By Dan Moren
June 30, 2016 12:58 PM PT
What I Use: Podcasting gear
What I Use is a recurring column where we detail the tools we use to get something done, whether it’s make tea or write novels. This month, Dan talks about podcasting.
If you’d told me a few years ago that talking into a microphone would some day make up a measurable percentage of my professional life, I probably would have wondered what kind of bizarre world the future was. But here we are in 2016, and podcasting is a surprisingly big chunk of what I do every week.
There’s been a lot written about podcasting tools, much of it exhaustive, but in the end, every podcaster has their own equipment and workflow that works for them. So while I make no claims to my method being the best, right now it’s the only one I’ve got.
The heart of any podcast setup is the mic. I haven’t yet made the jump to a fancy USB audio interface—in fact, I’m still using the second microphone I’ve ever owned: a Blue Yeti. (My first was a Blue Snowball, which eventually made its way to a friend.) The Yeti’s a favorite of podcasters starting out, because it’s a USB mic that’s relatively inexpensive, includes a headphone jack for monitoring your audio, and actually sounds pretty decent. You could easily spend a lot more on a more complicated setup and sound a lot worse. As a bonus, it’s got its own hardware mute switch and volume knob, and it has four different mic settings depending on how you’re trying to record.
Over the years I’ve souped up my Yeti, retiring the included stand (except on rare occasions when I travel with it) and added an inexpensive pop filter, Blue’s own RADIUS Shockmount, and my personal favorite investment, a Heil Sound PL-2T boom arm that was worth every penny I paid for it. The arm clamps to the desk and allows me a lot more movement—and in combination with the shock mount, it avoids a lot more incidental noise from recording.
I’ve got a pair of closed headphones, Shure SRH240s, which are pretty solid, though I’ll note that they came in a speaker’s bag from Macworld Expo many years ago, so their main virtue was that they were free. They’ve served pretty adequately, other than the vinyl on the headphone band flaking off over the years. These go directly into the Yeti’s monitor port, because I find it maddening not to be able to hear myself when I’m recording.
Probably the best thing about podcasting on the Mac is that we’ve got an embarrassment of software riches. For the recording part of the equation, you can use the free, built-in QuickTime Player to capture the sound from your microphone, and I do on any occasion where I’m not using Skype or where I need a quick and dirty backup. (Having done podcasts with a variety of folks, I’ve learned that I can walk someone through recording their end of a podcast using QuickTime Player in about a minute; ask me how to do it on a PC and, well, I’m out of ideas.)
Most of the podcasts I’m on, however, are done via Skype, since the participants are farflung. To date there’s been no really great competitor to Skype—we occasionally use Google Hangouts for things like Total Party Kill and Game Night, where we all need to share an interactive environment.
When I’m recording on Skype, my go-to is Ecamm’s Call Recorder for Skype, primarily because of its simplicity—you can just hit a button to start recording, or even set it up to record as soon as you start a call—and because it will record both my own audio locally and everybody’s audio, on two separate tracks. Having that backup of the Skype call recording has proved invaluable on a number of occasions.
To get podcast recording files back and forth, we generally use Dropbox—especially handy for podcasts I host with a number of different guests, such as my game show Inconceivable! is the file request feature that Jason has previously detailed.
(Super secret: I actually use Apple’s old QuickTime Player 7, which Apple still offers for download to extract the separate tracks from Call Recorder files and export them as uncompressed audio. Call Recorder has its own tools for doing so, but what can I say? Old habits die hard.)
For the editing process, I’m still relying on GarageBand. I’ve been tempted towards Logic once or twice, but I’ve yet to devote the time to it—perhaps if Apple added more specific podcasting-related features, I’d be inclined to give it a whirl. (Heck, given the resurgence of popularity in podcasting, I’m surprised that Apple hasn’t elected to return podcasting features to GarageBand.) It’s not a perfect setup, to be sure, but I know it well at this point, and I honestly still only use a fraction of the power GarageBand has to offer when it comes to audio engineering.
Once edited, I export a file from GarageBand—or sometimes export an uncompressed version—and then do my finishing touches in Rogue Amoeba’s Fission. While only a single-track editor, Fission’s great strength is that it can edit a compressed file losslessly, which is a huge benefit when you realize you forgot to remove an audio blip from your final file—rather than having to go back to GarageBand, track it down, and then re-export the whole project, you can just neatly snip it out with Fission. It also lets you add tags and, if you’re so inclined, chapter markers. It also has built-in support for uploading to SoundCloud, which is handy for The Rebound, which is hosted there.
I’m also fortunate enough to work with one of the most prolific and experienced podcasters out there, so I get the benefit of having Jason to ask when I’m stymied by a particular problem—there isn’t a lot that I’ve run into that he hasn’t encountered at some point, whether it be recording failure, errant noise on a track, or even wacky sounding file exports. Frankly, we should all be so lucky.
That said, the web has plenty of resources for podcasters, none of them more than a Google search away. We’ve written plenty on Six Colors, and I imagine we’ll write some more. For those looking for a handy resources for guests on their show, may I recommend Antony Johnston’s excellent Podcast Guest Guide. And Marco Arment has extensive reviews of podcasting microphones and headphones.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]