is usually not recorded.

This approach has some strong advantages.  It can be done at little or no cost, and has very good sound quality.  However, there are plenty of disadvantages.  First, each user has to be able to record themselves, which is a non-trivial issue for some people, including any guests you might have.  They must also all remember to hit record, which is actually not as dumb an item as you might think.  Then, the raw audio tracks must be shared with the person doing the mixing.  Since you would want to record in high quality (probably using .wav files instead of .mp3), these files can be very large and probably need a service like Dropbox or such in order to share.  Finally, you must remember to include ways to sync up the tracks, as not everyone will start recording at the exact same time.  One trick is to count down from 3 and then have all participants clap at the same time and sync from there.  If someone starts and stops recording, you’ll need to remember to do this again.

I know there are multiple podcasts who do this method, including The McElroy Brothers who have a podcast empire despite living across the country from each other.  But we were looking for something a bit simpler and more turnkey.

Remote Podcasting Services

Remote podcasting services allow multiple participants to join a session and have their individual tracks recorded separately.  Notable examples are Zencastr, Cast, and Ringr.  Ringr in particular seemed poised at the call-in market : use their app, call in from your phone, etc, which seems very handy but not at all what we were going for to get maximum sound quality.  For that reason, we concentrated on Zencastr and Cast.

Each of these services allows (for a monthly fee) a host to record a podcasting session where tracks are individually recorded.  Then the tracks can either be auto-mixed, or downloaded separately and mixed offline.  In many ways these services are a hybrid approach – they do the phone call part of Skype, and also the local recording part (via your browser) and then sync everything up automatically.  Should we want to record guests, we need only send them a link to the session and we can get as high quality a recording from them as possible with no technical knowledge on their part (limited, of course, by how good their mic/audio setup is in the first place).  We then get individual mp3 and wav tracks which we can edit together.

We signed up for free trials for both services and while I won’t do a full comparison here, we did have some thoughts on both:

 

Zencastr

  • Cheaper “pro” level plan – this is basically unlimited recording
  • Live sound mixing – more on this later
  • Dropbox integration
  • No in-app editing

 

Cast

  • Slick, modern interface
  • “Editing” mixer with limited functionality – you can cut out all tracks for a bit, or mute one, but not selectively cut and paste, etc
  • Option to automatically host podcast

In the end, we decided that we wanted something closer to Zencastr’s workflow: have it handle recording and syncing, and we would edit and post the final podcast on a podcast service of our choice (in our case, this is Podbean).

Final Workflow

After deciding upon Zencastr as our service of choice, we then set up our workflow:

  • One of us hosts the the session for the podcast on Zencastr.  Once everyone has joined and audio is good, the host hits record.
  • During the podcast, intro and outros are played live and get recorded on their own track – this takes some trickiness with Zencastr which we talk about in a later post.
  • The podcast ends and we wait until all the uploads finish.  A rough mp3 uploads very quickly and the wav takes a little bit longer depending on upload speed.
  • The mixer downloads all the raw tracks, puts them into Audacity; they are already automatically synced because Zencastr started the recording at the same time for all tracks.
  • Each track is automatically cleaned up by an Audacity process chain.  We may go into detail on this step in later posts.
  • We edit out mistakes, fluff, coughing, etc and then output a final a mp3.
  • We post the audio file on Podbean and it goes out to the listening public.

That’s it.  Well, that’s not ALL of it, and there are more details we’ll go into in additional posts, but that’s 90% of it.  If you want to check out what our final audio sounds like, listen to our podcast Interrupted Tales over at iTunes. Or on Google Play.

Interested in Zencastr and how we do a cool live soundboard on its own track then check out this post.

Vol. 1, Chap. 5: “The Genie of the Dingle”

In this episode, we fall into the deep tapestry of Tolkein references and then follow the story of an author’s innocent dalliance with his very own dingle.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite chair (or oak log) and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale. Sorry for some audio issues!

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales and Twitter @taleinterrupted and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group. Please take a moment and rate us on iTunes, your dingle will thank you!

Vol. 1, Chap. 4: “Tartas the Terrible”

In this episode, we talk junk (in all its meanings) then get down to a narrative treasure involving bitter rivals in romance and their understaffed castles.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite straw-covered cell and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale.

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales and Twitter @taleinterrupted and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group. Please take a moment and rate us on iTunes, it’s not like it costs you anything, gosh.

Vol. 1, Chap. 3: “The Test”

In this episode, we create a monstrosity out of cheap toys, then hear about the criminal justice system and the doctors who exploit it for their own perverse ghost fetishes.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite chair (you’ll get it later) and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale. Chair. Hilarious.

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales and Twitter @taleinterrupted and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group. Please take a moment and rate us on iTunes, we’ll be your best friends!

Vol. 1, Chap. 2: “The Great and the Small”

In this episode, we talk kids halloween costumes and then proceed to interrupt a “thrilling” story of horse endurance racing across the turn-of-the-century West.  It’s time to curl up in your favorite chair and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale, buckaroos.

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales, Twitter @taleinterrupted, and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group

Vol. 1, Chap. 1: “No Place for Husbands”

In our inaugral episode, we talk about terrible candy from our childhood and delve into a tale of near-philandering among the financier-turned-movie star industry from Saucy Stories, August 1st 1922 with the story “No Place for Husbands.”  It’s time to curl up in your favorite chair and grab a drink while we read you this week’s tale. (Apologies for the audio quality, it’s episode 1!)

Follow us on Instagram at interruptedtales, Twitter @taleinterrupted, and join the conversation on the Interrupted Tales Facebook Group