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.
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.
There are plenty of options out there on how to record multiple people on a podcast out there. Here are a few:
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:
- Cheaper “pro” level plan – this is basically unlimited recording
- Live sound mixing – more on this later
- Dropbox integration
- No in-app editing
- 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).
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.