Saturday, March 31, 2012

My Podcasting Setup

I know some people have been curious about how I record Hymns to the Dead Goddess. I'm still fine-tuning my setup, so there's room for improvement here, and I'm sure my comments will mainly be of interest to audio recording geeks. Nonetheless, here is the setup I use....

I use a CAD u37 USB condenser microphone. It's not the world's best microphone but it's solid and works just fine for my needs. If you noticed the reddish gunk around the power LED--that's nail polish. I was trying to mask the LED a bit so that, if I left it on at night, the light wouldn't keep the whole room needlessly lit. Even with a couple coats of polish, the LED light is so bright that it cuts through the polish. Overkill, mayhaps?

I've used coat-hanger-and-pantyhose windscreens before, and they work fine, but for this setup I wanted something a bit more permanent, with a relatively easy way to replace the screen should it get ruined. You may notice there are already runs in the screen. If I were doing this over again and had an even more limited budget, I probably would have found a small, lightweight crochet hoop and used that instead. But the cost of the windscreen was worth it for the gooseneck and stand clamp, which helps greatly.

I could have used a desktop mic stand, but I like to be able to move my microphone around as needed, so I use an instrument mic stand. Because the base is a bit narrow, I have an A-clamp holding it to my desk for extra stability. It's nice to be able to raise the microphone out of the way when I'm done recording, or adjust the microphone position when I am.

The grey pad behind the microphone is acoustic foam, which helps to reduce room echo. It helps to make my voice sound a little warmer because there's less high-pitch reflections bouncing back. It's designed to be adhesively mounted to a wall, but I don't have a convenient wall for it, and besides I'd like to be able to reposition the foam as needed. So it's free-standing, propped up with--yes, I know--a green plastic folding table. VERY high-tech and professional, I know.... Hey, it works.

I've stuck with iTunes, despite my misgivings with Apple in the past several years, because it provides a Grouping tag that lets me flag which bands have women as members. As you can imagine, that's very helpful for my podcast! I also use iTunes to determine the playlist order using a very simple formula: Start with a strong, aggressive song, slowly transition to any slower or more delicate music, and end with an epic finish if possible. I then pay attention to the last 30 seconds of each song and how it transitions to the initial 30 seconds of the following song, just to make sure there's no jarring segues, and tweak as necessary.

When using my mic I record using Wavosaur, simply because it's lightweight, supports VST, and can adjust pitch without resampling, which can make things sound a bit jerky. (Confession: I adjust the pitch of my voice 50 cents, or half a semi-tone, partially to trim a few seconds off the introduction and partially to boost the treble in my voice slightly. It's a very subtle change, but I like the effect.) I also use the CompEQ-V VST plugin, which helps me adjust the voice's sibilance, levels, and timbre. I only started using this plugin recently, but the end effect is that Ss are less harsh, the volume of my voice is more consistent, and any flatness that comes from using the acoustic foam is reduced. In short, it makes me sound a bit more professional.

Any adjustments to the audio files--songs, spoken word, etc.--are done in Music Editor Free, which I favor over Audacity because of the user interface. I also do any mixing here, as well as compiling all the audio into one large file. A drawback to Music Editor Free is that it seems to apply joint stereo when saving MP3 files, even when you told it *not* to do so. I hope this gets fixed, because while joint stereo is great for compression, it's lousy for fidelity, especially if you're trying to preserve panning from the left channel to the right, or vice-versa. In the meantime, I save the end result as a WAV file, and then use VLC (not shown) to convert the WAV to the final MP3 file that I upload.

Through it all I save everything I do in the highest possible quality WAVs possible, and only at the end compress to 128 kbps MP3 for the sake of bandwidth. This reduces artifacts that might come up in the process. I also use LAME to create the MP3 files, since LAME is optimized for music, whereas the default MP3 format uses the proprietary Fraunhofer algorithm that is great for spoken word but lousy for music.

I hope you audio tech geeks are satisfied. Maybe now I can concentrate on actually, you know, making the podcast.... ;)

No comments: