Hello everyone. It’s your friendly neighborhood technopath, Brandon.
Under duress, our social media mistress has forced me into revealing the secrets of my technology that enables Graphic Novelty. I will break down the how of what we do to bring together our geographically diverse crew. Spencer and Ephemily have the best possibility of running across each other day to day as they’re really just on opposite ends of the metro Omaha area. Ora haunts the halls of academia a state away from them in Kansas, but often finds himself back in the old ‘hoods of our youth. Meanwhile, I’m stuck in the land of swamps and badly pronounced French place names. So how are we able to get together and talk comics every week? What follows is our method. Replicate with your friends or adapt to your special situation.
To coordinate what we’ll talk about and give some structure to the program, we share a document on Google Docs. This allows us to put down all our ideas, give a general shape to how the show will flow, and we also have the ability to make comments on sections of the text. In addition to this, I use Google Keep as my personal notes for when I have something I’m presenting, or just my general thoughts on a specific topic. There’s plenty of collaboration platforms out there. Google Docs is free and offers plenty of storage space. If Docs doesn’t meet your need, there are many other options available. Podcasting doesn’t have to be expensive.
After we know what we’re talking about, the next question was what platform of voice communication do we use? Spencer and myself have long used Google Hangouts to play Pathfinder and D&D. The video feed allowed us to show maps and dice rolls as well as being able to see the faces of our group when someone rolled a 20. However, me being the audiophile I am, I found the audio quality lacking. We also didn’t need video. It might be nice to play off the non-vocal communication of facial expressions and body language, but the sound quality still remained an issue.
Playing online games with my wife, I was introduced to TeamSpeak. I was amazed at the sound quality. I was deep in the mountains of Eastern Europe when I started playing, but even given the distance and slow internet speeds, it often sounded like I was talking in the same room as my fellow players. My suggestion was that we used TeamSpeak for our first episode. I already lease a server, so I setup TeamSpeak on there as well. I had a terrible time installing it initially, but managed to get it working with some Google-Fu. We did do some initial testing found it to work well.
This then introduced another hurdle and changed the direction of our tech implementation. When editing the episode in Audacity (a program I’ve used for a long time), I found it was difficult to properly clean up background noise and get good even levels on everybody. I started doing research and came across another program that I’ve known people to use for gaming, like TeamSpeak, called Mumble. Installing Mumble was a breeze, as Ubuntu (my server Operating System) has it as an easy to install package. The server was up and running in no time. I only tweaked a few things in its configuration file and we were testing it out.
Now, you don’t have to go out and lease your own server and set up everything from scratch. I’m an IT guy by trade and I’ve had my server for a while now as my playground. I love playing around in Linux OSes. There are many providers out there that will do the background techy stuff for you if you’re not into that whole thing. Web hosting providers often offer WordPress (what we use for the blog and our podcast RSS feed) pre-installed and setup, and there are a host of providers that will do the same with a TeamSpeak or Mumble server. Most gaming groups I know go the simple route and have someone hosting for them. I chose the geekier route.
Going back to Audacity, it’s a audio editing program that provides a lot of versatility but is fairly easy to use. I gave Audition 3 a try, hoping it’d speed up my editing workflow, but found nothing really helped me out. I might play with it more and try a newer version in the future, but for now I’ll stick with Audacity. Audacity will allow you to edit a multitrack recording with ease. I try to clean up the background noise, keyboard sounds, and mouse clicks by highlighting it and generating silence over it. I could go into detail about my whole editing philosophy, but that would be a post in itself. Just get in there, play around, and see what works for you.
After our first episode, listening to all the members, I felt a little inadequate. I had been using my gaming headset to listen to everyone else and record my voice, but the mic provided a dull sound. Even with Spencer being remoted in, he came through totally clear. It was time to up my microphone game. It started out with copying Spencer and getting a Blue Snowball Ice. I didn’t realize there was a difference when I bought it, but the Ice is kind of a budget model of the original Snowball. I don’t think having the Snowball would make much difference though, as far as I can tell, the only difference is that the original Snowball allows for different sound patterns. Without getting too deep, different microphones have a shape that affects how it picks up sound.
The Snowball Ice allows for a “cardioid” shape, which if you know your Latin, means a heart shape. This is front focused. For an individual podcaster, this is really all you need. The original Snowball allows for an omni(many)-directional shape. This would be good if you’re in the same room together and want to save on buying mics. These are also condenser mics and are very sensitive, but can offer some great clarity. Ora was upgraded by the mic fairy, and he now uses an omni-directional dynamic mic. When you think of lead singers at rock concerts, that’s what those are. They’re tough mics that can take a beating on the road. Even a simple device like that can be a huge upgrade over a mic integrated into a laptop, webcam, or a smartphone. But don’t let your mic be a hurdle to doing a podcast… Just do it.
That leads me to my final statement. Don’t let the tech keep you down. If you feel what you have is inadequate, don’t worry about it and just do it. Use your laptop mic or your smartphone. Dumpster dive your equipment. Whatever. My cousin’s podcast, Reel Rats, just uses a smartphone with an attached mic for all their recording. Google the hell out of it. The key to this is just getting started. Find what works for you and just go. If you can do that, you’re already head and shoulders above all the people who say, “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about starting a podcast.”