First off, behind the scenes, we all try to find a topic to cover and/or a guest we can bribe ransom kidnap convince to come on to the show! Then we try to coordinate which future date to do things, including preparing any guests for the show. Sometimes we just completely wing it… and sometimes that’s right before we even go live.
In the Booth
The hosts will gather on Skype to do the show, using headphones and microphones. Skype is a free program that allows people to “call” other computers with skype, for free! Sometimes we need to call telephones or cell phones of guests coming on the show. This can also be done on Skype with either a nominal fee or a subscription. The Webcomic Beacon uses the Unlimited US & Canada plan for ~$3/month. (Mexico and WorldWide plans are also available, but we don’t call them often enough to subscribe).
Guests and Call-Ins
When we do need to have someone on the show to come on, but can’t use Skype, we have a few alternatives. For starters, we can actually call people’s telephone or cell phone numbers, and include them through Skype that way. We can also allow at least one person to call us, through their own phone, by dialing our Skype-In phone number: 1+320-310-0922. People can also get on the show through a program call TalkShoe, a live podcasting tool that combines online and phone users. This is also how we broadcast live!
If you would like to call in (or a quick text message comment) during a show, you’d be best shooting “fesworks” on Skype a message. You might be called into talk about your idea if (1) the idea warrants more than a mere comment, and (2) if there’s time. Call-ins are typically looked for during the last third of the show.
As mentioned, we broadcast live on TalkShoe. While people can call into TalkShoe using telephones and cell phones, they can also do so through Skype. But we mostly use the live chatroom when we broadcast, and people can just use their internet broswer to listen in. Call-ins or guests through TalkShoe are of lower audio quality, so we try to avoid that if possible. The way we use TalkShoe, is we call the TalkShoe phone number through Skype, as though a conference call, and that’s how the TalkShoe chatroom can hear us all.
We no longer use TalkShoe. Adding another call just required more bandwidth, and we needed to rely on a Skype phone subscription more. We now broadcast on Ustream.Ustream is an audio/video streaming tool used by many. Though we really don’t use the video so much, there is still a chatroom for people to listen to the shows live. It’s a flash-based program that will have a pop-up that asks for access to your hardware (webcam and microphone).
I don’t use a real webcam, but I use a virtual webcam called ManyCam. ManyCam will pretend to be a webcam, and you can use it to play video, or even display other images. It can also wotk with your real webcam if you have one. You could use ManyCam to display images of comics, or a show title card.
I am unsure about how get Skype to work well with Ustream aside from my Mixer and USB plugin (which makes my who setup act like a sound card I can select on the Ustream audio source). You might try looking into Ustream Producer. I wish I could help more with this other than “try a few things”.
We used to use a program called PrettyMay in conjunction with Skype. It’s now our back-up solution, but it’s fairly simple to use. Just give yourself time to mess with it and Skype’s audio settings. You can split the audio recording into two channels (yourself and others), which turns into the left and right of a stereo file. This would be done because “our” channel would need extra filtering, so it made mastering easier if we didn’t need to worry about the incoming (others) voices.
Right now we using a program called GoldWave (however you should be able to use Audacity as well). Regardless of the program, you may need to fiddle with settings to make sure it will record everything correctly. The current method does not allow us to separate “us” and “them”, but we are also currently using a mixer and pre-amp device (external hardware) with a studio microphone. [I’m currently using Behringer’s Podcastuido USB bundle.]
The typical recording strategy for both methods is to break the recording into segments. Such as every 15-20 minutes. This saves RAM space and processing, as well as making smaller, more manageable files for mastering, later.
Depending on how your computer’s sound card works, microphone set-up, and the types of connections you use for a microphone and listen, will determine what you’d be better off using to record.
We also record on TalkShoe itself… mostly as a back-up because the audio quality is lower than we’d like, but can do well enough if we have no other options. It saves as an MP3.
One of the last stages is mastering. This is where we run noise filters, cut out dead-air, censor, and add music… as well as combining all of the files into one mastered WAV file. If you record on TalkShoe, then you may be limited to your options with it being a lower quality file. The first thing we do is a toss-up between a noise filter or leveling the audio. You may want to experiment yourself, but let’s start with the noise filter.
Basically, if you have weird background noise, like a hum, hiss, or whir… we usually find that a very light “hiss” removal works just fine. GoldWave has a setting call “Light Hiss Removal”, but we tweek it DOWN a bit to a “Slight” Hiss Removal. Filtering too much can make your audio sound warped or “washy”. A filter has not been used much lately, unless a guest’s mic is pretty bad.
Next there is leveling. We use a free program called Levelator, which is awesome. Basically it will boost the quieter audio, and quiet the noisy audio… trying to find a happy medium. It’s as simple as Click-and-Drag. We use this every time.
After that, we look at the segmented audio files, and clip the dead air and “crap” (if any). Right now, unless there is a known part of the show that is incredibly boring or has a lot of dead air, we’ll go and snip that. For the most part, we now leave the show alone, because our audience has spoken, and prefers it that way. (In the early days, the editing was WAY more prejudice and thorough). Most of the editing and cutting is done at the beginning and end of each segment. Mostly cleaning up partial conversations, cut during the segment recording.
If the show has an incredible amount of “colorful language”, then censoring needs to happen. These take the longest time because the whole show needs to be gone over. These days, however, if there is “just a bit” of swearing, we don’t bother. Note: When we censor, we do it because it helps keep each episode as safe for work as possible, as well as maintain an as general of audience as possible… but also bleeps sound funnier in place of the actual swears.
After all of that editing, we now add the music. Some of the music is merely pasted into place, but the Intro and the Outro are partly mixed with the audio. Occasionally extra sound clips, advertising, or missed content is also spliced in after a show is over. Then we line up all of the parts, connect them as one, and save as an WAV file. Why WAV? Because your MASTER file should be the highest quality (reasonably) possible.
Then we save the file as an MP3. The quality we pick is a 96kbps quality MP3, mainly because that’s all that is needed since we are primarily voice. If you have a lot of music in your podcast, you’d want at least 128 kbps. While we do have some music, it seems to still work fine at 96.
Hosting and Uploading
Now, we are hosted on The Rampage Network, but I don’t really have the numbers to tell you how much bandwidth we use to suggest where to try to get hosted… these are things I haven’t looking into yet. However, in a pinch, you can host your shows on TalkShoe because they allow you to upload a new file to a show you already recorded (replacing the recording).
Basically, we also do this, but with a Pre and/or After Show of The Webcomic Beacon. It seems to work out alright for something extra.