Monday, July 27, 2020

Adventures in Podcasting: Technical Difficulties

We record a minimum of three segments every week on The Printed Panel Podcast. We preview what is coming out the next Wednesday. We review the comic books that came out the past Wednesday. We also do a bit called Comic Books on a Budget where Garin and I choose what comics each of us would buy if we had a budget of $20. That means we record for about an hour and a half.

We also try to come up with specials. Since March we have had a Continuity special for DC every week up until this one. We recorded a few Marvel continuity specials as well. That pushed our recording to between two and a half and three and a half hours a week. 

To date there has only been on significant segment of the show where we had a technical glitch cause a loss of content. Typing that sentence makes me cringe. I feel like I just put out into the universe a challenge. Anyway, our data loss came from human error. Garin and I went to record a segment and talked for 20 minutes without every hitting the record button. I think he and I both know that those lost minutes had magic that we couldn't recapture. I don't even remember what we were talking about only that we were having a really great conversation before one of us realized we weren't capturing any of it. 

We got more vigilant after that goof for a while. Occasionally we make a mistake. I think we are both paranoid about it, but when we decided to go from audio only recording to video recording I put some thought into my choice of camera based on also recording high definition audio that could be used in the event of an audio recorder failure regardless of its source. 

We use a Tascam DR-05 to capture audio. It has strong battery life on two double a batteries. It runs about 10 to 12 hours on average. When we first started recording I swapped batteries out when the recorded showed a single bar (it has three which feels a little imprecise, but works for all intents and purposes) on the battery indicator. This week is the first time I pushed my luck too far. I actually ran the little recorder out of juice. 
We finished Comic Books on a Budget which is a Video only recording. More on that in a minute. We ran through our Previews episode and launched into Reviews. A few minutes into the video Garin notices that the Tascam has a dead battery indicator showing. We didn't even stop the show. The Zoom Q2N 4K which I chose for video has great quality audio. There are a couple of draw backs to this little camera, but sound quality is not one of them. 

Imagine my surprise when the Zoom died on us as well. Let me take a moment to explain why this is surprising. The Zoom Q2N 4K will run of 2 AA batteries just like the Tascam DR-05. On a fresh set of batteries you can get about an hour with of recording at 4k resolution. We do not record at 4k for two reasons. First, I don't think anyone needs to see us in that ultra high definition. Secondly, the file sizes for 4k recording are massive. Even at 1080p with 60fps a 12 minute segment is around 8 Gigabytes. When we record an hour long review or deep dive we end up with files that take significant time to copy, edit, and upload. I spend 45 minutes copying over this weeks review, 10 minutes editing, 55 minutes encoding the video, and about 45 minutes uploading the much smaller mp4 to YouTube. 

Since the battery life on the Zoom Q2N 4k leaves something to be desired Zoom does sell a battery pack accessory. I figured it would be much easier to run the camera from either a plug or an external battery. For half the cost of the battery accessory I got a high capacity power pack charger and a 10 foot long bright red USB cable. Even on a heavy week of recording the Zoom only drains the power pack with it's awesome digital display about 3%. I love the Kamashi. I have two of them. This means I can power darn near any of my devices (short of my surface or laptop) multiple times on the go if need be. I have never had that need be. 

I can actually power the Zoom and the Tascam both from the Kamashi. I don't normally tag the Tascam in. I may or may not change that going forward. Imagine my surprise when 22 minutes and 8 seconds into the review episode the Zoom just powered down with the battery pack still on and showing a good charge. Knowing I had already lost our audio I admit I was frustrated. 

I got the Zoom back up and running and reset all the cables. We recorded another 28 minutes. This technical difficulty didn't really hurt us. I intentionally left the footage in when I cut the video. I think of our YouTube channel as a little bit of a behind the scenes of the podcast in addition to being it's own thing. I was able to neatly extract the audio from the video file with my shiny new Video editing software Wondershare Filmora 9. 
This wasn't the feature I bought the software for, but it does so many things well. I am genuinely impressed that it didn't take me longer to recover from the failure. I also have been thinking about how to prevent this in the future. Do I get a second audio recorder? Do I get a second video recorder? Do I buy a couple of quality mics or headsets and hook them to my tablet or laptop while we record? 

One of the advantages of the set up I have built is that it is compact and easily portable. I don't require external power. Wifi is really only required if we are doing a virtual interview and even then we have the option of using our cellphones or a cellular connected tablet. How do I build redundancy without being silly?

The answer is actually pretty simple and it is a solution I mostly already have on hand. A few months back I bought myself a Go Pro Hero 8 Black. I love action cameras. They suffer from the same problem as the Zoom Q2N 4K: Short Battery Life. I am not going to record 3 hours on my Go Pro without external power. 

We had an episode with a technical glitch that the GoPro saved us from. If you go up and take a look at the Zoom you will notice it has a round dial on the side. This is the volume. I like the feel of actually turning up the volume. What I don't like is how easy it is to unintentionally roll this down. I didn't check our volume this week and our videos are a little quiet. It isn't a fatal flaw, but I hate silly little screw ups like that. 

The week when we had the sound failure on the Zoom we recorded our first clip. Not thinking I reached over the camera to turn it off rather than walk around the counter to stop it. When I did I zeroed out the volume. We recorded three more segments. All of them were beautiful and completely silent. I nearly had a fit when I got home to edit and had zero sound. 

My editing skills were not up to the task of adding the audio track from the Tascam to the Zoom video. They still aren't, but I learn more every time I have time to play in the software. Luckily I had "tried out" my GoPro Hero 8 Black during the session. I can start and stop it from an app on my phone. I can (thanks to an aftermarket mod) run it from the Kamashi Power pack at the same time I am powering the Zoom. The GoPro was literally my Hero (insert rimshot) that week... with a few problems. 

The GoPro records short clips with an odd maximum length. If I remember correctly it is 11 minutes and 48 seconds. If anyone out there knows how to change that into a single file let me know. I hadn't given in to purchase a good video editing software at that point, but I managed to cobble the clips together and get us uploaded. 

The second problem was sound. It wasn't awful by any means, but I take pride in my professional level sound quality. I have a face for radio and a voice to match. Garin is prettier and sounds better. Neither of us are going to be asked to give up our day jobs in favor of narrating professionally anytime soon, but we aren't painful to listen to. 

Ok. I admit I have a hang up. In my head I sound like Barry White. When I hear my voice recorded it is pure Kermit the Frog. I also have to effect my laugh a bit. If I forget myself and let loose with the real full force thing it is set to kill and not stun. Calling it robust is underselling it. I am not insecure about any of this. It is more self aware. 

Still, I want my listeners to hear it when Garin or I get wound up and I let loose my mega death ray laugh. The Tascam does this AMAZINGLY well. The Zoom, by virtue of a little more distance between me and the device during recording, is even more impressive. The GoPro sound was a bit lackluster. Even though it saved my bacon once, I decided I wouldn't set up two cameras at each recording. 

I have changed my mind after these most recent glitches. Two video sources and three total audio sources just feels safer. I also could capture different angles if I chose to do so. I even made an investment today in fixing the GoPro's audio recording quality. The Hero 8 Black has a media Mod that claims to work as a high quality shotgun mic. It was worth $80 to me to give it a a try. 

Gosh that makes me start thinking about the money I have put into this podcast which is currently earning us a big whopping nothing! I don't know if that is depressing or kind of awesome. As long as we are having fun and creating something worthwhile I am going to side with awesome. Pay attention to the video I upload to YouTube next week and see if you can figure out which device I am using. 


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December 2nd Comic Books on a Budget