The Website: aka The Housing Of My Media Package
The first step for me was to decide where to house all the components of my media package; the blog and the podcast source feed. The decision to do a website was a no brainer. Which led to the next question- What website creating service can allow me to contain both a blog and podcast. Some sources do not give the ability to contain a blog. I had two services in mind; WordPress and SquareSpace. Now, I’ve had a lot of experience with WordPress. I’ve used this service to create multiple websites for past classes. This is where I learned that I had the ability to blog; which is why I’m using a blog as a way to chronicle my experiences with everything. It’s easy to use with not much learning curve but can be very limiting based on the theme you choose. My other option I’ve heard peddled by the likes of Joe Rogan and Bill Burr on a day to day bases. To their defense, they’re paid by SquareSpace to advertise with them on their podcasts but I feel that trusting of their opinions. Multiple comedians use this source to create their websites, including Rogan. It seems to be much more customizable; all the way down to manipulating any feature however, the learning curve is quite a bit higher. We design is not my focus so I wanted to keep the design element simple; so I went with WordPress. I know the ins and outs of choosing a theme, manipulating the theme, creating pages, adding posts to pages, and import media. The big unknown at this point was how to incorporate a podcast so that it can be fed to the iTunes page that I later created but, we’ll get to that part. I chose the Dyad theme by a group called Automatic. This allowed for blog posting, social media links, pages, and stylistically looked really nice. I created a few basic pages: Home, About Me, Blog, Contact. My main concern was the content added the blog page as that’s where the bulk of my research was documented. Once I had my site site laid out, I added a post about myself with a less in depth background about myself and answered the biggest question I proposed for my thesis; Why did I choose to Podcast?. This is the backbone of my project in essence. After the website was looking about how I wanted it to, it was just trivial, less important cosmetical tweaks I’ve been making here and there; should blog post thumbnails appear as title + text preview or a photo also. Until I got to some more serious tweaks later on, I only had one thing left to do at this point to make the site podcast compatible; upgrade from the free account. At first I did not like this idea at all as I’m very cheap. But after some research, I realized I must upgrade to at least the premium plan. This plan runs $8.25 a month which is billed yearly; I had to pay for a whole year at once. It has advanced design customization features, removes the worldpress.com ads, provides ability to monetize my site, and allows videopress support. This was enough for my purposes and with 13GB of storage space, I had enough tools at my disposal to accomplish a basic Podcast site. Should I chose to in the future, the Business plan is always an option which gives unlimited storage space, advanced design customization, unlimited premium themes, courses/tools, Google analytics integration, and allows you to remove any indication that you’ve created the site with WordPress. With the package, I also got to chose my own domain name. My site would come to be called Life Of Chenz or, lifeofchenz.com. Now that I had a good look and a good plan, I figure it best be time to get the ball rolling on making the centerpiece of my project; the podcast. I had things to research like being obtaining better than the iMac’s internal microphone to something that could achieve above basic level sound quality, What sorts of free software options did I have at my disposal, and how the heck do do I get my podcast to show up on Apple’s podcast player?! There was more for sure but those are some big hitters. We’ll be taking a stroll down all these avenues ahead.
What Hardware Did I Get?
While I know there are seemingly endless amounts of different things I can purchase to help me record, I also know that to start out, I don’t need much more than a computer and a microphone. But in reality, I was only going off assumptions without ever having researched the topic. What made me want to upgrade to a standalone microphone opposed to using my iMac’s internal microphone? Well, I’ve heard the sound potential of a computer’s internal mic and knew I could/should do better. Again , I look up to and am inspired by Rogan and Stern who have fantastic, hiss free sound quality. I know I can’t match that, but no reason not to try. So I figured I’d start by looking up microphone options and see where it took me. As a late 20’s something, Google is becoming our go-to source of any information we’re in search of. I had a few factors I was considering before I made a decision: cost and reviews/ratings. I didn’t want to spend all that much money on my first one; just a suitable step up from the built-in mic. Most product Google searches result in Amazon being the first hit. Amazon is a fantastic online marketplace both for finding almost any product you want with quality reviews and very competitive prices. I was eager to get the microphone fast so I mostly kept my Amazon search results limited to Amazon Prime eligible products. This service delivers packages with free shipping within 2 business days. So I went back to Google to find some good websites ranking/reviewing microphones knowing I’d get back to Amazon for the purchase. I wanted to stay around $50.00 or under going in so the best value close to that worked for me. Between various ranking websites, I found three microphones that seemed to keep showing up on all the lists. First there was the Blue Microphone Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone. She came very well rated with aprox. 1660 user rating it an average of 4.5/5 stars and coming in at $49.00. On top of positive ratings and a good price point, there was a built in windscreen to help reduce “popping” from air hitting the mic from your voice, came in multiple color options, and the company in general has many high rated microphones. Then there was the Samson Go Mic Portable USB Condenser Microphone. This is another well rated mic that comes in at $39.99 and also achieving 4.5/5 stars on Amazon from 1,174 users. The nice feature about this one was how compact it was. It folds up and can go into your pocket. Due to the size of the mic, there was no built in windscreen and the sound quality would not be quite as good as the Blue. It also wasn’t as pretty. One positive feature was the addition of a headphone jack so that you can plug in and listen to immediate feedback. I threw one more mic into my searching that seemed like an attractive option called the Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone. This was by far the coolest looking microphone I’ve ever seen; looking like some sort of alien probe or weapon. It came in at $69.94 and with higher sound quality ratings. It also received 4.5/5 stars with just 686 users. I did want to get that one but decided to save the $20 and be more conservative. Based on my basic needs at the time, I went with The Blue Snowball knowing it was recommended, in my price range, and that I’d have it in 2 days. Just for good measure I picked up the recommended Pop Filter to go with the microphone. It was the Dragonpad and ran me an additional $9.00. The purpose of the pop filter is to be a wind barrier between your mouth and the mic as well as to prevent moisture from getting to the mic. This all helps reducing weird popping noises.
The mic was a very easy set up which was nice. Literally just 1 wire that plugged from the back of the computer to the back of the mic which sat on top of a short tripod allowing swivel and tilting. The filter screw clamped onto the mic stand and we were in business. The only other set up was to convert the computer’s sound recording option from the internal mic to the Blue Snowball mic. The sound is exponentially better than that of the internal microphone but it was far from perfect. What would you expect for $50.00. Top level microphones would cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. So what that meant is that I’d have to rely on recording software to help correct sound blemishes and issues as good as I could get. This leads to my next step; the recording software I used and how I used it.
What Software Did I Use?
This was one of the unknowns I had going in. I had zero experience recording into a microphone, let alone editing something. To start, I knew I’d have to search the Googles a bit and also that I wasn’t going to spend money on this part. But I also went partially on recommendations from my cousin who is an audio engineering student at NYU; aka, he’s very smart and his area of study is audio production. I had a strong feeling there were multiple free, open source programs available. And to my luck, there were! Actually, one of them was already on my computer. GarageBand is designed to record and edit music tracks mostly but in no way is limited in allowing you to easily record and edit spoken word. In this case, you can consider a podcast a spoken word song. It has a very clean and neat interface making it less frightening to learn. You can add tons of different effects to your voice and customize equalizer levels and other noise clarity settings. I saw GarageBand on a few different sites as being very well recommended, user friendly, clean, and perfectly adequate for a beginner level recording/audio program. While yes, there were many more highly recommended softwares, they were for more experienced, weathered technicians. To top off the decision, it came most recommended by my cousin; yah, the NYU audio production student. I was advised that for my purposes, this is by far the best option as it has every basic feature I need without having to learn the software over the course of a career.
The other option for a beginner I was finding was a program called Audacity. In terms of editing purposes, this actually seemed to be the most recommended. It had a feature in it that allowed you to select particular sound artifacts; sounds you didn’t want to be heard like popping; and the software would use an algorithm to search the entire recording and remove that particular sound from every other part. This feature seems invaluable for audio files that are far from clean and crisp. There were definitely features about Audacity that were far from desirable that ended up making my decision to not pursue it. It has a very stale, old, Windows 95’ look to it. It didn’t look current or professional and there were so many buttons and unclean features that it was almost overwhelming to take in. I definitely gave Audacity a shot. I recorded my first episode with it and even attempted editing with it. I just found the learning curve very high and not always clear how I should use certain features. Additionally, the feature to sample selected artifacts took a long time to both analyze the rest of the track, and remove those features. I was getting increasingly more impatient and I was struggling. That feature also didn’t work perfect so I didn’t find it to be worth sticking with a program that was harder to use, and was very old dated feeling.
In the end, I stuck with GarageBand and had a lot of fun in the process. There are seemingly endless features to it; all of which tucked away neatly into folders. The minimalist, “Apple” look to the software mixed with the ease of use and low learning curve made it a perfect option for me. This isn’t to say that I went without major trouble shooting or having to cry for help during certain times. There were many things I had to look up and learn before I got my technique down and shortened my production times. Editing was definitely a learning process mixed with a lot of experimenting.
How Did I Edit For Sound Quality?
So I now had a great, easy to use software; GarageBand but not much of any idea on how to actually do much with it beyond dragging sound clips around on the screen. I not only wanted to reduce sound artifacts; the popping noises I referenced before; and other unwanted features, but also wanted the ability to add gaps to fill in with commercials, add background music, and even adjust the volume level of various clips. Burr’s podcast isn’t edited all that much at all which gives it a very raw and unfinished feel however, his content and do give a care attitude is so strong that it doesn’t even matter. Rogan and Stern however, have superior sound quality with no echoing or artifacts. They sound as if they’re sitting right next to you talking which is great. I don’t have impressive content nor am I famous so working on editing my podcast is a huge focus. The raw file echoed and there were noises in the background like my fridge humming or my dog gnawing on a bone and it was distracting as a listener. I didn’t really know where I should be looking up how to edit a podcast or even where to start. I hopped on Google in hopes there were answers. I searched a few items like “reduce noise artifacts in garage band” or “noise cleaning garageband.” I kept getting tutorials based on the prior version of the software which had different features and buttons so I was scratching my head for a while. There apparently used to be a specific podcast feature right in GarageBand but for reasons that were not listed anywhere, it was removed completely. I ended up stumbling onto an Apple Support page called “how do I remove background noise in GarageBand?” That article can be located https://discussions.apple.com/thread/6247599?tstart=0. There was a slider in one of the sound windows called Noise Gate and as you moved the slider, it removed certain frequencies of sound. By the point that you got to a spot where the hum in my would go, it would start to make the audio choppy and skippy. So while the artifact was gone, the audio would skip much like that of a scratched CD. So I knew this wasn’t going to be suitable for my needs. I consulted with my cousin (the NYU student), to see what his thoughts were on the matter based off of his editing experiences in his classes. He gave me the first important piece difference making information: The Graphic Equalizer.
It’s a “unit” in GarageBand to control certain frequencies and decibels much like a real sound board. Instead of blankly moving a Noise Gate slider, I now had about 20 sliders to customize it so much finer. He even gave me a template to follow that was best for spoken word; aka no instruments. Dropped all frequencies below 125hz to -20db, kept most between 160hz and 8,000hz right around 0db, gradually lowered 10,000hz-20,000hz to -20db again. Basically the humming and echoing were at very low frequency levels and the popping was at very frequencies so dropping them down to -20db removed them almost completely. I did mess with the sliders on my own a bit to see what kind of changes would happen. What I was left with was my recording with most my sound artifacts gone and most of the humming however, my voice was more muted. It was a little off putting, almost like I was talking through a tin can. I found another equalizer where you could see the actual sound waves and adjust the waves to your liking. So, in addition to using the AUGraphic EQ, I was using the master control EQ and adjusting the sound waves. I didn’t have an aid to tell me how. This was purely trial and error/ full on experimenting with what I found to be the easiest to listen to. This was some on the job training for sure. The nice thing was I could play my episode back and adjust the controls in real time so the changes were heard as I was moving things around. There was no delay in feedback so I could make immediate decisions. I would go a bit too high in frequency and it would make it sound like a mouse talking and others sounded like Darth Vader. It would start to sound tin canny and then it would sound like an echo chamber. After a lot of adjusting, I got it to where a vast majority of hum was gone and the popping non-existent. For the first 2-3 episodes It was much experimenting until I can to a great realization. Instead of creating a whole new audio file for every episode; which required moving sliders around for a while on each one, I could just keep the levels where they were, delete the sound wave, and start recording again with the levels where I left them. I then would just hit “save as” and save it as an additional file. That way I was able to preserve the last one, and save the current as a new one. This could be seen as risky, but I wanted to have some consistency and promptness in my editing to be more efficient and save time.
In my first episode, I through in a commercial just to show what it would sound like. This is semi irrelevant to me at this point as nobody is sponsoring me or buying advertising time on my show but figured it would be good to feature at least once. In my recording, I made sure it set up a commercial coming so it didn’t just appear as though a new piece of audio recorded over me already talking and made sure to leave a 1-2 second gap of time between my speaking and the commercial track. You have the ability to click into any part of the audio feed. After selecting where I want the commercial to start, I went up to the top level menu and hit the “edit” tab. In the list of options there is a “split regions at play head” feature. Where I clicked was the playhead. Once you split the track, you can move the 2 pieces independently. What I did next is add a 2nd line of audio and just quick recorded a silly commercial. It was trivial and meaningless about some non-existent burger joint. Then I clicked and dragged that commercial into the gap where I had split the episode track apart. And voila, my podcast seamlessly flowed from me speaking, to a commercial set up, to a commercial, and then back to me again. It was a fairly easy process and gave me experience adjusting specific regions of an audio track. The final stage of my edit required finding music and implementing it into my audio file. This came with a few headaches that’s for sure.
Musical additions to the episode accomplished two things for me: 1) they just gave a nice feel to have in the background. An intro track and body track set up a general theme to the episode. And 2), the addition of a piece of music helped mask most if not all remaining audio artifacts. I knew I wanted/needed music in my episodes to fill content gaps. I have 5 specific things I wanted to accomplish while researching this part:
- Theme/General Sound
- Source of Track
Again, I had to hit google. There is no textbook or cyan library article search you can do on how to create and edit a podcast. Believe it or not, I ended up getting everything I needed to add music from an online version of those books for dummies. You know, Learn How To ______ For Dummies; with the Yellow covers. My biggest concern was how to add music LEGALLY. I knew going in that there were licensing issues with adding media to podcasts and radio stations that typically require you to pay for rights. I wasn’t ready to start paying for music licensing but still had a deep desire to feature music. I also knew that there was such a thing as “public domain.” This is media that is free to use for anyone in any way they wish. Where do I get it though? So with my “for dummies” manual here, I basically found what I was in need of. The term the article used was “podsafe” or, safe to use in a podcast. The source suggest by Dummies was a domain called Creative Commons. The whole goal of this organization was for people, such as myself, to find public domain media. I say media and now music because you can search for any style media whether it be music, pictures, video, etc. The artists of whatever you find have given permission for the file to be used freely. When you enter the site, you simply type in the name of what you want, click an option on how you want to use that file, and click the source where you want it to come from. I’ve had some experience with SoundCloud so I’ve stuck with that for all my musical finds. Once in SoundCloud, the tag “to use commercially” was already pre selected; making all search results public domain. The one caveat to using Creative Commons and any of their sources was to make sure to give credit to the artist from whatever you’ve used. I did so at the end of every post by linking their user name directly to the track page it came from and advising how I used it; intro song or body song. Once I found a song I wanted to use, I’d make sure it had the download option which automatically sends it to my desktop or downloads folder. Now, it downloads as an iTunes ready file but does not show up in iTunes until you open the file. Then it becomes viewable and ready to use. In GarageBand, there is a dashboard off to the right of the window called “Media.” In this field there is a list of file sources pulled from your computer. Clicking on the iTunes drop down, you can select “music,” and below in a separate section appears all of the music in your music library. This is where you find the song you were hoping to use and simply drag it from that section, into your main audio screen and it appears as a new track. If you click in the middle of that track, a yellow bar will appear and this indicates your sound level. If you click the line anywhere, a dot will appear in the line which lets you adjust the sound level; allowing you to create fade-ins, fade-outs, and sound drops. I typically would find a 2-3 minute song that didn’t necessarily have any lyrics, but a catchy beginning and use it for my intro. I’d fade it into a somewhat high level, and then around the 25 second mark start fading it down to a level low enough to not interfere with my vocals. Then my actual recording would chime in while the song plays out. I would find another song with no lyrics to be around 1 hour in length to carry out the rest of my episodes. Most of the ones I’ve recorded ended up being right about 50+ minutes in length. I would keep the levels consistent throughout until about 10 seconds near the end of my recording. At this point I was start fading the music up to the level of my vocals until my recording stopped and the music was now the main focus. I would let the music rid out for another 30 seconds or so and then fade out to the end of the full recording. This became my go-to process for every episode after that. Once I was happy with the product, it was time to officially get it from GarageBand to an iTunes podcast page for Life Of Chenz. But there was so much more involved in that that I had anticipated which leads me to by far, the most grueling part of my process.
Getting From GarageBand to WordPress
At this point, I had no idea what direction to go so I decided to utilize the WordPress support team that came with my premium package. I flat out asked them, how do I feature a podcast on my website? They responded very quickly providing me the support page that outlines not only how to get the podcast to my website, but also to a podcast page on iTunes. Support>>Audio>>Podcasting gave me three topics to follow: Create your podcast, Configure your site, and Submit to iTunes. This seemed easy enough right? First, in my WordPress dashboard, I had to create a category to tag my posts to called “Podcasts.” Then I would create a new post and tag it as Podcasts.” We’ll get to why this tag is required soon. Then, I had to embed my podcast episode in my post. Here’s the first hitch that the support page didn’t mention; just because you’ve saved your podcast in GarageBand, doesn’t mean it’s in a file format or source folder that can be uploaded to WordPress. Everytime I tried to upload the file, the site wouldn’t allow me to because it was not in the appropriate file format. A simple search in Google revealed how easy it was. First you click the “share” drop down at the top of GarageBand, then “send song to iTunes.” Once I hit share, the song compressed and was officially part of iTunes. Now that it was there, it was also in the correct file format for WordPress; mp4. After a brief loading time, the track was now in my blog post. I wrote up a quick summary of it, tagged the post as “podcasts,” and featured my musical artists. An additional step that helps later is to include a mini summary of the episode in WordPress’ excerpt field. Then, just publish the post. Ok, so now, if you went to my website and then to the blog post where my podcast was featured, the episode was 100% listenable; but only from my website. I now had to configure my website. This required me to go into my Admin Dashboard in WordPress and manipulate settings. Again, this was not straightforward as the guide made it seem. There were many dashboards in WordPress which had me going in circles for a while. There was as special section for Admin privileges that wasn’t exactly “out in the open.” Going to the dashboard>Settings>Media was what I was supposed to do but finding it was no easy task. Settings>Media wasn’t showing up anywhere. After a long time of searching and trial/error, I inevitably found the Admin dashboard which differs from my web dashboard. Now that I found it, I had to give my podcast a title; Life Of Chenz, Podcast Subtitle; Podcast Talent Name, Podcast Summary, Podcast Copyright, Check Off Explicit; for foul language, a Podcast Image; this gave me a ton of issues, Podcast Keywords, and Podcast Categories. After that it was a quick save. The following steps were the most troublesome.
From WordPress to iTunes
While the instructions claim the “submit to iTunes” step only needs to be done once, they make you work hard to get it that one time. Firstly, you had to find your RSS feed URL. This is what you link to the podcast page you create for Apple that needs to be approved before your podcast will be public. This one took me a while to figure out. I’ve never heard of RSS feeds before and the procedure that WordPress provides doesn’t exactly show me how to get my specific RSS feed for my podcast. They give examples by saying to add “/feed/” to the end of a posts url to get the feed for that post. But I didn’t want the RSS for a specific post of mine, I need it for the “podcast” category that I was tagging my posts as. Again, the guide never advised how to get a blog’s feed for the RSS url. After much experimentation, I determined that the correct action would be lifeofchenz.com/category/podcasts/feed/. Unfortunately, there was a lot of guessing/experimenting to get to a lot of points in this part of the process which yes, helped me learn the manual way, but wasn’t very efficient and added doubt during a lot of steps. Next I had to “test the feed” through Apple. This was the way that Apple could see if your feed connected directly to the episodes which is required in order to be approved for a public iTunes page. So there was a link in the guide, here, on how to test a feed which sends you to a n apple podcast support page. It was a short set of instructions which were easier to follow. First I had to open iTunes on my computer. Once in there I hit the “file” drop down to find “subscribe to podcast.” This is where I had to input my RSS feed; lifeofchenz.com/category/podcasts/feed/. I then was able to see my podcast feed in iTunes (only me at this point can see this). It appears as 1 episode in a list of where all my episodes would be featured. I could also play it which confirmed my feed was accurate and working. The other way I confirmed it worked was by using the guide’s suggested feed tester source here. Again, simply paste in the RSS feed and hit check. I was provided with: “Congratulations! This is a valid RSS feed. This feed is valid.” If there were problems, it would tell me and give suggestions how to correct it. So now my feed works and Apple can use it to draw from. Next step was to “submit a podcast.”
Again, we have another set of instructions to follow. The first step was to use Podcasts Connect to submit the podcast for approval. Here’s the next big hang up that took me a few days to figure out. There was no link to Podcasts Connect anywhere in this guide. I couldn’t find it period. I thought I made missed a step somewhere and kept going back and forth trying to figure out where this mysterious spot was. I didn’t know if it was a setting in iTunes or WordPress or what. I searched in the tools section of both and found absolutely nothing on it. I eventually gave up and went to Google. A simple search of the exact phrase brought me to the first search result of Podcasts Connect – Apple. This link brought me to a login screen; requesting my Apple ID and password. After logging in, it brought me to a page labeled iTunes Connect- My Podcasts. There was only one action to take and it was a ” + “ button. After hitting that, I had to put my RSS feed in again. After gaining access, it brought me to, more or less, a dashboard page for my Life Of Chenz Podcast. It was basically a user page or profile for the podcast. There is a status icon alerting you if you’re podcast is active or not, last time it was refreshed, and a couple other features to keep up on settings. In order for Apple to approve my podcast, it had to review my credentials and I needed to be meeting all requirements. The only thing I seemed to of gotten hung up on was the size of my podcast image. They have very, VERY stringent expectations on this feature. Now, I do not own photoshop any longer after upgrading to an iMac from my MacBook. The laptop had photoshop however, the laptop is verging on it’s last leg; hence the upgrade. I had to scour the internet for a web based photo editor that allowed me to manipulate image size/resolution details. After a LOT of tinkering and trial & error, it finally worked. My podcast approval request was submitted to Apple. I believe I heard back within a day or 2 that it was APPROVED! From that point on, you could see my page in iTunes and listen to anything I uploaded just like all of the favorites I have like Burr and Rogan. Luckily, this whole submission process, as stated before, was a one time thing. From here on out all I had to do was create a new blog post, tag it to my podcasts category, upload the audio file, and publish that blog post. When you refreshed the Life Of Chenz iTunes page, the new episode was there and ready to enjoy. The feeling of accomplishment was absolutely exhilarating. The live podcast can be found on iTunes here .