GarageBand and Podcasts

July 27th, 2017

Apple’s decision to create a podcast repository in iTunes in 2005 was a watershed for radio broadcasters and would-be radio broadcasters. It gave us all a method for greatly expanded distribution. But, yes, there was already such a thing as Internet radio. I was already hosting an online show, the original version of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, which was streamed by a now-defunct online network.

Indeed, the key reason I left the small network I was working with was their failure to understand the need to rejigger their production scheme to deliver a version that could be posted on iTunes.

The podcast setup isn’t altogether complicated. You have to create a special RSS feed with a show description, some artwork, and listings for the available downloads. I currently use Feeder, from Reinvented Software, to maintain and submit new episode listings to iTunes.

Recording my shows is probably a tad more complicated than most, because they are, first and foremost, designed to be broadcast on terrestrial radio stations. So I actually upload each show to the network, GCN, as 12 separate files. They insert the ads and broadcast the shows via Westwood One’s satellite system.

The podcast versions I post on iTunes and YouTube come from a stitched version downloaded from the network.

The recording process begins with Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack, which grabs the audio from Skype and an external mic mixer, and combines them into a single file for further editing. Now I understand some podcasters use separate files, where the host and the guest each submit separate recordings that are combined into a single file via cut and paste. That system may provide slightly better audio quality — Skype isn’t perfect — at the expense of adding to the workload and preventing good back and forth discussions where two or more guests might slightly overlap one another.

The Audio Hijack files, saved in AIFF format, are edited in Felt Tip’s Sound Studio. Sometimes I use Amadeus Pro from HairerSoft for further processing.

It’s all less complicated than it sounds. It takes about two hours to record a radio show that consumes three hours on the network with hourly news blocks and commercials. Unless there are some special complications, the editing process takes about three-and-a-half hours, plus the time to upload the completed episodes to the network.

Now that takes us to GarageBand.

Apple’s free audio editing app is essentially a highly simplified version of Logic Pro X. It’s oriented towards musicians rather than talk radio, and thus doesn’t provide much in the way of tools for recording podcasts. The few features that were available have mostly disappeared over the years.

Now I read an article the other day suggesting that Apple ought to do something to improve podcast support in GarageBand. Perhaps, but I really think the interface would have to be rethought to consider the needs of capturing a radio show.

As you see, I’m using three apps to accommodate most of my needs. In order for GarageBand to provide a suitable replacement, it would have to be able to simultaneously record the audio from multiple external sources that include Skype and other apps. That’s before we get to sound processing and editing.

With my shows, however, most episodes are recorded with Audio Hijack’s Denoising filter. As the name implies, it reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, background noise to provide a reasonable facsimile of a silent background. I realize it’s possible to adjust individual voices via filters to provide a stronger visceral impact, but I prefer to capture the natural sound of everyone involved. What you hear is what you get. Editing is also minimal, since I want to retain the live effect as much as possible; very little is actually discarded.

Could Apple provide a compelling way to manage these chores in a single app? Sure. No doubt, there are better ways to deliver the features we broadcasters need. On the other hand, Apple would have to step on the toes of third-party developers to deliver such an upgrade.

It’s not that Apple doesn’t compete with its own developers from time to time. I suppose Apple could go shopping and acquire the source code for Audio Hijack and somehow combine or adapt it to become part of GarageBand. That assumes that Rogue Amoeba would be willing to sell the app, or that Apple sees the point of expanding GarageBand in that way.

More than likely, the present state of affairs provides the best balance by offering a good selection of audio editing tools in GarageBand and leaving the rest to the developer community.

Indeed, I would like to see Apple make it possible for, say, an app such as Audio Hijack to be released in an iOS version, with the emphasis on iPads. Whatever it takes! As I’ve said before, an iPad could serve as a very flexible medium for recording and editing audio. With the right apps, I can foresee doing all my shows on my wife’s iPad in my home studio or on the road.

First, Apple would have to allow iOS apps to talk to one another in this way, for one app to capture the audio streams from other apps. Possible? Of course. Since Apple has shown more of an inclination to offer productivity features for the iPad in iOS 11, maybe it’ll even be possible in the near future.

As to a podcaster-oriented version of GarageBand, I don’t really see the need. An all-in-one solution? Absolutely!

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One Response to “GarageBand and Podcasts”

  1. Guy Serle says:

    Audio Hijack is great, but a better tool from the same company is Loopback which combines the best of SoundFlower and Apple’s Audio-Midi Utility in one easy to use and stable product. Plus it not only allows you to create aggregate devices from hardware, but also nearly any program that generates audio like iTunes, Safari, or sound cart programs.

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