Making a podcast – some notes and observations

For the past 3-and-a-bit months, I’ve been making a podcast with my friend Leila.

It’s called Shift Run Stop and thanks to iTunes featuring it on their Podcasts page, it’s recently started getting rather a lot more attention and listeners than we’d ever have hoped.

Shift Run Stop hits the bigtime

A few people have asked me how the recording and editing works, so I thought I’d share what little I know about this stuff and how I do it. We co-host and co-produce, and while Leila is the video editor and publicist, I’m the sound editor and chief tech monkey. I think we make a good team, and it’s certainly a lot of fun.

Recording / Capturing / Studio

We both have Zoom H2 mp3 recorders (I copied Leila) and we use one or both of them to record the audio (generally as a 256kpps MP3, which we copy across to my laptop after we finish recording). Meanwhile, Leila uses her Flip camera or iPhone to capture video tasters, which she edits later in iMovie. She’s good.

Here you can see the Zoom H2, Leila’s Flip and The Internet’s Dave Green all in action together.

Leila and Dave

The Zoom H2 is very good for the price, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a decent sound recorder on a budget. For a slightly higher end option, I definitely like the look of the Edirol R-09HR.

Mixing / Cutting / Editing

I use Reaper to edit and mix the recordings. Reaper is amazing, has a hassle-free 30 day evaluation period and after that costs a very reasonable $60 for a personal/education/small-business discounted license or $225 for the regular license.

Some of the filters I use: compressor (to even out the loud peaks), reverb (though not very much or very often) and low-pass (as a hiss filter). Here’s what an episode looks like while I’m working on it.

The editing process

Most of the podcasts you’ll find on iTunes are really quiet. I’m learning to trust what Reaper tells me about the volume level, and keeping it as high as possible so it doesn’t quite clip.

One recent complaint was that the stereo separation is sometimes too great; you hear one person in one ear and one in the other. It’s (obviously) because we sometimes record at opposite sides of the stereo microphone, i.e. at the extremes of it’s recording field. More overlap would be better. I’m going to experiment with the chanmix2 filter in Reaper to narrow the separation a bit. Longer term, to do everything properly, I’m actually quite tempted by the Alesis MultiMix 4 USB Four-Channel USB Mixer for creating a bit more of a studio setup with multiple microphones.

People have suggested that we could tighten it up a bit by removing the ‘um’s, ‘ah’s and other pauses. That’s probably true, and I do increasingly take out a bunch of the worst offenses. On the other hand, my feeling is that I wouldn’t want to go too far; leaving a bit of who we are is a good thing, and totally stripping the conversation of its natural rhythms would be bad. Sometimes I think the odd ‘umm’ can be a useful break; a sort of pressure valve to stop your brain exploding from over concentrated conversation. There are extremes here, with totally unedited two-hour long raw rambling conversations at one end (with the bad bits left in too), and an ultra tight US commercial radio programme at the other (with every hestitation and every moment of silence removed to make way for more ads).

If you’ve ever listend to Radiolab, and you should, then you’ve heard a well produced podcast (perhaps sometimes slightly over-produced for my taste), but one where the imperfections lend it an enormous charm.

In editing, I’m generally just trimming out the more glaring diversions, conversational cul-de-sacs and dull bits, cutting some of the bigger pauses and generally tidying it up a bit. In a 45 minute recording session it’s usually not hard to spot the 20 minutes of really really good stuff. We generally don’t re-order anything, or (of course) make it sound like someone said something they didn’t. I do happily switch between conversations though, and even drop listeners into things with very little introduction.

Back in November, Leila described Shift Run Stop as “an ambient soundscape sort of production, an undulation of chatter and noise, ideas, games and food…”, which I quite like. In the earliest episodes it was probably a bit too confusing, and we’re getting better at signposting what’s going on. That said, one thing I’m still really proud of is the bit in episode 4 where we drop into a couple of conversations without any sort of introduction. One right at the start (which ends up being a lead into hearing a Commodore 64 programme at in the podcast [02:30], which nobody yet seems to have loaded and run) and again at [10:03] where Dave, Tom and Leila are talking about a film and it’ll probably take you until about 11:15 to work out which one. Introducing that with ‘And now, we share our theories about a film…’ just wouldn’t have worked. You might argue that it’s confusing and stupid and annoying and wrong, and that’s just fine. Someone recently described it as ‘overhearing someone else’s conversation’ and gradually working out for yourself what’s going on. I prefer to think of it like that. It works if the conversation is interesting enough.

Publishing / Syndicating / Hosting

I use Libsyn to host the MP3s and Video files in the podcast, an instance of a WordPress to serve the blog and finally Feedburner to take an Atom feed from the blog and turn it into a podcast, while also tracking subscribers, making it work nicely in iTunes, etc.

Our setup works beautifully and was relatively painless, not to mention fairly cheap, to set up. Robert Brook was kind enough to give me some advice about Libsyn (by recording the answer to my questions in his own podcast, so you can hear it too if you want to). The only real cost is Libsyn, where I’m currently paying $24 per month for 525MB per month of upload, which is enough for 4 half-hour-ish audio episodes and 4 5-minute-ish video tasters. They have cheaper packages too. Libsyn don’t cap download bandwidth, so although Amazon S3 might have been even cheaper in the early days, Libsyn is a nice predictable cost rather than a variable one. To do it totally for free, we could just use the Internet Archive to host the audio files. Sadly, to be brutally honest, their upload is still so disappointingly flakey that I didn’t want to trust it.

Enormous Caveat: I’m probably doing everything really badly wrong. I’m documenting it here partly to share what I’ve learned by trial and error, but mostly so that people who know more about it can correct me.

20 replies on “Making a podcast – some notes and observations”

  1. Nice overview – I for one like the rather unpolished (that isn’t meant to be pejorative), natural feel to it.

    One minor gripe/question though: I subscribed through iTunes and get both the podcast and the video preview – is there a way I can just get the podcast?

  2. Not being a C64 owner, I’ve had to convert the programme into a format suitable for loading into an emulator. However every tool I’ve tried seems to suggest there is no loadable data in the file; however much I do or don’t clean up the audio beforehand. Is it possible the audio-smooshery (not a technical term!) required in conversion to MP3 is introducing gremlins?

    I guess I just wanted to check this wasn’t a fools errand? Assuming not I suppose I just need to keep twiddling virtual knobs.

  3. Ian: well done for trying. You’re the first person I think has even attempted it. I have not tried it with an emulator. How are you converting from MP3 to something the emulator loads? (Surely the C64 emulators are using some sort of digital format rather than handling audio encodings?)

  4. I’ll chime in on the stereo separation, as a one-earplug late night listener. It’s never felt unlistenably bad, in terms of loud-quiet-loud, but if a bit more middle is available, I’ll take it. It feels slightly rude to complain, especially after the Astro Wars review: SRS is simply lovely.

  5. Roo: I’m using Tape64 ( which purports to convert from wav to the .tap format used by several emulators. Using Audacity to convert from MP3 to wav and even tried various forms of noise removal/pre-processing to “improve” source.

    I’ve sucessfully converted my own ZX Spectrum tapes via Wav’s into a format suitable for use on Speccy emulators, admittedly using different tools obviously, but this one is stumping me.

    Incidentally, did you record the “data” directly via line input, or was it recorded from speaker to mic?

  6. Ooh. Clever stuff.

    I recorded it to a WAV via my hifi’s line out rather than mic->speakers.

    Hmm. I wonder if the MP3 compression (or the editing into the episode) is causing problems then. Let me find the tape again and make you a higher quality copy.

  7. An excellent chronology, Roo, that anyone contemplating podcasting will find useful.

    Speaking as a long-time podcaster myself (5 years and counting), I didn’t see anything wrong is what you say about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Everyone does podcasting a little differently and I agree wholeheartedly with your view re letting in some of the personality of the podcasters. Some of the poor podcasts are those that are heavily produced where the people doing them think they’re just another channel, like radio.

    And to illustrate how you can always learn something new no matter how long you’re been doing it, thanks for mentioning Reaper. I’d not heard of that before. I’ve been using Adobe Audition 3 for some years. An outstanding digital audio workshop but boy, is it pricy.

    So a nice post, thanks.

  8. Dave: blog category RSS feed -> FeedBurner.

    Kyb: Hmm.. I’ll look into it. I wonder if it’s something I’m doing, or them. You’d think FeedBurner would work well with Google Listen, really. Silly Google.

  9. I actually have no idea if feedburner is at fault or not, I’m just aware that google Listen lets me subscribe to the radio 4 podcasts but not to yours, no matter how I try to force the feed url down it’s mouth.

  10. When I first started doing podcasts, there were countless people suggesting I edit out the “uhs” and stuff. I think it’s sort of a silly thing to worry about – you don fantastic editing for the format.

    Also, the Edirol is fantastic. I got that suggested to me by Robert Brook and using it has been awesome. The manual that comes with it is like a little 5 minute education in audio and the device itself is rock solid and records dreamy sounds.

  11. Fantastic podcast Roo. I’d like to make a strong vote for keeping the odd sounds, quirky timing and umms and ahs. I really like the way you’ve structured Shift Run Stop, and wouldn’t want it to become too polished.

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