Blog: My Brain Dump

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 Fiverr.com. 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 ChuckBrown.com. 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! 😉