5 Tools To Perfect Podcast Audio
5 Tools To Perfect Podcast Audio
Are you producing your first podcast, or trying to improve your current one? Are you the engineer for a client who’s submitting podcasts to Amazon or another podcast service? Perfect! Then just like me, you are looking to get the most out of your podcast production experience. For clients and engineers alike who are new to podcasts it may be an “unfamiliar” experience at first, so I thought it would help to develop a list of tools that have worked for me to get the audio side of podcasts essentially perfect. With the audio side solidified, you or your client can focus on the content (which is ultimately what you should be most concerned with). Here are five tools to reach for to ensure great podcast audio:
1. Outline Your Recording Plan beforehand.
First off, if you are the engineer, make sure you understand what your client is looking for out of the podcast. Is it more like a radio program? Is it more like a narration/audiobook? Communicate about the vision, and discuss specifics about intros, outros, music beds, sound effects etc. Get a good idea of the type of project you are undertaking, so you will know how to produce a product you and the client can be proud of. If you are the client, be clear about your expectations before seeking out help. You don’t have to know everything, but I can tell you as an engineer, it always helps to have a client who has a clear aspiration for their end product.
Discuss the recording and the gear used. We’ll highlight specifics in the next section, but I’ve gotten all types of TERRIBLE audio clients are looking to salvage, and some of it is just pure trash. As the engineer, if you have the opportunity to converse with your client before recording, please do so, so you can insure good signal/noise ratios, 24 Bit recordings and actual WAV files (why are people recording in mp3 format? Why is that allowed? **tearing hair out**). There is no such thing as restoring an mp3 to a 24Bit WAV file, so don’t try to upsample, you’ll think it’s working…it isn’t. Be sure you or your client is recording in the highest fidelity possible (at least 44.1/24Bit or higher), so your end product doesn’t start off crippled with audio deficiencies. Iron these issues out with your client before the recording if at all possible.
2. Recording properly
You could make the argument this should be #1, and it’s definitely important. There is a saying in audio; “Garbage in, Garbage out”. If you are the engineer recording the podcast, you’ve got to be cognizant of the fallacy in “We’ll fix it in the mix”. Do it right the first time and save yourself some time and headache. If you are the engineer working with the podcast client, take some time in the beginning to help your client understand his/her gear. A quick education on how recording properly in the beginning will save them time and money in the long run will be well worth it. Recently I worked with a client to help him pick the correct microphone, the correct microphone technique and the correct settings on their recording channel. The client then sent a few short recordings back to test the settings, and we worked through which techniques got the best results. This initial discussion and preparation will, in return, save the client and myself time and headaches in the future.
3. Noise removal tools
Whether you use Waves X or Z noise, Sonnox’s restoration bundle or iZotope’s wildly popular RX suite, noise reduction and removal is a large part of the podcast engineering work I’ve seen and worked on. Generally, podcast audio is recorded by novices in untreated, not-so-ideal environments. The job of the engineer is to help ameliorate those deficiencies, and hopefully bring your production value up to standard. In most cases, basic white noise removal or hum removal tools can complete the task with little effort as long as you know how to use them correctly, but in some cases you’ll need specific, more in depth, software such as the RX line from iZotope to accomplish the task. I haven’t come across any other product lines recently that have the intensive tools that I’ve seen in the advanced versions of RX such as de-reverb, dialog specific denoisers & EQ emulations. Don’t go out and purchase these advanced (and quite expensive) tools just yet. Often when you are working for a client, a little coaching on the initial recording and some basic D.A.W tools like DeEssers, downward expanders, and good old-fashioned high pass filters can go a long way. In some of the most drastic instances a re-recording is the best option, and you have to express to your client (or yourself) that you just can’t save everything! Some recordings are just “not going to cut it”, even with all of the bells and whistles we have at our disposal today.
**If you are the podcast owner/client and not an audio engineer, it pays to know a little more about these tools, so here’s a link to get more familiar: Sound On Sound**
Not every podcast needs compression, but every podcast I’ve come across does need a consistent audio level. How you accomplish that is up to you or the engineer. If you are using compression to keep a consistent level in this genre, you are usually dealing with a raw vocal and not much else going on. Look for a transparent compressor that will keep your vocal consistent and upfront overall without imparting much “character”. Plugin Tools I like for this type of compression are the Waves C1 Comp, the McDsp Compressor line, and the stock compressors in your D.A.W such as the one in Logic Pro X as well as the stock compressor in Pro Tools. As I said earlier, I don’t necessarily compress in this situation if I don’t have to, there are a lot of other tools I’ve found effective in maintaining a consistent level for podcast clients. In Adobe Audition there’s a nice dynamic range leveler with some great presets to get you started. The Waves Vocal Rider plugin is also a great tool in your podcast engineer toolbox. These tools ultimately allow you to maintain the consistent level podcast listeners demand, while at the same time not imparting any additional processing on your signal and maintaining crucial transient information.
Last but not least, automation can be key in podcast production as well. If the leveler options aren’t available to you or don’t accomplish the results you are looking for, consider going the automation route. With level automation you can avoid compression and draw in intricate volume details, protecting your signal from extra processing while having even more control than automatic levelers supply. Whatever your choice, you are sure to need at least one of these three. You or your engineer should be familiar with how you are going to maintain consistent level standards. I know Amazon submissions require RMS levels from -23dB - -18dB. This area is not something you can afford to overlook and the podcast provider won’t allow it.
5. D.A.W good old fashioned editing (muting, strip silencing, cutting and moving, attention to detail)
Good old fashioned editing can be the answer to many of your podcast obstacles. Audio Engineering podcasts isn’t as involved as much of the other work we do as audio engineers. It’s possible to have a clip of music on your intro and outro, maybe some additional edits during the podcast, but essentially it’s just single track narration. Get to know your D.A.W’s editing tools such as strip silencing, the sample editor window, and muting regions. They are bound to come in hand, and make you more efficient. When editing, attention to detail is paramount. I recently edited a podcast where the narrator just sent one long track with the podcast, but also included mistakes, stops and restarts etc., so I was tasked with piecing together the “good parts” of the podcast based on the script, and moving the regions where they needed to go. This type of “fix it later” approach creates much more work for the engineer, and hence more billable time. If you are the engineer who is tasked with piecing things together like this, you should not be only concerned about the audio, now you need to keep your ear on the “ebbs and flows” of the story to make things sound natural to the listener. The job of the engineer has now morphed into the podcast producer, so it pays to be cognizant of what type of project you are dealing with. Use your editing tools to your advantage to bring your podcast to life! Not everything is about a plugin.
Ensuring good podcast audio isn’t rocket science, but there are a few things to keep in mind when working with your client, or engineering podcasts yourself. Through my podcast experience these five issues are the most prevalent, and encompass some of the most effective tools to get high quality audio. Much of the work, like all audio, begins with a good initial recording. Audio Engineers need to keep a few tools at hand to accomplish the audio work, and these 5 are all you will need to make the majority of podcasts shine. So, what are waiting for? Go start recording & SHARE it with our engineer community!!!
**Have you engineered podcasts? Did we miss any recommendations? Let us know it all in the Forum!**
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