How we produce the PC Pro podcast


How we produce the PC Pro podcast

A few people have asked me, over the years, about the processes and equipment we use to record and produce our podcast. If you’re curious, here’s how it happens.

Every Wednesday, we go into the recording studio at around noon. Prior to this, we’ll have agreed on the news stories we plan to discuss, and who’s going to introduce which topic; but within this basic framework the conversation is allowed to flow quite freely.

The discussion is recorded “as live” using four Shure SM58 microphones connected to an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra interface. I record and edit in PreSonus Studio One: arguably it’s overkill for this job, but it’s the DAW I use at home, so using it here as well makes life easy for me.

Each microphone track has a noise gate plugin applied, to minimise background noise and crosstalk. To avoid clipping off the very starts of words, I give the gate a half-second lookahead. (This isn’t actually something the Studio One Gate plugin supports natively, so I achieve it by making a second copy of each track, applying a -500ms time offset and using this as a sidechain input for the gate.)

I use a limiter on the whole mix just to ensure the signal doesn’t clip if (for example) two people laugh loudly at once. Hey, it happens. We don’t use any other compression or normalising plugins, though: later on we’ll simply run the whole mix through the excellent Levelator tool, which does a very satisfactory job of automatically evening out everyone’s volume levels.

We don’t do a great deal of editing either: if somebody sneezes or stumbles over a phrase, I might edit that out, because it’s just distracting. But for the most part what goes up is the full conversation, complete with misspoken words and bizarre tangents. The one place we do normally make an edit is at the start of the Hot Hardware section, as it can often take a few moments for the hardware in question to be brought out – plus, of course, people sometimes people need a minute to swap seats, if the person presenting the hardware hasn’t been involved in the news discussion.

Exporting and publishing the episode

We export the mix as a WAV file. Studio One does support exporting directly in MP3 format, but it only supports CBR encoding, and only at a limited selection of bitrates, which doesn’t really suit our needs. Exporting as a WAV also allows us to run the file through Levelator, as mentioned above.

Once Levelator has worked its volume-normalising magic, we use the free LAME encoder to encode the podcast as an MP3: after much experimentation we’ve determined that VBR encoding at quality level 6 gives an appropriate balance of audio quality and file size. We tag the resultant MP3 file using the free MP3Tag utility: the episode description goes in the “Unsynced Lyrics” field, for some Apple-related reason I’ve never really understood.

Finally, we upload the finished product to our FTP server. Now we simply have to alert iTunes to the existence of the new episode, which is done by updating the RSS feed for our podcast. We do this by adding a post to a dedicated WordPress blog; the free Blubrry PowerPress plugin ensures the RSS data includes all the tags iTunes expects.

Technology being what it is, I generally like to open up iTunes and make sure I can really see and download the episode before exhaling. Assuming everything works, I then shout across to Barry or Nicole to let them know that the podcast is up, and that it’s time for them to update the podcast page on the PC Pro website.

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