Ramblings of a podcast audio technician. Audio woes.. plus good news!

Released Monday, 26th August 2013
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Our gaming audio podcast called Beer and Battle started out as just an experiment but has turned out to have a larger audience than we ever anticipated.  Our Dungeons and Dragons game is comprised of 6 people sitting in a kitchen/entertainment room playing DND (or Pathfinder RPG) rolling dice, and drinking beer and Sailor Jerry rum. Close approaching 200,000 listens, I am starting to get more critical of our production…  It’s a tricky environment to record in, and I have constantly attempted to find a happy medium between keeping the technology out of the way, capturing the deep booming voice of our DM and the soft dialog whispered between players.  Add to this, the fact that I don’t have much spare dough to throw into it, and we have a bit of a tricky recording conditions.

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I’m an AV Tech by trade, a singer/songwriter for The Strand, and I am fortunate to have a small studio for home recording..  so our typical podcast recording setup aint too shabby.  All the audio is recording using two mics, one Large Diaphragm Tube mic next to the DM (Rode NTK) and one stereo condenser mic positioned off-axis above the gaming table (Rode NT4).  Our current dilemma when it comes to audio is excessive room boomy-ness (reverb) a noisy projector, squeaky chairs, ice machine, air conditioning, the obligatory loud crunchy food, drinking sounds..  well.. you get the idea, it’s a noisy environment.

So you say, hey Dave, just mic everyone with clip on lavaliere mics.  That would be a great for sound, but then…  we would be recording 6 channels of audio instead of 2, that’s a lot more to edit, store, and we’re either constantly swapping batteries for the 5 hour game, OR everyone is tethered by a cable… the drunker we get the bigger trip/fumble hazard those cables become.  Plus, I can’t afford the mics anyway.

Using Cubase as a recording software, I’ve done my best with compression, limiting, gating, eq, and audio editing to make the existing podcasts ‘acceptable’, but I know they could be better.  And while most of our listeners feel the audio is okay, some of our listeners have mentioned that the quality of the actual-play audio is sometimes a problem.

I have relatively good news to report on the matter… Recently we came up with a cheap way to improve the audio of the podcast, which is to move the entire location of our game to a room with better acoustic properties.  Honestly I don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier..  Actually, I do.  It’s because we utilize a projection system with a clever mirror in the existing room… and it requires we move a heavy table and chairs..  AND the current location is much closer to the the pizza and beer.

For projection we decided to improvise with our DM’s Pico (tiny) projection system that he cleverly rigged on a heavy lamp base.  Coupled with the existing microphones.  I’m glad to report the new room sounds a lot better…  It’s not pristine, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.  Now for the bad news, as I write this we are on Episode 9 but we are back logged and the changes won’t be heard until episode 27 or 28.   I think I’ll still demo the changes in an upcoming podcast intro, just to let the listeners know we’re working on making the audio better.

And I’m still looking to do more…   Even though the current room is much better, I’d really like to further deaden the room with more sound dampening.  (Auralex is expensive, and the dampening has to also look good for my wife’s sake.)  In a great sounding room I think the dialog would really shine.  Also I would like to experiment with different display solutions for our DM.  I think I might try a LCD panel laid flat on the table.  Or a better mounting solution for his Pico projector, which worked out well, and was considerably quiet.  Our current rig for the projector had a couple minor issues during the game.  The lamp base got in the way a little bit, and would also shake whenever anyone leaned on the table.  We’re thinking of a heavy grounded boom arm, or a projector mount suspended from the ceiling, like in the previous room  Of course, there are also those experimental interactive display tables.. but that’s probably unrealistic because of the cost.  If we had a few thousand to spend I’d also love to get two professional hyper-cardiod shotgun mics (Like they use in the movies) and mount them above the table in an XY pattern.  Ah money…    We are still considering a kickstarter to crowd source the funds, but working with what we have to see how good we can make it on the cheap first.

And thus the conclusions of a rambling podcast audio technician battling with the elements!

Summary?

1.) Make the environment sound as good as possible.
2.) Get some good microphones, and place them wisely.
3.) Compression and EQ are your friend.
4.) Have fun playing, and try not to let the technology interfere with the good times.

If you are interested in hearing the podcast goto iTunes and search for Beer and Battle, or click here.

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