The Working Experience Podcast: Getting the Audio Right

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

“Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” Abigail Adams.

Matty Kerr is co-creator and cohost with John Brancaccio of The Working Experience Podcast which can be found on iTunes, Spotify and wherever else you listen to your favorite podcasts. Find us also on Twitter, Linked In, Instagram and Facebook.

Technology annoys me. That is probably because I am somewhat scared of it which is because I don’t really understand it. I get frustrated very easily when I can’t get a program to work or when people use technical terms that I don’t understand. As soon as someone says, “Just download the app”, I tune out.

However, it is only because of developments in technology that we are even able to do something like a podcast; this would have been inconceivable twenty years ago.

And if I want to do The Working Experience Podcast, I have to learn to use the technology. I have to be willing to learn and grow. It’s that simple.

Since John and I live in different states, we decided to use Skype to record the podcast. I had never used Skype before but it proved very easy to download and use and it has been essential for interviewing guests since most of them live in other states, some in other countries. Again, without the technology this would have been impossible.

Conversations can be recorded on Skype and the quality is acceptable but we wanted to have a more professional sound, as much like a studio as we could replicate. This involved the purchasing of equipment and a fair amount of trial and error.

I purchased an H4n Pro Zoom Digital Recorder from Amazon for about $225. It is pretty easy to use its most basic function, which is to record my voice as we do the podcast. (Much like my phone and my laptop, it has many other functions that I don’t know how to use.) On his end, John uses the program Adobe Audition with a professional grade mic. He also records the podcast on Skype as a back up.

A very important lesson I have learned is to have back-up.

The reason for the two mics is that we need to record our voices on two separate tracks. We employ a guy named Tom to mix and edit the podcasts and post them to iTunes, Spotify and other platforms. (He also handles our social media, of which there is very little right now.) I don’t know the technical reasons behind it but it is much easier for him to mix the volume levels if they are on separate tracks and to create a smooth edit by synching the two tracks. If we are both on the same track, as we would be if we just used Skype, it makes the process very difficult.

It has been a learning curve; lots of trial and error.

Some issues were a pretty easy fix. For example, in the beginning, I didn’t wear headphones which was causing my voice to bleed over into John’s track which made the audio mixing difficult and affected the sound quality. So now I wear headphones.

The home office where John records has a tile floor with no carpeting and not much furniture that would absorb sound so his voice echoed and affected the audio quality. He first addressed the problem by purchasing a sound box to put around his microphone which worked but he had to practically stick his head into it to speak into the mic. So, he bought a different mic and started using the Adobe program and that has solved the problem.

I had to learn to hold my mic properly. In the beginning, I was holding it too close to my mouth which was causing my voice to become distorted. Other times, I would hold the mic too far away and my voice would be too low. So, I had to practice and find the sweet spot about half way between my mouth and the laptop, as well as set the volume on the mic to the best level so the audio would be comfortable for the listener. I also learned that I had to hold the mic at the proper angle so my voice was evenly balanced.

Lots to think about.

I then had to learn how to send my audio file to John which was a rather long and stressful learning curve for me.

The Zoom recorder uses an SD card and each podcast episode is saved as a different file. There is nowhere (I thought) to insert the card or a flash drive into my laptop andI I could not figure out how to get the file onto my computer. So I was literally putting the drive into a paper envelope and mailing it to John. This was pretty absurd and unsustainable because if it got lost in the mail the podcast episode was down the drain.

So I had to learn.

I went to Best Buy with my laptop and the SD card and asked them how I could get a file from it onto the computer and was directed to buy an adapter which cost about $10. The flash drive and SD card both fit into the adapter which fits into the laptop; genius.

I was directed to the file sharing program We Transfer by some people I know who run a recording studio and use it all the time to send music files. It was a little hard to get the hang of it at first but now it works like a charm. I insert the card into the flash drive and the flash drive into the adapter and plug the whole thing into my laptop. I go to We Transfer’s site, select the Plus (+) button, choose the file from the card, enter John’s email address and off it goes. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.

Ask questions, seek help; that is how you learn.

Recording and sending a guest’s audio file is a different process that I had to learn. I record the guest on Skype, which is pretty straightforward, but sending the audio file from Skype to John required me to stretch my tech capabilities. I figured out how to download the file but when I tried sending it through regular email but the file was too big. I tried using Air Drop and a couple of other methods but they didn’t work. Finally, rather by accident, I hit upon Mail Drop which works fine.

Try different avenues; if one thing doesn’t work try another. That is how you learn.

There are other, less significant things I have learned along the way to save time and money.

SD cards are about $20 each. I would fill up a card and go buy another one. After a while, I had a bunch of full cards laying around and realized I was probably wasting money; perhaps I could delete the files from the cards and use them again. I went on You Tube and found a video showing how to delete files from an SD card using an H4n Pro Zoom Digital Recorder. (FYI: there is also a video on You Tube that shows you how to change the time on a clock in a 2018 Subaru Outback.) Now I don’t have to keep wasting money on new SD cards.

The Zoom Recorder eats up batteries very quickly. In addition to having to spend time and money on new batteries, it was distracting to have to worry about the batteries running out during a podcast; I had to keep looking at the little indicator and on more than one occasion the podcast was interrupted by a battery change.

In a rare flash of brilliance I went on Amazon and found a power adapter for the Zoom Recorder for about $20. Now I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

“Learn” is the operative word.

I have used the word “learn” many times in this piece and that is really the operative word. The great thing for me is that I know I can learn to do things. Many of them, like using Mail Drop, probably seems very simple to some people but I they are triumphs for me. I had learned enough by then to apply the knowledge and figure it out. It makes me unafraid to try and learn to do other things.

But I have to work at it; I have to take the time to learn; I have to give myself the opportunities to learn and be open to the process.

There is no secret; it’s just hard work.