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How to Podcast

So, CB Wilkins and I have been podcasting for a few years with What’s a Podcast.  Occasionally, after listening to it, other folks ask me how precisely one produces a podcast.  When CB and I decided to try to podcast, we had a certain idea but we didn’t know what a podcast should be.  So, we titled it What’s a Podcast and decided to move on.  That being said, I’ve learned a lot.

Step 1.  Decide What Your Show Should Be

Decide what you want your podcast to be about and what to call it.  If you have thousands of dollars to support yourself already and have the time and brains to do fantastic journalism, you can create a podcast like Serial, This American Life or Radiolab.  Marc Maron has mastered the art of  interview.  There’s countless roundtable discussion podcasts.  What should yours be?  Do you want to just discuss current events?  Should your podcast have a local focus?  Perhaps you just want to present audio of your local event like we are able to do with Tell Me More.

You need to figure out a specific sort of content.  Bear in mind, if you decide to do a podcast about the adventures of antique glass bottle collecting, you might have a very narrow audience.  At the same time, if you just djscuss current events, there’s a ton of people who already do similar podcasts, how will yours stand out?

What’s a Podcast, in my mind, is part Opie and Anthony and part WTF Podcast with Marc Maron.  We do interview but also break each other’s balls.  To our detriment, we came up with what is probably the least Google-friendly podcast title possible.  The only worse titles for our podcast would have been Bing, Webcrawler or Lycos.

Step 2.  Purchase Equipment

This can be as costly or cheap as you want, but you ARE going to have to drop a certain amount of coin to get it done.  As technology progresses, people are in a position to produce audio with incredibly high production values for increasingly lower prices.  What’s a Podcast uses the Alesis MultiMix 4 USB, a four-channel desktop mixer with a USB digital audio interface built in.  I lucked out and found it in a pawn shop for about 39 dollars.

Into this mixer we use cheap mics that run around 20 dollars apiece from guitar center.  I believe the brand is Digital Reference.  They have enough low-end to give our voices a pleasant tone with enough mid-end to keep our voices clear and not muddy.  The mixer only accepts two inputs via xlr, thus if a third or fourth mic are necessary we use a splitter to add more mics to each channel.

Additionally we use mic stands (holding a mic produces a lot of noise  you wouldn’t think gets picked up but does) and I use a spit screen because I have a tendency to speak very loudly and thus the power of the air from my P’s an B’s (plosive sounds) cause spikes in the audio that are very hard to listen to and edit out.

This is not the only way to do it.  Many podcasters instead use portable audio recorders.  Zoom has produced a very compact and efficient unit called the H4 that allows its owner to have 2 compact microphones that allow for stereo recording and the addition of up to two other microphones via xlr input.  The quality is high, the space small, and file size is limited to the size of your SD cards.

One podcaster I know uses a barebones setup of a single usb mic.

Additionally you could buy 6 top quality condenser mics in your acoustically perfect studio into an 8 channel USB mixer with phantom power for every channel, run each mic through a compressor, run it on a mac with Pro Tools installed and use an H4 as a back up just in case your computer crashes… but then again you’re reading the beginner’s guide… you’re probably not going to do that.

Step 3.  Record

What’s a Podcast uses Audacity, but again it is not the only way. When recording, introduce yourself, introduce the show.  Produce your content.  Really, do what works.  But really, big things here:

1.  No dead air unless it’s for dramatic effect like Radiolab does.  That’s why it’s good to have two people on.

2.  Don’t talk over each other all the time.  Admittedly harder to do on a solo podcast.

3.  Have a plan.  Stick with it, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it so you can see where conversation wanders.  You can always fix it in post.

4.  Know when to end it.

Step 4.  Editing

Again, our podcast is edited in Audacity Depending on your desired production value, you may want to play lead in music or an introduction or something like a radio show would call a sweeper.  Or you may not.  You may want to cut out bits of audio that your guest wouldn’t want heard in a public forum such as a podcast.  A lot of that is personal choice. In the beginning of our podcast, we would record for 2 hours and cut it down to one.

For me, I like to play a pre-recorded introduction and then get right to it.  Beyond that, I do practice a few tricks to get my podcast sounding slightly better.

1.  Normalization.  This takes away your peaks without distorting the sound quality too much.

2.  Compression.  This makes some of the quieter sounds easier to hear and reduces the harshness of some of the louder sounds.  Hard to get a feel for.  If you do it wrong, any loud noise crashes to silence afterward and then fades back in or you get a loud background hum between a lull in conversation, but when you do it right, it makes the conversation seem to be at a steady constant volume.

3.  Leveling.  This is like compression but makes sure what should be quiet is quiet and what should be audible is.

4.  Equalization.  We usually drop a little tiny bit of the mid level tone and increase the bass so that the voices have a more pleasant richness.

5.  Normalize it again.  You did a lot of weird  stuff, this kind of helps makes sure it’s all balanced.

This takes a lot of practice to get where you’re comfortable with it, my process might not work for you or be necessary.

Step 5.  Posting it

You’ve created an awesome podcast!  You edited it for 3 hours and waited 30 minutes for a file to render… now what?  You might be thinking “well, Brendan, I get it on iTunes and then I’m famous!  To get your podcast to iTunes (which you will want to do.  iTunes allows users to subscribe to your podcast… it’s downloaded every single time automatically by your listeners as soon as you post it) you have to submit them an RSS feed.

If you’re really good with computers you can upload your podcast to your own hosting site, upload a few files, write the RSS coding and then submit that to iTunes.

But again, you’re reading this article, so you’re probably not.  Sites like Libsyn.com and Podbean take the work out of all this for you.  You simply upload your content to their site through their pre-made back end, submit your RSS feed link to iTunes and then you’re good to go.

 

Now share on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, at YOUR comedy shows, and hope to God someone listens.

Again, check out What’s a Podcast (@WhatsAPodcast on Twitter) at http://www.whatisapodcast.libsyn.com to see more of how we try to do what we do.

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Memorial Day Ribs-A Half Assed “How-To”

Today is memorial day.  A day intended for America to sit back and meditate on the fact that people have actually fought for our country and died for it.  Regardless of your feelings on America’s role as the world’s greatest war machine, the military industrial complex, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on that dedication at home with your loved ones.  And well, if you’re going to doing all that, you have the time to make something good to eat with all that meditation.

Ribs.  Ribs, in addition to surrounding vital organs with a bony protective cage, are delicious if cooked properly.  There are different kinds of ribs.  Today, we will be making baby back ribs.  If you go to a different foodie-friendlier, they can explain to you how the different ribs, spare, baby back, etc, are all the same ribs just cut from different sections. So, no, baby back ribs are not actually from a tiny pig, or from the thorax of an infant, no matter how ultra-metal that might sound.  Except for beef ribs.  Those actually come from cows rather than pigs.  Kudos to you if you figured that out.

So the first part is the easiest, actually procuring the ribs themselves.  Unless you choose to tackle a pig and proceed to slaughter and butcher it on the spot, they’re usually easily found at the grocery store.  Luckily when summer holidays start creeping up, they go on sale.

The ribs, still in packaging

So now that you’ve gotten your ribs, you want to give them a good rinse, as pork is often packaged in a saline solution that attempts to keep the pork moist and juicy when you cook it.  After rinsing it, depending on the size of the ribs you bought, you might need to trim it up to make sure it will actually fit on your grill.

Our ribs, trimmed up to fit on the grill

Now that our ribs are more managable, it’s time to put the rub on them.  In the picture above, the rub is the reddish-orangey-brown substance in the bowl.  Rubs are a way of adding a quick extra burst of flavor to your ribs and concentrating the flavor in the meat.  Again, more descriptive foodie blogs will give you exact details on how to make your rub simply superlative.  Yours truly simply prefers to mix paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, chipotle powder, cayenne powder, cumin, mustard, and salt and black pepper.  While some people have a very careful specific rub recipe, I simply like to mix ingredients together in what proportions seem correct to my eyeballs and stick my finger into it and taste it.  If it tastes like barbecue rub should taste, I stop.  Otherwise, I add what seems to be missing from the desired list of spicy savory and sweet flavors that are what make barbecue great.  I like to use other ingredients in my rub, but to impart these would ruin the age old tradition of barbecue secrecy… that is to say, if you knew everything I already put in my ribs, then why would you ever want to come over for dinner?

Rubbed Ribs

Ribs with rub applied, just begging to hang out in wood smoke

So now the ribs have received a thorough rub down in seasoning.  I like to leave the rub thick enough that after cooking, it becomes a crunchy flavorful crust upon the rib meat.  So now are ribs are ready, eager to spend some time in the delicious hickory sauna that will allow them to transform themselves from mere sections of a swine carcass that upset members of PETA into proper barbecue.

True, if you don’t have the ability to cook foods over flame or add smoke, then you could stop at this point and put them in your oven at 250 for 5 hours, and they’d be edible… sort of.  The key to making pork transcend its mere existence as simple sustenance and become the American art form that is barbecue is embodied in the phrase “low and slow is the way to go.”  This is because animals’ muscles are connected by tough stringy connective tissue.. membranes, ligaments, all made of collagen.  Collagen renders down at about 200 ish degrees and just melts away.  Cooking at low temperature allows the collagen to break down and soak into the meat.  Leaving it moist and ridiculous.  Add in fragrant wood smoke, and now you’re really talking.

Adding in just the right amount of smoke is where the real artistry occurs.  People have devised several different ways of adding just the right amount of wood smoke without over cooking the meat.  Today, I am using a Weber Kettle Gold 22.5″ model.  While it is not necessarily optimized for smoking like some other smokers, such as the Big Green Egg or Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, it is a great all around grill that allows both slow indirect cooking and high temperature direct heat grilling for things like steaks and hamburgers.

Fueling our Weber kettle today is Trader Joe’s charcoal briquettes.  While I have used Cowboy brand charcoal in the past, I’ve been a long time fan of all things Trader Joe’s and trust that I won’t be disappointed.  All I must do is load it in my chimney starter, a method of starting charcoal that requires no lighter fluid but gets the coals burning just as fast, and I’ll soon be grilling!

Chimney starter in the Weber Kettle

The coals take forever to get started, but soon enough, they’re ready and I can get my indirect cooking setup together.  Indirect cooking allows the cook to use the heat of the coals to cook their food in a way similar to that of an oven rather than putting the meat directly over flame, where it is more likely to burn.

Preparing for indirect grilling

As can be seen in the picture above, I am preparing to use the “Minion method” in which I put fuel in the grill before placing hot coals on top of them, so that as the coals burn down, the fire will simply move into the fuel below.  Also, I am using hickory, as it is a traditional smokewood that always goes well with pork.  I’m also using some oak and applewood chips to supplement the flavor that I’ve begun soaking before adding them to the grill.

Oak and Applewood chips soak up water for a slower burn during my rib cook.

Now that the chips are soaked and my coals are getting nice and hot, it’s time to add the hot coals to my unlit coals and put the chips in as well.  Additionally, I’ll be using the casserole dish as a water pan, making sure that the inside of the kettle stays nice and humid so that our meat won’t dry out.

indirect cooking ready to go

With our charcoal briquettes, hickory chunks, applewood and oak chips all ready and water pan in place, we're almost ready to go!

Now that everything is in place, we put the grate back on top of the grill and cover it up to let the entire thing get nice and hot. After five minutes is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Rubbed up, bathing in hickory, apple and oak essence, getting ready to render fat and collagen… A thing of beauty for sure!

But, unfortunately, there is an old barbecue addage… if you’re looking, you’re not cooking!  Time to cover it up and only peek every now and then to make sure there’s enough fuel.  After a few hours, I’ll wrap them up in foil and cover them up to make sure they don’t dry out.

My Weber kettle, vents all but closed to give me a good low barbecue temperature, covered up and cooking!

After about four hours, I decided to wrap them up in foil.  After about an hour in foil, I sauced them.

Foiled ribs get hit with sauce

What’s in the sauce?  Again, some other blog will tell you about how to make an amazing sauce, I just start off with Sweet Baby Ray’s as a base, and then add things like apple cider vinegar, honey, sriracha, etc. till I think it tastes like it should.  After a half hour or so, I took them off the grill.

Finally of the grill

Finally off the grill!

 

The outside got cooked a little more than I had planned on.  I probably should have foiled them earlier in the cook.  Using foil is paradoxical.  The longer the ribs are wrapped in foil, the less chance there is of them absorbing smoke flavor.  At the same time, the longer they are unwrapped, the higher the chance of the meat drying out.  Did my meat survive?

They most definitely survived!

The rub became a crunchy chewy layer of smokey meaty spicy goodness.  Below that was tender juicy meat with not a hint of toughness.

Perfection. The meat is almost falling apart, it separates cleanly off the bone, and the surface is a perfect combination of smokey rub and a pink smoke ring.

Behold.

Happy Memorial Day!

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