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Calling all podcasters

Are you a current or aspiring podcaster? Want to help the FDLP community out? Then read on.

ALA Annual Conference is just around the bend, so I thought I’d discuss my experience with audio recording at the Spring Depository Library Conference. Hopefully my experience will encourage others to record the public sessions that they attend at ALA. Recordings of conferences helps out those who are unable to attend and is an excellant way to share information, provide training and extend the participation of the entire community. AND it’s just plain fun.

The most important part of podcasting is to get good sound (duh!). That means getting as close as possible to the speaker, or sitting close to the sound system if you’re in a large conference room. I recorded the plenary session with Bruce James and Mike Wash using the internal microphone on my Mac G4 powerbook. For spoken word, this was just fine. For the GODORT session, I used a USB external microphone (called a MicFlex). This was great for recording the speakers sitting at the table, but didn’t pick up the audience questions very well. However, I don’t think any microphone would’ve picked up the discussion in the audience because we were in a large, cavernous room. Obviously, to get perfect recording levels at a conference situation, you’ll need to record right off the sound system. This is not at all necessary to record speakers at a conference. I would say my internal mic worked just fine for what I needed. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the GODORT session and the Plenary Session w/ Bruce James and Mike Wash.

The other important component for recording is software. I used Audacity, an open-source, free(!), cross-platform, surprisingly robust audio recording and editing software. Audacity wouldn’t recognize my external mic for some reason, so I also used AudioX to record the GODORT session. AudioX unfortunately cost me $20 because the trial version would only allow me to record for 30 seconds. However, it recognized my external mic so I bought it in a pinch to be sure I had backup recording software if I ran into problems with Audacity.

Both were easy to use. I recorded in AIFF format and converted to MP3 using good old ITunes. I imported the AIFF file into ITunes and then had the ability to convert; pretty sweet. AIFF is an uncompressed file format and MP3 is compressed. What that means is that converting to MP3 shrunk my file size down to 1/11 of the original size. See Wikipedia for a more indepth look at audio file formats or data compression.

I also tested out Peak which a recording engineer friend of mine had on his mac. Peak is an amazingly powerful audio editing tool, but also costly. For my needs, audacity was the way to go. It allowed me to record, cut out sections where nobody was speaking, lower the sound during clapping etc.

Once I had my files compressed and cleaned up, I uploaded them to the Internet archive. This is a must, especially if you don’t have a hosting service. Audio files are quite large and the archive has the capacity — and more importantly the will — to preserve audio files. If you’ve got space on a server, then you may want to look into BitTorrent, a P2P system which allows users to share and exchange large files (i.e., audio files!). I just came across CommonBits, a BitTorrent site for progressive media. If FGI starts to get alot of audio files, I’ll probably look into CommonBits and create a channel of FGI audio files for quick and easy downloading of future conference recordings.

Here are some tips from my first time podcasting adventure:

  • Record in mono instead of stereo. This will cut your file size in half, which is always a plus. there’s just no need to have stereo for spoken word.
  • Lower the project recording rate! The default for Audacity is 44100Hz. That’s CD quality sound rate and overkill for spoken word — which I found out only after I had finished recording! Lowering the recording rate will shrink the file size as well. I went to 22050Hz, but you could probably go down to 16000Hz if you’re really worried about file size.
  • Break the session up. I just turned the software on and let it run for 3 hours. This was a small slip of a mistake because the file size got to be HUGE (almost 2 gigs!)! If you have 4 people on the bill, record each as a separate file. The other thing you can do is set markers within each sound file so you’ll know where one speaker ends and another begins. That helps when editing later.
  • Last but not least: ASK FOR PERMISSION! This is not only common courtesy, but could be legally warranted. At an open session where a government official is speaking, it’s not to my understanding illegal, as speeches by government officials fall into the public domain. However, be respectful and ask the speaker if s/he minds if you record. Make sure you tell the speaker that you’re not doing it for money but to share information with those that could not make it to the event.

As I said, this was my first foray into audio recording. If you have tips or suggestions, know of other software, or if you want to record and need more help, let us know. I hope this little article makes you want to go out and record sessions at future conferences. I’ll thank you and your community will thank you!

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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