Software for the Beginner Podcaster – Part 1
In my last post about podcasting, I gave a solid overview of Podcast Equipment for the Beginner Podcaster, which included USB recording interfaces, microphones, mixing boards and headphones. In this post, I’ll be discussing the software to use, from recording your podcast, to mixing and mastering a final production audio file.
Your recording software is going to be the foundation of your podcast production and choosing a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is really going to be dependant on your recording computer, your comfortability in learning new software and ultimately the price tag associated with that software. At AboveTheAirwaves.com, all of our podcasts are pre-produced, recorded, and post-produced using Cakewalk Sonar on a Windows PC. Cakewalk Sonar is nice, because it supports a wide range of input devices and recording methods (ASIO, MME, etc), has support for most formats of plugins (DXi, VST, VSTi and ReWire) and ultimately is fairly easy to use, but with it’s $499 price tag it may be off-putting for the beginner podcaster who isn’t ready to jump in head-first. Likewise, with support being limited to computers running Microsoft Windows operating systems, anyone running a Mac will be looking elsewhere to accommodate their recording needs. Let’s take a look at a few alternative pieces of software and the features (or faults) they provide;
- Audacity – Price: Free
Availability: Mac, PC, Linux
Audacity is a free open-source digital audio editor and recording software application, available on Windows, OS X (Mac) and Linux operating systems. It’s been in active development for 16 years and has over 75 million downloads in it’s lifespan. The range of support that Audacity provides is fairly high, with only minor limitations. MP3 export is natively supported through the included FFmpeg library, and LADSPA, VST (32-bit) and Audio Unit (OS X) plugins are all supported. Where Audacity tends to falter is in the ease-of-use department, as the software itself is capable of doing pretty much anything audio related, it can become quite a daunting task to learn all of the ins-and-outs required to produce a professional quality recording.
Audacity can be downloaded for free from http://www.audacityteam.org
- GarageBand – Price: Free ($4.99)
GarageBand is the built-in audio recording application included with modern versions of OS X (Mac), or available from the App Store for $4.99 if you’re using a version of OS X that didn’t previously include it. It supports VST and Audio Unit plugins and offers a fairly simplistic user interface that makes recording a pretty straightforward task, however, the same ease-of-use that makes it appealing to a lot of people can also make it seem limiting to users that are a little more familiar with audio recording. Likewise, because GarageBand is developed by Apple for the OS X platform, it’s not very likely that we’ll see a Windows or Linux version show up in the future.
GarageBand can be purchased or installed from the App Store for $4.99
- PreSonus Studio One 3 Professional – Price: $295.82
Availability: Mac, PC
PreSonus Studio One is fairly new when it comes to recording software, with the first version having been released in 2009, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not just as good as any other entry on this list. Studio One was developed by KristalLabs Software, Ltd. in partnership with PreSonus and was spearheaded by Wolfgang Kundrus, who previously worked on both Cubase and Steinberg’s Nuendo software and Matthias Juwan, who is responsible for writing version 3 of the Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plug-in specification, so a pretty solid foundation of developers worked to establish a high level of quality from the start. Studio One focuses on maintaining a one-window approach to audio workstation software and incorporates a large amount of drag-and-drop functionality for ease-of-use, which can make for a fairly quick learning curve when it comes to inexperienced users. It supports ASIO, Windows Audio and Core Audio recording modes, as well as support for most types of third-party plug-ins. PreSonus also manufactures a good amount of decent-quality hardware that seamlessly integrates with Studio One, which can make your entire recording experience a little smoother.
You can purchase PreSonus Studio One 3 Professional from Amazon.com for $295.82.
- Avid ProTools 12 Professional – Price: $599.99
Availability: Mac, PC
ProTools is the industry standard for professional quality. Every other piece of software that exists in the world of DAW software is essentially just trying to emulate or duplicate ProTools in some way. That being said, with a $599.00 price tag, it’s a pretty big ticket purchase for a beginner and the price alone will prevent a lot of people from even considering it until they’ve got a few years of solid recording and post-production under their belt. As far as support goes, ProTools pretty much supports everything. I’ve yet to find a piece of hardware, or a plugin that didn’t work with ProTools. It’s fast, it’s flexible, it just makes things sound better and for all it’s capable of doing, it does an exceptional job of also being fairly easy to use. In addition to supporting VST, VSTi, DXi and ReWire plugins, ProTools also supports RTAS (Real-time Audio Suite) plugins, which are specifically designed for ProTools. Avid also purchased M-Audio a few years back, which means that M-Audio hardware is now almost entirely natively supported in ProTools, with some accelerations and cool integrated features that you may not get from other DAW software. All things considered though, with it’s high price tag, you may want to work your way up to ProTools.
You can purchase Avid ProTools 12 Professional from Amazon.com for $599.99
Plugins – Compression, Equalization, Reverb and Mastering
What are plugins and what do they do, you ask? Well, plugins essentially extend the functionality of your software by providing additional features that weren’t previously available, or by emulating hardware devices that would normally be fairly expensive or difficult to integrate into a home recording environment. There are literally hundreds of thousands of plugins available, most of which use the standard VST (Virtual Studio Technology) format that is compatible with the vast majority of DAW software, but choosing the right plugins to perform the right tasks can be tricky for a beginner. It helps to understand what it is you’re wanting a plugin to do before picking a plugin that is right for you, so I’m going to give you a very brief and simplified explanation of what you might be looking at when it comes to recording podcasts.
- Dynamics (Compression, Expansion, Gating, Limiting) –
The primary function of dynamics plugins are to limit or increase the output volume of an audio clip. Compressors use a bottom threshold to make quiet parts louder, and loud parts quieter, which gives the audio track a more balanced feel. Anything under the threshold is ignored and anything above the threshold is “compressed” to be equalized in volume. Expanders increase the volume of the specified frequency ranges, making them seem louder. Noise Gates are similar to compressors with the exception that they only work on the audio that registers under the specified threshold. Limiters prevent an audio signal from being louder than the specified threshold. With podcasts, a nice fast vocal compressor can be used to make the speaker seem louder, with more equalized presence, without distorting the signal. If there are multiple speakers, compressing their audio tracks together can make them all sound like they’re speaking near-enough to the same volume.
- Equalization –
Equalizers (or EQ) are used to increase or decrease certain frequencies in the recorded audio spectrum to change the overall sound of an audio track. The effects achieved by EQing can range from decreasing the amount of background noise or hum heard in a track, to increasing the presence and thickness of a recorded voice.
- Reverb (Delay and Echo) –
Reverb (delays and echos) are used to make a recorded audio track sound like it was recorded in a larger, or differently shaped room. When applied correctly, reverb can be used to help make two audio tracks, recorded in different buildings on different hardware, sound like they were recorded in the same room. Reverb can also help to remove subtle imperfections in vocal track, which can cause the resulting recording to sound smoother and more polished, similar to how everyone thinks they’re a good singer in the shower, because of the natural reverb caused from your voice bouncing off the fiberglass or tile in your bathroom.
Mastering is not actually a type of plugin itself, but a combination of multiple different types of plugins including, but not limited to; Equalization, Dynamics, Excitation, Imaging, Maximization, Dynamic Equalization and Post Equalization. The process of mastering is, to be incredibly basic and simplistic in my description, the process of making an audio recording sound the same (or similar enough) on all audio devices, while maintaining a maximum level of quality and frequency response. Mastering is the polish that can really make your recording shine, so long as your recording was worthy of being polished in the first place (a mastered piece of crap is still a piece of crap).
Now, as I stated before, there are literally hundreds of thousands of plugins available. So how do you choose? Well… I can’t tell you the plugins that are going to work best for you, or fit your production style the easiest, but I can recommend a bundle of plugins that I personally use and know from experience to be both flexible and powerful.
iZotope Ozone 7 – Essential Mastering Tools is a collection of plugins and preset configurations that provide extreme flexibility to achieve the results you want, while also being powerful enough to maximize the quality of your productions. You can glue a mix together, control dynamic range, and add rich character with the critically acclaimed music production tools in Ozone Advanced, including the new Vintage EQ, Vintage Compressor, and Vintage Tape modules added in version 7. Audition masters before rendering with the new Codec Preview and apply Ozone Advanced’s processing to mix busses, too, with individual plug-ins of all ten modules.
All ten plugin modules, bundled together in Ozone 7 would normally run you a few hundred dollars each, but you can get them all together for $249.99 when you purchase iZotope Ozone 7 on Amazon.com.
That’s all for this article, but keep an eye out for part 2 of the Software For the Beginner Podcaster where I’ll talk about web hosting, website software and other related tools you’ll need to start your life as an independent podcaster.