Podcasting Church 101123

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.

Tips and Tricks

As you do anything, you start to develop ideas for making the experience better, faster, or more efficient. In my time in podcasting and editing, I’ve picked up a few tips, that I’d like to pass on.

Preparation

As I’m preparing for a podcast, I keep a scrap piece of paper available that I write ideas for shows on. I write down all the ideas that come to me. I don’t censor bad ideas or call them stupid. Bad ideas might lead to better ideas. Sometimes that’s a multistage process from bad idea to better to final idea.

I often look at my experiences through the lens of my podcast and church tech in general and think about what I’ve learned. I notice innovative ideas at church or in television, movies, etc. It could be that a similar thing would work in my area. I also like to consider principles that I’ve taken for granted and how they can be reused for a podcast topic.

If I were doing a topical show, I’d use the blogs and other online news sources that I read for material. I’d never repeat verbatim, but use their ideas as jumping off places. I’d save links to similar topics in Delicious.com or on ReadItLater.com. When it came time for an episode, I’d whittle down from there.

I used to write my script verbatim. My first podcast was a speech I’d delivered earlier (with little departure from the script). After listening to less scripted shows, I decided that an outline might be enough. I create these from my possible topic list and write notes to myself for where I want to go.

Recording

What and how you record matters. If there’s any chance you’ll be editing, you should record in a format that’s better for editing. For audio that’s either wav or aiff.

For video, you can record to tape (like minidv or hdv) or to a video server like a tivo or similar piece. Let me suggest that these are more delivery or even intermediate formats, not formats that are great of editing. While I have taken hours and hours to edit video before, I’ve gotten to where I can mark in and out points on our Saturday message and transcode the full hour or so in about 30 minutes. If I had to capture from tape first or transcode from mpeg2, that wouldn’t be possible. Our services are recorded directly to a computer using Final Cut Pro’s capture ability. When service ends, I can stop the recoding and start my work.

Just as there are devices that record to final formats for video, there are devices that record directly to mp3 for audio. If you’ll be editing, you want to avoid these if possible. Every time it’s saved, you lose quality, so try and use an uncompressed format. Mp3 is better for delivery. When I started, I bought an iRiver mp3 player that also recorded. I found that I had a problem. In order to edit my shows, I needed to convert to wav. Once I was done, I needed to convert to mp3. Finally, I down converted to a smaller format for distribution. This meant that I’d recompressed three times. If I’d recorded in wav and compressed into my final distribution format once, that would have been a much better for the final product.

There are a variety of digital audio recorders that record directly to wav format on swappable media. Some of these manufacturers include: Zoom, Edirol, Tascam, and Sony. If you are on a limited budget, but want to get one of these, look for them used or you can look into a Zoom H1 which presently retails for only about $100. For more professional options, add a little money to the budget and the options open up.

I always save the unedited source file for reediting or backup purposes. This makes for larger amounts of storage, but also guarantees that I can remaster if I get better at a technique or want to put out a cd quality version.

As mentioned earlier, I prefer to do my shows live to tape. I tried to create cd’s with the media I needed when I was first starting to do this, but an older computer with iTunes on it or even an iPod works better for this purpose. I’m blessed that I have an audio server from a company I used to work for that can record wav files and play back audio quickly and easily using an LCD touch screen. I can start the recording, and then play files as needed just by touching a button on the LCD. Because it has a fan, the server actually lives outside the “studio” in my bedroom and control it remotely.

I built my own microphone arm using an old desk lamp and some plumbing pieces. I also created my own pop screen using an embroidery hoop and some nylon pantyhose. These pieces (that together cost me a total about $10, not counting the labor and brainstorming time) help me place and get better audio.

If you only have two people (each on separate microphones), why not record each on a single channel–one on the left and one on the right? This way you can combine in post if you don’t need to make any editing changes. If someone talks over the other or you need to cut stuff out, it’s simple. This works particularly well for interviews or Skype calls.

At this point, I should talk about Skype. One of the core technologies that came at just the right time is Skype. Since all Skype to Skype calls are free, and can include video either one on one or in groups, it’s the de facto standard for recording podcasts with participants in different locations.

The limitation of this is finding an adequate location without too much background audio and good internet. The advantage is that you can get quite good audio and video for virtually nothing. You don’t have to have multimillion dollar equipment and an engineer on staff to send audio and video live.

So how should you set up Skype recording? Ideally, you’d handle audio the way that a tv studio would. The person gets “mix minus”. What’s that? The mix, but not themselves because they would hear some delay. From experience I know that hearing what you’re saying back at you with some delay is annoying. A good way to do this is with the sub outs on a mixing board. Instead of sending your mic to them, send the mix, except for them. If you have a smaller board and only have one person you’re interacting with, put yourself and the mix of whatever else you have on one side (the left for example) and send that to the recorder and back to them. Record the right with them by themselves. You listen to both in your headphones. That way you both hear what you need to hear of the show. You listen to yourself before it gets to them, so there’s no echo.

Video can be fairly simple to record depending on what you’re doing. As a side note, I should tell you that SD video is very different from computer video. If you’re recording the video of Skype, you might need to run the video through what’s called a scan converter which will take the video and convert it down to something similar to what you get in SD. HD video still requires some conversion, although a component signal is similar to a RGBHV analog signal put out by a computer. This conversion can often also be done by an output of your video card. Sometimes the features of these video cards are limited, so choose wisely.

During recording, one thing I’ve seen is a shot with the host and an LCD monitor with the video call full screen. In a single shot, you can see both of the people without switching. If there’s a video switcher in use, you can cut between the “two-shot” of the host and the monitor and a close-up of just the screen when the other person is talking. This can be quite engaging. It can also be done while editing by cutting between recorded feeds. The downside to this it two separate feeds with twice the hard drive space and time to edit this. The upside is cost.

Apple has added an additional option to this with the quite common iPhone 4 and it’s Facetime feature. Instead of sending a person with a camera and a laptop to a live event, you can send someone with their iPhone and have them do a live remote. The current downside is needing to be on wi-fi to make the call, but quite a few locations have that or you can use something like a Mifi to generate your own wifi over cellular and have much more flexibility. For capture, use the same setup as Skype, but make it an Intel Mac running Snow Leopard or greater. Send that out the secondary display and you have something that can be scan converted for SD video or scaled for HD.

If someone doesn’t have a computer, internet, or the ability to set up and use Skype or Facetime, you can use a feature of Skype or Google voice to record the audio fairly easily. Both of these services (and others I’m sure) allow you to make calls out to regular telephones. Recording for audio becomes a simple case of recording what’s coming from your computer. If you have a video show, do a “phoner”. Simply make a full screen graphic with a map showing where they are and a phone (for a generic guest or someone that you don’t have a picture of) or a picture of them. That provides something to look at while they’re talking.

If you have an adequate audience, you can either do a call-in show or a webinar. You can take questions using something like TalkShoe or Twalkin. You can also use a free conference call service to let everyone call in and you take questions or make comments. Make sure you do a good mix minus for this. I tried it once, but my audio was so bad that I never released the show.

If you’re doing a training on a piece of worship software, you could do either do a screen cast, capturing what’s on your monitor as you describe it or use something like GoToMeeting or GoToTraining if you have a live audience spread over the internet.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div. has been a tech volunteer with Lexington City Church (formerly Quest Community Church) in Lexington, KY since 2000 and is the founder of TrinityDigitalMedia.com, llc. He became part of the technology in ministry team when his church’s attendance was around 200 in one Sunday service and has witnessed it’s growth to a peak of 5,200 average weekly attendance in one Saturday service, four Sunday services in one online and two physical campuses. He literally wrote the book on podcasting in churches, twitter in churches, & servant-hearted volunteering, as well as writing various articles for publications like “Church Production” and “Technologies for Worship” magazines. He has thousands of members of his ProPresenter Users' Group on Facebook and thousands of subscribers to his YouTube channel.