Podcasting and Audio Gadgets

Podcasting and Audio Gadgets

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19 NOVEMBER 2017

written by Mike

PODCASTING

AND AUDIO GADGETS

 

The most beautiful aspect of podcasting is how little you actually need to get started. Thanks to the internet, the distribution is free but even with the equipment – you don’t need to spend a fortune to get working.

Of course, there is a difference between starting a low-budget show and a full–on drama series.

Today I want to talk about the minimal setup as well as what I’m currently using to produce audio shows like Casefile.

Computer

You will need a working computer – it can be a laptop, a desktop or whatever you have got at the moment. It needs to be fast enough to process audio files, and for that, you will need a good hard drive (SSD would be recommended) and enough RAM (fast processor will help too).

At the beginning, you don’t need much and shouldn’t be looking into buying a brand new system, when I started producing podcasts I used my old MacBook Pro from 2011. I did upgrade RAM and SSD, but for nearly a year I worked on that.

At the moment I’m working on 27-inch iMac with upgraded RAM. It was a necessary upgrade – the production I’m doing right now is much involved than it was in the beginning.

 

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Software

To start, you will need an audio sequencer – a program that lets you edit and record a podcast. There is no need to go for the most expensive software, something like Garageband, Pro Tools First, Audition or Audacity will be fine.

Most sequencers are similar, it’s just the interface that looks different, and once you understand the basics, you will be able to change to something else with ease.

In the beginning, choose something that looks and feels most comfortable for you. I would recommend doing a bit of research and trying out demos and free versions. You won’t be investing in third-party plugins and tools, therefore, choose a software that offers the best all-in-one.

I’ve used many different sequencers in the past. However, I’ve always come back to main two – Apple Logic for music and Avid Pro Tools for audio editing and mix.

Over a year ago I decided to simplify even further, and once I was happy that Pro Tools could fulfil my scoring needs, I moved everything there.

At the moment I’m using Pro Tools 12 for scoring, editing, recording and mixing.

Microphone

Again, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to start. There are plenty of USB microphones to choose from, with Blue Mic company being the most popular. The thing with mics is that you will need one that works well with your voice, that compliments your narration. That’s quite difficult to achieve because you probably won’t have a chance to test many different setups.

USB is the best solution because you won’t need anything else – no extra cables, no stands, no audio interface.

I don’t have my podcast, but the microphone I use for other recordings is Shure SM7B. It’s a legendary voice microphone, mostly used for broadcasting. To operate it I need an audio interface as well as a gain booster; it’s not the simplest solution to start with.

 

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Headphones

Editing and mixing on computer speakers is a no. You won’t need expensive audio monitors (professional speakers), but good headphones are a must – especially for editing. There is no need to overspend but beware of a consumer product; you need something that will give you the most detailed and neutral representation of sound as possible. Of course, having a pair of two of consumer headphones for a reference is a good way to make sure that the mix sounds good on different systems.

For editing and mixing, I use Sony MDR-7506 closed-cup headphones. I also have a few pairs of earbuds – from cheap to more expensive. I use them to reference the mix and get the picture how it will sound on different devices.

Plugins

Plugins are the tools that will make your recording and mix sound good. These are the reverbs, compressors, EQ and other sound changing solutions. When you start, you will use plugins that are available in the audio sequencer of your choice – that’s why choosing one that offers the best range will be a smart choice. For example, even though Pro Tools is my operating program, it doesn’t come with a wide selection of plugins. Unless you have bought something from a third party – it may not be a good solution.

On the other hand, something like Logic or Adobe Audition comes with a wide selection of tools that will help you during production. Research of what you will need (which will change as you progress anyway) and select a program that will help you rather that limit you.

For my work, I use third-party plugins from Izotope, for mixing and mastering. These tools are the best on the market but come with a quite high price tag – you won’t need them when you start, but if you ever want to get into professional audio production you will need to familiarise yourself with iZotope.

 

My last word of advice is not to go overboard with the gear and gadgets. Most of us want to start with the best equipment, whatever hobby we pick up.

Make sure you can start on the cheap and only if you like it and want to continue, then start upgrading. There is nothing worse than getting the hype, spending lots of money on something that will gather dust in the corner of your room.

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Scoring Podcasts

Scoring Podcasts

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04 SEPTEMBER 2017

written by Mike

SCORING PODCASTS

 

Let’s talk about my favourite aspect of podcast production – music.

When it comes to podcasting, you only have audio to convey the message, to tell the story. No fancy graphics, no 4K video to distract the audience, no place to fool the listeners.

There are few elements of sound that you can use while crafting a story:

–a narrative, the most important aspect of podcasting

–sound effects, which add a layer of realism and drama

–music

Music has always been part of human culture. It helps to connect people, to establish an emotion, to dramatise a story. Music will play a role, albeit smaller, in interview talk shows but today I wanted to focus on drama shows, storytelling podcasts. Look at the most recent top podcasting charts; you will notice that dramas, especially true crime stories are trending.

The demand is visible, now let’s talk about supply.

Stories always draw people in; it can be music, films, books, poetry. Dry facts are helpful but often boring, and in my opinion, any topic can be taught with success if presented to the audience as an interesting story. Audio dramas are nothing new, the minute the radio was available to general public; some artists creatively used the medium. The most obvious one that comes to mind is Welles’ War of the Worlds that in 1938 scared the US nation and skyrocketed Orson’s career.

In today’s world, we have an evolution of the medium – podcasts and audiobooks.

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Audiobooks are perfect for dramatisation; however, there is often restriction when it comes to audiobook production. You will occasionally find publishing houses that allow music, sound effects and voice acting on material but more than often you will find just a dry narration read.

Podcasts are something else. The relatively new medium hasn’t got that many regulations yet and as a creator, you have a pretty much free hand in creating content.

There are many kinds of podcasts, as many as there are creative ideas but let’s look at dramas, or dramatised true stories such as Casefile.

These kinds of podcasts require a lot of work, research, scripting, narration and stellar production. Music plays a huge part in all that; it’s the emotional connection to the story, it often underlines the feelings that we have during listening, it exposes them.

Casefile is a quite different show. It’s not a drama per se, but it is produced like one. While the Host and our talented researchers focus on the story, I look at it from a different angle.

I also see it as a show and for the lack of better word, entertainment. It’s a thin line between sensationalism and making something respectful to anyone involved in the events. But the show must also be entertaining to listen, to connect with the audience and presented as a well-produced podcast.

After working on Casefile for some time, I learned a few tips that you can do with music, how you could make the episode even tenser and more real to the listeners.

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Know the story

It’s important to know the story before you start composing.

The first thing I always do is to read the script, and sometimes I will research the case before I get the script. I’m interested in the beginning, in the drama, in the final twist and conclusion.

During the read, I will note down the people involved in the events, the ‘scenes’ that take place in the timeline and musical cues where I possibly will need to add something more substantial than just an underscore.

The ambience of the episode is crucial.

All of the episodes are tragic but there is a very different character to each of them, and it will guide how I write the music. Before I sit down behind my MIDI keyboard, I compose in my head, not the melodies but the style. I will know what kind of music different parts of the story need, be it rhythmic, soft, dramatic, hopeful or dark.

Know the podcast

I don’t always know the next episode of Casefile; sometimes we change the story at the last minute, sometimes we have a break from the show. That doesn’t mean that I stop writing.

To keep my hands busy and improve my skills, every day I try to compose a cue or two, build up a music library for the next episodes. To do that effectively I need to know the show, the podcast. I need to know a general atmosphere, the overall character, the nature of what we do as a team.

When composing for the future, have in mind the characteristics such as the length of the podcast, the audience and what kind of musical impact you are looking for.

Does the drama require more an underscore or is it music-heavy?

Try to develop the style that the audience recognises immediately.

Don’t go overboard

It’s easy to get lost in composing melodies, including a multitude of different instruments and effects, creating elaborate cues. What I learned with Casefile podcast is that the story always takes the first place.

The music is there to underscore the voice, to help make seamless transitions between parts of the narrative and to bring life to the dialogue. There will be parts where I want to make an impact, a statement with the score but 90% of it will be an ambient, soft tones, almost invisible to the listener.

It’s easy to get excited, especially when you feel like you wrote something great, however, unless it is a deliberate effect, then don’t go overboard with the melodies and cues.

Use instruments that don’t clash with the voice

Another thing that you need to keep in mind is the timbre and nature of the voice. Once you know how the narration sounds on its own, you will know what kind of instruments and pads to use to compliment the voice, not the other way around.

With Casefile I try to avoid melodies with high pitch, especially when I write for string instruments, piano or guitar. These are instruments that sit in the similar spectrum to the human voice and will often clash with it.

Most of the time I will use atmospheric sounds, soft pads to underscore and melodies only where required, where a dramatic focus is needed. I’m also quite careful with rhythmic sounds.

Bass or arpeggiated synths usually work well, but drums or percussion can often be too distracting.

Rhythmic parts are great to build suspense and intense moments, but it’s easy to go overboard with them.

Listen to feedback

Even though I have pretty much a creative freedom when it comes to producing and composing for Casefile, the most important aspect of the work is communication between team members.

I’m not the only composer on the show, Andrew Joslyn sends me musical cues for each episode and often scores up to 50% of each podcast. Because the workflow is unique I often need to adjust, change or drop the cues altogether.

The voice always takes the priority, the music is there to glue all the parts together so mixing it low, or cutting elements of it are usually the best way to do that. I also look for the comments from listeners. Many people will comment on the voice or the music, but I’m interested in feedback that talks about the show as a whole.

We don’t want any elements to shine on their own; the podcast needs to work as one piece, as one story. Also, a lot of people won’t listen on a dedicated system, in the example of Casefile – headphones.

That means even though you may spend days on composing and mixing music, there will be some listeners who won’t notice it at all, listening in their cars or through laptop speakers. That’s fine too, don’t skip on the quality just because not everyone appreciates it.

In the end, it’s all about having fun, experimenting and improvement.

Even though I have enough music that I wouldn’t need to write for a few months now, I still sit down and compose new cues every day. It helps me to stay sharp and develop the craft, and of course, I like doing it too.

In the future, I will show you the technical approach to composing music for Casefile and what is my exact workflow.

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How to Spot a Trend in Podcasting?

How to Spot a Trend in Podcasting?

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23 JUNE 2017

written by Mike

HOW TO SPOT

A TREND IN PODCASTING

 

The popularity of a podcast depends on various factors. The voice of the host/hostess, the charm, the research, passion, luck, production, the team and the topic.

Today I want to focus on the last one – the topic.

It’s one thing to be passionate about a subject, and another to have other people like it too. Take Casefile for example, not only the research and production are the main ‘selling’ point of the podcast, but true crime genre has been popular as ever. People are drawn to stories based on real events, and that’s what makes the shows like Making a Murderer or Serial so well known.

That and the excellent presentation of the facts.

I’m not saying that you should jump on the latest trend and start a show, that rarely works. But it’s a good practice to know what is currently popular and if any of your interests align. Success is a result of hard work and dedication, but if you can help it with strategic planning, then it may make the venture a little bit easier.

But how can you find out what’s popular, what is trending?

There are many ways you can do it, and today we’ll have a look at a few of them.

 

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GOOGLE TRENDS

Google Trends lets you see the latest data, visualisations and information on what is trending near you. Not only you can see the insights and most popular stories, but you can also type in a keyword/subject and see how it looks over the time.

Let’s type in ‘podcast’ keyword.

 

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We know that the score now is at all time high – 100 and during last 5 years, the line was heading upwards.

It’s a good time to start a podcast!

Let’s now search ‘true crime’.

 

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There was a big spike in 2012, then the line a went down, and the trend picked up again with the current score at 73.

Google Trends will also show you the interest by region, related topics and related queries. Everything you need to test out an idea for a podcast.

ITUNES CHARTS

What is a better way to know what is trending than a podcasting charts?

There are a few ways to do it, one is to open the iTunes app and study Top Episodes and Top Podcasts, or you can visit http://www.itunescharts.net/ which plays the same function. I prefer to look at iTunes app on a desktop computer/laptop as it provides better visual experience.

At the top, we can see featured podcasts, the ones that iTunes promotes.

Below we have New & Newsworthy and collections selected by iTunes content managers.

 

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 But what is popular at the moment?

On the right sidebar, you have great charts – Top Episodes and Top Podcasts. It will show you 200 most listened, subscribed, favourite podcasts in a selected country.

At the bottom of the app, you can change the country, and it will show you different charts – adjusted to the chosen place. Look at the list, study the podcasts and try to spot the patterns.

What is popular but also seems like a fad?

There was a lot of political podcasts at the top of the charts during US presidential election – they all appear to be gone now. After a while, you will be able to spot elements that make the show to reach the top of the charts.

SOCIAL BLADE

The last one on today’s list is a website called SocialBlade.

It may not be one that targets podcasting directly, but you can learn a lot by looking at other online trends. SocialBlade offers user statistics for Youtube, Twitch, Instagram and Twitter.

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You can see what accounts have most followers, what kind of categories are most popular and what are the general trends. Once you get past the most obvious celebrity accounts, you can easily spot what kind of content is favoured by people.

Of course, not all the data from SocialBlade will automatically relay to podcasting, but it can help you to narrow the search and see if someone else is doing a similar thing but on another platform. From then you can study the content, and apply the findings podcasting.

This is not an extensive list, and there are many other ways you can test your podcasting idea. First and foremost you need to like the topic. Podcasting is a lot of hard work, and if you don’t have a passion for the subject, you will struggle. To get to the top of the charts, it takes a lot of work as well as luck.

Are you working on something that can be just a fad?

Or you planning to have a long-term show that will always find an audience?

It’s easier said than done, so always try to do at least a bit of market research before jumping in too deep.

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What is your Podcast Idea?

What is your Podcast Idea?

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16 JUNE 2017

written by Mike

WHAT IS YOUR

PODCAST IDEA?

 

Everything starts with an idea – podcasting is not an exemption from the rule. It’s important to understand the basics of recording and audio editingbut without an idea that gets you excited, even best sounding podcast won’t be enough.

But ideas are everywhere; you must have a new one ever few minutes.

How do you focus on one?

When it comes to podcasting, you can follow a simple system of elimination, selection and market research. It’s all about being prepared, being ready. The worst thing is to work on something for weeks and only after the release to realise that no one wants to listen/watch/buy your product. It happens when you think that what you like, others will enjoy too.

Don’t worry; I’ve been there many times. There were a few ventures that I got excited about, dived in without market research, worked for months and after the final release was struck with disappointment.

I thought to myself – why?

The production, the graphics, the package was so much better than other products, and yet no one was interested. Lessons were learnt, market research and planning is as much, if not even more, important as the production itself. 

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 Let’s go back to the podcasting, let’s hone on the ideas you have. Make a list and write things that you are passionate/excited about.

What topic can you talk on for hours?

What, in hindsight, is something that could never bore you?

The question should be at the core of your plan. Podcasting is hard; you will need a subject that excites you. It’s easy to jump on the latest trend, but people notice if you are not genuine, especially in podcasting. When you are done with the list, mark the topics that you are an expert in.

You want to be seen knowledgeable and insightful. You may be excited about a particular subject, but if you don’t do enough research, you can make a mistake. And once your podcast is out, it is available to criticism and any shortcomings will quickly be exposed. Best bet is to combine passion and expertise.

Another point is that podcasting (as any other content medium) will cement your expertise in the eyes/ears of others. Let’s say you are an expert in graphic designWithout marketing or broad exposure you are on the same ‘level’ as another experienced graphic designer. With a podcast, perceived expertise grows, and you get additional exposure. It doesn’t matter if your podcast gets 100 downloads if 10 of these turn into well-paying clients.

Another point to consider is the depth of the topic you choose. Podcasting is a long game, and it will take months, sometimes years to get the momentum going. It’s crucial to have enough material, to be able to produce engaging content for an extended period. Otherwise, at some point, you will start repeating yourself.

I find that with a lot of personal development or business podcasts. After a while, the topics start to repeat itself, even if the podcast is built around interviews. How many times can you listen to advice like:

Just go for it

Be different

Take massive action

Learn from failure

And so on and on.

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I don’t want to diss these kinds of pods; I admit that I listen to some and from time to time I need a motivational kick from a successful entrepreneur. But it’s easy to see that after a while the creators run short on original content. One thing I always do, before starting any content-oriented project is to sit down and write at least 50 topics as fast as I can.

If you can do that with your idea, it means that you may have something with enough depth to do a podcast about. Otherwise, at some point, you will struggle.

Podcasting is fun, but it’s not easy. Having an idea is easy – testing it is not something that many people do. Time and time again I find podcasts that had a lot of good info and then just stopped.

Did their steam run out?

Wasn’t there enough content to go on?

Imagine yourself two years from now.

Would you still want to do the podcast then? Week in and out?

Even if it doesn’t get too many downloads? Even if it doesn’t bring any monetary return?

If the answer is yes, then there is no need to wait anymore.

Time to start is now.

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“How to Start a Podcast” Book Launch

“How to Start a Podcast” Book Launch

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04 JUNE 2017

written by Mike

“How to Start a Podcast”

Book Launch

 

So here it is.
After few months of writing, editing and designing I finally published my first book called “How to Start a Podcast: From 0 to 10 million downloads per month. One year with Casefile True Crime Podcast.”

18 months of my journey with Casefile passed, and I decided to put on paper everything I learnt so far and share it.
I am hardly an expert, over a year ago I didn’t know anything about podcasting industry and had no inclination to learn it.
But by some kind of dumb luck I stumbled upon it, joined the most amazing team and helped to create one of the most listened podcasts worldwide.

There is a lot of misinformation about the industry.
People promising easy road to success or blueprint to riches – statements like that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The story of Casefile Podcast is a journal of hard work, mistakes and dedication. We quickly learnt that there is no such thing as easy success.

When I sat down and decided to write the book I had two goals in mind – one was to provide a simple guide for aspiring podcasters.
By guide meaning advice on how to select and set up a recording space, how to write a podcast, how to configure basic hosting, artwork and multiple of other things.
All of that based on the example of Casefile podcast.

The second goal was to provide an insight into the production of Casefile.
We get a lot of messages from fans who are curious what is the process and how we do our work.

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Well, I can’t speak much about research and writing of the podcast, but the book will show you ‘behind the scenes’ of my small part – that is audio work.

I wanted to keep it as an easy read, the book is not a mixing and recording manual, but it’s a starting point for anyone interested in this fast growing medium – podcasts.

I know that there are plenty of other guides and books out there however my work is one of the few that shows the real example of growing an online show.

No backing, no marketing dollars, no celebrity hosts.
Just a team of people, spread around the world, working their butts off to provide listeners with well-research and produced true crime stories.

In general, I am quite a sceptical person, especially when it comes to success.
The word is thrown around on the web like it’s something easy attainable for anyone.

After 18 months of working on Casefile, I can tell you this, it’s definitely not easy, but it is attainable.
If a guy who started something from his bedroom as a hobby project can develop an audience of few million people, then it’s safe to say – opportunities like that still exist.

I hope you check out the podcast and check out the book. It’s my first one, so I’m still learning how the whole self-publishing thing works.
No doubt I will make plenty of mistakes, but then again, that’s the way to learn.

“Casefile producer Mike Migas just published a book called “How to start a podcast.” It’s a simple guide for aspiring podcasters based on his journey with Casefile. If you want to start a podcast but don’t know where to begin or just want to learn more about ‘behind the scenes’ of producing Casefile check Mike’s book at his site mikemigas.com or just search ‘How to Start a Podcast’ on Amazon.”

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