Like many people out there I dreamed of making a D&D Podcast that would eventually make it big and allow me to plan and play D&D as my job... Well, I have, at the point of writing this article, managed to get 50% of the way to that dream... I HAVE A PODCAST The Tale Untold and I have 16 episodes that are over 2 hours long. I tell you what, getting this far has been a hard journey, but the hardest most grueling part was getting that first episode published.
I spent weeks doing research, trying to find out what I needed to record, edit and publish a podcast. I read dozens of blog posts, joined multiple discord groups, and posted on Reddit. After all that, I figured I had a basic grasp on what needed to be done, so I proposed recording a D&D podcast to my online group, who all said yes! I was elated and excited... I was so close to having a podcast all I needed to do was record our sessions, do some editing and publish. From what I read, making a decent-sounding podcast should be a fairly simple affair even for an n00b. At this point, I am going to pause to let those of you who have tried this get your laughs out... because guess what... it's not easy.
Best practices suggested that each participant record their own audio, and then the editor stitches them together. After several weeks of failing to convince my fellow players/DM to install one piece of free software on their computers to record themselves, I gave up. People are lazy... and even installing a simple piece of software can be a huge boundary. So instead I decided to do all the recording. I spent a week installing software on my computer so that I could record the audio from Discord so that no one else had to do anything. It seemed like a great idea, however over several sessions it became obvious that it was not going to work. One person with a bad internet connection caused the whole recording to become untenable to listen to. I'm not a perfectionist, but I do have standards... I wasn't going to release a horrible listening experience to the world.
Next, we tried Zoom, several people in the group had paid licenses which would allow for us to play and use the record meeting feature to do the audio. This seemed like a great idea. Though it was still susceptible to glitchy audio from a bad internet connection, it was infinitely better. The audio quality was still only so-so as Zoom recordings record the audio streams, which use reduced quality audio to make travel over the interest faster and more reliable. The problem came with requesting the audio from my fellow group members... remember that bit about people being lazy... it's still true. But with some persistence in requesting the recordings after a few weeks, I managed to start to get recordings I could use and I started editing. But before we get to those tribulations I want to complete the journey of recording. Several weeks later, with a few recordings in the bank (but not yet sent to me), we had another snafu... the Zoom account we were using was a work account, and the group member who was hosting the meetings switched jobs. The account was deactivated and the 2 recordings not yet downloaded were gone.
I was disheartened. I contemplated just getting a Zoom subscription and continuing that way, but not being fully satisfied with the recording looked to see what else was out there. After another servals weeks of research I found Zencastr and Riverside.fm... online services that like Zoom/Discord allow you to have online meetings, but unlike them will also record higher quality audio and slowly upload them to their servers as the meeting is going on for you to download at the end and you get recordings for each participant (which you will see later in this article is awesome). FANTASTIC! The recording guests don't even need to create an account, just click a link to join. The ultimate laziness. As I evaluated these two options, it became obvious that though Riverside.fm was going to be the better quality option, it was also significantly more expensive for our long format, multi-guest, weekly recordings. Their pricing plans were based on the number of hours recorded and with 4 guests and 1 host we had a combined 60 hours of recording per month. Zencastr on the other hand, offered a free option for MP3 quality recordings (still infinitely better than Zoom) and a paid plan that gave you higher quality WAV recordings but was based on meeting length, instead of combined guest recording time like Riverside.fm, making it far more economical for our longer format recordings. Being the frugal man that I am, I went with Zencastr. Though the future still held a few recording issues, this marked a great victory and the end of the dark times for podcast recording.
Now by the time the Zencastr revelation occurred, I had been recording sessions for a month and a half with recordings of varying degrees of quality. However from what my research indicated, quality could be compensated for with editing, so between dealing with improving our recording setup, I began to delve into just that. I listened to and watched dozens of Youtube videos, and started with the industry-standard beginner's setup... Audacity. Free and highly functional this software boasts everything a budding sound engineer/editor might need... but hells bells, it is not easy to figure out... but slowly over time began to figure stuff out. Noise reduction, EQ, Dynamics, etc... I began to have the slightest inkling on how to use them, and I could with A LOT OF EFFORT make a bad recording... marginally better. However, with a full-time job, and a family that kind of wasteful effort wasn't going to cut it.
So I tried something else... Adobe Audition. Luckily just the week before I was given access to the entire adobe suite from work... not sure if I would have tried it if I had to pay for it. The software was much easier to use and similar to Audacity, it had a lot of Youtube videos to support new users. In my n00b hands, the recording quality got better, but still only marginally better than Audacity, and at the cost of a lot of my time. Now had I stuck with it, and learned all the nuances of the software I do not doubt that I could one day, a few months from when I started managed to get one episode of the podcast sounding good enough. Instead Youtube ads saved the day... and I found Descript.
Though it is a monthly paid service ($20/month), the shortcuts and time savings it provides for editing have been invaluable. The software transcribes your recordings and syncs those transcripts to the audio, with a Google Docs like interface, allowing you to edit your podcasts as if you were editing a word doc. For an n00b podcaster, this was fantastic... wavy lines in Audacity/Audition are cool and all, but when you are trying to cut specific words like Um's or some long-winded ramblings (that's me) wavy lines aren't very helpful. What's more, Descript has a cool feature that has improved by leaps and bounds over the 8 months I have been using it, called Studio Sound. I kid you not, it turns an echo-ey, week-sounding laptop mic into some broadcasting awesomeness. And it's super easy to learn to use. After a couple of months of using Descript, I went from spending 3 times the recording time doing editing to 1.5 times.
This combination of easy-to-learn tools fit my requirements of maximizing quality, with minimal effort and budget. I was now producing episodes for The Tale Untold Podcast that weren't professional quality, but good enough to be enjoyable to nearly everyone but the most discerning listeners. Now all I need to do was find some listeners.
Descript Pro Tip: You only get 20 or so hours of transcriptions per month... so if you want to edit using individual recordings for a 3-hour D&D session with 5 people on it, you use it up on one session. However, if you combine those recordings into a single one (perhaps using Zencastr's post-production functionality) and then transcribe only that Mix, then add your individual non-transcribed recordings. Combine them all into a Sequence, and MUTE "M" the mix. Add the sequence to your Composition. You can now edit using the MIX transcription but can still edit/enhance individual recordings. Using this method you can reduce your transcription time to a single guest's worth. In our example, this turns 15 hours of recording time transcriptions, into only 3, with enough extra for 2+ more sessions.
Guess what... at the time of writing this article, I am not sponsored by either Descript or Zencastr... I know who would believe it after those glowing reviews. That being said, if anyone from either of those two great institutions or associated with them finds this... I am not opposed to it ;)
That's the rant. If you are a player ask your group if you can podcast your game, if you are a dungeon master ask your players, and if you are neither grab some dice, some friends and play some D&D.