So You Want to Make a Podcast?
Part 2 - Mixing and Post Production
In our previous blog we looked at the process of capturing some sound and a few recording considerations like the choice of microphone.
Now we are considering how to polish that up a bit into a complete shareable podcast you can be proud of.
Why might you want to do this?
Well, in truth, very few people are so good that they can record, create and share a podcast in one hit without any editing. Some people use what is known as “live mixing” which means when they record they are managing what they capture in a sophisticated way using mixing tools. But mere humans, like me, generally need to do a bit of post-recording work to tidy things up before they are happy to share it. This is generally called “post-production” - (yes, getting very professional here aren’t we!) and that is what we will concentrate on here.
Another reason might be that podcasts are generally in MP3 file format and you may have recorded your content in a different format like WAV for example and so you will need to convert it.
Alternatively you might want to bring several audio files that you created separately together into one recording to make a better and more complete podcast.
And for the more ambitious you might want to introduce some theme music and introductory comments and such like to create a more coherent series of podcasts.
All of these are reasons why you might want or need to do some post production. The good news is that it’s not complicated, and there are plenty of free tools out there to make it a cost-effective process.
If you wanted to bring together a series of individual documents and format them to your needs you might use a word processing package to do this. In much the same way you will need a piece of software to achieve the same outcome when you are working with sound files as well.
This software is sometimes referred to as DAWS (Digital Audio Workstations) and, as you might expect, there are a lot of choices out there ranging from quite basic tools to incredibly sophisticated and professional products used in very complex studio setups. Basic is usually good enough and there are some common, popular and free ones readily available that, in almost all cases, are completely fit for purpose.
Personally, Audacity is the one I use and I do that for a number of reasons. It’s free, it is open source (something I am a big fan of), it has all the features I want or need and there are literally hundreds of great tutorials and demonstrations on YouTube on how to use it from beginner to highly professional.
But, they all work on the same basic principles and it is the principles we will consider here rather than get into the specific pros and cons of each product.
The main principle is that each separate piece of audio you want to use on your podcast can be treated as a separate “track” and adjusted accordingly before you mix it together into a single audio file that is your podcast.
For example, you might have recorded a conversation and it's a bit quiet. Once you have added it to your post production software as an individual track you can raise the volume on that track specifically. Or there might be a few “erms” and “umms” that you want to edit out, you can make those cuts in the individual track.
Think of your podcast as being a bit like a song and each piece of audio you add to it is an individual instrument. Each instrument is represented on its own “track”, and each track can be adjusted individually and separately to make the final song sound better.
On a typical XpoNorth podcast, I will have a number of individual tracks. For example, one will be the conversation with the interviewee. In fact, sometimes I separate my voice from the interviewee to create two tracks (that way I can cut lots of myself out without affecting the interviewee’s voice!).
Then there will be another track for the introduction spoken by me. Another for the introductory music. I might have yet another for my closing statements and another for the closing piece of music. Really, it's up to you. But the principle is each track can be treated separately, edited separately, adjusted and aligned separately. Once you are happy with the combination you export it to create the final podcast file.
Each podcast is a project in itself and can be saved as such in most of the software programmes so that you can go back to it and edit it over several sessions if you want to.
Getting your audio files into the editing software is a case of either importing a pre-recorded one or recording it directly into the project by using a microphone plugged into your computer.
By way of example, I will create a project for each podcast and import the recording of the call I have with the interviewee. I will import the music tracks I use at the start and the end, and I will plug a microphone into the computer and record my introduction and end piece directly into the project. Each of these elements is an individual track.
Now that might all sound a bit complicated, and I am sure there are a few sound engineers out there saying “but why don’t you do this….?” But, it works for me and with only a bit of practice I am confident that you will find it is really quite simple to produce a podcast with all the elements that you want and to a standard that is more than good enough to share with the world.
The post production software usually comes with lots of really handy effects, like fade-outs, noise reduction, echo and all sorts. So the flexibility to edit, adjust and polish to create a slick piece of work is all there. The only limitation is your ambition, your time, and your needs.
Once your project plays back to you in the post production software how you want it to sound, you export it as an MP3 file and you are almost ready to publish!
Incidental Music and Artwork
A couple of final things. If you want to include music make sure you have the rights to use it. You can’t just steal your favourite song and use it. There are lots of royalty-free music sites on the internet. Places like Premium Beat or Free Music Archive are good places to start - but there are many more.
Sometimes you might need to pay for a licence, sometimes you need to acknowledge the composers, sometimes there are no limitations - but do check, and make sure you abide by the requirements - some folks make their living this way.
You can also embed artwork so that when the MP3 files get played the picture pops up on the player. Most of the time the image files are quite small - usually about 300x300 pixels, so often it is a good place to put a logo or something. But, as with the music, make sure you have the rights to use it. To add an image you will need to edit the MP3 files “tags” or properties, which takes us onto the final section on this production blog.
Your podcast will be an MP3 file and, like all files, it will have certain properties associated with it. These properties can be edited and in the case of a media file, there are a lot more tags you can attach to define details about it. This includes indexing terms, hashtags, creator details, and images amongst many others. It is worth paying attention to this as it is a good opportunity to embed things that can enhance the findability of a file by a search engine, but you can include details about your organisations, author details etc, and make it a much more user-friendly file for folks if they download it and use it on their phone or MP3 player.
Now over the years tags have been expanded and changed and there are several versions - ID3v1 to ID3V who knows what but, in truth, don’t get too hung up about it. Address the basic and obvious tags like title, author, date etc and worry about the finer points another day.
As you might expect there are lots of tools that will help you edit those tags and I tend to use two. One is called ID3-TagIT and the other is MP3 Tag Tools. But there are lots of others so choose one that suits your needs and works on your equipment be it Windows, Mac or Linux.
Now you have an MP3 file, you have your podcast. Now you have to share it with the world which we will cover in the third and final blog in this series – ‘So You Want to Make a Podcast?’