My free fantasy horror novel is now a podcast, one that I’m proud of! But, [as] [usual] I sure muffed up everything along the way making it happen. And not only me, but my buddies had their fair share of difficulties with it too. So let me take you, if I may, through the very strange journey of starting a podcast from scratch.
MY STARTING POINT
First off, I didn’t even know how you start a podcast. So I google searched “how to start a podcast” and here’s what I came up with:
Buzzsprout: How to Start a Podcast
PODCAST INSIGHTS®: How to Start a Podcast: The Complete Step-by-Step Tutorial
Lifehacker: How to Start Your Own Podcast
NPR.org: Starting Your Podcast: A Guide For Students
I found all of these to be helpful, although after awhile I felt like my eyes were leaking out of my ears. So for a change of pace, I went and asked my friend Lauren of HorrorFam.com and LittleZotz.com for tips and advice. She started up the HorrorFam podcast before I did and additionally had experience recording interviews and editing them.
Lastly, I found this article: Record Your Own Audiobook for Audible by solobo and it utterly and completely saved my butt. (Then maybe check out this and this next to see if you even want to try reading your own audiobook.)
You may not feel the need to meet “audiobook” standards for a podcast, of course, but iTunes and other venues still have audio standards you need to adhere to so keep in mind you’re still going to have to master the file to ACX Specs anyway.
I already had the following things:
Audacity, a really cool FREE audio recording and editing program
A Blue Snowball Microphone
Now, sit back and listen to all the ways I screwed this up. (And then maybe you won’t do the same things.)
MISTAKE 1: WRONG MICROPHONE FOR YOUR NEEDS
I had to get the microphone years back, when I started participating as a panelist for the Lovecraft eZine podcast. I had just finished my first audio interview with Lauren for a different website, and was aware that Skype and my laptop built-in microphone were just not going to cut it in the future.
I love my snowball, but I have since heard it’s a cartoid microphone that’s better suited to picking up EVERYTHING, and since I’m just recording myself for an audiobook and desperately not trying to pick up background noise, I should have tried a dynamic microphone instead. Perhaps an experiment for the future since I bought my mic already, but something for you to keep in mind starting out.
So now, armed with my microphone and an editing program, I figured it was time for us to take on the world! …haha NO.
MISTAKE 2: NOT RECORDING IN A BUNKER 30 MILES BELOW THE EARTH
Basically, there’s all kinds of crazy issues with our first chapter. It’s still quite listenable, but we’ll definitely need to re-record it for the actual fancy-dancy audiobook. Because audible audiobooks need to meet certain standards. So first off, we didn’t dampen the surrounding sounds nearly enough.
Ideally, you have to shoo the kids and dogs away from that part of the house, cover all the doors and vents with pillows, turn off your fans, close your windows, and in short surround yourself in as much of a cone of silence as you possibly can.
We did not succeed in doing every single one of these things, and as a result there was too much background noise in a couple of bits of our first chapter that made the narration sound a bit different than the rest of the narration when we did our best to edit out the noise. This is why people literally suggest you record in your closet, preferably surrounded by your clothing on hangers as additional noise blockage.
MISTAKE 3: BREATHING AND SITTING IN A CHAIR
Another thing we did a lot of was breathing. (I know, we’re weak.) We also sat in a chair, at a table or desk, like the lazy lazy rogues we are. This resulted in chair creaks, table creaks, audible intakes of breath, and let’s throw some mouse clicks in there for good measure as we advanced our script down to read the next lines.
The solution to this is “punch and roll,” which means you become hyper-vigilant about every deep breath, mouse click, creak, child running screaming past the door, etc, and then you PAUSE SPEAKING for a long time to create a visible stretch of dead air, then you re-record the line that got messed up. You do this as often as you have to!
You’re also supposed to have a pop filter. You can buy one or make one, but they’re supposed to help even more with background noise and with your own noises when you say a p-word or other sounds that may be given unwanted emphasis in your audio file. My “MISTAKE 3B” is that I do not have a pop filter (yet).
The main takeaway from all this is that THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO IS HAVE CLEAN AUDIO BEFORE YOU START EDITING.
MISTAKE 4: NOT KEEPING YOUR AUDACITY WORKFILES
This wasn’t anyone’s fault per se, but it’s still a huge problem we had. While recording the first chapter, my friends would send me the exported .mp3 file of a draft, and then they proceeded to lose two computers in the process of recording subsequent drafts.
In one instance they moved a very old computer to a quieter location and it just gave up the ghost. In the other instance I think a horde of screaming demons visibly dragged it down into a hell-dimension that opened up in their living room and then closed again, slowly, with a moist sibilant sucking sound. It was something like that, anyway.
As a result, I only had .mp3 files to splice together. This was not ideal, since they’ve already been compressed. But the absolute WORST MISTAKE I MADE WAS
MISTAKE 5: NOT SAVING ENOUGH COPIES
I had a good final cut of splices and mastered it for ACX guidelines. …but I didn’t save the mastered copy as a new copy. The result was that then a new draft was sent to me and it was even better, and I just needed a little bit of the cut I had just done…I was utterly screwed. I had to splice mastered audio into raw audio. Oh god, it was horrible trying to get them to sound even remotely okay next to each other. HOURS UPON HOURS OF MY LIFE. Miserable hours. Don’t ever do this, just ever.
My friend had an equally horrible problem recently. She was in the middle of hours of audio editing and then her computer crashed when she appended a new audio file. Since it had been a long time since she saved last, she lost something like 5 hours of work. She ended up not sleeping for 2 days in order to get her project in on time.
Don’t be us. Save often and if you make a big change you may have to go back and undo later, or if you MASTER YOUR FILE, save as a new version first!
MISTAKE 6: MULTIPLE PODCAST ACCOUNTS
So, once the file was mastered and exported (96 kbps mp3, mono for a podcast, more on that below), it needed a home.
You have to put your files onto a podcast hosting service because sound files (especially ones consisting of hours of content) are much bigger than what most people’s website storage and bandwidth plans can handle. In addition to this, iTunes and other services that most people use to listen to podcasts need to have a podcast .rss feed of your show, and these are provided by a podcast hosting company.
There’s lots of lists of which ones are the most reputable, the cheapest, the best value, and so on. I went with podbean because it kept appearing at the top of the lists I read and it has one free option and one cheap option, and the cheap option is pretty good even if you’re going to be relatively large. If you get REALLY large though, you might need to look into more robust services or cut a deal with your podcast hosting provider (advertising, etc) so they can recover what they spent on hosting you.
Now onto my mistake: I went to sign up for podbean and was incensed to discover there was already a sandpaperdaisy. That CAD! …I only realized later it was me and I had made a podbean account in order to listen to other podcasts, long enough ago that I didn’t remember doing so. So, first check and make sure you don’t already have an account you could be using…
After you have your podcast uploaded, you’ll need to see if your podcast hosting provider automatically submits it to sites for you, or if you need to do it yourself.
MISTAKE 7: I DON’T NEED TUNESTOTUBE, I’M TOO PRO
After I had all the audio hooey sorted out (mostly), I wanted to be sure and have the podcast episodes on YouTube, as well. I just love YouTube. I listen to a lot of stuff on there including scp horror readings. So I had to be there! My friend Lauren generously told me all about TunesToTube, a way to very easily convert your .mp3 files to YouTube’s file format and allow you to add a cover image. I, however, was certain that I would be able to figure it out on my own. After all, I figured out how to record myself drawing.
Not so much.
After wresting around with Google and Youtube for another hour of my life, I slunk back to TunesToTube in disgrace and was quite happy to endure their modestly placed watermark in able to have my precious youtube chapter up quickly and FOR FREE.
If you want to go it alone though, the advice I got on Google was basically that you need a video maker program. Windows used to have Moviemaker but they don’t now, which was ultimately my problem. I suspect that Apple users may be able to do this for free in iMovie though!
SO, MISTAKES ASIDE, HERE WAS THE WORKFLOW OF MAKING A PODCAST EPISODE
- Plug in your microphone and start up Audacity, barricade yourself in your room, prepare to sweat and NOT MOVE, and tell all children and pets to avoid your door or anywhere near it.
- Record yourself reading. Every time you don’t like how you spoke, every time you notice you clicked the mouse or creaked or a bird cawed “nevermore” threateningly outside your chamber door, fall silent for a few moments until you’ve made a little flat line in your wavelength that you’ll be able to see later, then resume. SAVE THE PROJECT.
- EDIT EDIT EDIT. Edit out all the mouse clicks and the parts you didn’t like. Trim all the pauses between one sentence and the next, or copy and paste a small amount of dead air if there’s not enough of a pause where you need one.
- FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SAVE A COPY OF THE PROJECT AND/OR EXPORT A COPY BEFORE YOU MASTER. If you want to export it into a copy, do a 16bit WAV file (not lossy like .mp3)
- Master the file. This includes removing the background noise, trimming the beginning of the audio to between 0.5 seconds and 1 second of room tone (dead air), trimming or pasting the end of the audio to have 1-5 seconds of room tone, set the overall volume with Nyquist Prompt/Limiter, Run ACX Check to see if you meet ACX Standards yet, and then do LR Rolloff/Equalization afterwords if you need to. All of this is covered very well in solobo’s article.
- Export the file as an .mp3. Your file needs to be as small as possible while retaining good quality. This is because whatever podcast service you use is likely to have bandwidth limitations, which involves how many people are downloading your audio file. The smaller that audio file, the more people can listen to it within the limitations you may have. Everything I read pointed to 96 kbps being the ideal compromise for podcasts, so that’s what I went with. Since I’m not doing music, I went with mono as well.
- Upload to your podcast hosting service.
- Submit your podcast .rss feed to providers like iTunes, Spotify, and so on.
- Upload your podcast episodes to YouTube.
- Tell everyone on all your social media outlets each time you release a new episode.
NEXT STEPS: MIXING
So, the next thing I need to learn how to do is mix in interesting background noises and ambiance. Here’s a couple of free sound sites I’ve found or been told about:
My friends are also working hard making cool sound effects and music for us to use too! Bless them.
I’m sure I’ll be back with another post later about how I managed to screw that up. Feel free to leave your advice and experiences in the comments below!!