Podcasting with Talkshoe and Skype Part Three

Started by Rob, May 10, 2010, 04:56:30 AM

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This is part three of a three part article. You can find part one here and you can find part two here.

I'm going to be straight with you right up front. Most of you won't get anything out of this third installment. Even those of you who go on to have podcasts won't get much out of this unless you are willing to invest a considerable chunk of money and time into the craft. What's more, my skills are out of date. So a lot of what I may be telling you may also be somewhat out of date. But I'm going to share what I know with you anyway because it might help some of you and because were I to do the best quality podcast I could do; this is the way I would do it.

Yes I use all this crap. Pardon the dust. The Grifball Halo Figure is the baddest MC... and if you got that you are almost as big a nerd as a guy who owns a Grifball Halo Figure.

So you've got your show up and running and you are starting to build a fan base but the more people who listen the more complaints you get about sound quality. What's more, you're co-host has become an actual co-host and you now have a team of people moderating the chat room with a team leader manning the controls and you're having trouble hearing all of them.

What do you do?

I've been working with audio in one way or another for about ten years. There are a lot of recording programs out there of varying complexities and prices. But I'm not even going to get into that because I simply don't know anything about them. I started off with a Sonar 2XL which is today's equivalent of Sonar 8.5 Producer Edition. I stayed with them up until Sonar 5 Producer Edition which I still use today. I can say with absolute certainty that for a podcast you do not need this level of complexity. Cakewalk does make a home version of the Sonar software and that may be more your speed. But as complex as they are the more complex programs sure are nice if you know how to use them.

OMG Soooo many Tracks!

I'm completely self taught (and I'm a poor teacher) but I've had a lot of fun and what I have learned has given me the means to do more with less. I'll put up a couple samples of the audio I've worked on in the discussion thread. The point is, I know what it's like to want to up my game with audio and I know how to do it... even on a budget.

If you've decided to take your show to the next level there are a number of ways you can go. But they all pretty much involve you dropping some coin.

  • Going Pre-Recorded - If you switch to an all pre-recorded show the one HUGE advantage is that you can cut the phone out of the equation altogether. TalkShoe allows you to upload prerecorded shows for others to listen to. And I can honestly say that in my experience a heck of a lot more people listen to a podcast on their time than on yours. Of course losing the fan interaction is going to hurt. As I said before I enjoyed what the fans brought to the show. If you go this route you can add almost anything you can think of from an audio perspective; from opening/closing music to adding Foley. You will have a very polished and professional sounding show and you can do it relatively cheap.

    These days a decent sound card and a computer microphone will give you better sound quality than what we hear over the telephone by a significant margin. Choosing a decent recording program is usually pretty cheap as well and you can do this for less than a couple hundred dollars.

    If you want to continue to banter with your co-host you set him up with duplicate equipment, stick an ear piece in your ear and talk to each other over the phone. As long as you both record your end of the conversation on your respective computers you will be able to edit the two tracks together and it will sound just like you are in the "studio" together.

  • Going Half and Half -  If fan interaction is a big part of your show you can always do a half and half show. You can pre-record the majority of the show and then move to a fan segment where you take callers and questions from the chat room. I've played pre-recorded audio into the phone for use on TalkShoe before and it's usually pretty easy.

    Most phones have some sort of jack for an ear piece. Even cell phones although more and more are just going with the Blue Tooth. If it's an audio jack you're in business. If it's one of those weird proprietary ones then head down to Radio Shack and see if you can find a cheap one with a regular audio jack in it.

    Now because it's a microphone and audio jack you may have trouble finding the right adapter. But after playing with it and another half dozen trips to Radio Shack I was able to rig a setup that let me feed the audio output from my computer directly into the phone. This does improve the quality of the recording somewhat but that's not why you are doing it. You are doing it so your fans can hear the beginning of the show before the question from the audience segment.

    Once that has played into the recording you can yank the feed, get on the phone and record the rest of the show with your fans involved. Then; once the show is over you download the entire show from Talkshoe and delete it. You bring the audio of the entire show into your audio program, cut out the first part of the show, paste in your much higher quality pre-recorded audio and then upload the final version with the high quality audio first part and the lower quality fan involved Q&A session.

    You get to have your high quality main show and keep your fans involved and while it takes some audio editing and a little hard work it is still relatively cheap. If you wanted to polish up the fan Q&A session you could theoretically record your audio while you are answering fan questions and then edit it in to the final show but I don't recommend it. That's some complex editing there.

  • Going Whole Hog - This is where the price tag starts to get ignorant... but honestly if you want to sound like a pro for the entire show you don't have a whole lot of options. Because of the expense of the equipment involved if you have a co-host it's time to set up a "studio" area and make the poor bastard schlep over to your place when it's time to record the show.

    The beating heart of this setup is a little mixing board. It makes all your connectivity dreams come true. It also craps cables all over your desk area and generally clutters up your life. As you can see in the picture above I'm using a little Mackie 12 input which more than meets my needs.

    Now to make this work you are going to need 2 computers. Yeah I really said that. I know; computers are expensive. If it's any consolation you only need the second one to have a decent sound card and have the ability to run TalkShoe and ShoePhone on the internet. You can pick up something like that for under $400 these days and even a decent laptop will do. Patch the audio into the mixing board and then patch one of the "outs" back into it so it picks up the feed from your microphone. Be sure to isolate the input from the output however or you will destroy the world with feedback. Earshattering, speakersploding feedback. The best way to do this is to use one of the minor outs like "Tape Output" or "Auxiliary Output." You can then assign all the inputs to the main mix but only your microphone output to the out servicing your internet computer." I know all that sounds a little complicated but you just have to play with it a bit. Patch some cables around and press some buttons. I've personally figured out how to do it on three different mixing boards with several types of computers, equipment and programs with no formal training. If I can do it so can you.

    Once you have the audio from the Talkshoe computer patched into the mixing board you need to set up your microphone. You can pick up a solid state mic like the one in the picture for between $25 and hundreds of dollars. The cheapies will do the job. But like all things the more money you spend the better the equipment tends to be (not always I know but usually). What I don't have pictured is the mic I prefer to use. It took me years and a lot of unhappy purchases before I finally took a deep breath and dropped almost a thousand dollars for the Baby Blue Bottle, Presonus Pre-Amplifier, Shock Mount and stand that makes it all work. Most microphones have a specific frequency range that they handle better than others and very few microphones (yes the super expensive ones) handle the full range of frequency that the human ear can detect. Because of this most microphones alter your voice a little. The Baby Bottle was the first Mic I bought that gave me recordings that sounded like... well me. So I'm warning you right up front that if you start searching for that perfect sounding microphone you too may contract G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and may spend many years and way too much money looking for that "just right" sound.

    Once you have it though, patch it into the mixing board input and then run the output to your "recording computer". Now slap a set of headphones on, plug them into the phones jack on the mixing board and get your show started. Since ShoePhone doesn't rebroadcast your voice you will only get the voices of your guests or call in fans coming in from ShoePhone (assuming you have set up your co-host with a mic of his own and don't have him calling in). The recording computer will be grabbing your audio straight from the microphone though; and recording them both.

    If you really want to go nuts you can set up one of the computers as a sort of digital Foley Board for in show audio effects. You can patch your music player (like I have if you check the pic above) in for your musical choices or if you have a complex music program that allows you to play while you record (like Sonar) you can actually do all that stuff just from your recording computer.

The learning curve on these recording solutions gets progressively steeper with the last one requiring you know a bit about audio engineering as well as an extensive knowledge of your chosen software and its capabilities. But if you can put it all together you can sound like a professional recording studio. My equipment was worth about $5,000 or so all told (when I bought most of it 5 or so years ago) but it allows me to create nearly professional quality recordings in basements, living rooms and bedrooms. The acoustics aren't always ideal and if you can afford it something like Auralex would really round out that professional sound. But most of us can't glue a bunch of foam to the walls.

I have put together similar setups for friends for less than $1,500. My stuff is more than I would need to do a podcast, even one as complex as what I've described in the "whole hog" scenario. My audio card for example cost me over $700, has a breakout box and enough inputs to mike an entire band playing live or if I'm trying to do something more studio like I could completely mic an entire drum kit and record nearly every drum hit individually. So you shouldn't think you have to drop 5 grand to do what I can. Technology has improved and prices have dropped over the last five years. Not to mention that when it comes to gear a place like Daddy's Junky Music can really help out. And if you already own a computer or computers you can cut that $1,500 in half.

What it really comes down to is finding equipment and programs you understand and can make do the things you want to do and then pushing that setup to a maximum performance. It requires some patience and you will undoubtedly experience some technical difficulties along the way but as I said before if I can do it so can you.

Good luck!


As promised here is some audio I've recorded with this equipment over the years.

This first song is something from my old college band. It's pretty mellow. Try not to slip into a coma.

The song is called "Still."

I think we recorded that about seven years or so go (the band continued after college ended) in a pool house that was converted into a one room efficiency apartment. The bed was also a futon! Initially the recording was done with some crappy microphones on a Boss BR-8 digital recorder that recorded music on 100 GB mini discs. I then converted the files and imported them into Sonar for editing and engineering. Neither of these recordings have ever been mastered and they are certainly amateur hour but I never claimed to be the next Phil Specter. For my limited means though I think we did pretty good.

This next song is by a band called "Asking Amy" that came to me desperate to get a three song demo ready for a record label they were going to meet. Since you've never heard of them you can probably figure how the meeting went. Considering what I was able to do in a week though you would have thought I could walk on water. Especially since the "band" consisted of one guitar player, one singer and a tap in drum machine. Oh... and none of the songs were done. And by done I mean neither the words or music was completely written for any of the songs. It was a good time though.

Prepare to be generically rocked out by "How to Talk to Strangers."

I actually preferred the name "God is My Co-Pilot" because the singer (who wrote the lyrics) said the song had something to do with the Catholic Church. He liked my suggestion. Not enough to use it. But he said he liked it. Prick.

This was recorded with pretty much the equipment I have now; in my living room. The way I had it set up though... my neighbors never heard a thing.

Sorry for the pop ups and whatnot. File sharing any music... even your own isn't easy on the intertubes these days. Mediafire was my best choice in a bad situation.

If you ever want to listen to my old Grifball Podcasts to see how I did it (and all the many things I did wrong) you can catch it here.

All the shows seem to still be available although lord only knows why. The Grifball League is entering it's eighth season or so, has had an exclusive animated series on XBox Live, two world championship competitions at PAX and is still going strong. I can't imagine anyone has any use for these old shows. It's nice for me to see what I helped start though.