How To Set Your Gain for Beginners

Gain can be a very complicated topic, so in this article, I will try to make it as simple as possible.

1. What is gain?

Simply put, gain is how much you are amplifying (or increasing the level) or your microphones output signal. This is necessary because microphone's output signals are very quiet, and you need to get this signal to a level that you are able to work with in post production. 

2. Factors that impact gain requirements.

I receive the question "What's the best gain to use on this microphone/preamp", and to tell you the truth there is no absolute answer there. This is because there are multiple factors that impact how you set your gain.

  1. Loudness of the sound source: If you're recording someone whispering, the sound source will be quiet and you will need more gain. On the other hand, if you're recording a guitar amplifier with the volume set to 11, you will need significantly less gain.
     
  2. Distance between the sound source & the microphone: The farther away the sound source is from the microphone, the quieter the audio that is being picked up. Therefore, if you are 6 inches away from a microphone, you'll need less gain than you would if you were 10 feet away.
     
  3. Sensitivity of the microphone: Sensitivity of a microphone tells you how loud the output signal of this mic is. Dynamic & Ribbon mics typically have a quieter signal when compared to condenser microphones. So if you're using a dynamic, you'll need a higher gain than you would if you were using a condenser.

3. What level should you record at?

I've heard many people say "Record so you're hitting -18dB on your meter", others have said "Record at -10dB" and others say "Record at -6dB". Regardless of what level you choose, when this is being said, it means you are recording so your peaks (the loudest parts of your recording) hit -6dB, -10dB, or -18dB. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 9.11.19 PM.png

The reasoning behind this is to allow for headroom. Headroom is nothing more than the difference between the loudest part of your recording and 0dB, which is where your recording will begin to clip. 

For example: if I am recording spoken word, and I set my preamp gain so I'm hitting -10dB at my loudest, then my voice can unexpectedly get 10dB louder before I begin clipping/distorting, ultimately ruining the recording. 

It ultimately comes down to how dynamic the sound source you're recording is. If it is a sine wave that does not change volume, you can probably set your preamp to record around -1dB or -2dB. But if you're recording an expressive singer that goes from soft singing to screaming in a single take, this can vary drastically in loudness, so you may want to set your preamp so you're hitting -10dB or even -18dB.

4. How does gain affect your sound?

There are many schools of thoughts, and arguments to be had regarding coloration of preamp on your recordings, but we're going to avoid those in this article and focus on the more noticeable impact on your recording.

  1. Setting your gain too high: When you set your gain too high (i.e. so you're hitting -1dB on your meter), this does not allow for any wiggle room. You have to remain consistent in your levels, and if you get excited and begin to speak loudly, your signal will exceed 0dB and clip or distort.

    Once you have recorded something and it contains clipping, there is nothing that can be done to clean up that recording. You're stuck with it. So I would always suggest you err on the side of caution and record slightly quieter than you think you need.
     
  2. Setting your gain too low: This issue seems to be less pervasive online, but if you set your gain too low and you're using a subpar preamp with a high noise floor you risk losing, or mixing your signal in the noise floor.

    What this means is that if your preamp has a noise floor of -50dB, and you're recording so you're peaks are hitting -30dB, you're going to run into some issues. This is caused because in post, you're going to have to boost this recording by ~30dB. This means that your noise floor is no longer -50dB, but it's been boosted so it will be -20dB. So just remember, when you're boosting your recording in post, you're not just boosting the recorded sound source, you're also boosting the noise that's introduced by your preamp.

Conclusion

I think that should give you a basic framework to work off when you're setting up your preamp/interface before recording a podcast or youtube video. Until next time, may your recordings have no clipping, a low noise floor, and contain good content. Good luck.

 

 

 

TCCC: Podcast Advice from Tucson Comic Con

During our Panel  (Left to Right):  Zach, Micah, Bandrew, & Logan

During our Panel
(Left to Right): Zach, Micah, Bandrew, & Logan

As you can probably tell by the coverage over the last few days, Tucson Comic Con happened this past weekend. At this convention Logan & I did our first Podcast Panel. The panelists from left to right are: Zack from Culture Popped Podcast, Micah from The Paper Robots Podcast, Myself, & Logan from The Paper Robots Podcast.

We initially had planned on this panel being nothing more than a discussion of what a podcast is, why we do it, the statistics behind podcast growth and where we see it going. However, after about 10 minutes of background, Logan (who was moderating) decided to go to the crowd for questions. We had a few very active audience members who asked great questions. I will go ahead and share that information with you now. I do want to note that these are all opinion based answers and are not absolutes. 

What's a Good Starting Setup?

There are lots of different setups you can start with, and it's hard to summarize into a single starting set up. First, I will say: you can use your iPhone or iPad to podcast. Just use the voice memos app and record. If you want slightly better sound, here's what I would recommend for a single person format:

You could have more than one person talking into this microphone, but you will lose some audio fidelity as each person will need to be further away from the microphone, allowing more ambient noise to be picked up. For software, you can use Audacity, a free music recording/editing software. It will not provide the most powerful production options, but it will be a good starting point.

Do You Set a Recording Schedule

Hanging out With the Awesome Panel Staff after our Panel. (Left to Right):  Bandrew, OB, Jenny, Logan

Hanging out With the Awesome Panel Staff after our Panel.(Left to Right): Bandrew, OB, Jenny, Logan

For a single person podcast, like mine, it is very easy to schedule a podcast, which is what I do. I know that each week, I have videos to produce, articles to write, and a podcast to record, so I set aside a few hours each week to research and prepare the episode. Then I make sure that on Tuesday (a day before release) that I have about an hour to record the episode. I take another hour or two editing & doing post work on the episode, and finally about 30 minutes to an hour writing the supplemental article/show notes, and scheduling the release in Libsyn.

For a multi-person podcast, setting a weekly schedule for recording & editing gets a lot more difficult. Logan & Micah can attest to this. The way to compensate for the difficulty of scheduling multiple people is to create a back log of episodes. Prior to launching your podcast, record a few extra episodes so you have an episode ready if you have a week where not everyone can record. Or if you have an easy week where everyone can record multiple times, do that, create a back log and store those episodes. The key here is to not miss an episode. Once you miss a single episode, it gets a lot easier to justify skipping future episodes. Don't give yourself an excuse to give up.

How Do You Stick Out Among the Noise?

The first thing that is necessary as a podcaster is to develop and understand your voice. When there are 100 people talking about the same thing, you need to let your listener know who you are as a person and why they should care what you have to say. This is very difficult to do. The way that I did this was by recording a LOT before releasing anything. You shouldn't be afraid to talk into a microphone and record, listen back to it, and critique yourself. Ask yourself, "Do I want to listen to this?", "Is this interesting?" "Would I tell my friends to listen to this?". This technique will not only get you comfortable on microphone, but it can also help find your voice.

Backing up a bit, when you want to talk about something that has been discussed 100 times, you need to come up with a unique take on the topic. Rather than talking about how Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie, maybe try something along the lines of "Parallels between Star Wars and the Ballets of Stravinsky", or something like that. Mix your knowledge, and bring your own personality and views to the podcast.

When it comes down to it, the most important thing is having your own voice and to not just repeat what everyone else says. However, don't let this discourage you from getting started, it is sometimes cool to hear a podcast from the beginning and witness them grow as an artist as they become more comfortable and confident on the microphone.


I hope the answers to these questions help you get your podcast started. Thanks to Logan for moderating the panel, and the other awesome panelists, Zack & Micah. Also thanks to the Audience who asked such AMAZING questions, and finally thanks to Tucson Comic Con for Having us. Hope to see y'all next year. 

Podcastage Studio Gear

Hey Friends. I am back with another podcastage video on a day that I do not have a scheduled release. This is due to a request from one of my favorite viewers Cobra Gaming, requesting that I do a quick studio tour. I figured that this is as good a time as any to list all my gear for you and tell you why I chose the gear. This is in no way a comprehensive list of the gear that I use, but it is the main gear that I use.


Shure SM7B: http://amzn.to/1INp7J8
If you go into 100 broadcast studios, chances are you will see about 33 of these guys. There will also be 33 PR40's and 33 RE20's. Okay I made up that stat, but it sounds right. I personally prefer this mic because I just like the tonality of it, and it fit more in my budget when I was shopping around. They also used this model mic to record Thriller. My one issue with this mic is the super low output. In order to resolve that I had to invest in the cloudlifter CL-1 to get the best sounding audio that I could. 

Rode PSA1: http://amzn.to/1POxABd
Okay, I will admit that $100 is a bit much to pay for a mic stand, but let me justify the cost for you. First off. It is so incredibly convenient to have a mic available at all times, without having a bulky kick drum mic stand sitting on your desk. I also had a cheaper studio boom arm that kept breaking and dropping my mics off my desk. If you're going to be using expensive mics, you don't want a mic stand that could very easily break your $400 mic. If you have the room, a kick drum mic stand will run you $30 and work well though. Just don't get a cheap Studio Boom Arm that imitates this style.

Cloudlifter CL-1: http://amzn.to/1hZ4zIw
The cloudlifter CL-1 is nothing more than a mic activator. What that does is, it takes your interface's/preamps phantom power and boosts the signal by about +25db, meaning you don't have to drive your preamp which really helps eliminate a lot of preamp noise. If you are using a mic like the Shure SM7b, which is INFAMOUSLY quiet, this is a great investment, although it does make the overall cost of the mic about $500. So at that point, you can consider the RE20 or PR40.

Zoom H6: http://amzn.to/1POxBF8
This is hands down one of the best purchases I have made. I ditched my Tascam US-322 for this thing for a bunch of reasons. First off, the noise floor on the H6 is lower, meaning I can crank the gain higher before getting excessive preamp noise. Secondly, this thing can record 4 XLR mics to individual tracks for later manipulation. With the purchase of a $80 adapter, you can boost that to XLR mics to separate tracks! It also is portable, has effects, has great sounding, interchangable mic capsules, oh and did I mention it can function as a freaking audio interface! This can function as a 6 input audio interface on your computer! 

Logitech C920: http://amzn.to/1NPPdCW
This is where I didn't invest in the best gear. For what I'm doing (testing out microphones on youtube), I don't need to invest in a $700 DSLR camera for amazing depth of field. That's not what's important in my videos. What's important is the audio. Making sure that I am capturing the mics sound as naturally as possible so people who hear the test video know what they're getting. This webcam does shoot decent video, but I have very little customization, and the image seems to be washed out quite a bit. But as I said. It works perfectly for what I'm doing.

Giantsquid Lav Mic: http://amzn.to/1INpkf9
I never thought I would use a Lavalier mic that much until I started making videos. If you are making youtube videos, I am telling you right now, audio is the most important thing (almost all the time). If you are talking at all or trying to convey information through talking, you need good audio and this thing allowed me to do that. It's a 1/8" lav mic with a meter long cable (I think) and I just hook it directly into my Gopro while I'm Vlogging outdoors, or if I am recording a Vlog inside, I record this directly into my H2n, and sync the audio in Final Cut. Without this, my audio would sound like garbage, and you wouldn't be able to hear what I was saying half the time. You can get cheaper lav mics too. All I am saying is if you are making videos, invest in a way to make sure your audio is AMAZING!

GoPro Hero 3: http://amzn.to/1INpnaP
Why is the GoPro so popular? Because it is easy to use. You turn it on, hit record, and you are good to go. That's why I love this thing as a Vlogging camera. It is so easy to use, it has pretty dang good battery life, I can hook up an external mic (with an adapter), and the footage is high quality. All my geeks rising vlogs that are outdoors are shot with this and I am incredibly happy with how it has functioned so far with the Giant Squid lav mic. One thing I am thinking of doing to improve the footage is invest in a steady cam adapter for this, or a cheap gimble so the footage is not as shaky.


Alright everyone, that will do it for todays unplanned discussion of studio gear and what I'm using. I hope you found it helpful. If you have any questions about any of the gear mentioned above, let me know and I will answer it as best as I can. 

5 Tips For Great Podcast Quality

Hey everyone. This month I have an amazing guest blogger. His name is Remi Lavictoire, and he is the host of The Sci-Fi Movie Podcast, and he's absolutely brilliant. Before we get into it, I will request that you do yourself a favor. Once you finish soaking up the wealth of knowledge that Remi has provided us, go check out his podcast and follow him on twitter. Alright, enjoy.


Radio and Television have the benefit of decades to establish standards and best practices for sound quality.  Many Podcasters have limited experience with audio standards.  Fortunately, we have more tools and knowledge than ever, and with a bit of effort, we can make great audio that will keep our listener coming back for more.

Here are 5 tips to make your Podcast sound great!

1. Subscribe and listen to your own Podcast

I’m always amazed when Podcasters don’t listen to their finished Podcast. What’s wrong? Don’t have time? Don’t like the sound of your voice? Too bad, suck it up. You’re a broadcaster now, and that means you need to know exactly what your audio sounds like when it reaches your audience.

Once I’ve published an episode of The Sci-Fi Movie Podcast, I check the Apple Podcast App and PocketCasts to ensure it download correctly. Then I listen to the whole show on the little iPhone speaker. Why? To make sure the file plays properly, the levels are good, the show notes look ok, and I uploaded the correct file (Yep, I’ve uploaded the wrong file before)

2. Listen to your Podcast like a Listener

One of the advantages to Podcasting is the ability to listen anywhere. In the car, at the Gym, on a run, at work, on a plane, wherever you go, your favorite Podcasts come with you.

Since you’re a regular listener of your own Podcast, try listening in different environments that will be popular with your audience. Typically, we listen on a computer, smart phone or tablet, or in the car. We can also use Earbuds, Headphones or the car stereo.  Each of these environments can highlight your audio quality or point out the flaws.

Here’s an example: I listen to a Podcast based on a TV show, and when I listen on my iPhone speaker, it sounds fine.  If I play that same Podcast through my BlueTooth car deck, the woofers pick up and amplify the plosives (Popping P’s) from one of the hosts.  I had to turn off the episode in the car because one host was popping p’s constantly.

So, how do you know your listener enjoys your Podcast?  You’ll ask them, and that’s our next tip.

3. Ask your listener what they want

Back in my Radio days, one of the points my Program Directors kept drilling into my head was, ‘Think about your listener’.  And now I can hear you say, ‘But wait, this is my Podcast and I can do anything I want, right?

Sure you can, to a certain extent.

The key here is finding a balance between the fun you have creating a podcast, and considering your audience. I love talking about Sci-Fi Movies, and I’m blessed to have Ian Fults and Jonathan as my co-hosts.  We can sit around for hours talking about movies, but does our listener want 2 hour podcasts?  Our polling says no. Good thing too, because editing a 2 hour Podcast would be brutal.  We asked our audience how long a show they would like, and they indicated 45 minutes to an hour would be very nice.  Now, we structure our Podcast to run about an hour.  That means we don’t always include all the content we have, but we get in the best stuff we in that time frame.

Think about the questions you’d like to ask your audience and conduct regular polls to get feedback. Facebook and Google Plus both have polling functions, so you can ask quick questions like:

  • Do you listen on an iPhone or Android

  • How many episodes of The Sci-Fi Movie Podcast would you like to hear per week?

  • What is the ideal podcast length?

    • 30 Minutes

    • 60 Minutes

    • 90 Minutes

    • 12 Hours

Drop a quick question into your Social Media once every few weeks and make it something your listener can answer in under 10 seconds.  That’ll give you valuable insight into what your listener likes about your show and would like more of in the future.

Invite your listener to email you with feedback and ideas for future Podcast. These are your listeners, take their feedback, thank them, and make them part of your Podcast.

4. Make your audio the best it can be

Now, more than ever, broadcasting is becoming more democratized.  Podcasting allows everyone to become a broadcaster, and that’s a great thing. Couple this with affordable microphones, mixers and audio editing software, just about anyone can start a podcast.

Photo By: Sophie Gamand

Photo By: Sophie Gamand

And, that’s where things get a bit tricky.  With all these options, we find a myriad of styles and techniques for creating audio, some quite good, and some that would scare the hair off a dog.

How do you make Podcast audio that will keep your listener coming back every show?

Record the best quality audio you can with the equipment you have.

Every Podcaster has their own constraints, and it’s usually time or money. If you’re constrained by money, you might have to choose less expensive gear. But that’s ok, you can make great sounding audio on a limited budget. The key here is to do the best you can with what you’ve got.  If the room you’re recording in has a lot of echo and sound reflection, try putting up a blanket around your microphone, or record in a closet. Your wardrobe will serve double duty and a sound dampener.

We always record in .wav format, and I mix the multi track with .wav until the very last step where I export  to a 96Kbps mono file.  Yep, working with .wav is a bit cumbersome, especially when moving them around with Dropbox, but it’s the highest quality, and there’s no loss of information in the file, like there would be in an .mp3 file.  

Got a persistent hum in your audio?  Record 10 seconds of room noise (no talking) and use Audacity or Adobe Audition to remove that hum from the entire track.

There’s a school of thought that says ‘take it out in post’, and while that can work, removing room noise can also remove voice frequencies too, and that’s not great.

I prefer to create the conditions where I can get the best quality audio and rely less on post processing.  I’ll close the windows, draw the curtains, unplug the fridge (and I diligently set my phone to remind me in 2 hours to plug it back in!)

When we’re recording The Sci-Fi Movie Podcast, I have a reminder in the show notes to ‘ask Jonathan about the cat’.  See, his cat wears a bell, and in earlier episodes, you can hear an occasion bell tinkling in the background.  It drove me nuts because I didn’t notice it until I was editing the mixed down file, so I didn’t know whose audio track the bell was on.  

But, I tangent….

And my last tip…

5. Learn from the Podcasting Professionals

Even though Podcasting is a relatively new medium, there are seasoned experts who can help you learn valuable skills and much of the content is free.  On Facebook, you’ll find several Podcasting groups where you can ask questions of the more experienced Podcasters, Cliff Ravenscraft and Pat Flynn have free Podcasting tutorials on YouTube with excellent information.  Also, seek out Dave Jackson from The School Of Podcasting and Daniel J. Lewis at The Audacity To Podcast. They’re super smart, love to help others and can save you hours of struggle.  

Happy Podcasting!


Remi Lavictoire is the Creator/Co-Host of The Sci-Fi Movie Podcast, which you can find at:

http://sci-fimoviepodcast.com/
Twitter: @RemiLavictoire

5 Steps to Start Your Podcast

If you are reading this, that means that you want to start a podcast. This blog post will help you learn the steps to making that happen. 

1. Have an idea
This may seem like an idiotic step to include, but it is the most important step. You need to have an idea of what you're going to discuss on your podcast before you start recording. This is important because if you're not passionate about what you're talking about, your potential listener will move on to a different podcast that is exciting and engaging. You have to remember that there are probably hundreds of podcasts covering a similar topic to you, so you need to hook them in by making them excited about your topics. 

Photo by:  Dmitri von Klein

Photo by: Dmitri von Klein

2. Get the gear
Many people will go look at podcast studios online like Earwolf, or Marc Maron's Garage, and see an SM7B, which is a $350 mic, and get discouraged. Let me tell you that you don't need to spend $350 on a mic to sound good. There are plenty of cheap alternatives. Here are a couple options:

Audio Technica AT-2020USB ($149)
Shure SM58 ($110 including cable)
Zoom iQ6 ($100)
Audio Technica AT-2500USB ($70)
- Blue Snowball ($43)
- Your iPhone ($0)

Another important aspect is your actual recording device. Rather than picking up a desktop audio interface, I recommend a portable recorder. This affords you the ability to just throw a recorder in your bag and go to record your podcast rather than having to spend an hour setting up a computer, and interface, and blah blah blah. There are 2 different recorders I will mention from my favorite portable recorder company.

Zoom h2n ($160)

If you're looking for simple, this is the way to go. An interface and a mic all in one. You can set this down in the middle of the table and record a table full of people. The coolest thing about this device is it's ability to record in 3 different polar patterns 90-degree X/Y, Mid-Side, or Surround. That means you don't need multiple microphones to pick up an entire room, this will do it all for you at only $160!

Here's an image of Chris Hardwick recording The Nerdist Podcast, using the Zoom h6 to record 3 Shure SM58's direct. Then he is using the Zoom h4n as an audio back up in case anything goes wrong with the h6    Photo from: WSJ.com

Here's an image of Chris Hardwick recording The Nerdist Podcast, using the Zoom h6 to record 3 Shure SM58's direct. Then he is using the Zoom h4n as an audio back up in case anything goes wrong with the h6

Photo from: WSJ.com

Zoom h6 ($400)

This device is what I currently use and it is one of the most useful pieces of audio equipment I have ever purchased. The reason I recommend this, is that it implements an interchangeable capsule feature that allows you to use an X/Y mic, MidSide Mic, Shotgun Mic, or the coolest one in my opinion, a 2 XLR expansion capsule. This means you can record up to 6 XLR inputs on individual channels allowing you to mix in your DAW later. Another AMAZING feature that made me ditch my desktop audio interface is that this thing can act as an audio interface so you can record directly into your DAW! To put it simply, this thing does everything you can ever need, and it sounds great! 

3. Hosting your podcast

There are plenty of options for hosting your podcast. When I first started a podcast, I bought a domain, and had to figure out how to develop an RSS feed and all that nonsense. For my current podcast, I found out about Libsyn. This service will cost you as low as $5/month and you can host your podcast there, and they develop the RSS feed for you. So this part is a no brainer. Sign up for Libsyn. Upload your first episode. And you're ready for the next step.

4. Submit to iTunes

Before you get to iTunes, make sure you have artwork (at least 1400px by 1400px). Also get the best art that you can with your budget. Pay someone if you have to because this is the first impression anyone will have of your podcast and it needs to catch their eyes! Now that you have your SUPER TIGHT artwork, grab the url for your rss feed (for example, mine is http://podcastage.libsyn.com/rss) and head to the iTunes store.

Step 1. Go to the podcast portion of the iTunes store.
Step 2. Select submit podcast
Step 3. Paste your RSS Feed
Step 4. Hit continue
Step 5. Wait for iTunes to approve it

This part can take a few days. When filling out all the information on Libsyn about your podcast, make sure you label everything correctly. Mainly, if you swear, mark it explicit. This will speed up the process for iTunes and minimize your chances of getting rejected.

5. Social networking your podcast

Don't forget to set up your twitter, facebook, youtube, and whatever sites you plan on using to promote your podcast. This is so you can share information with your listeners in between episodes. Don't forget to get them involved in your podcast (i.e. ask them to provide questions, for feedback, for reviews in iTunes, etc.).

That's all the steps to get your podcast up and running. A few additional pieces of advice. Don't be afraid of recording a bunch of practice episodes by yourself to get comfortable on the microphone. 

If you have any questions about the process, don't hesitate to leave a comment on here, and I will revise the article to include an answer to your question. Let's make this a living article that we can expand on and grow to help new podcasters get a better idea of what it takes to start a podcast.