Jumping the Shark 58, which features The Escapist’s Senior Editor, Susan Arendt (formerly of Gameshark “fame”), devotes its topic segment to a discussion of women in gaming media and whether or not the nature of some games and publisher media events make it more difficult for women to cover. I found this an interesting topic in that the number of pitfalls and ways for it to go miserably awry are numerous. As I expected, however, what we ended up with was, I think, a particularly strong episode in which we got some excellent debate going between Danielle and Susan with the rest of us managing not to trip all over ourselves trying to strike a balance between maintaining some sort of faux sensitive male facade versus acting like dismissive sophomoric pricks. That takes mad skillz, yo.
This episode also featured a fantastic debate between Danielle and Susan over the merits of Stacking, my continuing xbox 360 red ring foibles (the power brick replacement didn’t work), Dragon Quest VI, Mario Sports Mix (or something like that), De Blob, and Bill talking about stuff…
One of the glorious (not really) aspects of being the editor is getting to tell everyone else what they’re doing wrong. Actually, I hate that part, because you pretty much have to tell people they’re doing something wrong and I end up being a broken record a lot:
“Your headset is making my life miserable.”
“Who’s typing now?”
“Dammit, would you wait until later to beat your children?”
It’s a podium built on sanctimony as I, the perfect one, lecture everyone else about how they’re making my life miserable. But there are times -oh boy are there times- when I, as the editor, am my own worst enemy. This week’s show was one of those times.
Leveling podcast audio is kind of a tricky business. What you hear from Skype in terms of volume isn’t necessarily what’s being recorded on the other end. If you’ve listened to enough podcasts you know how frustrating it is when one person is super loud, another is ultra quiet, and the rest are in the middle. For awhile I used a handy tool Troy Goodfellow turned me onto, called Levelator. The only problem with it is I didn’t use it until after editing and mixing the show, so I only got the results after the fact. If it introduced any problems, there was no way to deal with them.
Eventually I turned to the Compressor tool built into Audacity, which let me run compression (leveling) on each individual audio track before editing. The good news was it amped up everything to an acceptable and balanced level. The bad news was that it amped up everything to that level. What was a quiet little mouse click became something terrible and full of malice. A PC fan you couldn’t even hear before suddenly became a huge distraction.
Fortunately, a little Google kung fu led me to a free plug-in tool called Chris’s Dynamic Compressor and a handy blog post/podcast giving me some pretty good settings with which to configure it. Where the built in Audacity compressor is something of a blunt instrument, this plug-in is designed to ride the natural waves of the audio and apply some logic to the process of amping up sound to a specific level. (Someone who actually understands audio could give you a better explanation. I’m winging it.) It also lets me set up something called a noise gate, a level below which no sound is amplified at all. It’s not perfect, because you have to set it low enough that it doesn’t not amp up any actual chatter, but the really quiet background sounds are typically omitted. (Not always, mind you, but usually I can use the built-in Audacity Noise Removal, before using the compressor, tool to deal with that.) I’m still dinking around with these settings trying to find the ideal set, learning as I go.
I learned something new this week, in fact; something that probably would be obvious to someone who’s not prone to moments of exceptional stupidity. Don’t apply audio compression to the same track twice.
Typically, I apply compression once to everyone’s track as that usually brings everyone’s levels in line. This week, however, Susan’s audio was already very loud pre-compression, and it stayed a bit louder than everyone else’s after compression. So about half way though editing I thought, “Hmm, maybe I should bump this up some more.” So I hit the tracks for Brandon, Danielle, and myself again. It helped and I moved forward. Another 15 minutes of audio later I was noticing a consistent extra “hum” in some of our audio that often preceded and followed one of us speaking (especially Brandon’s for some reason). It took awhile to realize this hum was a result of amping the audio tracks twice. Like I said: Stupid. Noise gate or no, it was there and it was awful. It also infected all the audio I had already reviewed. I didn’t have time to re-listen to it, but fortunately, the look of it in the audio track is pretty distinctive and I think I was able to eyeball and remove nearly every instance of hum. But, if you do catch some, that is entirely the fault of your trusty producer and not the result of panelist multitasking.
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