Thursday, June 14, 2012

TWiST turns 100!!!

It's been an interesting ride. Over true past two years, I've had the opportunity to produce, sequence, edit, and format Software Test Professional's 'This Week in Software Testing" podcast. We've changed up the format a few times, explored a number of different avenues, and seen our collective fortunes change considerably from when the idea was first proposed back in 2010, and when I signed on to actually produce the show.

Some things I've discovered along the way:

1. Perfection is asymptotic and impossible to achieve, but just a little bit of clean-up can reap tremendous benefits. The problem comes when we try to go beyond the basics. Stray "ums" and long spots of dead air are easy to achieve, and make a big difference when they are removed, but doing more advanced editing (re-sequencing, cutting phrases to make a more coherent flow, etc.) is really hard to get right. Voice inflection has a rhythm and a flow, and when that rhythm is broken, it's noticeable, possibly even more noticeable than the stray ums or stutters would be. Thus I've learned that, unless it's necessary (audio drop-outs or other actual "damage" or "distraction in the recording), "leave well enough alone" is a good rule of thumb.

2. Remote podcasts are the biggest headache. On one hand, it's great to get recordings of live environs that would be lost to time otherwise, but in some ways, it's tricky because it's hard to get a room balance unless you can plug into a sound board to record. Sometimes that's easy, sometimes not. Usually, Matt or I bring a portable MP3 recorder and we place it in a spot where it can pick up the audio. Sometimes we can extend them from a tripod or a stalk to get a live room feed, but more times than not, the answer is to place the recorder on the podium or table. Positive, it gets the center of the room and when the speaker is lined up, it's crisp and clear. If they pace the room (common with live speakers), we lose them when they are off-axis. Most frustrating is when they "palm the table" or place their hands on the podium. Yep, the recorder picks all that stuff up. If I'm lucky, they are between breaths or at pauses, meaning I can filter them out. If they are during their speaking, and it's an important point, there's nothing I can do but leave it in there and let the bumps and noises be.

3. We do our group meeting calls on Skype, and most of the time, everyone comes in at a slightly different volume. That means that I have to do separation and mixing (really time consuming), or I do track segment amplification, trimming, leveling and normalization. While I haven't gotten to the point where I can do a totally automated "clean and level" with one take, it's gotten to the point where, after I do a course re-leveling of the audio and get most of the audio into a rough volume range, then I can run a number of scripted actions on the file and get the sound as level as possible. This used to take me 30 minutes on a given podcast. I've shortened this down to about ten minutes now.

4. I've experimented with five microphones since this process started, and I've concluded that the Blue Snowball and the Blue Yeti make for the best podcast microphones. They sound warm, they allow for different configurations, and the Snowball in the "Ringer" just plain looks cool. It reminds me of doing a radio show in the 1950s. Also, along with using the Blue Snowball mic, I have decided that 4:00 a.m. really is the best time to record my voice. It sounds way deeper and more sultry (like a real announcer) at that time of day, so it's become a habit to just record my vocal part then when possible. Later in the day, I'm a lot more high pitched and reedier.

So what do we have in store for the next 100 shows? I'm guessing a lot of topics that you all will find interesting, a mix of presentation styles, and hopefully an evolving and cleaner presentation, one that you will enjoy listening to for the next 100 episodes, or more :).

1 comment:

David Greenlees said...

HUGE congratulations to you, Matt, and everyone else that has been involved. I've only recently discovered them, and loving it!

I had no idea of the lengths you had to go to in order to get them sounding so polished.

Well done mate. A true service to the testing community by yourself and Matt.