Podcast Process Part 2: Gear set up

So I ended the last post by realising that I I’d bitten off more than I realised. I couldn’t even get as far as pressing record on the last blog post because I wanted to talk about my shed for 900 words. In my defence I warned you this was going to be self-indulgent. What I realise now is that I feel very passionately about every choice and investment I’ve made in my set up. Maybe I’d have done just as well if I’d made decisions quicker or just accepted that I needed to spend more money. I also realised I risk coming off as an obsessive. While I’m not going to deny that, I will caveat it by saying I do spend plenty of time with my family as well, I go out for drinks, I watch TV and irritatingly I still have a full time job. There’s no need for an intervention. I just take my hobby seriously.

The process of podcasting has become like a game in my mind. Unlock achievements, increase quality, build skills, and increase audience. So part of the activity for me is not just to produce the show but to progress constantly.

The single nicest thing in my set up is my Heil PR40. It's such a beautiful looking and sounding microphone. I know I haven’t mastered how to get the best sound out of her yet but I know the potential is there and she sits patiently waiting for me catch up with her. The shortfalls I have in my audio are not down to the mic. Leo LaPorte and Scott Johnson have both used them and those guys are my podcasting heroes so I have no excuse. The mic was out of my budget but I decided to buy a second hand one from a shop. At least it had a warranty. The choice was a middling new mic or I could lower myself to the 2nd hand market and walk away with a Jewel.

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The initial sound check on my own is the most important reference point for how the evening’s audio will go. If you I don’t get this initial level and gain staging consistent then I find that once the soundboard and Skype call comes in I can find myself chasing the various levels on the desk and get in a muddle. This way I know I set the mic in and the main line audio and I always have this point of reference. Also because I can get quite emotive and jump around the mic I can actually use the visual of the recording software to reacquire my original mic position. If it’s too big I need to back off. Too thin and I get closer. But because I have enough trust in my reference point I don’t start adjusting gain or fade to get the waveform back.

Some of this can be mitigated through compression of course. At the moment I do this in post-production which is fine but I have a live compressor awaiting a mixer to join it that has the proper inserts. The current mixer I have is a Maplins special. ALBA ZMX122FX It was an emergency purchase when the wife’s old concert mixer died. It died 3 hours before a planned show so I had very little time to research. If it wasn’t for patreon support I probably would have cancelled that show. But in this case I was able to just go to Maplins and sit and read reviews of the few models they had. I’ve use that for 6 months or so now. It’s been ok but I wouldn’t buy it again. It has too much inherent noise which I have to pick out of every recording and it lacks inserts to insert the live compressor noise gate that I have gathering dust on a shelf.

My plan is to get a new one and sell this but it’s always a big decision to mess with a set up that is working, even if it’s to make an improvement. Having a live compressor gate will significantly improve my workflow, especially for my audiobooks and freelance audio jobs.

 

The last piece of hardware I’ll mention is the computer. For years I got by with a laptop. As the scope of the task increased however, the demands on the laptop became too much. At first I upgraded my laptop to have an SSD. An HDD just doesn’t have the grunt required to edit large audio files. Clicking save was a big decision as it would often lock up the computer as it struggled to write a 1GB working audio file onto a spinning disk. The switch to SSD bought me some extra time with it but when it gave up I knew I had to match the hardwire to the requirements.  Apart from the audio editing the computer has to run many apps concurrently for the livestream encoder, recording, chatroom, show notes, multiple monitors and various other apps I need running. I decided that here I was looking long term and I needed a machine that wasn’t running at 80% like my old i5 Sony Vaio. I bought an i7 SSD desktop machine. The first relief was that because it was running at less than 30% you never hear the fan. On the old Vaio the fan would kick into hyper spin from time to time and that was a major audio headache.

So now that the audio is set up it’s time to get the live stream ready, open Skype and call the panel.