Simple Audio Techniques for Podcasts

Simple Audio Techniques for Podcasts

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30 JUNE 2017

written by Mike

SIMPLE AUDIO TECHNIQUES

FOR PODCASTS

 

Most of the creative projects have three stages:

pre-production

production

post-production

The same principle applies to podcasting. You get planning, recording and post production, and depending on a podcast, each stage will be slightly different. Today I will look at one element of post production process – editing.

Sound editing is a crucial aspect of a well-produced show. It doesn’t matter if it’s a scripted podcast, interview style show or a comedy audition. The complexity of audio editing will depend on the nature of a podcast but let’s have a look at most used functions. This post is titled ‘simple editing’ as I will try to describe tools and solutions that are possible in most audio sequencers. Editing with specialised software such as iZotope products will be featured in the future articles.

What kind of sound editing can you expect while working on podcasts?

Based on my experience with Casefile – a scripted show and multiple of other non-scripted podcasts let me list a few things that should be helpful to you during the process.

Importing files

First of all, you will need to import audio files to audio sequencer of your choice. Most audio will be recorded in 44.1kHz, however, I always convert to 48kHz. If I were in charge of recording, I would also select 48kHz at the source.

It’s a standard for motion picture sound, and it will give you more headroom to work with, better quality.

Once you import the files, you will realise that most will be submitted/recorded as STEREO. If you are recording yourself, then you can do a MONO recording from the start, but working with others, I guarantee that more than often it will be stereo.

MONO – one single audio track

STEREO – two audio tracks, usually panned to left & right channels

If you receive the dialogues as STEREO, use a function to split it into MONO and leave it as a one centre audio track. For the most part, the dialogue should always sit in the centre. Yes, there are exceptions to it, like binaural recordings but these are exemptions from the rule.

Multiple dialogue recordings should be kept on separate audio tracks, don’t stick all of it on just one.

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Grouping & Colours

I always work with colours when it comes to editing. It means colour coding tracks, so you can visually recognise them. With Casefile, the voice of the Host will be green and other audio clips blue. When I was working on other interview-style podcasts, I had person one coloured green, and person two on separate track coloured blue and so on.

You are working with ears and eyes so use it to your advantage.

Markers

Markers are an essential element of your editing process. They will help to you note down any mistakes, important parts of the podcast, musical cues.

For Casefile I tend to use markers to note down musical cues and significant moments in the story. In other podcasts, I used them to mark sections that were possibly getting cut.

Pauses

Creative breaks are a big process when I edit Casefile podcast. I usually leave a long pause during sentences for a dramatic impact or cut the breaks shorter during more tense moments.

To create breaks just move the audio around, but don’t forget to fill the space with a background, room noise for consistency.

For non-scripted podcasts, pauses are also helpful. A few seconds between two people speaking or asking a question will give a listener a chance to catch up. Sometimes a person just speaks too fast and adding a few artificial pauses will help.

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Breaths

How you deal with breaths will depend on the style of the podcast. I always try to minimise them, either by eradicating them (Casefile podcast) or making the volume lower.

Some people say that cutting breaths will make the podcast sound unnatural, I would say that it depends on the show.

If you decide to remove all the breaths from the podcast, you will need to use a tool such as De-breather or Strip Silence. Doing it manually will take too much time.

Uhms and Aahs

It’s easier with scripted podcasts as you won’t have to deal with many ‘filler’ phrases. With live recordings, it won’t be that easy. Most people are not professional speakers and will use some kind of a filler when they speak.

These will need to be cut manually, but make sure you won’t turn the podcast into sounding too fake and robotic

It’s easy to go overboard with the editing so use your ears for better judgement.

Background Noise

Any background noise, in particular between the sentences, will need cutting and replacing with a neutral room tone. Other noise such as hiss and rumble will need special tools like De-Noise. But anything else can be easily cut manually or with functions such as Strip Silence.

Other simple audio editing techniques will depend on the nature of the podcast.

It can include pitching up or down the audio or even slowing it down (or making it faster). It was only a few weeks ago when I had to slow a recording down by few percent as the person speaking was talking a bit too fast. In any of these kinds of treatments, you need to be careful not to induce artificial sounding artefacts and change the sound too much.

Simple editing will be enough if you are working on a hobby project from home. Just listen to it, tidy it all up and make it sound a bit tighter.

When it comes to more complicated productions, you will need to use specialised tools, but I will get to them another time.

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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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Podcasting and Marketing

Podcasting and Marketing

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09 JUNE 2017

written by Mike

PODCASTING

AND MARKETING

Should I start a podcast?

The question that every marketer asks, at least in the present times.

Why is that?

Well, if you google future of podcasting it’s easy to see that everyone seems to be bullish on the medium. From the Copyblogger’s The Astounding Growth of Podcasting to articles from Forbes and Business Insider we can learn that the podcasting trend is going up and up.

And yet, it is still quite a niche industry.

When I analyse Casefile statistics, over 56% of listens happen in the US, followed by Australia with 15% then UK and Canada + others. Podcasting is growing, but it’s still quite a few years away from becoming an established content medium, like YouTube or Instagram. Hence why I think the time to start one is now.

You can have a look at people like Gary Vaynerchuk and see why he is pushing audio content so much. Love him or hate him, he knows a thing about internet marketing, and he knows how to follow the attention. He knows how to market himself.

Another trend that I noticed is, most of the internet personalities are jumping on the podcasting bandwagon. Go and look at top 100 iTunes charts, see how many celebrities can you can recognise. I bet it’s going to be a few.

 

What does it mean?

It means that if you want to be successful, you should follow what successful people do. Apart from that we also have growth in audiobook industry, and we can already see the spill into podcasting. Only recently Audible announced a 5 million dollar fund for playwrights to write audio dramas. They wouldn’t be investing if they didn’t expect some kind of return.

There is no secret to podcasting; it can help you to establish expertise in the industry. Let’s say you are a graphic designer.

Who will you be able to attract better clients and higher rates?

A designer who works from home and attracts business on word of mouth only?

Or someone who also runs a design blog, podcast, course, book and others?

Podcasting is just another medium that can help you to market the business, to establish the expertise. The difference is that it is still niche with the low barriers to entry. Yes, there is some competition, but not as fierce as in other places on the internet.

It’s getting harder every day, so better not wait for too long. It’s a simple question of, do you think it’s easier to start a popular Youtube channel now versus ten years ago?

Podcasting industry is still not regulated; there’s isn’t a big corporation that rules them all. But with time it will happen, there will be rules, schemes, guidelines. If you start early enough, you can be the one who helps to write the rules, which helps to shape the industry.

So don’t dismiss the medium.

Of course, I want to finish with the disclaimer – podcasting is not for everyone.

Take me for example, I know how it works, I produce a popular one.

Why didn’t I start a podcast myself?

Self-awareness is the key here. If you don’t feel comfortable behind a microphone, then don’t force it. But if you think that you can give it a try, do it.

Best time to start was ten years ago; the second best is today.

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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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Intro to Microphones

Intro to Microphones

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20 MAY 2017

written by Mike

INTRO

TO MICROPHONES

 

In this article, I want to share with you an overview of a recording microphone. Microphones or mics are the basic instruments of capturing sounds. You have one inside your laptop, your phone and your camera. Even in a smart watch.

Before we dig deeper in microphone placement techniques and various recording tips you need to learn more about mics.

What is a condenser? Dynamic?

When you work with professionals and experienced sound engineers, you will learn that choosing the right microphone is number one thing one the list. Every audio professional will have their preferred mic, and least favourite too. Whatever you want to do you will need to understand basic characteristics of a recording microphone. So, let’s start with that.

When it comes to elemental features of a mic, three things matter.

A transducer, frequency response and directionality.

I. Transducer

A transducer in a microphone transforms acoustic energy (e.g. your voice) into electrical energy. How a microphone registers sound depends on a type of a transducer. Two main ones are Dynamic and Condenser.

Dynamic

Dynamic microphones are quite cheap to build and robust.

So how do they work?

Dynamic mic operates on small electrical generator built from a diaphragm, voice coil and magnet. Let’s say you are recording yourself for a YouTube channel. The force of your voice, as a sound wave, makes a diaphragm vibrate. The diaphragm can be described as a thin membrane hidden behind microphone’s metallic mesh.

At the rear of the diaphragm is a voice coil, a coil of wire, which also vibrates. A small magnet forms a magnetic field around that wire. Physics. The movement of that coil within the magnetic field generates electrical signals that correlate to the force of your voice. Because dynamic microphones can survive in the toughest environments, they are number one choice for live performance.

It is almost impossible to overload a dynamic microphone. Good examples are Shure SM58 we use them for live sound and Shure SM57 another classic and cheap microphone. If you don’t know which one to buy you should get SM57. It will do the job.

Shure SM7B is a classic dynamic microphone used by sports commentators and radio presenters.

Have you ever wondered how is it possible that they shout their heads off, and the sound stays clear?

In most cases, Shure SM7B is the answer. My favourite dynamic microphone would also be Beyerdynamic M201A smooth sounding mic that works great on a snare but also on some louder singers.

 

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Condenser

Condenser microphones are a bit more complicated than dynamic, more sensitive and more expensive (well, it depends…).

The basics of a condenser mic lie in a capacitor.

The force of your voice will resonate a thin metal or metal-coated membrane that sits in front of a rigid backplate. The space between the two contracts and the motion produces electrical signals.

Now, the biggest difference between dynamic and a condenser is that the latter requires additional power to run. There are two ways to power up your condenser microphone.

First one is with batteries, second, we call phantom powerPhantom power runs through the microphone cable from the interface e.g. mixing desk or audio interface. Condenser microphones are sensitive and delicate. They also produce more noise than their dynamic siblings. Maximum sound level specification means that if you shout into a condenser, there is a high probability that the recording will distort.

Good condensers are great in capturing a wide dynamic and frequency range. Try recording an acoustic guitar with a condenser and then with a dynamic microphone. You will hear that condenser will capture the smallest nuances and movements of the guitar.

A classic pair of condenser mics would be AKG 414. Sound engineers often use them as overheads for drums and choirs.

Neumann U87 is a classic studio microphone used for vocals. It is the first choice for ADR recordings or dubbings. Recording sound on sets also requires a sensitivity of a condenser. Microphones such as Sennheiser MKH-416 combine a subtlety of a condenser transducer and a robustness of a dynamic microphone. Remember also to buy a pop shield and keep an eye on a noise level.

II. Frequency response

Frequency response it the reason every music producer, sound engineer or a foley recordist has a preferred microphone. Transducer decides how the sound is captured; frequency response chooses what to capture.

Let’s say you recorded your dog. If your recording sounds 100% the same as your dog in real life, it means that the microphone that you used has a flat frequency response. It didn’t change the sound. Microphones with the flat response are used for measuring acoustics of space and can be quite expensive. Also, you don’t want to use them on your recordings.

Why not?

Well, the sound of a microphone can make your recording better. It can add depth and warmth. It can capture smooth low frequencies or sharp high frequencies. It can omit frequencies that you don’t want. Some microphones will add punch to your drums or presence to vocals. Other times you may wish to use a microphone with a detailed response.

You don’t want to omit anything when recording a wide frequency instrument such as piano. Before using a microphone check its frequency response and its desired use. It’s also good to experiment with different settings.

 

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III. Directionality

The last one on our list is directionality.

Directionality describes the most sensitive side of a microphone. Polar patterns describe how a microphone will pick a sound and what is its best position for it. There are quite a few polar patterns to choose from, but today I will focus on three main ones.

Omnidirectional

The omnidirectional microphone will register sound at all angles. The polar pattern covers 360 degrees. It means it will pick up the sound from the back as well as from the front. With the same intensity. These polar patterns are great if you want to capture an ambience of a place, something like an inside of a cave.

Another use is to leave an omni in the room as a so-called ambient mic. You can then add this additional layer to your mix later on.

Unidirectional

As you probably guessed, unidirectional microphones will register sounds from one particular direction more than from others. Most popular will be a cardioid, a heart-shaped polar pattern. It will pick up less ambient sound than an omnidirectional microphone, and it works great when you want the focus.

For example, if you wish to record a dialogue on set you don’t want to capture a technical crew that is chatting in the corner. Unidirectional microphones are made for this kind of stuff.

Bidirectional

Bidirectional microphones are sensitive at front and back but omit material from their sides. They are great for vocal duets and individual stereo recording techniques such as mid-side, M-S.

This polar pattern is used when you want to dismiss unwanted sources of sound. As I mentioned before these are helpful on movie sets, during live music recordings or any environment with more than one sound source. Correct microphone placement is a skill in itself, and I will share with you some advice on that in another article.

To know your equipment is essential.

How it all works and why you want to use it?

These are the questions that you need to ask yourself before making any decision. Microphones are everywhere. You don’t have to know all the details and technical specs of their build, but don’t be ignorant. When it comes to selecting the right gear, ignorance is not bliss.

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