Holiday 2012: Produce Higher-Quality Video and Audio Podcasts
A podcast is a digital audio or video show that can be created by anyone and shared through the Internet. The shows can be streamed live, and posted on a website after they’re finished. The format of a podcast can be anything you want it to be. You can create your own talk show, businesses can use podcasts to share information with their customers, there’s no limit to what you can do. It’s a medium that levels the playing field; nearly any kind of content that can be broadcasted by major networks can be podcasted by motivated individuals.
Creating and distributing a basic podcast can be accomplished with very little equipment. It’s possible to become an active podcaster with a microscopic budget, and you can potentially reach an audience of millions. However, producing a podcast that sounds and looks professional can be challenging. This article was created to provide you with a range of tips and suggestions that can really help you communicate your ideas more effectively, whether you’re creating an audio-only podcast or video show. A healthy amount of information about streaming your podcast live on the Web is also provided.
In recent years, the line between audio and video podcasting has blurred. While audio podcasting hasn’t changed all that much, there’s been significant evolution in video podcasting. Video podcasters now take the audio aspect of their shows more seriously. The basic thinking is this: if you’re going through the trouble of creating a video podcast, it’s advantageous to use the audio from the production as an audio-only version of the show. The point of creating a podcast is to reach an audience. Many people won’t have the opportunity to stare at a screen in order to consume your video, but they may have the chance to listen to it as they commute to work, cook dinner, etc. It’s now common for video podcasters to post two versions of their shows: a video version and an audio-only version. People who create audio-only podcasts should also consider setting up a couple of webcams and making a video version of their show. Why waste an opportunity to reach more people?
It’s common to see a video podcast where the hosts and guests are speaking directly into dynamic broadcast microphones and wearing studio headphones, essentially shooting their video in what could be considered a radio studio. Obviously, going to these extremes isn’t mandatory, but it’s a formula that appears to be working for a lot of people. Because the bulk of the equipment that’s used to produce podcasts is shared in both audio and video podcasting, this article will address both groups of users as one.
Harness the Power of Chat
Making calls with Skype and video chatting is so commonplace these days that the term “VoIP” seems archaic. VoIP stands for “voice over Internet Protocol,” and in layman’s terms, it just means that you’re using a Web-connected computer to make phone calls. The video chat technologies that are available today make it easy to create podcasts in which the hosts and guests are in separate geographical locations. If one participant is in New York and the other is in California, creating a show with both people is a piece of cake, as long as everyone has a decent Internet connection and a computer.
If you’re using Skype, you can easily open its Preferences and change the default settings, and with the addition of some external gear, you can make a better-quality podcast. You can choose an external computer audio interface for the sound input on Skype, and if you have a better web cam to use, you can opt to use that as well. It’s possible to use the built-in microphone on a computer to capture your voice for a Skype call when you’re creating a podcast, but your production will sound much more professional if you use an external audio interface and a professional microphone instead. While it’s possible to get decent results using the built-in computer microphone if you record in quiet location, using an audio interface and a professional microphone will ensure that you sound great every time.
A computer audio interface is an external piece of hardware that’s used to connect microphones and other signals to a computer. They’re absolutely essential in audio-only podcasting and often equally as important in video podcasting. Audio interfaces come in many shapes and sizes, so when you pick one out, you have to be sure that it will suit your current and future needs. Some audio interfaces don’t have any microphone inputs at all, while others offer up to eight 3-pin XLR microphone inputs. Be sure that the interface you buy has enough microphone inputs for everyone on the show, including the hosts and the maximum number of guests you would ever have. You can learn a lot more about audio interfaces in this B&H InDepth Audio Interfaces Buying Guide.
The kind of microphone that you should use will vary, depending on the kind of show that you’re making. Any kind of podcast in which human speech is used to communicate thoughts and ideas should pay close attention to microphone choice and placement. As mentioned earlier, dynamic broadcast microphones are often used in podcasting. This is the kind of microphone that’s most often used in professional radio stations. There are many varieties of condenser microphones that may also be a good choice for your needs. You can get a better idea of the available options by checking out the B&H InDepth Voice-Over Equipment Buyer’s Guide. If you’re shooting a video podcast and you don’t want large microphones in the shots, you should consider using earset microphones. An excellent choice in this category that’s nearly invisible to the naked eye yet delivers first-rate sound quality is the Countryman E6.
B&H offers a couple of all-inclusive kits that come with everything you need to capture good audio. This two-person kit comes with a pair of Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser microphones, table stands, two pairs of closed-back studio headphones, a headphone amplifier, a small mixing board with a USB audio interface, a telephone interface to take calls from a landline and all of the various cable required to plug everything in. For those on a budget, the Behringer PODCASTUDIO USB is a complete bundle that comes with everything you need to record a single voice into a Mac or PC computer.
Stream Live to the Web
There’s an inexpensive plug-in for Skype named Call Recorder, which enables you to record your video or audio chats easily. However, it only works with Skype, and the quality of video that’s recorded is below par. There are also strict limitations as to what you can do with just Skype and Call Recorder. Simple things like superimposing text and graphics cannot be done with these tools alone, and while it’s possible to switch between cameras and do split-screen shots, actually performing this task while you’re hosting a podcast is somewhat clunky. The camera switching capability in Call Recorder failed during one of my projects, and I ended up with over an hour of footage of just the remote person, and zero shots of the host. That experience was discouraging; however, when this system does work, it’s a pretty great solution for low-budget projects.
If you’re using Skype to make video or audio podcasts, you can utilize free services like Livestream or UStream and broadcast your video chats live on the Web, in addition to recording them locally with a plug-in like Call Recorder or a more robust screen-capturing software like Telestream’s ScreenFlow 3. Another good low-budget solution is to create a Google+ hangout. Google gives you the option to record the show and stream it live on YouTube. After you finish the show, the video will be posted on your Google+ page.
If your goal is to stream a higher-quality production to the Web, you should really use better cameras and more professional software. There’s an application for both Mac and PC called Wirecast that supplies you with some powerful tools for this purpose. Wirecast enables you to create a video podcast with multiple HD cameras and with remote people via Skype. You can switch between the cameras in your studio and the Skype callers, you can superimpose text, play video clips and graphics and perform live green-screen work. It’s possible to use computers that have built-in webcams with Wirecast, or you can use higher-quality USB cameras like the Logitech C920. You can also connect cameras like the Canon XA10 through HDMI. In addition, Wirecast lets you connect cameras through video capture cards, such as the Thunderbolt-enabled Blackmagic Design Intensity Extreme or the USB 3.0 UltraStudio SDI.
One of the drawbacks is that Wirecast currently doesn’t recognize multiple channels of audio from an external audio interface. If you’re using an external video camera that has dual XLR inputs, like the Canon AX10, you can connect two professional microphones directly to the camera, or you can connect the line outputs of a mixer to the camera. A mixer like the Mackie 1402-VLZ3 is a popular choice for this because it has six XLR mic inputs, great sound quality and it’s built really well. If you’re using a Wirecast-compatible external video camera that only has an 1/8” mic input, like the Canon Vixia HV40, you can improve the sound quality in some cases with an external microphone like the Sennheiser MKE 400, but it’s often a better idea to use a device called a Camcorder XLR Adapter with good quality XLR microphones. You can learn all about this workflow in the B&H InDepth Camcorder XLR Adapter Buying Guide. It’s also possible to use a USB microphone like the popular Blue Yeti with Wirecast.
Podcasting from the comfort of a studio is nice, but sometimes the action you need to cover takes place in the outside world. It’s now possible to stream a show live to the Web without a computer. The Livestream Broadcaster is a small device that can be mounted to the shoe of a camera and powered with three AA batteries. You feed it audio through an 1/8” input and video through an HDMI input. The box encodes the input signals and transmits them directly to the Web for the world to watch or listen to. The Livestream Broadcaster connects to the Internet though mobile USB 3G/4G modems. A USB port is located on the side of the Livestream Broadcaster, which is where you connect a mobile modem, such as the Verizon Pantech UML290 or the AT&T USBConnect Momentum. Like a smart phone, the modem that you use needs to have a data plan from a carrier. It’s an expense, but keep in mind that this tiny red box makes it possible to broadcast a live show directly to the Web. Walk the floor of a trade show, cover news events, do whatever you want. There’s great potential here for motivated podcasters.
Essential Tips for Quality Podcasts
Even if you’re just making a low-budget podcast, it’s always important to make sure that anyone on camera is lit. A little extra lighting goes a really long way. A well-placed LED panel can do wonders. Another thing to consider is how far away the subject is from the camera. Close-up shots typically work best in video podcasting. If a shot is too wide, the viewer will not be as interested because much of the language of facial expression will be lost. Also be mindful of not getting too close to the camera. Extreme close-ups are a bit too much. Your production will be much more interesting for the viewer if you have the ability to switch camera views, to liven up the show. That’s why a dynamic software application like Wirecast or a hardware camera switcher is so important.
It really helps to look at the lens of the camera, as opposed to watching yourself in a monitor. This is difficult to remember, especially if you’re talking to remote people through Skype. The image of the remote person will likely be on a computer monitor, and the lens of the camera will usually be elsewhere. The problem is that your audience is behind the lens, and ultimately, it looks best when you address them.
If you’re using external microphones for your podcast, there are some handy accessories available that help your show sound more professional. Everyone needs to cough, sneeze and clear their throat from time to time, even though these things aren’t particularly pleasant to hear. A company called Pro Co Sound has a few products that cure this ailment. The Power Mute and the Short Stop are both small boxes with a single button that you can either step on or push when you need to cough, sneeze or make any other kind of unsavory noises. They mute the signal from the connected microphone momentarily, sparing the ears of the audience.
Podcasting has been around for the better part of a decade, and instead of fading away, it’s only grown in popularity. It’s never too late to tap into the unquestionable power of this medium. If you have any additional tips or questions about podcasting, we encourage you to submit them in the Comments section, below.