As audio professionals, we’re usually not concerned with how the content of podcasts and webcasts is delivered. Our focus is getting quality audio to the recorder or computer and making things sound their best.
I categorize casting and streaming into two basic groups: speech gigs and musical performances. Typically, the web conferences and corporate podcasts that I work consist mainly of speech with some pre-recorded music thrown in. Music performances are a bit more complex and I’ll address how to approach those a little later.
Like everything else we do, getting it right starts with pre-planning. I begin by asking dozens of questions, starting with the number of presenters and where they’ll be located, followed by queries about things like whether there will be Q&A (question and answer) microphones in the room, will there be remote audio to interface (such as from a telephone or voice over IP), will there be computer audio payback or music, and so on.
Another key question is what type of interface my audio signal will be feeding and where the interface will be located so I’ll know what type and how much cable is needed for the feed. This is also the time to address issues like additional power requirements for the recording and computer gear, who is operating the computer equipment, who is providing internet connections, etc. Only after I have a firm grasp on the situation do I devise an audio plan for both the house sound and web feeds.
For smaller input events, it’s usually a good idea to use a second mic on each person and at the lectern/podium, in order to provide a totally separate audio feed for the webcasts. Using a separate feed has the advantage of isolating the web audio feeds from any hum or noise issues that may arise when interfacing recording and computer gear with the PA system.
It also allows locating the webcasting components away from front of house or monitor areas to a more quiet location and/or closer to the computer and internet connection. For events with a large number of inputs, the choice is one mic per input and then splitting the signal down the line for the web.
If presenters are wearing lavalier mics for the house mix, I may place second lavs on them, on double clips, for the web feed. I also usually outfit them with a lav if they’re wearing a headset or ear worn mic. For recording and web feeds, omnidirectional mics are usually the best choice because they pick up sound a little more evenly when people turn their heads.
At the lectern/podium, I go with one of three options. The first is adding a second podium mic for the web feed, the second is to “gaff” a small mic under the podium mic’s element, and the third is placing a lavs on the presenters.
If they’re seated at a table and the house system microphones are on desk stands, a solid approach is placing ear worn mics on them. Many of them tend to lean into the house mics to talk, and a lav clipped to their chests will either get bumped into the table or pick up a lot of reflections from the table surface.
But if the input count gets too large, I simply split the signal from the house mics for a web feed. It can be set up as a separate mix on the house or monitor console, or the inputs can be split out of the console into a dedicated console for the web feed.
For podcasts or on-demand webcasts that won’t be going out live, there’s also the option of multi-track recording. In fact, even if an event is live streaming, I multi-track the show and make a safety recording “just in case.”
Since my digital consoles have Dante networking, I just interface a computer loaded with a Dante Virtual Soundcard and use a DAW (my favorite is Reaper). This can be up and running in minutes, connected via a single Cat cable.
For speech-only gigs, it’s a good idea to utilize mics that have a low-cut filter that will roll off the bottom end. (Or use the “voice” setting.)
On the console, rolling off the lows at and below the 80 to 100 Hz range on each mic input helps reduce any proximity effect and low-frequency stage noise. Also consider windscreens on every mic to help tame any pops and plosive noises, and make sure isolation feet on mic stands are in place.
I also employ isolation clips to lessen the chance that the mic picks up noise transmitted from the stand. One of my “tricks” is to place rubber mouse pads under the stands of table mics to further isolate them from noise. I put the smooth side down so the stands can easily slide out of the way of the presenters if they prefer.