Several of you have asked how we do our podcast, so we decided to lay out each step of the workflow. Hope it’s helpful.
We record the podcast using two Shure WH20 dynamic headset microphones and an Alesis MultiMix 4 USB mixer plugged into our Apple MacBook Pro computer. We record the raw track on Soundtrack Pro software because we already own it as part of Apple’s Final Cut Pro suite. We mention this because not everyone owns this kind of software or is willing to make this investment, and we know we could use a less expensive solution like the free Audacity program and it would be fine. Soundtrack Pro gives us an extra measure of control and noise reduction, but the difference is subtle.
A note about our choice of microphones: we chose the Shure headset mics because we wanted to minimize the distance between the microphones and our voices. Using them gives us the freedom to record virtually anywhere without worrying much about a quiet studio or controlling reverberation. Initially, we paid a great deal of attention to keeping the environment quiet while we recorded, but that stopped the day we had a boat drive by while we were recording near Lake Martin, and you can’t even hear it on the recording. We just don’t worry much now about keeping things quiet, because extraneous sounds are rarely noticeable. We routinely record podcasts on the screen porch, for example, and don’t worry much about the sound of an occasional plane flying overhead.
You won’t have to listen long or hard to program “002 – Approaching Subsistence” to hear lots of annoying pops and clicks. Those are from Lee’s microphone cord hitting the boom of Lee’s microphone every time he turned his head to look at Amanda (we were sitting side by side). We solved the problem by using (duh!) the little clip provided with the Shure microphone that holds the cord in position a few millimeters away from the boom. Now we can turn our heads freely with no annoying noises. We opted to use stereo because we think it gives the program a little added richness, and because we can do so at no additional cost. Yes, the mp3 files are larger and take longer to upload and download, but we hope you notice the difference when you listen.
Our announcer is our daughter Adrian Lee Borden, a professional actor, singer, dancer and voice over announcer now living in California. Hardly fair, huh? We recorded “Longleaf Dream,” the musical theme for the podcast, in the lodge at Longleaf Breeze. You can find out more about it if you wish.
We generally alternate the opening statement (Lee one week and Amanda the next), and we have it more or less worked out before we start. Then we record the rest of the program in one take. We have not so far felt the need to edit out conversational dysfluencies (ums, uhs, etc.). We figure you know we’re farmers, so you’ll forgive our talking like real people instead of professional broadcasters. We work from a series of bullet points we agree on before we record. The bullet points are on a word processor on one side of our Dell PC’s screen, and on the other side we have a timer we pull from the Internet set to count down from 18 minutes. The timer rings an alarm when it reaches zero (and we haven’t yet figured out how to turn it off), so we turn off the speaker of the Dell before we start. We’re not slaves to the clock, but we think you appreciate a measure of consistency, so we try to keep each program between 19 and 21 minutes.
After we finish recording the program, we open the the resulting stereo file in Soundtrack Pro. The first step is to reduce the noise on the file. It’s another subtle improvement, because the noise level on our raw files is already low, but we can tell the difference, so we do it.
The next step is to split the stereo file into two separate tracks, so we can control the balance between the two of us. When we record the file, we set the pan controls on the MultiMix 4 to hard right for Lee (Channel 1) and hard left for Amanda (Channel 2). So when we open the stereo file in the editor of Soundtrack Pro, selecting the left side yields a mono file that has Lee’s voice (and a tiny bleedover from Amanda’s), and selecting the right side yields a mono file that has Amanda’s voice (and a tiny bleedover from Lee’s).
After we save the two separate files, we place them on separate tracks on Soundtrack Pro and adjust their relative volume. Then we adjust the pan controls of the individual tracks (+40 and -40, respectively) so our voices have aural space between them but are not completely polarized.
We have pre-mixed the announcer track and the music track and placed them in a template with space already prepared for Lee’s track and Amanda’s track, so when we drop the tracks for each of us into their designated slots, mixing the multitrack program is simple and quick. We export the multitrack project as an aif (uncompressed audio) mix file, then open the aif file in iTunes and convert it to an mp3 file (compressed audio suitable for uploading).
We upload the mp3 file to our Longleaf Breeze web site using FileZilla FTP. We then update the RSS xml feed file to show the new item using Notepad on our Dell PC. This last part is easy now, but getting our RSS feed file to work correctly was perhaps our single most vexing challenge in developing the podcast.
If you’re curious about how to build an RSS feed file for your podcast, there’s a separate page here on Longleaf Breeze all about it.