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Podcast clean up can be a big job if the recording was not done well. I want to discuss how to get the best recording and then how to perfect it during editing and mixing. This is a skill you will develop over time, but it is incredibly important to producing an amazing podcast.
Podcast Cleanup Before and During Recording
Small is Good
When you record, try to record in the smallest possible room you can. This will reduce echo and outside noise, making podcast cleanup even easier.
This actually contradicts previous practices that were thought to be best. In the past it was thought that you needed a big room to get the best sound. This is why studios were made from converted churches. Larger was thought to be better.
Multi-tracking has changed everything. It removed the room from the equation entirely. Today, most of us can get away with a laptop and a closet to do our recording.
Think ahead. Before you even record one word, look at the room you are about to record in. As stated, the smaller the room the better because it will make podcast cleanup that much easier. You will want to remove any possibility of an echo by adding some blankets in front of walls and on solid floors.
This is why most closets are perfect for recording. They are filled with clothing (which dampens the sound) and they have carpeting on the floor.
Check for Reverb
Make sure to run a test recording to check for reverb. Reverb is an echo-like sound, which is similar to – but not as extreme as – the sound you might get if you were to record in your bathroom or an empty room. In these environments, where the sound bounces off bare walls and floors, rather than being absorbed, your recording will sound ‘tinny’ at best or echoey at worst. You are aiming for the nice, rich, full sound you hear on professional podcasts.
If the room you record in has lots of bare walls or floors without carpet, consider lining some of the walls and floors with blankets or towels to stop reverb. It also can help if you put pillows behind your microphone.
Here’s a little trick I use when I’m recording short snippets (like intros and outros) and don’t want to go to the hassle of lining my walls and floors: I place a blanket over my head, laptop and microphone and record like this. The blanket absorbs the sound, preventing any echo. You could also set up a ‘cubby’ with chairs and a blanket over the top which you sit under if you wanted to be more comfortable or were recording for longer periods. This will do the same job.
Check Volume Levels
Adjust your volume level and, if applicable, your guest’s volume level to allow enough ‘
Most audio interfaces and recorders need you to set an input level for your microphone. Since the advent of high-quality digital recording, there’s really no reason to set input levels too “hot.” You can always make things louder later on.
To set a good, modest input level, speak at a normal-to-loud speaking voice and aim to make this level around -20 dB, or about halfway up on most meters. Then test with a hearty laugh or emphatic phrase to make sure the level never peaks above 0 dBFS or goes “into the red.” If you’re worried that it might, just turn it down and be conservative.
Do your best to keep your mouth the same distance to the microphone throughout the recording. The closer you get to the microphone, the louder your voice and vice versa.
Microphone technique, in general, is an important skill for any podcaster to learn. By having better microphone technique you make podcast cleanup much easier.
Be sure to use a pop filter to avoid plosives. Use a set of headphones so you can hear how you sound as you record.
Now let’s talk about how far away you should be from your microphone. As a general rule of thumb, two to four inches is a really comfortable distance to be. So what I do is I take my fist, I put it in a ball, I put up to my mouth and I put that up to the microphone and that’s a good starting point.
It’s really important to use a pop screen filter. Once you find the distance that sounds good to you, you put the pop screen filter where that should be, and that’ll keep you from getting too close to the microphone.
You will want to keep an eye on your tone. Some people have a really deep voice. If they get in really close, they get a really full sound and that can be okay for some people. For me, I find it doesn’t sound natural, so I like to get back a little bit. You can play with this depending on your voice.
If you get too far back, the sound starts to get really thin and then you can barely hear me and now you’re hearing most of the room. As I get in and close to the microphone, I come into focus. Every mic has a sweet spot, so you got to come in and find that spot that sounds best to you.
If you’re finding that your voice has a lot of siblings or you’re still getting p popping sounds, even with using a pop screen filter, you can tilt the mic a little bit off access to help avoid this. Keep in mind everybody’s voice is different, so experimentation is key. Move around, move in and out. Try to find that sweet spot that sounds best to you.
Most microphones pick up a lot of sounds. Avoid moving around a lot as it will get picked up by your microphone. Sometimes moving will cause your clothing to rub against the headphone cable and that can also cause some unwanted noise, making podcast cleanup more difficult.
This is why a microphone stand is highly encouraged. A good stand will keep your microphone in one place and avoid extra noise from any movement generally caused when you move too much.
Create a Noise Profile
At first glance, this sounds complicated, but it is actually a very simple concept. When you start recording your episode, include 2 to 3 seconds of silence at the beginning. This will record any ambient noise from the room where you are recording. This will enable you to use noise reduction filters post-production to remove the unwanted noises. If there is any humming or background buzzing, you can use the noise profile in post-editing to edit out background sounds.
Always Use Headphones
You, your co-host and any guests should use headphones to avoid any kind of audio feedback. Most people try to avoid headphones–don't be most people! Your podcast cleanup job will be simpler if you aren't.
Keep Quiet While Guests Are Talking
It can be tempting to want to pipe in with “yes” and “
Always remember the “garbage in, garbage out” concept. Your end product is only as good as what you put into it.
Fix Sound Quality Issues at the Start
If there’s an issue with your guest’s sound quality or microphone, let them know immediately and work together to resolve the issue. There’s nothing worse than finishing a great interview only to wish you’d spoken up at the start and corrected poor sound quality (I’ve learned this lesson the hard way). This makes podcast cleanup easier.
Post-Production Podcast Cleanup
Once you have recorded an episode, it is time to begin post-production. This is the point where podcast cleanup really happens. Even with good conditions, unexpected issues arise with recordings all the time.
Here at Yogi's Podcast
Hindenberg Journalist Pro
I started editing my shows with Audacity and still use it for certain things, but for the past 6 months I've used nothing but Hindenberg Journalist Pro. Moving to Hindenberg from Audacity was interesting because the approach is very different between the two products. Audacity is an audio editor, meaning music, voice, etc. Hindenberg was designed for voice editing.
Hindenberg has some amazing features that make editing a dream. It has all the tools you'd expect and some you would not expect. For instance, if you have to make a cut from the audio, Hindenberg automatically crossfades the edited area so you don't hear the cut at all.
Hindenberg automatically levels the sound on any track as it is imported. It uses the loudness measurement to do this. This makes it so easy to match sound from track to track.
The voice profiler is an amazing feature as well. You provide it with a reference recording of your voice and with one click it will set the proper EQ for your voice, making you sound professional at all times.
It also utilizes a clipboard system for organizing your commonly used audio snippets. You take all the snippets you will need in the final mix and place them in the clipboard. You can arrange and organize them in any way you please. I am still learning the strength of this feature, but the rudimentary approach I currently use has saved me a tremendous amount of time.
Izotope RX 6
This tool from Izotope can fix almost any audio problem you encounter. It can be difficult to use at first, but there are ample tutorials available to teach you the features you need for great podcast cleanup.
I have a workflow I use that involves RX 6. My process is quite simple and I plan to go into it at a later time in detail, but the basic ideas are good to understand.
I generally have at least 2 tracks, one for me and one for my guest or co-host. I will open them in RX 6 side by side. I then use the De-Bleed feature to learn about the bleed that may have happened between the two tracks (if any). The De-Bleed feature can remove most if not all of the cross-talk that happens.
Once the bleed has been dealt with, I use Dialogue Isolate to bring the vocals to the front and eliminate room noise. I find that this gives me a much richer sound.
I next use Breath Control to remove the little inhales most people have when they are about to speak. I am not overly aggressive with this because I have found that being too aggressive with it can cause some unexpected and annoying results.
After Breath Control, I run a basic De-Ess on both files. This softens up that “ess” sound. I follow this up with a De-Plosive run to get rid of any harsh plosives from the audio tracks.
What I do from here depends upon the audio quality. Most times I will simply run the EQ to get the sound exactly the way I want it. If someone was particularly quiet during recording, I may use the Loudness feature to adjust their volume a bit. The entire focus is on podcast cleanup.
I have Hindenberg projects for every show I edit. They serve as a template for where the audio should go. It is a great tool for podcast cleanup.
I first bring all the audio tracks (just the vocals) into Hindenberg and edit them and then save them as a WAV file. From here I open up a tool like Levelator or Auphonic to add some leveling, compression and noise gate as required. I find these automated tools do a great job and save me an immense amount of time.
I then open my Hindenberg project and remove the previous show's audio and import the new show's audio in its place. I align the audio with the end of the intro and then I align the outro with the show's audio.
From here I create an MP3 with everything I need in it (intro, outro, show, commercials, etc.). I then open that file in ID3 Editor to add the metadata to the file before I upload it to my host.
It is Worth the Time to Do It Right
The takeaway I want you to have here is that it is worth the time to do podcast cleanup right. By paying attention to everything I've told you, you are going to have a great sounding podcast. Don't fret if it isn't perfect at first. Nothing ever is. Over time, you will master your workflow and the various aspects of it.
Create and use a checklist for processing your episodes and you won't have any issues at all going forward.