Offsite Podcasting

I’ve written before about how difficult it can be to record podcasts remotely, something that has continued to be a struggle throughout the pandemic. For the Unusually Pink Podcast, the irritation of recording remotely was enough to make both Brandi and myself decide it was best to throw in the towel after a year. Mark and I have managed to continue doing well with the Same Shade Of Difference podcast, though significantly more work is involved in getting an episode together when done remotely. I say that like I have anything to do with it, but it’s really all Mark going through the work of recording our podcast episodes that we do over Discord, editing the files, adding in the music, and everything else. It’s substantially more effort, and at the end of the day we still don’t end up with as clean and natural of a product as we would while recording in person; latency means we still periodically try to talk over one another even as we endeavor to avoid exactly that with video calls.

What we’ve been experimenting with lately, though, are offsite recordings. It gives us a similar experience to the onsite recordings we used to do from our old podcast studio but in random locations. We first actually gave this a shot at Dead Lizard Brewing Company in Orlando when we were there for the Podfest Expo, AKA the last thing we did before the pandemic ground everything to a halt here. That was a surprisingly good experience, and you might be surprised at how infrequently even the loudest background noise comes through to the recording.

With how cool the experience was at Dead Lizard, Mark and I have been trying to basically emulate that experience now from places that allow us to sit outdoors, away from everyone else. We’re racing against time a bit as the weather continues to get colder, but it’s mostly been a great experience thus far. We first recorded at the West Sixth Farm for the “How We Work in the COVID-19 Era” episode. The Farm is a terrific location, with a covered pavilion area that has picnic tables, accessible WiFi, and outdoor power we can use. Barley the farm dog came to hang out with us for a little while, and it’s a very difficult view to top while recording.

The one downside of this setup is that, with things being relatively out in the open, we do end up at the mercy of the wind. We attempted to record a second Same Shade Of Difference episode there maybe about a month ago, but we had to scrap the idea because the windscreens for our microphones couldn’t quite keep up with the wind that would have caused a constant disruption to the episode.

More recently, we recorded at Idlewild Park in northern Kentucky. This was also a cool experience where we were able to take a quick look around, find a pavilion with no one else at it, and post up to record without having to worry about being too close to anyone. We were fairly close to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, but even that sound barely came through the microphones.

That episode isn’t live yet, but look for it soon over at the Same Shade Of Difference website or your podcast source of choice.

As with anything, there are caveats to offsite recording. While the West Sixth Farm is an insanely good location due to this, things like electricity and Internet access aren’t guaranteed when you’re trying to stay away from everyone else. While at Idlewild Park, we just leaned on the batteries for our gear and used the hotspots from our phones and tablets for connectivity. The pavilions at both locations were clutch for the possibility of inclement weather. For both locations, either Mark or myself had to travel at least a bit to get there, so having backups of pretty much everything is helpful. Spare batteries, memory cards, headphones, etc. is useful to save yourself from a scrapped recording session. I say this as if I provide any of it, but it’s really all Mark who has both everything you need and backups of everything you need in his bag at all times. I give him a lot of grief over how heavy his backpack is, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t saved me more than a few times.

On the whole, I would highly recommend anyone struggling with remote podcast recording over the Internet try meeting up at an out of the way place to record in person while being outdoors and socially distant, weather permitting. The elephant in the room for this topic, of course, is how you record the episode since dragging something like the RODECaster Pro out there isn’t feasible, even if it’s technically possible since the device will run off of D batteries. The recordings in Orlando and at the Farm were done with Mark’s Zoom H4n Pro, and while that device did a terrific job of recording, it still left a lot to be desired with regard to the amount of edit work that was required afterward. Without any built-in soundboard someone (AKA Mark) would have to go in and actually edit our recording to insert things like our intro music. To alleviate this, Mark recently got the new PodTrak P4. I won’t share any thoughts on that here, though, as that’s the topic of a future podcast episode! Stay tuned to the Same Shade Of Difference if you’re interested in our take on that particular device.

The Dumpster Fire Of Remote Podcasting

As we mentioned in our last episode, we’ve switched to recording our podcast episodes remotely due to the fact that there’s currently a global pandemic happening. It’s been a big change considering that every other episode of both this podcast and the Same Shade of Difference podcast have been recorded in person.

Switching to a remote recording setup has been trying since, to be completely honest, most of the services for remote podcasting are horrible. They might be good services if you want to do some pretty hefty editing and audio engineering work; if you want just a means to do a recording and get a blended .wav or .mp3 file, though, things are surprisingly difficult.

SquadCast

The first service we tried was actually one that I tested with Craft Brew Geek for a recording of the Same Shade of Difference podcast. We gave SquadCast a try since we actually went to their booth at Podfest. The big claim to face for SquadCast is that it provides you with both audio and video. At the time of this writing it won’t record the video feed, but it honestly can’t be overstated how beneficial it is to see the people you’re recording with. Being able to see body language and facial expressions does a lot for helping the conversation proceed more smoothly and to prevent everyone from accidentally talking over one another.

Unfortunately, the execution of SquadCast left quite a bit to be desired. The first issue we had with SquadCast is that, when everything is said and done, it provides a .wav file for each participant. You have to piece the files together on your own, which is not the simple, streamlined experience we had been hoping for. It gets worse, though, because we discovered that any time someone switches their audio input (e.g. if you have a less technically inclined guest who keeps having connectivity problems with their Bluetooth microphone), it completely stops the recording for everyone. So we ended up having 3 .wav files for each of the 4 participants of our recording session. That’s 12 .wav files of all variable lengths that we would’ve needed to painstakingly put together.

If having that many files feels ridiculous, apparently whoever does the frontend development for SquadCast agrees; their Dashboard that gives access to the recordings wouldn’t even properly render all 12 files for Mark to download them. He actually had to use his browser’s function to zoom out so that the UI would properly render access to all of the files. Ick!

Zencastr

After such a terrible experience with SquadCast, Brandi and I decided we weren’t even going to bother with attempting to use it for the Unusually Pink Podcast. Instead, we decided to give Zencastr a shot. Zencastr is a fairly popular option, and it’s also currently making its service completely free while everyone is stuck at home due to COVID-19. Big kudos to them for that!

Unlike SquadCast, Zencastr is focused on the audio only; you don’t get a video feed. However, what you do get is the same, janky mess of individual .wav files for each participant. To not repeat the mistakes Mark and I made, Brandi and I just attempted a couple of quick, test-drive recordings with Zencastr so we didn’t record an entire episode that we ended up scrapping a la SquadCast. I’m 100% willing to own responsibility for doing something incorrectly, but Brandi and I also ended up with multiple files from Zencastr. Not only were there individual .wav files for each of us, but Brandi’s recording randomly had two .wav files, and the duration of her two files combined was still less than the duration of my single .wav file.

Once again, we may have been able to splice them together, but that’s not the workflow we want; we’ve been spoiled by having the RODECaster Pro spit out a single, combined .wav file that we can do any edits on.

Anchor

I’ve seen lots of chatter about Anchor being the most drop-dead simple option for podcast recording, so I figured I’d spend a little time digging into its options. Unfortunately, it seems to fall into the same mobile-first trap as Google WiFi where all other functionality is severely limited. For example, operating out of the web app for Anchor only gives you the option to record a solo episode; you can’t seem to loop in any other audio feeds.

The Anchor mobile app, however, does allow you to record with multiple people at the same time. We strongly wanted to avoid operating from mobile, though, because both Brandi and I have at least decent-ish USB microphones we wanted to use without trying to go through dongle-hell to connect them to a phone or tablet.

Anchor’s other oddity is that it seems to operate under the assumption that it will be your podcast hosting platform. We would essentially need to take the recording for our episode and have it published to Anchor; only instead of the Anchor RSS feed being dispersed to all of the big podcast platforms, we’d then need to download a local copy of the recording from Anchor in order to edit and re-upload to our actual host.

Ringr

The last service Brandi and I attempted was Ringr. To be honest, the service seemed more than a little sketch initially. The web app was listed as being a “beta” with the more established option being the mobile apps. Brandi and I quickly glanced at their mobile apps in our respective app stores only to discover that neither the iOS or Android apps had been updated in over a year. Regardless, we did a quick test with the Ringr desktop app and, amazingly, had decent luck (other than a minor, non-Ringr specific caveat that I’ll mention at the end.) The two of us were able to do a recording in Ringr and get a plethora of recording options after the fact. We could simply download an .mp3 file that had both of our audio feeds combined together. If we wanted a lossless option and had something to handle the format (GarageBand won’t), we could also download a FLAC file with the audio from each of us combined. Or, if we actually wanted what the other services offered, we could download raw .wav files with an individual file for each input.

Suffice to say, we were happy enough to snag the .mp3 that had both audio feeds spliced together and move on. Ringr seems to operate by recording at each end, and then once the recording is stopped the web app will upload the audio from each endpoint (you have to wait for it to do this prior to closing the browser window for your recording session) and then splice it together. Additionally, it seems to do some post-processing on the audio files. For example, during our initial recording tests Brandi noted that she could actually hear white noise from my end due to my microphone picking up the sound of my refridgerator kicking on. In the finished .mp3, though, the white noise was nowhere to be found.

Ringr is far from perfect, though, Like most options, it doesn’t provide any video. Brandi and I had to be careful to avoid speaking over one another… and we still struggled with it. While our first episode recorded with Ringr seemed fine, in the second episode Brandi was randomly disconnected from the call. While Ringr gives you options to reconnect to a disconnected call, it never actually works. The few times we ran into this scenario, Brandi and I would end up in separate instances of the same call, without any ability to hear one another. So we’d need to schedule a brand new call and start over again. In the instance where she got disconnected near the end of an episode, I just tried to do the outro on my own once I realized what was happening and we were able to salvage the situation. It’s extremely janky, though, and would’ve been much more problematic if it happened around the halfway point in our recording session instead of at the end.

While that’s a significant problem, Ringr has still been the best option for us by far. If you’re struggling to record your podcast remotely during quarantine, our recommendation would be to check out Ringr for the easiest experience.

macOS And Firefox Caveat

We did run into a caveat for any web-based services; as of the time of this writing there seems to be an issue when using a Blue Snowball USB microphone as your audio input with Firefox in macOS. When I initially tried using SquadCast with Mark, my microphone sounded like absolute trash; I sounded like a robot transmitting my audio over an extremely static-filled connection from an OG Soviet submarine. After switching from Firefox to Chrome, though, the issues went away. Brandi saw the same behavior when joining Ringr calls through Firefox. As soon as I asked her to switch to a different browser, though, everything was fine. While I personally try to avoid using Chrome whenever possible in favor of Firefox or Safari, in this instance the safest bet is to use Chrome for any recording just because it seems to be the best supported option.

Unusually Pink Podcast Links

As we mentioned in our last episode, we recently got our podcast all over the Internet so you can listen to it regardless of which service(s) you happen to prefer.

Our host for the podcast is Podbean. The posts on the podcast page for each episode will always link to our Unusually Pink Podcast profile there. (Related: we are crushing it on the alliteration front.) We figured most people wouldn’t be listening to it directly from there, though. So if you happen to use any of the following services, feel free to give the podcast a follow and stay on top of the latest episodes. Posts from the website for new episodes, of course, will also be posted to our Twitter and Facebook profiles.

Why does Google have two? Great question.