Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Podcast Production Pt. 1–Recording

I like to get out and go for a walk just about every day. And ever since I bought an iPod Touch, I have really enjoyed listening to various sermon podcasts when I do. As a church techie, I don’t often get to really listen to a sermon; normally I’m busy tweaking other things and can’t focus much on it. So the opportunity to hear 6-7 sermons (or perhaps a geeky podcast like TWiT) has been great. Most of the time, anyway.

The other day I was listening to a well-known pastor’s podcast (you would instantly recognize his name). I have got to tell you, though the message was great, the audio was not. I could tell the originally recorded audio was rather marginal, and the MP3 encoding was done at such a low bitrate that the artifacts were very distracting. As a long-time audio geek with a great desire for quality audio, I thought I would share the  process we use to put together a really good sounding podcast. This week we’ll touch on recording; next week post-production; and in two weeks, I’ll share my encoding secret sauce. In case you haven’t picked up on the new format for the blog, Monday’s are now Audio days.

The first step in getting a quality podcast is to get a quality recording. This involves several components, not the least of which is the choice of microphone. We use a DPA 4088 cardioid headset microphone. I’ll warn you, it’s not cheap. It is, however, the best sounding headset mic I’ve ever heard. The Countryman e6 is another popular choice, as is the AT 892. Personally, I like the sound of the 892 better than the e6, though some complain it’s harder to fit. What you don’t want is an omni-lav.

It’s not that an omni lavaliere can’t sound good–the Countryman B3, Tram TR-50, Sony ECM 77 and other sound fantastic–it’s that when used in a live PA setting, they tend to pick up too much room noise. So you hear the preacher’s voice, then you hear the echo from the PA. All this extraneous sound wreaks havoc on the low-bitrate encoder and leads to annoying artifacts. If at all possible, stick with a good headworn mic, or in some cases a handheld (providing it’s used properly).

If you can, I recommend recording from a Pre-EQ direct out. The reason is this; you typically have to do a fair amount of EQ on even the best speaking mics to keep them from feeding back and sounding good. All that EQ will not benefit your recording. You can tweak the EQ later in post if you need to, but you can’t put back what you previously took away. We don’t currently do this because of the way our system is set up, and I’m not really happy with it. It was on my list of things to address, but I don’t think I’ll get to it. If you have to use a record out, or another Post-EQ send you can get away with it, but it’s not optimal.

The next step is a good recording. You can record straight to a computer, and that’s what we did at Crosswinds. I bought a good sound card to use as an input source (don’t use the 1/8″ line in jack if you can avoid it–far too noisy), and recorded straight into Adobe Audition. USB and FireWire interfaces are also excellent (and more flexible) options. Recording to a CD-R is a possibility, though I would recommend doing some post-production on it. I really like solid-state recorders. We have a Marantz PMD660 that records to Compact Flash. With a 1 Gig flash card in it, we get several hours of record time. While it will record to an uncompressed WAV file, I’ve found the high-bitrate MP3 option sounds just fine. I record at 44.1 KHz since my podcast will end up at 22050 Hz and getting there from 44.1 requires less rounding (as compared to a 48 KHz recording), and theoretically anyway, fewer artifacts.

The Marantz PMD 600. A great little digital recorder.

The Marantz PMD 600. A great little digital recorder.We used to record to an Alesis HD24, which sounded great but was a pain to use because files were transferred via a slow, 10 Base-T ethernet connection. It took a good 20 minutes to pull down the 400 Meg file every week. Using USB 2.0 on the Marantz, it takes 20 seconds. I like that.

Please promise me you won’t record to cassettes any longer. I’m on a mission to eliminate cassette audio distribution. I even told the few people who used to buy them at my previous church that I would buy them a CD player if they would switch. There are so many better options. Use them.

So that’s step one. Next week, we’ll talk a little about post-production.

12 Comments

  1. sam.adam.h@gmail.com

    Good call on the PMD 600! It’s my favorite recorder by far and I can’t say enough about it. It has the best auto-level feature I’ve heard and it’s a crying shame Marantz didn’t include that in their rack-mounted versions like the PMD 560. In fact I was tempted to buy 600s for a couple of our rooms but in the end I decided the 560s would stay in the racks and not walk away.

    After using the 600 for a while one of our volunteers was do disappointed about the 560s I installed that he got Marantz on the phone to have them explain why they didn’t put the auto-leveler in the rack versions. Their answer? Rack-mounted gear usually lives in a pro environment with post-production capabilities. What ev.

    The 600 will give you clean, podcast-ready audio any day as long as you don’t have to edit.

  2. sam.adam.h@gmail.com

    Good call on the PMD 600! It’s my favorite recorder by far and I can’t say enough about it. It has the best auto-level feature I’ve heard and it’s a crying shame Marantz didn’t include that in their rack-mounted versions like the PMD 560. In fact I was tempted to buy 600s for a couple of our rooms but in the end I decided the 560s would stay in the racks and not walk away.

    After using the 600 for a while one of our volunteers was do disappointed about the 560s I installed that he got Marantz on the phone to have them explain why they didn’t put the auto-leveler in the rack versions. Their answer? Rack-mounted gear usually lives in a pro environment with post-production capabilities. What ev.

    The 600 will give you clean, podcast-ready audio any day as long as you don’t have to edit.

  3. emyers@colonial.org

    Always have a backup…

    You may already be planning to mention this in another segment, but I think it is also important to mention that if the audio you are archiving is in any way ciritical, you must have a backup system.

    We used to track an ‘off the board’ CD-R just in case something happened to the PC running Adobe Audition. When we added our Digidesign Venue console, I setup two different machines, 1- a Mac (Pro Tools HD) tracking the whole service (every input) including the pastor’s countryman mic and a fail-safe podium mic that is muted in the house, but picked off right from the mic pre, (plus the audience mics). All of these inputs are discrete and pre-EQ, pre-bus, etc.

    2nd machine is a PC (running Adobe Audition) is just tracking a matrix I’ve set up to give the Pastor’s voice on one wav, and a composite of the audience mics on the other wav.

    If you’ve ever had a computer fail, man will you be glad you planned a separate discrete recording if you have to dig it up. Always have a plan, right?

    In our “Chapel” (smaller venue) we still have an analog console. Our pastor does Sunday PM services in there. In here we track a very similar ‘sounding’ pair of signals from the matrix on the console to a pair of inputs on a PC via an Mbox2 Pro, meanwhile we pop in a CD-R that has an identical matrix mix so that “left” is pastor, “right’ is audience response. This setup isn’t as fail-proof as it is with the Digidesign Venue, but its still pretty solid.

    Budget is no excuse. CD-Rs are SO cheap, and so is just about every other type of digital media for archival and storage.

  4. emyers@colonial.org

    Always have a backup…

    You may already be planning to mention this in another segment, but I think it is also important to mention that if the audio you are archiving is in any way ciritical, you must have a backup system.

    We used to track an ‘off the board’ CD-R just in case something happened to the PC running Adobe Audition. When we added our Digidesign Venue console, I setup two different machines, 1- a Mac (Pro Tools HD) tracking the whole service (every input) including the pastor’s countryman mic and a fail-safe podium mic that is muted in the house, but picked off right from the mic pre, (plus the audience mics). All of these inputs are discrete and pre-EQ, pre-bus, etc.

    2nd machine is a PC (running Adobe Audition) is just tracking a matrix I’ve set up to give the Pastor’s voice on one wav, and a composite of the audience mics on the other wav.

    If you’ve ever had a computer fail, man will you be glad you planned a separate discrete recording if you have to dig it up. Always have a plan, right?

    In our “Chapel” (smaller venue) we still have an analog console. Our pastor does Sunday PM services in there. In here we track a very similar ‘sounding’ pair of signals from the matrix on the console to a pair of inputs on a PC via an Mbox2 Pro, meanwhile we pop in a CD-R that has an identical matrix mix so that “left” is pastor, “right’ is audience response. This setup isn’t as fail-proof as it is with the Digidesign Venue, but its still pretty solid.

    Budget is no excuse. CD-Rs are SO cheap, and so is just about every other type of digital media for archival and storage.

  5. jr.riechers@gmail.com

    While I do agree that CD-R’s are cheap, if you don’t need them you end up with a stack of used cds to get trashed. Why not take this one step further and have a set of CD-RW’s that get rotated, those will last you for years in write rewrite times and in the long run will save you money, and save the cd from going to the landfill. Just my 2 cents worth.

  6. jr.riechers@gmail.com

    While I do agree that CD-R’s are cheap, if you don’t need them you end up with a stack of used cds to get trashed. Why not take this one step further and have a set of CD-RW’s that get rotated, those will last you for years in write rewrite times and in the long run will save you money, and save the cd from going to the landfill. Just my 2 cents worth.

  7. emyers@colonial.org

    Very good point. Our ‘system’ of archiving here is managed by another department. Eventually the CD-Rs will go away here. And currently, there are big ole stacks of old CD-Rs that 5 years out are marginal as archival media…

    But right now its… uhh… “familiarity” that wins I think. The deck in there is a CD-RW. We would just need someone in that department to copy the file as a backup onto a hard drive weekly. Wouldn’t that be a cool idea. πŸ™‚

  8. emyers@colonial.org

    Very good point. Our ‘system’ of archiving here is managed by another department. Eventually the CD-Rs will go away here. And currently, there are big ole stacks of old CD-Rs that 5 years out are marginal as archival media…

    But right now its… uhh… “familiarity” that wins I think. The deck in there is a CD-RW. We would just need someone in that department to copy the file as a backup onto a hard drive weekly. Wouldn’t that be a cool idea. πŸ™‚

  9. kevinkluckhohn@gmail.com

    So I might be a little late to this conversation…2 years too late actually! I am working with our church within a church, which may eventually become a church plant. We are working on recording our sermons, but it is hit and miss. Right now, I have attempted to schedule a recording with the computer (iMac) but it's not been successful thus far. I am looking for another option to record directly from the sound board to make it the Sound Engineers responsibility. Is there a less expensive option that has the automatic level control and quality you could suggest?

  10. kevinkluckhohn@gmail.com

    So I might be a little late to this conversation…2 years too late actually! I am working with our church within a church, which may eventually become a church plant. We are working on recording our sermons, but it is hit and miss. Right now, I have attempted to schedule a recording with the computer (iMac) but it's not been successful thus far. I am looking for another option to record directly from the sound board to make it the Sound Engineers responsibility. Is there a less expensive option that has the automatic level control and quality you could suggest?

  11. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Kevin,
    Here are some ideas. Pick up a simple USB audio interface (eg. the Lexicon Alpha available at http://www.markertek.com for about $60) and a copy of Reaper ( also $60 at http://www.reaper.fm). You can then record straight from the board to the iMac, and be able to do post-processing on it to get the levels dialed in. I typically put some compression on the channel, then limit the master bus in Reaper to get the levels smoothed out.

    I've written several articles on the various methods of podcast production used at different churches. Do a search on this site for Podcast Recording and you'll find them.

    Hope that helps,
    mike

  12. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Kevin,
    Here are some ideas. Pick up a simple USB audio interface (eg. the Lexicon Alpha available at http://www.markertek.com for about $60) and a copy of Reaper ( also $60 at http://www.reaper.fm). You can then record straight from the board to the iMac, and be able to do post-processing on it to get the levels dialed in. I typically put some compression on the channel, then limit the master bus in Reaper to get the levels smoothed out.

    I've written several articles on the various methods of podcast production used at different churches. Do a search on this site for Podcast Recording and you'll find them.

    Hope that helps,
    mike

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