MP3 is the universal audio format for podcasts, but not all MP3′s are made equal–how you encode matters! Learn how to get the highest quality out of your MP3′s and the best settings to use. It is also important that your MP3′s are properly tagged with meta data identifies and describes the audio file, and to know what information to include in your podcasts.
Skype is an incredibly powerful tool for podcasters, allowing us to communicate regardless of boundaries at a very low cost (free, or nearly free), and at very high audio quality, but there are some special tricks to get the most out of Skype.
Encoding Quality MP3′s:
The MP3 file format is a “lossy” data compression format that uses psychoacoustics to discard or reduce the accuracy of parts of sound, throwing away data that you hopefully won’t miss too much. How you encode, and what encoder you use to encode matters. There are two major MP3 encoders available: The free, open source LAME encoder, used with Audacity, and the commercial Fraunhofer encoder, from the inventor of MP3. Sadly, the LAME encoder consistently falls flat when compared to the Fraunhofer encoder, requiring a higher bit rate to achieve comparable quality.
However, there is a free application that includes the Fraunhofer encoder, iTunes! Export your finished, edited podcasts to an uncompressed WAV or AIFF file, and import it in to iTunes. Go in to the iTunes Preferences, under the General tab, and click on Import Settings. Under Import Using, select MP3 encoder, and under Setting, select Custom.
Recommended Encoding Setting:
- Bit Rate: 128 kbps (So-called “CD quality”)
- Use Variable Bit Rate: No!
- Sample Rate: 44.1kHz (Important)
- Channels: Stereo
- Stereo Mode: Joint Stereo
AAC is an alternative format, most notably backed by Apple, which can achieve higher audio quality, as well as Enhanced Podcast features such as chapters, images, and links, but AAC is not widely supported, while the MP3 format is universally supported. If you wish to take advantage of the strengths of the AAC format, still release your podcast in the standard MP3 format, creating a separate, secondary feed for the AAC version.
ID3 Tagging/Meta Data:
After you’ve exported that quality MP3 file, you need to gag it with meta data that describes and identifies the files. There are a variety of applications available to tag MP3′s, including iTunes, which has robust support, but not all other application’s support all recommended fields. One recommended alternative to tagging in iTunes is the shareware and cross-platform ID3 Editor.
- Title: Episode Title
- Album: Show Name
- Artist: Your Name/Co-Host(s) Names
- Year: Year Released
- Track: Episode Number
- URL: Web Site Address
- Genre: “Podcast”
- Artwork: Must embed album art image in to the actual file!
- Lyrics: Show Notes/Contact Information
Beware of using the “Media Kind” field, as it can cause some unexpected results.
While recording, stay hydrated! Your voice is one of your best assets; be kind to it!
It’s easy for your mouth to become dry during those long recording sessions; be sure to keep plenty of water nearby.
Room temperature water may be advisable compared to ice water or caffeine, as they can cause the vocal chords to constrict. If you find lip smacking and mouth noises to be problematic, add a squeeze of lemon.
“What would you consider recommended reading on podcasting , and considering the explosion of podcasting, what would you see podcasting doing in five years?”
It’s hard to name some “recommended reading” on podcasting, such as a book, because it’s such a quickly evolving medium.
Writing and publishing can be such a long process that by the time a book hits shelves, some things have changed and information can already be out of date. Still, take a look at Podcasting for Dummies, 2nd Edition and Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, which were written by my friends Tee Morris, Evo Terra, and Chuck Tomasi. Neither is there any definitive online resource on podcasting, and I admit that not all the information about podcasting I entirely agree with.
As what I see podcasting doing in five years, I see it becoming more and more a transparent behind the scenes method for delivering rich media content. It’s not about the medium, it’s about the content; it will not be a podcast, it will simply be a show, that may happen to be delivered as a podcast. It will be less about how we consume the content than about the quality of the content itself.
Podcasting With Skype:
Skype is a powerful tool for podcasters, allowing us to have a co-host or guest across the room, or across the world at a very low cost and at very high audio quality. With the right conditions, the sound quality of a Skype-to-Skype call can rival that of a studio recording.
First off, like most things audio, it’s garbage in/garbage out–to get the best results out of Skype, you’re going to need to be giving it the best audio quality you can. Avoid using your computer’s built-in microphone, and you must wear headphones to prevent bleed from your speakers of your caller speaking being picked up by your microphone.
Be sure that you are both running the same current, up-to-date version of Skype for best reliability–this can really make a difference. Having an Internet connection with stable, reliable latency and bandwidth is key for Skype, so be sure to turn off any background processes on your network, such as BitTorrent and peer-to-peer services. Additionally, if you are on Wi-Fi, if at all possible, plug in to a wired connection, as wireless is subject to fluctuations in radio frequency interference–if your neighbor turns on their microwave, you don’t want it to affect your Skype call.
Before you start recording, be sure to do a sound check to ensure that your caller’s levels are set appropriately in addition to your own, and have them adjust if necessary. Be sure to uncheck the option in Skype’s preferences to allow Skype to automatically adjust your recording levels. To verify that your settings are working and that everything is sounding as it should, you can use the Skype Test Call services by calling “echo123″, which will play your voice back to you.
Most people have multiple computers on their network using one Internet connection with a router, using network address translation, which acts as a firewall. Skype works best with a direct point to point connection, and a firewall requires that your call be relayed through a third party supernode to get around your firewall, increasing latency and lowering quality. You want to give Skype an access point through your router’s firewall by forwarding a port for Skype. You can find step-by-step instructions for how to port forward a variety of routers at PortForward.com.
There is a technique known as the “Double Ender”, where both parties record their audio locally, and then they can be edited together. This can be time-consuming, but results in the best audio, making your Skype caller sound like they are in studio with you. Doing a countdown resulting in a clap generates a visual spike in the audio that can be helpful to sync the different tracks in post-production.
Skype Recording Software:
- Pamela Professional (Shareware: Windows)
- MX Skype Recorder (Shareware: Windows)
- Call Recorder (Shareware: Mac)
Share Your Thoughts!
Questions? Comments? Ideas? Suggestions? I welcome your feedback! Send your written text or recorded audio to PodcastPerspective@Gmail.com or call 424-254-9763, or leave a comment below!
I am available for one on one podcast consulting, audio production, and voice over work. I’d love to work with you to make your podcasting dreams a reality. If you’re interested, please contact me!