Photography Podcast

Podcasting equipment and recording: Behind the scenes of PhotoNetCast

Posted in General on 05-03-2009 | 18 Comments

 

1009690___gear__ Since the first episodes of PhotoNetCast, once in a while, I get email from listeners asking me how do we produce the show and what equipment do we use (hopefully because the show sounds good). I always try to answer as best as I can, but I feel like I’m repeating myself. So, while I understand that this is not directly photography-related and might not interest all of you, it will be a point that I can direct listeners to whenever these questions come up. And after all, it’s no big secret… Also, it seems that there is not much information on how to setup the equipment that I’m now using for the purpose of podcasting. I hope this will help there as well.

Of course that our system may not be the best one (I’m sure it is not) but it has been a learning process since the beginning and so far it’s working well for us. So, here we go…

The conference call

As you are aware, we are four photographers located at four different geographical locations. While “one-man-shows” do not have to deal with this, we do. All our conversations are done with what is probably one of the most used applications for VoIP and conference calls: Skype.

To record the conversations from Skype, we use Pamela. This little piece of software is able to record incoming and outgoing sound on two different channels of a wav file which makes it ideal for editing. Up to episode #20, this was our only way to record the show. This has recently changed and we now have a different way to record the conversations (more bellow), but this system is still used as a backup recording, just in case…

The podcasting equipment

As I mentioned above, I’ve upgraded some of my equipment and I believe the difference was quite noticeable after episode #21. Until then, the four of us were using headsets with microphones and we never got any big complains about the quality. In fact, both Brian and Martin are still using them and they sound great (Brian is using the Cyber Acoustics AC-840 and Martin uses the Hama HS-400). It’s proof that a podcast can indeed be produced with an extremely low budget.

And this is what my setup looks like after the upgrade.

I know that Jim has also upgraded his gear in order to improve his sound both for PhotoNetCast and EXIF and Beyond and he is now using a Blue Bluebird microphone attached to an Icicle USB preamp.

As for my side, this is what you see in the image above (besides the laptop, the colorimeter, the hard drives, etc.):

And what do I do with all this mess to record the show?

Recording PhotoNetCast

So many knobs, so many cables…

One of the big “fights” that podcasters have while using a mixer and Skype to record shows is that the incoming sound from Skype needs to go into the mixer and the outgoing sound from the microphone connected to the mixer needs to go into Skype. One problem with this is that usually creates a very ugly feedback loop with co-hosts listening to themselves (usually with some delay) and makes the recording impossible.

I’ve figured out a way to bypass this problem and at the same time allowing me to use a third-party application (such as Adobe Audition or Audacity) to record directly the output from the mixer to two separate channels and still keeping Pamela recording as backup.

The setup is hard to explain, but I’ll try.

podcast_equipment_2 

Let’s start with the mixer. The left column is what controls my microphone. I won’t go into levels and gain (if you want a good explanation of how this works, listen to Podcasters Emporium 11) nor into equalization settings. Two things you should note is that the microphone is completely panned to the left and the aux knob (the red one) is not completely off but outputting just slightly.

The next column is the sound coming in from Skype (yellow line connects the headset output from the laptop into this mixer input). This one is completely panned to the right and aux knob is off.

On the top of the third column (and unrelated to it) is the aux-bus out, which is outputting the sound from my microphone (remember the red knob turned up just slightly on the microphone? This is where that sound goes). This is connected to the mic-in on the laptop (gold line) and allows my co-hosts to listen to me (and not themselves avoiding that feedback loop I mentioned before). It is not used for the main recording.

On top of the fourth column is the headphones output which allows me to listen to myself and the sound coming from Skype.

Over on the right is the main mixer output. My sound and the sound from Skype are separated into left and right channels (remember the panning to the left on my microphone and  to the right on the Skype sound?). These are connected to the USB interface (red and blue lines) which then connects to the laptop. The advantage of having such a USB interface is that the computer recognizes it almost as a separate sound card. This way I can have Skype using the laptop sound card (with incoming and outgoing sounds flowing through the normal mic and headset plugs) and the recording third-party software using the USB interface and recording what comes out of the mixer (both my voice and my co-hosts’), equalized and ready to go. I pan my sound to the left and Skype sound to the right so that I can record into the same track my voice in one channel and my co-hosts’ in the other which, again, is perfect for editing.

editing_2 I told you it was hard to explain…

Editing and Publishing the Show

If everything went well, I now have two WAV files: one from the main recording and a second one from the backup recording. Hopefully I have to use only the first.

The editing consists of cutting out the things that you shouldn’t really be listening to(some are ending up as outtakes at the end of the show) like some middle show conversation, me loosing the train of thought, silent patches, Martin one of us dropping off the call, too many ahhh hmmm and the like, etc. The intro and outro clips and bumpers are also added at this stage, usually everything into different tracks.

editing_photonetcastThe next step is mixing all the tracks and channels into a single mono track (second track on the image above). To give consistency to the sound levels, the track goes into a compression algorithm which amplifies the lowest volumes and decreases the loudest ones. A normalization step goes next to amplify as much as possible without clipping the sound. The final version of the WAV file is now ready.

Next, the WAV is converted to mp3 (64kbs mono), the file is tagged, uploaded to the server and the corresponding blog post is written. It all ends around 4+ hours later by hitting the Publish button.

And that is it. Listening to the show is your part of the job (and writing some iTunes reviews also).

I know that I went into probably too much detail on this one, but one of my aims was really to get out some more technical details to anyone wanting to use the same setup. And at least, now you know almost everything that is going on (at least on my side) to produce PhotoNetCast.

As always, if you have any questions or are curious about any further details, just ask. I’ll do my best to explain.

Comments (18)

omg, one MicPort Pro would eliminate all that hardware except for the mic and the headphones… and it’s portable (powered by USB bus)

http://www.centrance.com/products/mp/

Hello Sean,

I see your blog search is working ok.

I’m going to take the bait on this one. So, with your solution I need 3 pieces of hardware, with mine, 4. “All that hardware…”? I have the feeling that you’re assuming I use the mixer just as a way to connect the microphone. Very different from reality. If that was the case I would have chosen a USB mic.

Now, I see how the product your company sells might be a good solution for portability, having the preamp powered by the USB, and it has it’s own purpose by itself. If you notice, I mention that Jim uses a similar setup and with similar goals so I’m not in any way detracting from it.

I’m sure that it also works very well if the podcast is not a conference call but just one person. With the way we do it, and with me recording on my side, such a setup as what you suggest would make it impracticable. First, I like to be able to equalize both my voice and my co-hosts’ before it’s converted back to digital. Also, as I mentioned, I want to be able to record to two different locations using one as the main recording and one as backup. Third, I’m not really understanding how using that setup you’re able to monitor your own voice (which to me is very important to improve microphone technique).

As I stated, I’m sure that our setup is not the best, but knowing that the product your company sells has roughly the same price as my mixer, and not needing the portability, the choice was obvious.

Anyway, thanks for your input.

Nice write up Antonio. The diagrams and pictures make it easier to understand by a long shot.

Glad that you wrote about the solution that you have found for recording Skype. Me I am very seriously considering a digital mixer and doing it directly from there directly to recording software. See Ep 12 of Podcasters Emporium – thinking of something similar to James’ set up (Episode 12: The Ins and Outs of Mixers)

This set up is defiantly not the easiest thing in the world to sort out – seems you have a great handle on it though and it works! You have to be happy with what and how your doing it and your sound is good so you must be doing something right.

Nice work mate and thank you very much for the mention, much appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time to write it all up. The diagram is great, about as easy as it could be to explain something like that. What software are you using and is there any options in the “compression algorithm” or do you simply select it an let it run?

That is some serious work Antonio. Thanks for sharing. One thing I would like to note is that Brian’s voice sounds like he is talking out of a metal box at times at least when I listen through my iPod in my car radio.

Hi Scratchy,

In my compressing pass I use a threshold of -10dB, margin of -0.1dB, attack time of 4ms and release time of 300ms.
It’s probably not the best setting, but it works and truthfully I still did not play too much with it.
Thanks for your comment.

Hello Richard,

That’s just Brian’s voice… can’t change it. Kidding…

The main problem is that the perfect equalization settings for each person I have with me are very different, but Skype returns everything on one channel so there is no way I can setup a different equalization for each. Maybe I can check if their soundcards allow for output equalization BEFORE the sound goes into Skype. And what about in general? Does the show sound better after we changed the setup or it’s worse?

Hello Antonio,
Awesome stuff! Truly, I appreciate the time and effort you spent on explaining this to everyone. I just purchased a Xenyx mixer, and when it arrived in the mail I realized how much learning was involved just to get the thing up and running.

Your schematic diagram was just the thing I was looking for. While I have the 502 series, the basics seem to be the same.

For people not recording skype calls such as myself, how would the setup differ? I will just be recording myself on podcasts.

Also, I was wondering if you could provide a list of cables and quantity necessary for the entire setup (such as 1 x RCA to 1/8 inch, 2x 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch converters, etc.)

Here was my understanding:
1. Mic to Mic Preamp #1 via XLR cable
2. Mixer output (CD/Tape) to USB Interface (iMic) ‘In’ to laptop
3. Mixer input (CD/Tape) to USB Interface (iMic) ‘Out’ to laptop
Done//

I’m not sure if this is a correct setup… and I haven’t seemed to utilize the LINE IN 2/3 (mono or balanced), MAIN OUT, & PHONES jacks.

Love your show
Thanks Antonios,
Regards,
Ray

Correct me if I’m wrong Antonio, but I think I figured out the answer to my last question: what cables I need.

2 x 1/8″ Mini to 2 RCA Male Connector similar to something like this (http://www.amazon.com/Recoton-ACW339-Audio-Cable-Connector/dp/B00006HOIT/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=musical-instruments&qid=1239698490&sr=1-1).

Is that all? Thanks to all with suggestions!

Hi Ray,
Thanks for your comment.

This all depends on what you want to do. From my understanding of your comment, you have the 502 and an iMic USB adapter. If you intend only to record the sound coming from your microphone, then you only need that 1x 2 RCA to 1/8″ cable and the XLR cable. You’ll want to connect the CD/Tape out to your IN on the USB interface. I’m not familiar with the iMic, but if it is in any way similar to my Edirol, it shows up as different sound driver. The second RCA to 1/8″ you mentioned connecting the USB OUT to the board is really not going to be necessary as you’re not feeding any sound from the computer into the mix and back into the computer again. If you want to insert any sound clips, I’d do it in processing with software. The difference is, if you wish to insert sound clips while streaming live. In this case, I’d connect your out on the computer (not on the USB interface) to one line-in channel on the board using a 1/8″ to 2 1/4″ cable so that you can actually easily control the volume.
You mention that you’re not using the headphones jack. If you’re going to be talking on a microphone, use it. You’re microphone technique will improve greatly if you can monitor yourself while speaking. This was one of the main reasons for me to go with the mixer option and not just with a XLR to USB interface.

I hope this helped.

Wow you are fast Antonio,

Exactly what I needed to know!

Thanks again,
Ray

Great stuff! Thank you so much for your explanation, it inspired me while setting up my own gear. Including a simple phone call in a podcast can be done in the same way and I could throw in music from an external device (ipod) directly on the mixer.

Thanks.
If you use skype for the phone call, then it’s just the same. You mentioned that you can have music from an external device going into the mixer and that is absolutely true, but if you don’t plan on any live streaming I’d say go for inserting the music in post-production. You’ll have a much better control on the volume and fades. But as you mentioned, it’s very much possible.

My question is how to you split channels into different tracks?

Hello mr. haynes,

As I mentioned, I prefer to have both channels on a single track. That way, when editing I don’t have to worry about out-of-sync problems. In any case, you can start recording on 2 mono tracks with one selected for the left channel and the other for the right. In any case, if you’re using a similar setup to mine, you will still need to pan the inputs on the mixer.
Don’t know if this was much of a help.

Great set-up and explanation. The USB Interface might help me solve my problem. Do you do a live show on air or website and then podcast it or just podcast? I want to do live through my site using shoutcast and then podcast the live show. My co-host is in another state and we use Skype. Now I need to be able to play bumber music and commercials through the system and have my co-host on hearing it and get a clean recording for podcasting. Anybody deal with this?

Hi,

At the moment, we do all the recording “off-air” and publish it as podcast only. With this setup, inserting “live” bumpers gets tricky because the only sound being fed back into skype for everyone on the line to listen is only my voice (otherwise you get the feedback loop that I mentioned). I can’t be specific about shoutcast since I’ve never used it. Nonetheless, if you have a USB-interface with an output option besides the USB (or you can use the master mix from the board), I believe that you can feed it into your line-in port on the computer (NOT the mic input) and use that port with shoutcast. It will take a little trial and error, but I’m sure it is possible. The problem with feeding everything back into skype is always the feedback loop, your co-host will start listen to himself with some delay.
Hope this helped somehow.

Hi Antonio,

Great solution, but I still have some concerns with the cables coming and going to the notebook. In my case, I think I have everything else OK. However, I am planning to use an Alesis Multiumix Firewire mixer and Garageband. Before I do my first connection, I would like to clarify the cable settings from my notebook to the mixer. So, I need a 1/8” plug to 1/4” plug cable from notebook Headphone Line Out to one of Mixer MIC Line In, and then another similar cable from the Aux Sends from the mixer to the notebook Audio Line In. One last question is there any problem using stereo cables or I need to use stereo to mono. Thank you.



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