Practical Tips for Producing a Professional Podcast

by Jon on July 21st, 2011 - Comments (0)

As an experienced musician and occasional audio engineer, I was excited by the prospect of producing The Digital Life, a podcast on design and technology, which is sponsored by Involution Studios. Over nearly a year of production, we’ve learned a great deal about creating an online radio show. Every so often we get requests from friends of the show to describe how we go about generating the podcast. We’re more than happy to share our knowledge, so, we thought we’d pull back the curtain today and reveal a few of our production methods.

When it comes to audio production, as with any digital craft, there are a probably a million ways to get to a desired endpoint. However, these tips that follow have been learned in the trenches. So, while we certainly won’t have all the answers here, when it comes to producing a successful podcast, these techniques have been tested and refined. We’ve always been cognizant of the speed, cost effectiveness, and quality of the final product.

1. Get a great USB headset for your show participants
The old truism of garbage in, garbage out definitely holds sway in the realm of audio recording. It’s absolutely critical to get the best audio input you can. At The Digital Life, we like both the Sennheiser and Logitech headphones for digital quality. When purchasing a headset, you should seriously consider those priced above $50.

2. Use an all digital workflow
I’ve been a musician for over 21 years, and when I think of the thousands of dollars I spent on recording equipment over that time period (now packed away in hard cases, collecting dust, thank you very much) it depresses me to no end. The equivalent of maybe 10 grand worth of recording equipment purchased in 1996 is now available as free pre-loaded software when you buy a Mac laptop. That software package, of course, is GarageBand, which gives you the ability to record and mix multi-track audio.

Since The Digital Life podcast features guests from all over the planet, we record all of our sessions via Skype, which allows for multiple participants in a digital conference call. Skype is far from perfect, and there have been plenty of times where the connection has dropped or the software has introduced digital burps and other glitches. But, considering that in Boston we can bring together people as far away as New York, Palo Alto, and Helsinki in the same call, I have no complaints.

We use WireTap Studio to capture that Skype audio call as a high sample rate digital recording and immediately import it into GarageBand for editing.

3. Clean things up
I spend a good deal of time listening to the audio from the Skype session and edit out the awkward pauses, various background noises (like soda cans opening, and cars passing by), and all the ummms, ahhs, and other verbal placeholders that we all inevitably use in conversation. You’ll get a much smoother, more professional sounding podcast if you’re willing to make a few cuts here and there.

4. Don’t forget the music
We were lucky to have Ian Dorsch compose some fantastic music for our show segment intros. Never forget the emotional appeal of a musical piece to set the stage.

5. Master your audio and compress at the end
For the final touch, lately we’ve been using Peak Studio LE to master the audio and give it that hot, well produced sound. Without getting too much into the technical side, suffice it to say that mastering properly adjusts the EQ and brings the levels of the recording up to the loudness expected from a professional production. Lastly, we compress the podcast, creating an MP3 file for upload.

We’ve produced 35 episodes of The Digital Life so far, and are going strong. If you haven’t tuned in lately, we invite you to check it out and let us know what you think.

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Where are you, Edward Tufte?

by Jon on July 1st, 2011 - Comments (0)

On Tuesday, Involution Studios Creative Director, Juhan Sonin challenged infovis guru Edward Tufte to engage more fully in the discussion regarding our nation’s greatest problems, including education, energy, finance, and health, among others, during a segment on The Digital Life podcast.

Edward Tufte was appointed by President Obama on March 5, 2010 to serve on the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel as the board member tasked with clearly communicating to the American people how $787 billion dollars of Recovery Act funds is allocated and distributed. The was much celebrating at the announcement, in the national, business, and design press. So, nearly a year and a half after this illustrious appointment, what do we have?

The Recovery Independent Advisory Panel is responsible for Recovery.gov, and the site’s Recipient Reported Awards Map is indeed chock full of data regarding grants, loans, and contracts, mapped out on a state by state basis. But the interface is not in any way beautiful, elegant, or particularly usable, at least not in the way that you would expect from a Web site with Edward Tufte as its key infovis advisor. Which begs the question … what is the real public face of Tufte’s offering to the national dialogue, if it’s not, in fact, located at Recovery.gov?

A generation of designers has been highly influenced by Tufte’s contributions to the field of information visualization, and his books and seminars are near legendary. Tufte has proven, without a doubt, that he is the greatest curator, analyst, and critic that the field of information visualization has to offer. But, as a craftsman, there is no single game changing design that Edward Tufte can point to, that has influenced our world in a positive and significant way.

In the field of industrial design and consumer electronics, Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive will be remembered for a bevy of achievements, from the iMac to the iPhone to the iPad; Dieter Rams will be remembered for the T 1000 world receiver and innumerable products for Braun. In the field of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright is remembered for the Guggenheim and Fallingwater. However, in the field of infovis we have nothing that approaches this level of design power yet, despite the fact that we live in an age and in a nation hungry for it. If Tufte is to find his place among the greatest design minds of the century, he will need to produce this visual language to help us, as a nation, grapple with the significant issues before us.

One of Tufte’s great influencers is Charles Joseph Minard, whose graphical depiction of Napoleon’s March, illustrating the attrition of troops during the Russian campaign of 1812, Tufte refers to as probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn. The Recovery Act is deserving of visualization, if not as good as this example, than at least better than what we have now.

Sonin’s rant on The Digital Life was a challenge to one of his great design heroes to take up the gauntlet and help improve the state of understanding for Americans around our most pressing problems. We live in an era where we are deluged with data, but devoid of true comprehension: Good information visualization just might lend us just the clarity we need.

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The Digital Life Turns 30

by Jon on June 17th, 2011
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For the past 10 months, Involution Studios has been producing The Digital Life podcast on digital design and technology. We’re proud to say today that we’ve achieved a significant milestone: Episode 30. The Digital Life has now reached adulthood and is stretching its legs.

What makes the podcast so special, and the reason why I’m proud to be a […]

Check out our fresh Boston digs!

by Dirk on February 12th, 2011
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Involution Studios Boston is located in Arlington, MA on Mass. Ave., in what was formerly the city’s grand ballroom. When we took it over in late 2008 it was a pilates studio with wild green-and-blue paint and fixtures, along with mirrors lining the walls. To the discerning eye it was all potential.

Here is the evolution of our space over […]

The Digital Life – out of the nest!

by Dirk on January 12th, 2011
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Today we launched our new website for The Digital Life show – which is where you will find the latest episode, as well as all future episodes. Bookmark it:

www.thedigitalife.com

TDL – Episode 7

by Dirk on December 22nd, 2010
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Year-End Spectacular. Special guest Juhan Sonin. Bull Session and It’s News to Me.

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Links to topics mentioned in this podcast:

It’s News to Me
Mark Zuckerberg is Time Magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year
Mac app store announced
Twitter raises $200MM
About.me acquired by AOL
[…]

TDL – Episode 6

by Dirk on December 9th, 2010
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Social Game Design. Special guests Brenda Brathwaite and Soren Johnson. Bull Session and It’s News to Me.

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Links to topics mentioned in this podcast:

Opening Segment
Patriots vs. Jets game
Zynga
Dungeons & Dragons

It’s News to Me
Google Chrome OS
Google Nexus […]

TDL – Episode 5

by Dirk on November 23rd, 2010
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“Design Thinking”. Special guests Michael Dila and Peter Merholz. Face-Off and It’s News to Me.

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Links to topics mentioned in this podcast:

Opening Segment
Design Thinking

It’s News to Me
Facebook debuts Social Inbox
Rupert Murdoch developing a tablet-native newspaper
Samsung going big with Windows […]

TDL – Episode 4

by Dirk on November 10th, 2010
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Mobile and the Future of Computing. Special guests Jim Leftwich and Luke Wroblewski (LukeW). Bull Session and It’s News to Me.

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Links to topics mentioned in this podcast:

Opening Segment
Design Vision print piece

It’s News to Me
Google-Facebook imbroglio
Samsung a force in mobile computing
[…]

TDL – Episode 3

by Dirk on October 27th, 2010
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Reviews of the iPad, GoWear Fit and Dropbox. Special guest Juhan Sonin. Segments include: It’s News to Me, FTW/WTF, Live From…

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Links to topics mentioned in this podcast:

It’s News to Me
Apple to buy Sony?
Apple changes replacement discs out for flash drives
Google Street View […]

The Digital Life – Episode 2

by Dirk on October 14th, 2010
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This week’s theme is Games and Learning.

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Links to topics mentioned in this podcast:

Opening Segment
Involution Studios Boston
Rhode Island School of Design
Harmonix Music Systems

It’s News to Me
Windows Phone 7 Debuts
Google Tests Cars That Drive Themselves
[…]

The Digital Life – Episode 1

by Dirk on September 22nd, 2010
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We are proud to present our first – prototype! – episode of The Digital Life: adventures in design and technology.

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The purpose of the show is to provide insight into various topics and areas of interest pertaining to the bleeding edge of the industries behind digital technology. Leveraging our years inside […]