The Official Film Junk Podcast Equipment Guide and Tips for Podcasting

podcast_setup

Over the past couple of years we’ve received a lot of e-mails from people wondering what kind of set up we use to record the Film Junk Podcast. While I can’t really say we’re experts or professionals in audio engineering, we’ve at least been doing this for a few years now and I figured it would be worth writing up some of the things we’ve learned. If this can help improve the sound quality of even just a few of the podcasts out there, I’ll feel like we’ve made the world a better place!

As promised, here is our official podcasting guide. In short, the two most important tips I can offer are: buy decent mics, and run the finished podcast through Levelator, a free normalizing program. For a much longer, more in-depth guide, read on.

Podcast Equipment List

Mics -> Mixer -> Compressor -> PC Line-In

podcast_mixer

For a newbie podcaster just starting out, that list of equipment might seem intimidating, but we acquired it all over the span of a couple years. In general, it’s still extremely inexpensive compared to some of the more professional rigs I’ve seen, but let me break down a few of the components for you.

By far the most important thing you can spend your money on is microphones. If the sound coming in is crap, there isn’t much you can do to fix it afterwards. Ideally you want a condenser mic since they give a much crisper sound, but dynamic mics (the kind used by most bands on stage) will work too. PC mics, built-in mics and headsets used for gaming are usually not a good way to go since they will sound tinny and hollow.

You can get condenser mics now that plug directly into your USB ports, but we opted to buy XLR mics instead, which require the use of a mixer. One advantage of the USB mics is that each mic comes in as a separate track in Audition, so you can adjust them individually afterward. Either way, the mics we use run you about $65 through Amazon, and I’ve seen USB mics for the same price or less.

Foam pop filters are recommended to cover the mics since condenser mics are very sensitive and will likely pick up a lot of harsh popping “P” sounds and other ambient breathing noises.

The compressor is an extra little gadget that helps keep the volume of our recording at an acceptable level. When recording sound you always want to make sure that your input level isn’t so loud that it distorts, and with someone like Jay occasionally bursting out into song, sometimes that’s hard to control. In general, the compressor isn’t a necessity, but when I switched to Windows Vista a while back, I found the audio drivers would instantly distort the sound as soon as it got even a little bit loud. If you’re having a similar issue, this might be worth investing in.

It’s also a good idea for everyone participating in the podcast to wear headphones so that they can tell if they’re talking too loudly or quietly and monitor their distance to the microphone accordingly. The headphone splitter is a cheap device that lets you run multiple headphones from your sound card’s line out so that everyone can listen at the same time.

We play most of our sound clips and bumper music live during the show so that we can comment on them as we listen. In order to do this, you need to have a “What U Hear” or “Stereo Mix” recording channel available in your Sound control panel. This will allow you to record the line-in input as well as any sounds being played on your computer (web browser, Winamp, etc.). Not all sound cards have this option, and I’ve heard that recently many sound card providers are removing it from their latest drivers because of pressure from the RIAA.

I should also note that it helps to have a decent sound card, but you don’t necessarily have to have something with multiple inputs.

podcast_compressor

Recording the Podcast: Step by Step

  1. Cue up any sound clips you want to play during the show in Winamp.
  2. Open Adobe Audition, start recording. Make sure you have plenty of hard drive space.
  3. Monitor levels while recording to make sure the sound doesn’t “clip”. This is what happens when the sound goes beyond the max volume and starts to distort. You’ll notice sound waves looking very square if this is the case, and you should reduce the input volume coming from the mixer or your line-in channel in the Windows control panel.
  4. When the show is complete, save it out as a WAV file.
  5. Drag and drop the WAV into Levelator in order to normalize the audio and clean up some of the background noise.
  6. Bring the output file back into Adobe Audition.
  7. Run the whole file through a “Hard Limiting” pass at -3 dB. (This is optional. It helps raise the volume of quieter sounds and lower loud sounds.)
  8. Add intro and outro music using multi-track editor, and fade them in and out using the volume controls in Audition.
  9. Save out as a 64 kbps Stereo MP3.
  10. Add ID3 tags for the MP3 and attach an image using MP3Tag.
  11. Upload to server using WS_FTP or another FTP program. (Currently we use Libsyn to host our most recent episode, which takes some of the load off of our regular server.)
  12. Edit the podcast XML file manually in Notepad and add a new entry. (There are WordPress plug-ins and other services that will maintain your XML feed automatically for you but I still prefer having complete control.)
  13. Upload the XML file to the server.

podcast_mic

Other Podcasting Tips

  • Don’t make your intro music too long. Any longer than 15 or 20 seconds and you might lose the interest of a new listener.
  • Give yourself a nice looking graphic to embed in your MP3s and podcast feed. It makes you look more professional, particularly when people are searching through iTunes or a podcast directory. First impressions are everything.
  • Don’t eat or chew gum during the show. (I know we’ve broken this one multiple times, but it really is annoying to a listener.)
  • Use music or sound clips for transitions to break up the sections. This adds production value and helps divide up the long stretches of people talking.
  • Don’t use Skype unless you have to, as it will significantly decrease your sound quality. It’s much preferable to record everyone in the same room, although obviously geographic limitations may prevent this.
  • Submit your show to iTunes and other podcast directories (Podcast Alley, Podcast Pickle, etc.). This is still the best way for people to find you. iTunes is especially important because people can’t grab your podcast from an iPhone or iPod Touch wirelessly unless you are listed in the iTunes Store.
  • Don’t expect an audience to show up overnight. It will take time and practice to gain listeners.
  • Consider using an external back-up recording device in case your computer crashes or corrupts the files. (This is something we don’t do, but probably should.)
  • If you’re recording on a laptop, be aware that you may only have a microphone input, not a line-in jack. The mic input is made specifically to enhance the sound of a cheap PC mic, but will likely distort the sound coming from a mixer. In this case, you might want to purchase the Griffin iMic.
  • Always assume people are listening or going to listen. If you act like you’re just talking to yourself, you probably will be. Keep the audience in mind at all times.
  • Do what comes naturally, and be yourself. People listen to podcasts for the personality and the honesty, not because they want another bland professional broadcaster.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them to filmjunk@gmail.com. Also, if you have any tips for us, we’re always interested in ways we can improve our show. Good luck!

Around the Web:



  • http://www.catharticentertainment.com rus in chicago

    What are you doing?! You are giving away the secret formula, the special sauce?! Did you not learn anything from The Joker, “If you are good at something, don’t do it for free!” Now the world will be subjugated to “Goon at the Movies”!

  • http://www.seandwyer.net Sean

    I like to think that *we* are the special sauce, but hey, I’ve been proven wrong before. ;)

  • http://www.catharticentertainment.com rus in chicago

    that’s true:
    Sean is the mayo that holds it together
    Greg is the nacho cheese – all fun
    Jay C. is the worcester sauce – dark and murky
    and Reed is the soy sauce because he is an Oriental ;)

  • Big Hungry

    Sean-Thanks for posting…
    I have been wondering your set up for a while.
    If you recorded on a boom box or one of “Soy Sauce Reed’s” VHS tapes I would still listen.

  • David Wilson

    Shiny. Buttons. Lights. Too much….*head explodes*

    And-Scene

  • Daemon

    Very cool post Sean. I’ve been listening to you guys for awhile now and recently became curious about the process. Cheers and thanks so much for the insight.

  • http://www.filmjunk.com/category/podcasts/cantankerous/ Reed Farrington

    No wonder I don’t get along with Jay. Mixing soy and Worcester sauce is just asking for trouble! (Nice analogies, rus.)

    Excellent post, Sean.

  • http://torontothumbs.com Shaun Hatton

    Thanks for putting this together, Sean. I’ve been learning a little bit about podcasting with each one I’ve been a part of.

    Just a question about the headphone splitter – Do you run that from your computer’s line out, or the mixer’s line out? And, if it’s the computer line out, do you encounter any audio latency? I guess having a really good soundcard would help a lot in this respect.

  • http://www.seandwyer.net Sean

    Hey Shaun, the splitter is run from the PC line-out in place of speakers. You could do it from the mixer, but then you wouldn’t hear any of the sound clips, etc, that are played on the computer.

    Either way we haven’t noticed any audio latency at all.

  • http://www.jonwritesforthescreen.com Jon Rocks

    Great post. Very cool.

  • http://www.granateseed.com/futilepodcast Ian

    Thanks for the tips Sean. At this point with my podcast I use a Zoom Handy Recorder H2. It’s portable and has a built in compressor that seems to help. But yeah one day it would be nice to have a sweet set up like the one you described. I’d just need to get people out to record.

  • Falsk

    Thanks, Sean! :D

  • Patrick H.

    Nice techie post. And people say you are the Kate Jackson of the group.

  • Maopheus

    It’s just interesting to see what it takes to record sound and make it sound as if you’re sitting in the same room with them. It’s one of the better sounding podcasts I listen to that is more-or-less “home-made”.

  • http://www.cracked.com/ Joe Pugs

    Thank you for this Sean, being a tech geek, I have been dying to know. Podcasting is the “blog” of broadcasting, it allows amateurs avenues once the province of professionals.

  • http://rowthree.com Marina

    Nice! We use a much less techie approach since we don’t record into a PC but rather a Zoom H4 and an SD card.

    A little tip for editors, edit podcasts in mono, saves on processing times!

  • http://wherethelongtailends.com Matt Gamble

    We just use two styrofoam cups and a spool of string.

  • http://www.filmabend.info Thorsten

    “Don’t use Skype unless you have to, as it will significantly decrease your sound quality. It’s much preferable to record everyone in the same room, although obviously geographic limitations may prevent this. ”

    In case of geographic limitations you could produce a so-called “double-ender”: Both you and your partner use Skype, but each one only records his own input. Then he sends you his file, you sync it up in Audition/Garageband whatever and it sounds like both of you are in the same room (it helps to use the same mics and recording settings, of course).

  • Doug

    Leo Laporte brings people in over Skype all the time, and Leo’s podcasts are top notch audio quality. Consistently the best I listen to.
    (http://twit.tv)

    The determining factor for quality, again, is the microphone that person is using. I’ve also heard Leo mention that he devotes a machine to the skype connection, and records on another. There may be more to it than that, but the microphone is key.

    So it *is* possible to get excellent audio quality over Skype.

  • http://www.seandwyer.net Sean

    That is true. He has a detailed explanation of the TWiT set up here, although it might be a bit outdated now:

    http://www.twit.tv/podcastequipment.

    “For five or fewer participants with sufficient upstream bandwidth on the host side (the Leoville Labs have a 5mbps down/768kbps up DSL line) Skype actually offers pretty darn good results – very little latency and surprisingly high vocal quality. Per Steve Gibson’s suggestion I use a dedicated port for Skype (any port above 1024 will do), and open that port for UDP connections on my router. This eliminates the need for Skype Supernode support and seems to reduce latency.”

    Obviously it depends on having a reliable network set up. Also Leo tends to do most of the talking, and his own voice is recorded crystal clear, which adds to the perceived quality of his podcasts.

    Thorsten’s suggestion above would work, although it’s a bit more work.

  • http://www.aresstokrat84.ru/ TorstarSydney

    The absurd situation has turned

  • dayna

    Excellent Article Sean! Question – What type of connector do you use from the Mixer to the PC? Any experience with Mixer to Computer using a USB connector?

    Thanks in Advance.

  • http://www.kutt-out.co.uk Billy Boyd Cape

    I’m thoroughly disappointed to see FilmJunk using a PC =)

  • http://www.seandwyer.net Sean

    dayna: The mixer to PC connector is just a 1/8″ headphone cable.

    Billy: Jay uses a Mac, I don’t. Tried one, had a bad experience and concluded that it’s probably not for me.

  • Goon

    Macs are good, Mac fanatics are annoying as shit.

  • Mark

    Great tips mate!

    I’m just starting my first own podcast on movies here in Belgium, and was looking how to go about this in a professional way. I will have to tie some knots here and there because for one i don’t have a professional mic yet. It’s now 2 PM here and it should be ready by 6 / 6:30 PM ;-) Guess i still have a lot of work to do.

    Again, thanks for the tips and if this works out, i’ll be sure to give you the URL to the accompanied website.

    Cheers! And keep it up! Great sounding pc you guys have!

  • Malik

    Hey Sean thanks for the tip but I was wondering about one thing that is what if I just hook up a usb mic to the computer and use audacity will there be a problem with the sound quality cos I have a low budget and cant find a mixer that is any good.

    Thanks

  • http://www.seandwyer.net Sean

    It all depends on the quality of the mic. If it’s a decent USB condenser mic then it should be no problem to bypass the mixer.

  • Malik

    Thanks dude another question if you dont mind is that do you think a windshield would suffice for a pop filter. And lets say if it doesnt can levelator cure the popping problem?

    Thanks

  • http://www.filmjunk.com/ Sean

    The popping is hard to fix in post… you can reduce the intensity of it, but you can’t remove it completely. A windshield is probably fine though. Your other option is to just stay a bit farther away from the mic.

  • Goldie_Hawn_Golden_Shower

    Wow, no comment? Film Junk Podcast is one of the best podcast out there right now at least give them some recognition you guys?

  • Chris

    Thanks for this Sean. Friends and I recently did decide to get our shit together and make our own podcast. I imagine this list may be a little outdated now – some of the links don’t work. In any case, thanks bud. Very helpful.

  • Sean

    Yeah I should think about updating this, especially with some info on the Mac set up as well since Jay and Frank use that at Site B and Site C.

  • Captain Morgan

    Sean if you don’t mind, what kbps do you save episodes as when you convert them to mp3? Your file sizes seem pretty small considering the content but the quality is really good. How do you do that?

  • Sean

    We use 64 kbps but the quality really can depend on the MP3 encoder you’re using. The Fraunhofer encoder is generally said to be better for constant bitrates and it comes built-in with Audition (not sure about Garageband). I’ve heard stuff exported with Audacity using the LAME encoder and it doesn’t sound as good in my opinion.

  • Captain Morgan

    Really helpful. I’ve just tried using Audacity and LAME – sounds good but not on par with Film Junk. Then again I’m pretty sure you have a lot more gear and we’re just starting out. I’ll give Fraunhofer a chance. Appreciate all the assistants Sean. You’re a gent.

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