Decent-Quality Podcast Audio Doesn’t Come Naturally

The fact that podcasters are often subject-matter experts doesn’t necessarily carry over into the actual process of producing the podcast audio. As a heavy-duty podcast listener, I can tell you that audio quality is often very poor…sometimes bordering on unlistenable. Wouldn’t it all be great if you could afford to outsource the audio production to a qualified audio engineer? But…that’s not the real world. So, while I am NOT an audio engineer, I did play one on TV. Well, that’s not exactly true. But I *was* employed as an audio engineer on more than one occasion…and my daily work as a professional voice talent *does* require me to record, edit and process my own audio. So I do know a little bit about what’s required. I’m sure there are better ways to do what I’m going to share with you here. Practice “safe audio” and consult your (audio) doctor before making life-altering changes. I’d also recommend that you contact Cliff Ravenscraft (The Podcast Answer Man) for more specific advice regarding equipment recommendations and the production process.

1. Recording: Get a decent-quality audio capture device. Halfway-decent microphones can be had for around a hundred bucks. Avoid using your laptop’s built-in microphone if at all possible. And when you get it, do NOT put your mouth right on top of it. If you can’t afford a “pop screen” (basically some panty hose stretched over a metal hoop), then angle the microphone off to the side a bit…at about 45 degrees from your mouth and talk PAST it…not toward it. Depending on the engineer…you’ll find recommendations from 6 to 18 inches from your mouth. Experiment with it and see what sounds best to your ears.

2. Recording Levels: Many podcasts consist mainly of interviews done over Skype. I’ve barely spent any time on Skype, so I don’t know how to tell you to do this…but keep in mind that the host and the guest should be at close to the same audio level as possible. Failing at this point makes EVERYTHING else harder from here on out. Do some testing. Your guest’s volume will vary…so learn ahead of time how to try to match your level to theirs (or vice versa).

3. Audio Processing: If your audio is clean and your levels are balanced, you probably don’t NEED to do a ton of work here…but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any. Virtually EVERY home-produced podcast could benefit from a little of these:

  • Normalization: If you weren’t able to control the levels when you did the original recording, you might find that they are simply too soft overall. Normalization can pull everything up into a decent range. This is the first step I use in processing.
  • Noise Gate: Gating can knock out the “sound floor”…i.e., the background noise of the room. It can also soften soft sounds (like breaths) to the point where they become almost inaudible (this is a good thing). Getting a gate set properly will take some tweaking…but if you can get it right, you might find it really helps. If you’re in a really noisy environment, though, I’d skip this…prominent background noise dropping in and out is very distracting.
  • Compression: Think about where your podcasts are being listened to. Much of the time in a car, thru a mono bluetooth headset or ear buds in a relatively noisy environment. Sometimes, sitting in front a computer with decent speakers and low background noise. Best practice would be to produce with the noisier environment in mind. What compression does is squeeze the natural dynamics of audio into a much narrower band of sound. This means the soft stuff gets louder, and the loud stuff gets a bit softer. As a result, the overall levels can be raised a bit without blowing out the listeners eardrums.
  • Volume Adjust: After applying compression…if the compressor also serves an expander function, you’ll often need to adjust the volume back to within appropriate levels so as not to distort your final products. I find that cutting my compressed/expanded audio by 50% seems to do the trick. Your results may vary.

4. Delivery Format: We’d all like to sound like a million bucks, but to be realistic, bandwidth ain’t unlimited and neither is storage space on the iPod. Most non-music-oriented podcasts don’t need to be delivered in stereo at all….and should be using 32 or 64kbps mono. There’s no excuse to go higher than 128. That’s a mid-level music-quality audio format (so it’s overkill for most human voice/interview podcast formats).

5. Cleanup: There are many audio recording and editing programs out there. Personally, I use Sony’s Sound Forge. It’s far from perfect (and it’s expensive), but it works fine for recording and editing. I use Audacity for time compression. It seems to work a bit better than Sound Forge (although I detest its editing environment). Audacity is a free program, and well worth owning. You would be wise to learn to clean up your podcasts (or, if you are completely unfamiliar with the concept and don’t want to learn, paying someone a few bucks to do it for you). Listening thru will often reveal awkward pauses, “ummms” while you are thinking and just filling space, false starts to sentences, prominent mouth noises or electronic flukes that results in pops, click and short buzz bursts. Highlighting these and hitting Delete will make your podcast much easier to listen to, and will give you a more credible, professional sound overall.

6. Time Compression: If you’re a podcast or audio book listener, and given to heavy consumption of same…you may have found that using the iPods 2X feature is the best for you, since you can get a lot more info in much faster. However, you shouldn’t consider forcing that on everyone, lest you drive many away. Rather than chopping out breaths and squeezing, the best tool I’ve found is within Audacity. Select all your audio, then Effect >> Change Tempo. You will find that you can comfortably pitch your speed up in the range of 6-8% without causing additional stress to your listeners’ ears. It also has the indirect benefit of adding a tad bit more energy to your podcast…and many programs could benefit from a nudge in this direction.

7. Upgrade your profile: Once you’ve decided your really serious about this podcasting stuff, hire a professional voiceover talent to do an intro and outro for your show. No, it’s not cheap, but there’s a reason that every TV show you listen to has a professional voice to intro the host: it sounds CLASSIER. Make the script fairly generic, so that you don’t have to have it redone every time you tweak your format. And, if you end up with a commercial sponsor…unless they want your personal voice (which implies your personal endorsement of their product), hire that out as well. Unless you are a voiceover pro, you’re not going to sound as good as someone who is. And if you want to really protect the interests of your sponsor, you should make them sound as good as you can. You can find super-cheap voiceover talent at But I’ve only heard a couple voices there that I would consider professional quality. Your best bet would be to visit a site like Voiceover Superfriends, where you have several voices to choose from…folks who have been making their living for years doing this stuff are much more likely to deliver something you can be proud of.

So, there are a few tips for you. I hope you find them helpful. For “honest-to-God” audio engineers, please feel free to provide better options than those I’ve presented, or to correct anything I might not have gotten right. For anyone else who has learned lessons with improving the sound of their podcasts, feel free to share as well.

Low Carb: Down 50 Pounds In 102 Days

I hopped on my trusty digital scale this afternoon. I knew I was getting close, but I was determined to wait until I hit the zeroes after the decimal point. I’ve lost 50 pounds since January 3rd of this year!

Just a few notes (I’m incapable of being brief or quick…so I won’t overpromise in that regard) about things I’ve learned since switching to low-carb eating:

  • Portion control still matters. It’s unwise to be a pig, even if you don’t have to sit and count every calorie anymore.
  • It’s the carbs more than the calories. I generally try to stick to 20-25 net carbs a day. Net carbs are total carbs minus dietary fiber (because fiber is too large to be absorbed in the intestines…so it just passes thru the system, and therefore, doesn’t “count”) and sugars alcohols. Sugar alcohols are artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose (Splenda), stevia and erythritol. These apparently don’t cause a major insulin response in your system. They probably aren’t the best things to eat (some folks can’t tolerate them well anyway), but they do make the journey more pleasurable
  • Low-carb bread is quite good. I eat Smart Carb #1 from the Julian Bakery (1 net carb per slice…made from durum wheat instead of semolina. Very little insulin reaction.) I eat several slices a day, always toasted and with butter or peanut butter. And usually with some Polaner’s sugar-free jelly. Tasty stuff!
  • QuestBars rock. 4 net carbs. I usually eat one a day. Fills me up for hours. And they taste great.
  • Drink a lot. I usually prefer either SoBe Fuji Apple Pear (stevia and erythritol) or Big K (diet black cherry soda…aspartame, but no caffeine).
  • Stop thinking low-fat. If it says low-fat, I go the other direction.
  • Look for sugar-free and diet options. Sometimes one is better than the other. You are looking for the lowest net carbs on the Nutrition Facts label…not just a magic phrase.
  • I like eggs. Usually eating 2-3 a day. Cheese. Flavoring with some onions and mushrooms here and there. Kroger has great sugar-free parfaits next to the Jello and pudding (ZERO net carbs…) and I blow through probably a half-dozen of those a day. Snack Pack sugar-free pudding is 4-5 net carbs. Tastier when cold.
  • Beef, chicken, ham, sausage. Cottage cheese.
  • Fat fills you up. Protein keeps your blood sugar stable. Use non-starchy veggies as fillers, and non-sugary fruits as garnishment.

I’m down to 50% of my blood pressure meds. Completely off Zocor and an anti-depressant. My cholesterol is great. I’ve also been tested lately for cortisol levels and gluten tolerance. Doing fine on both.

I continue to listen to virtually every episode of Jimmy Moore’s Livin La Vida Low Carb (I know, I wouldn’t have chosen the name either…and I’m not sure Jimmy would if he had it to do over again!) and his new podcast, Low Carb Conversations. Also, Dana Carpender’s podcast. All are very helpful and encouraging. Great recipe ideas (I’m no cook, but I’ll play around with stuff anyway) and it’s just refreshing to hear something reinforced other than the standard food pyramid/low-fat advice.

I’ve wandered back over toward standard low-carb again (not eating as many beans…and I’ve given up the slow-carb “cheat day” for the time being).

That’s all for now, folks!

Alphabet Name Soup

There are 128 people in the U.S. named Chuck Brown.

However, there are exactly *ONE* person(s) who owns the domain name That would be…MOI. 😉

There are 1,595,222 people in the U.S. with the last name Brown. Statistically the 4th most popular last name.

Famous people with the last name Brown:

  • Ayla Brown
  • Bruce Brown
  • Bryan Brown
  • Chad Brown
  • Chris Brown
  • Clancy Brown
  • Clarence Brown
  • Corrine Brown
  • Curtis Brown
  • Dana Brown
  • Devin Brown
  • Harry Joe Brown
  • Henry Brown
  • Jim Brown
  • Joe E. Brown
  • Johnny Mack Brown
  • Kevin Brown
  • Olivia Brown
  • Phil Brown
  • P.J. Brown
  • Ronnie Brown
  • Savoy Brown
  • Sherrod Brown
  • Tim Brown
  • Troy Brown
  • Virginia Brown-Waite
  • Wes Brown
  • Willie Brown

Apparently, “famous” is a relative term. I know of Ayla, Bryan, Chris, Clancy (one of my favorite actors), Jim (my dad’s favorite football player), Sherrod, Tim and Willie. Don’t recognize the others. Savoy Brown is a person??

You can find out how many people share your name here: How Many Of Me?

Low Carb & Sugar-Free Parfait At Kroger

Some folks who are into low carb, slow-carb, paleo, whole foods, real food and sugar-free eating are opposed to artificial sweeteners. And, who knows? Maybe someday I will be too.

But for now, when I want the feeling of a little something in my stomach, I don’t mind eating some artificially-sweetened stuff.

Kroger has some cool little parfaits (in the refrigerated section), which are a mixture of gelatin and something sort of like Cool Whip. Except they are completely sugar-free. I paid $3.55 for 12 of them. They come shrink-wrapped on a hunk of cardboard as part of their Value line, and you get 6 strawberry, 3 orange and 3 grape.

I find them quite tasty. The Nutrition Facts label lists them as having 2g Total Carbs. But they also have 2g of sugar alcohols…which means that, for low carb eaters…they are effectively “free foods”…virtually no impact on blood sugar and no rush of insulin production. Of course, they aren’t going to stave off hunger the way protein and fat will. Nonethless, they scratch an itch for me!

So how are they sweetened? They include sorbitol, erythritol, and aspartame. Again, some folks have issues with these. But if you’re in the mood for something to tide you over til the next meal…you might want to check them out!

Weight Loss: Down More Than 10% Of Total Body Weight

Since my big 39-pound weight loss announcement about seven weeks ago, I’ve been fairly silent about further progress. The reason? There wasn’t much progress to report! For some reason, I hit a plateau…basically bouncing between 36 and 39 for the better part of two months. I wasn’t doing anything different…but somehow I wasn’t continuing to lose.

It was fairly frustrating and I had begun to think I might need to mix things up a bit. However, I was heartened earlier this week to learn that Jimmy Moore (the man whose podcast help me get a bit of a handle on low-carb eating in the first place) had himself experienced a plateau in the midst of his year-long, 180-pound weight loss journey. So I never did actually get around to changing anything (well, I did skip one of my “slow-carb” cheat days somewhere in there).

But, the good news is that my weight has begun drop again as of yesterday…and I’m down several more pounds at this point…including passing the point where I have lost over 10% of my body weight since January 3rd. As you might imagine, I’m quite relieved!

Speaking of Jimmy Moore, I heard two of his weight-related podcast interviews this week that I would recommend to anyone considering low-carb eating for health or weight loss (and seeking more infomation about its credibility):

Diane Sanfilippo
Dr. Catey Shanahan

If you’re more of a reader than a listener, I’d heartily recommend Gary Taubes’ book : Why We Get Fat (and what to do about it). It’s an easy read, and provides a wealth of info about how low-fat dieting became the accepted norm in this country…and why that approach can’t work for everyone.

More to come…about less of me! 😉

Second Video Released This Month!

Taking another step forward in my plan for world domination (and to replace Howard Stern as The King Of All Media!), I am pleased to announce my second professional-quality video for the preschool/early-elementary crowd.

Following just over 2 weeks after the release of Yellowberry Jam on YouTube (now at nearly 10K views), today I have released The Fantabulous Cumulo-Nimbuli Pump. This story (actually, the only one I’ve ever written!) is about a boy who…frustrated with frequent rain-outs of sporting events, asks a scientist friend for help…and becomes the proud owner of a vacuum that sucks the clouds right out of the sky!

More videos are on the way in the weeks to come, as I move to push further into a market where I’ve had significant influence for some time…but am now focusing on the video end of things…both as an individual artist and as a part of several new partnerships with friends.

Because I’m starting almost from scratch here and it’s going to take time to get established in this new venue, I especially appreciate those of you who are sharing these two videos via email or social media.

In addition to my three popular web sites for kids:

I also launched, earlier in the week, two new touchpoints for children’s video in the same market:

and the brand-new YouTube channel:

Thanks for your interest and support!

Essential iPhone Apps: First Edition

I had lunch with my friend Tom Sapp last week…in part, because he promised to turn me on to some apps for my new Verizon iPhone that would save me time and money…and he did not disappoint. I’ve only picked up a handful of the apps so far, but am already VERY glad that I made the switch from the Droid to the iPhone (despite the iOS bug re: inexplicably unpairing Bluetooth devices). I expect there to be more apps that make this worth my while…but here is my initial list:

1. iTunes: Yes, I know people love to whine about iTunes…”it’s bloatware, the App Store sucks, etc”. Fine…whatever. And I admit I’m a bit of a freak in my listening needs for both educational and recreational purposes. Because of how I make my living, podcasts are unbelievably important to me. The Droid is worthless for podcast management. I tried virtually every app out there (free and paid) just to be able to easily subscribe to and manage the podcasts that I find so helpful in building my online business. iTunes does this in its SLEEP. It’s a beautiful thing. Yes, the App Store could be better. So could the Android Market. They are both supposedly undergoing majority renovations. One can only hope. But…iTunes was the biggest factor in my decision to move back to an “i” as my primary portable listening platform (the secondary reason being the immediate availability of a built-in HD camera for movies). Apple’s tech support department went to the wall to keep me as a customer…and I am glad they did. Verdict? A big win for the iPhone.

2. Skobbler: This was brought to my attention by Tom, and saved me $5-10 a month. One of the great features of the Droid is its built-in turn-by-turn navigation from Google. The iPhone doesn’t have that feature…which means you have to subscribe to Verizon’s nav service if you use it (which, in my case, might be once a month on average). But, when you need it…it’s not a good thing if you don’t have it. They had an introductory special going on when I bought my iPhone, which had shaved the $10 monthly fee to $4.99. But, Skobbler does everything I need in this regard…for FREE. Verdict? It’s a tie between the two platforms.

3. GasBuddy: The lovely and talented Heather Dugan brought this one to my attention a couple weeks ago. This is available for the Android (which is the version she uses), but while I had heard of it before…I didn’t download it til I was on the iPhone. It is a two-click wonder. The first click launches the application. The second click (on “Find Gas Near Me”) uses your phone’s GPS to locate you, and then displays the prices of all gas stations nearby. The other day, I noticed that gas was available at the Speedway at Morse and Hamilton for $3.31 a gallon, so I went and filled up the tank. 20 minutes later, I had to put a couple gallons in another car about 5 miles away…at $3.48 a gallon. That single purchase at Speedway saved me almost $2 on a 10-gallon purchase. So if you are considering making the move to an internet-connected phone, but having a hard time justifying the $30/mo additional charge…I suspect you can recoup somewhere between 5 and 10 bucks of that 30 with this little free app alone. Verdict? A tie between the platforms…but a must-have nonetheless (and there is a website you can access for free if you can’t make the leap to a smartphone yet…it’s just not as convenient when you’re out on the road).

4. Dragon Dictation: This one also comes courtesy of my friend Tom. One of the things I loved about the Droid was the speech-to-text function…which allowed me to say a few words (even while I was driving) and allow me to jot down a thought or two, or reply to a text message…without tieing up hands, fingers or attention. The iPhone has no such native function. But…enter Dragon:

“This application is from the folks that make Dragon NaturallySpeaking for the PC which I occasionally use as a timesaver. It just so happens that Dragon for the iPhone is even better in terms of speech interpretation and even occasionally inserting punctuation and capitalization this paragraph was dictated directly into Dragon on the iPhone and pasted into this blog post”

Pretty impressive, eh? I thought you’d like that one. 😉

Verdict? iPhone again.

5. SimpleNote: I had become a premium user of Evernote a couple months back…which is a fantastic way of storing information and keeping it with you all the time. But it was $60/yr…and the app itself was overkill for my needs and the note-editing capability was poorly implemented on the Droid. I found SimpleNote instead…which is $20/yr and does everything I need with a much cleaner implementation for the iPhone. I leave the web app open on my PC at home at all times for quick access…but I can get to all that info anywhere from the iPhone with just 2 clicks…including the ability to edit the data (which will be updated and waiting for me when I get back home). There is an Android client for this…but I never saw it, and sometimes the app quality varies between the two platforms…so I only know of this through the iPhone. Verdict?: Another big win for the iPhone.

There are others…and others I am moving to test out in the next couple weeks. More to come!

Monastery (1992)

Well, this was a fun little find this evening!

I did a lot of tags for radio and TV commercials for (Time) Warner Cable back in the late Eighties and early Nineties. And when it came time for a regional/national TV campaign, TW wanted to stick with the same “sales voice” they’d been using for years.

I have never sought out the camera…but I’m enough of a ham that I didn’t turn down the opportunity (plus, it was a decent payday!). So, Warner’s Mike Kenny and I flew to the Twin Cities in the dead of winter and stayed at a very nice hotel attached to the Mall of America. And early in the morning, we showed up at a production studio to shoot my part in this very nicely-done commercial.

The concept for the commercial was that I was the pitch guy for an irresistable offer on cable TV…and one of the monks in a monastery was so overpowered by the INCREDIBLE OFFER that he nearly broke his vow of silence in attempting to take advantage of it. 😉

I don’t remember a whole lot about the session (it’s only about 9 months shy of TWENTY YEARS AGO now…), but I do recall them dyeing my beard brown (because it naturally had a lot of red mixed in as well…by the way, this is NOT considered an issue today!) and having to do a bazillion takes. By the time we got back to Columbus later that day, I think the whole trip was less than 24 hours.

This was a great opportunity. I’m glad I found this again before the VHS tape decayed to dust!

Yellowberry Jam: My First “Real” Music Video


Ever since YouTube became an indispensable tool for sharing your music, I’ve sorta tinkered around with little music video concepts. The truth is: A well-done music video…the kind that gets people talking…costs a boatload of money and requires a boatload of time!

I’ve had a number of songs in mind that seem like they deserved a chance (someday) at a legitimate music video treatment…especially some of my solo piano pieces and my original songs for kids. Some elicited very strong reactions…kept people talking…caused folks to take time out of their day to write me an email telling me how much they’d been touched, etc.

I tried to take some of these and put pretty pictures with them, at least. While they weren’t anything to write home about, it was something…as opposed to the nothing I was doing instead. And about 18 months ago, I hired some very talented artists and put together a faux animated video for one of my kids songs. It was cute, but still wasn’t the kind of thing that really impressed people.

This year, finally…things have started falling into place. I’ve found some affordable resources, and have finally hired some folks who can give some of my material (songs and the only story I’ve ever written) a legitimate treament.

Yellowberry Jam is my most popular kids song to-date. So it was fitting that it got the first real shot. And I think the animator, Dave Barnis, did a great job of capturing the spirit of the lyrics and music.

I really need help spreading the word about this. I won’t consider this effort a success until I reach 100K video views on YouTube. So anything you can do to tell a friend with children about it…email someone, post it on Facebook, send a Tweet…anything at all…would be MUCH appreciated.

There are a couple other cool things in the pipeline. I should have another one to share with you in the next 10 days or so. And there is a group of puppeteers who have fallen in love with another of my songs for children and are having a special puppet made just for that song. Hopefully the final output of that product is just weeks away as well.

I’ll be back someday to talk about how an industry outsider like me…just a regular guy workin’ 80+ hours a week…can get cool things like these done while continuing to just work and carry on my life every day. It’s a new way of working…but something that I believe others can benefit from. And I feel that it can be especially critical to Americans in the middle of the current economic crisis, with jobs being moved overseas, etc. We need a new way of doing business…and I’m learning some lessons that I hope to share soon. However, in order to have any credibility, I have to be able to point to some success. And this music video is my first big test.

So please do anything you can to help me make this video a success by spreading the word. I have MANY more things along these lines that I’d like to tackle. But unless people are seeing them and talking about them, it’s pretty hard to justify the investment of time and money involved to create them. So, please…if you like the video…SHARE IT!! 😉


But…That’s Not Possible…Your Cholesterol Should Be HIGHER!!

Just ran out to the mailbox to grab the mail…and when I got back, my phone was blinking. It was a message from my doctor’s office. If you’ll recall…when I spoke to her by phone last week, I asked if she thought it was wise for me to come in for a blood draw so she could evaluate my current levels, just in case we could drop any more of the prescription medicines…since some are known to inhibit weight loss (we had already cut my blood pressure meds in half…and I had completely dropped an antidepressant that I’d begun taking in November, with no ill results). She thought the blood draw was a great idea…so I went in the next morning, they confirmed the weight loss to that point (about 36 lbs on that particular day)…checked my pulse and blood pressure…and took some blood.

So today’s call was regarding my test results…and I quote:

“…your cholesterol profile is VERY GOOD. She says go ahead and stop the Zocor…and we’ll check your cholesterol levels again in 6 to 8 weeks….”

And why is this significant? Because since January 3rd of this year…I have switched the process by which I select my foods to focus FIRST on fat intake, SECOND on protein intake…and then, to eat for taste and cover my nutritional needs in terms of vitamins, etc. Thus…whereas quantities may or may not have varied (I clearly AM eating less of EVERYTHING than I was two months ago…), the percentage of fat and protein in my diet is signficantly higher than it was at the first of the year.

So, you might say: “Some fat is fine…unless you’re trying to lose weight. Protein is good…although the USDA guidelines say to treat meat like a garnishment rather than a main course. But…what about the vegetables?? There OUGHT to be vegetables. SEND IN THE VEGETABLES!!

And to that, I say: “That’s fine, if that’s how you prefer to eat. But for me, I need BOTH to eat in a healthy way AND to lose weight…a LOT of weight. And what I am doing now has helped me shed 39 lbs over the last seven weeks. Without hunger. WITHOUT FEELING DEPRIVED. NOT EVEN FOR AN HOUR.

“But…all that FAT…all that MEAT! Your cholesterol will be SKY HIGH!!”

Well, based on what I had been reading, I did not expect that to be the case. In fact, when I set out my copious quantities of prescription meds and supplements for this week…I was down to 3 pills left of the statin. Under normal circumstances, I would have re-ordered the prescription then, so that when I ran out this Friday I’d have some at the ready. But…as I predicted last week in a blog post, I did expect expect my cholesterol to be higher…and maybe it would even DROP some. So, I just decided I’d wait and see what happened.

The doctor’s office says my cholesterol profile is VERY GOOD…and that I can stop taking the statin I’ve been taking for the last year to manage my cholesterol!

I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist. In addition to a few other things for which I am paid and somewhat known…I’m a fat guy who’s trying to shed a couple hundred pounds of body fat accumulated over the past 25 years. So…no…*I* wouldn’t take my word for it, either. But now I have some hard data.

And I hope you might find this news as enlightening…and encouraging…as I did. 😉