I’m not an audio engineer, and yet I recently started a podcast. Because of good software, and podcasting in general, I don’t need to be an audio expert — which I think is pretty remarkable.
Every once in a while I remind myself that good software should, at its core, help us to do something better. A word processor makes it easier than a typewriter to type and manipulate words; texting enables us to communicate quickly and conveniently (even if the content is trivial).
Sometimes, though, software lets us do complex tasks we’d otherwise have no ability to do.
Case in point: I’m not an audio engineer. Not even close. And yet, I recently started a podcast (PhotoActive, covering photography and the Apple ecosystem). Because of good software, and podcasting in general, I don’t need to be an audio expert — which I think is pretty remarkable. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed I could host and record a radio show.
Let’s back up briefly to talk about podcasting in general, which is essentially radio you can listen to on your own schedule. It’s a medium that has been on the verge of “breaking out” for over 10 years, even though millions of people currently listen to podcasts on nearly every conceivable topic. A big reason for that growth is that it’s not difficult for people to record themselves and create their own podcasts.
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I’m using podcasts as the nail to hang this topic on, but it applies to any sort of audio recording you may need to do: creating instructional material at work, narrating school projects, recording calls and conversations over Skype, and so on.
The main component is a way to record yourself. I use the popular Blue Yeti USB microphone ($129), but a headset with a microphone, your phone’s earbuds, or the built-in microphone on your Mac will work.
Next, how to record and save the audio? Here’s where software comes in. At a basic level, you can open the QuickTime Player application, choose File > New Audio Recording, and capture the audio from the source you choose.
When the basic level doesn’t suffice, look to Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack ($60). This Mac app can record audio from any source on your Mac: applications, devices such as microphones and system audio. It does all this in a modular interface that is sensible even to non-engineer me.
For my podcast, I’ve created a saved session that records the audio from the Yeti mic and saves it to an audio file. Each of those components is an icon in the session window that leads to more options, such as the many recording formats (like AIFF, Apple Lossless and others). I also added a Peak/RMS module in-between those two so I can keep an eye on the audio levels during recording.
These modules, called blocks, go together like puzzle pieces: You drag them into place intuitively to connect the audio stream. Other items can be inserted, such as live effects that remove noise or a 10-band equalizer for fine-tuning the sound.
That modularity is where Audio Hijack can really shine, as I learned when I had a guest on the podcast. Normally, my co-host Kirk McElhearn and I each record our own audio, and then an editor cuts the episode together; that ensures that our audio doesn’t sound like one of us is calling in over a phone line or often-spotty Skype connection. When we do a guest interview, we ask the guest to record their audio separately, too, when possible.
In this case, however, the guest was in my home office, which required setting up two microphones. Again, I’m not an audio engineer, nor do I have any equipment other than my mic and my MacBook Pro. I do have a headset with a microphone, though, which is what the guest used.
In Audio Hijack, I was able to still record our audio separately by specifying two inputs in the same session. The result was three audio files: my audio, the guest’s audio and one file that contained both of ours together as a backup. It gave us exactly the source material we needed, without a lot of fuss.
Rogue Amoeba creates all sorts of great audio tools. Although I don’t edit our episodes, I use the company’s Fission ($29) app for reviewing files and making edits such as removing dead air. Also noteworthy is Farrago ($49), a soundboard app that plays prerecorded snippets of sound or music, which is especially great for live recording or events. Rogue Amoeba also sells an “Ultimate Podcast Bundle” of Audio Hijack, Fission and Farrago for $175. You can also test-drive them all for free.
I never envisioned myself as a radio host, and yet here I am every week creating episodes using technology that allows me to focus on the content, not the engineering.
Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More Practical Mac columns at st.news/practicalmac.