Two of my good friendsâ€"C.C. Chapman and Mitch Joelâ€"have, on their most recent podcasts, extolled the virtues of podcasting without editing. "Live to the hard drive" is the phrase I hear most often in reference to this podcasting style; a lot of shows I listen to are recorded this way, including (of course) C.C.'s "Managing the Gray" and Mitch's "Six Pixels of Separation." It's no surprise that Mitch and C.C. were co-presenting a session at Podcamp Montreal (coming up September 20-21) titled, "Podcasting from the Heart: The Value of Recording a Show with No Editing and No Second Takes."
C.C. refers to it as "passionate podcastingâ€"hit record and go, and when you're done, you're done." Mitch suggests that the processes of producing a more polished show would prevent him from conveying "the spirit in which I want to communicate to you."
Don't get me wrong. C.C.'s and Mitch's shows are among the few that I won't miss, along with "Marketing Over Coffee," another live-to-the-hard-drive show in which the ambience of the location adds a tasty dimension to Christopher S. Penn and John Wall's conversations. But I don't agree that a show that is edited after recording is any less passionate, any less from the heart, than one that isn't.
The primary reason I do post-production on "For Immediate Release," the podcast I've been recording with Neville Hobson since early January 2005, is simple: There are two of us separated by a continent and an ocean. We can't see each other, we're working from a playlist, and we stumble over each other's words, we miss cues, we make mistakes. Sure, we could just let it fly, but the mistakes would make the show longer and distract from the content.
Nevertheless, we're just as passionate about our topics. Our delivery is most definitely from the heart. (In fact, following a recent tirade of mine, listener Sherilynne Starkie left a comment to the show's blog noting, "Shel's right worked up about this one, eh?")
Another reason for post-production: I want to make the show as easy on listeners' ears as possible. As a podcast listener (I currently subscribe to 26 shows), I routinely find myself yanking the buds out of my ears when a new segment is a billion or so decibels louder than the last. I unsubscribe from shows with good content when background noise or some other flaw is so bad that it mitigates the pleasure of listening.
For the record, here's how FIR is recorded and edited:
Neville and I record over Skype using a process called a "mix-minus." (A couple years ago, I recorded a YouTube video that provides detail on how to configure a mix-minus setup.) One of the key advantages of the mix minus is that each of our voices is recorded to a separate track.
The file is recorded to a digital recorder onto a flash card. I keep a notepad by the rig to note the timecodes of mistakes. Often, when we screw up, we have a bit of a chat about what to do next, more bits our listeners just don't need.
I record to the uncompressed WAV format, advice I got at a New Media Expo from Doug Kaye. If you record to MP3 and edit the MP3 file, then save it, you've just compressed a compressed file. Each time you save, you degrade the audio. So I do all my work in WAV, saving the compression to MP3 for the very last stage.
Once the recording is done, I transfer the WAV file to my laptop and open it in Adobe Audition. (I used Audacity for the first couple years of the show, but as podcasting became more of a hobby, I graduated to a commercial product with more bells and whistles.)
At the beginning of our session, I let the recorder run for about 20 seconds while neither of us says a word. I use this clip as a noise profile, which lets me run a noise reduction utility on the entire recording. As a result, the hiss in the backgroundâ€"from air conditioning, heating, or whatever, is eliminated.
Next, I use my notes to delete the extraneous discussions and mistakes. If I'm trying to get a show that ran particularly long down to an hour or so, I also delete some bits and bobs, or even entire news items that will become FIR Cuts, segments that didn't make the final cut but that we make available as separate files.
With the editing done, I save each track as a new, mono file. On each of these files is just one of our voices, so there are long gaps during which you can't hear anybody talking. These gaps are mostly dead silent, thanks to the noise reduction routine, but that process leaves artifacts whenever it encounters a sound that's louder than the hiss captured in the noise profile (such as an inadvertent bumping of the microphone). These artifacts mostly sound like clicks and pops, so I highlight each of these gaps and use Audition's amplification tool to reduce the sound to zero.
(Incidentally, I've never taken an audio engineering class; I learned to use Audition by trial and error. I suspect there are easier ways to do thisâ€"some of you might even be rolling your eyes, wondering why I do it this way. If there's a more efficient process that produces these results, tell me!)
Now that the treatment of each track is finished, I move the them to the multitrack view, which combines the two tracks. I save this as a WAV file, naming it with the episode number and the word "voices," like this: fir377-voices. I use Levelator, a free tool from The Conversations Network, to bring all voices to the same optimum level.
I load the output file from Levelator back into Audition, and add the music from the intro, the segment intros for news and comments, and the podsafe song we play at the end of the show; Levelator is for voices, and doesn't do so well with music.
The entire process takes about two hours. The longest stretches are the noise reduction and Levelating processes, during which I do other work on my other computer, so the actual amount of time I spend physically manipulating the audio file is about an hour.
The result is a show that is passionate and from the heart, but sounds good.
It's a choice. It's not the right choice, or the only choice, but it's the one we've opted to use, and I don't believe for a minute that it diminishes the value of the show.
If we read the entire show from a script, on the other hand...how passionate or from the heart would that be?
a shel of my former self, a blog from organizational communications consultant Shel Holtz, addresses the intersection of technology, business, and communication.