Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac

Record with GarageBand

Podcasting with GarageBand has its pros and cons. On the pro side, you sequence all the different parts of your podcast into separate tracks, which gives you fine-grained control over audio transitions and timing.

For example, when recording using Audio Hijack Pro, I constantly goof up the reduction in volume of the intro music when I begin speaking. My hand slips and I fade it much too quickly, or I don’t fade it enough and it is too loud, drowning out my voice. I invariably have to either just let it go and leave it in, or go back and re-record it.

With GarageBand, I can adjust the volume of each track by hand and adjust the timing. Did I start speaking too late? I just move the track to the left to fix that. On the other hand, this is also a problem for podcasting with GarageBand as I lose most of the spontaneity of creating the podcast. I have to record each bit on its own and then manually sequence them together. I am far less likely to have that feeling of rawness that many value in podcasts.

Unlike Audio Hijack Pro, GarageBand can record only from a single sound input at a time. If you want to mix multiple sources of audio, you need to channel that audio into Soundflower and then have Audacity record the Soundflower space.

First, we set up a special instrument within GarageBand. Launch the program, create a new file, and follow these steps:

GarageBand podcasting

  • Choose Track: New Track. The dialog in the above screenshot appears.
  • Click the Real Instrument tab at the top.
  • Select Vocals from the left-hand list.
  • Select No Effects from the right-hand list.
  • Choose Channel 1 & 2 (Stereo) from the Input pop-up menu. I have a single mono microphone, but find no difference between choosing Channel 1 (mono) or the default stereo setting.
  • Choose Off from the Monitor pop-up menu. If this setting is turned on, you hear yourself through your headphones, which I find to cause more trouble than it is worth. (Never turn this on if you are not using headphones as you create a nasty feedback loop and create some awful noises.)
  • Open the Details expansion triangle to set additional options:
  • Gate: Leave unchecked. The Gate setting silences any noise below the value you set, which removes that constant hiss that appears on recordings outside of true sound-controlled recording booths. However, I find that it makes the hiss come when you talk and go when you are silent. It never sounds very good in practice.
  • Compressor: I set the Compressor slider about 1/3 from the left. This helps spread the sound coming in through the microphone across the entire range, giving your voice some dynamic lift and making it sound far less flat than it otherwise might. Play with this setting to see what works best for you.
  • Filters: I don’t use either of these but I sure do like playing with them. They can be quite useful if you are going for special effects in your show.
  • Equalizer: I created a custom setting because I had a lot of trouble with the letter S, which sounded like a nasty hiss. Play with this setting until you like how you sound.
    Note: As soon you choose an Equalizer value other than Manual, you are prompted to create this instrument by providing a name under which it is listed. You can still make changes and save it again using the Save Instrument button that then appears.
  • Echo: Leave off. Unless you are announcing a Monster Trucks commercial, there’s no need for an echo.
  • Reverb: A little reverb goes a long way. I set mine about 1/6 of the way from the left to give just a hint of depth to the space around me. Normal microphones in a normal room sound pretty flat. Adding a touch of reverb makes the voice seem more real and more like somebody is actually there speaking to you. Again, play with this setting to find a value that works for you.
  • To finish with Track Info, click Create.
  • A prompt appears, asking you to provide a name for this instrument. You can use any name that you like; I named mine “Podcasting Voice.”
  • Now record your segments. With your voice instrument set up and metronome turned off (Command-U), click the Record button and start talking. If you don’t like what you recorded, throw it away and start over.

    Once you have all your vocal tracks completed, you are ready to edit your audio and mix in other track.

    Record with Audacity

    Audacity is a well-respected audio recording and editing program that has a strong following. It packs a lot of power and a large feature set and is up to virtually any editing task you may want to throw its way. On the negative side, though I haven’t seen much of this behavior, I have heard many stories about Audacity crashing before saving audio.

    Note: There has not been a new version of Audacity in nearly a year, which suggests that the project has stagnated. Most open-source projects with bugs or stability problems either improve through rapid releases or die. It is not clear which category Audacity fits into at this time. Given its popularity with podcasters, I would be surprised if it was a dead project; I think it’s just resting.

    Like GarageBand, Audacity uses a multi-track metaphor. Each track can contain different audio files that can be mixed together. You need to channel that audio into Soundflower and then have Audacity record the Soundflower space.

    Audacity preferences for podcasting

    My Audacity settings for podcasting. I monitor through headphones (which I don’t pass through the iMic to help reduce lag), I record through the iMic, and I only use a single (mono) channel, as I do not have a stereo microphone.

    Follow these steps to configure and record audio with Audacity:

  • Choose Audacity: Preferences, and in the Audio I/O pane, set your input and output settings to match your configuration (see the above screenshot).
  • Start recording and speaking. The levels meter on the upper right let you know if you are talking too loudly or quietly. You may have to create several takes at first to get a feel for the right settings and volume in your own voice.
  • You can record additional spoken word tracks as needed and move all the different pieces around as suits your tastes.
  • Once you have all the pieces recorded, you can move on to editing.

    [ By day, Andy Williams Affleck is a senior project manager and accessible Web design expert. By night he works on Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac ( TidBits Electronic Publishing, 2005) and produces his Podcrumbs podcast. ]

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