Aaron Mahnke and I have produced nearly 30 episodes of the Home Work podcast for the 70 Decibels network. It’s fun and a labor of love. Several listeners have asked about production, planning and so on.
I’ve decided to describe our routine, hardware, software and workflow in detail. We don’t use a lot of pricey equipment. Our Macs were clearly the biggest expense, followed by mics and headphones. Also, the software we use is either free or inexpensive. There are more professional setups for sure, but this works for us.
Here’s how two people with no audio engineering training produce a popular podcast. No snickering, please.
Before we get down to the nitty gritty, I’ll offer an overview of the software and hardware that we use. As for software, each show requires me to touch:
Aaron and I don’t use much hardware to get the show done. Here’s the list:
- Rode Podcaster (Dave’s mic)
- Blue Yeti (Aaron’s mic)
- Clip-on pop filter (Aaron)
- 11.6″ MacBook Air (Dave’s computer)
- December 2009, i7, 27” iMac (Aaron’s computer)
- Sony MDR-7506 headphones (Dave)
- Audio-Technica ATH-ES7 headphones (Aaron)
Planning is crucial. Without it, everything that follows is useless. That’s due to the type of podcast we produce. Aaron and I have a list of ideas that eventually become show topics. Once a topic has been selected, we get to work. We think of at least three major points to discuss, and then do research on each. After a couple of days, we’ve collected a few relevant articles and additional research. After a quick session of “here’s what I found,” each goes into a Pages document between the intro text, exit text and blocks for ad placement. Just before we start recording, we each move the Pages file from a shared Dropbox to our local desktops, open it up and follow along.
We turn the mics on.
But that’s a show about spontaneous conversation, and very different than Home Work. Once we’re seated with Pages open, mics on, Skype running and children at a safe distance, it’s time to hit record.
Aaron and I do a double-ended recording. We call each other on Skype, but we don’t record the call. Instead, each records his audio locally with QuickTime. To start a new recording audio recording with QuickTime, follow these steps:
- Launch QuickTime.
- Select New Audio Recording from the File menu.
- A recording window appears. Make sure your mic is selected from the drop-down menu (see below).
- Hit record.
Since we’re both recording, we’ll produce two tracks, of course. Lining them up in GarageBand can be difficult, so we use a clever, sophisticated trick to combat that: we count to three. After a “One, two, three, click” we’re recording.
Finally, we stay on topic. This makes editing SO much easier. It’s easy and often fun to follow a tangent for five, 10 or 15 minutes. But finding it in the recording and then cutting it out is a lot less fun. We do joke around and go off topic a bit, but our focus is on keeping the show timely and on topic. That makes the following steps so much easier.
This step will either be a pleasure or a nightmare, all depending on the preceding steps. Aaron and I are good at prep and recording, so it’s not too bad. Here’s how editing works.
First, we drop our recordings into Dropbox. There’s a “Recordings” sub-folder and inside that, an “Aaron” and a “Dave” folder. Recordings are named appropriately (for example, “Dave-001”) for easy reference and alphabetical order. Other sub-folders include “Audio,” which stores our intro music, outro music and ID.
The first step is to get everything in GarageBand. I make a track for each of us and name it accordingly. Next, I make a “Music” track and an “ID” track. Note: You must turn the reverb down on each new track. For some reason, GarageBand cranks it up to a ridiculous level by default. Here’s how to fix it:
- Click the track to select it.
- Click the “i” button in the lower right-hand corner.
- A new window appears. Click the Edit tab.
- Move the Master Reverb slider way to the left (see below).
That’s it. Now you won’t sound like a dark and vengeful God.
GarageBand is purely for editing: Aligning files, adding music and ads. I also chop out anything unwanted. When that’s done, its time to export. I use a high quality file, because there’s more work to do:
- Option-Delete the podcast track.
- From the Share menu, select Export Song to Disk.
The resulting .aif file now heads to The Levelator.
2. The Levelator
Here’s how this works: magic. I have no idea how Levelator does what it does, but I love it. One pass through the app and it produces a constant, even level of audio. No more sudden drops or leaps in volume. It’s a crucial step. The resulting file has “.output” in its name. It goes to Sound Studio.
3. Sound Studio
We’re almost done. Once the .output file is in Sound Studio, I do the following:
- Set the sample rate to 48,000.
- Mixdown the audio to mono.
- Enter all of the metadata and cover art.
From there, I’m done! The last step is to export the final file as AAC, upload to the Internet and publish.
4. Show Notes
We have a HTML template that becomes our show notes. It’s easy to pop in the advertiser info and any other bits and bobs we want to share. There’s an HTML ordered list in place, and can easily add details that I jotted down during recording.
I’m sure there are other, more sophisticated ways to do this, but this is working for us. I hope you got something out of it. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to share. Comments are open.