Jason Barker is Currently...
Archive for November 2007
Posted on Friday, November 30, 2007 at 12:11 AM by Jason Barker
In this episode of GET WISDOM we continue our study of 1 Corinthians, looking at what chapter three tells us about the dangers of cliques and the importance of faithful Christian teaching.
Podcast: Click here to download.
Study Guide: Click here to download.
Posted in Episodes
Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 9:05 PM by Jason Barker
In my previous articles in this series on creating GET WISDOM I've discussed selecting a microphone, interface, and channel strip. I'd like to continue the series by discussing the software I use for recording and mixing my program.
As with the earlier articles, I need to emphasize that this discussion is purely my personal experience and opinions, and does not imply any formal recommendation from the Department of Youth Ministry or the Orthodox Christian Network.
Before beginning work on GET WISDOM, my primary audio recording experience on a computer had been done using a free, open source program called Audacity on a computer running Windows XP. I was fairly pleased at the time (this was in late 2002) with the simplicity of the application and the quality of its output. Audacity - which runs on multiple platforms - is an excellent program for learning the basics of audio recording: it allows you to record, edit, and even engage in basic processing (such as noise removal). Because of its quality and the fact that it is free, Audacity is a popular choice with beginning podcasters.
I should point out, however, that Audacity is not designed for multi-track recording and mixing (multi-track simply means that each audio source - e.g., each host of a podcast, music used in the program, etc. - appears in a separate track in the recording). With Audacity, you would need to insert a musical intro, stop the music completely, record yourself speaking, and then insert the concluding music sequentially in a single track. This means, for example, that you would never be able to speak over the top of a musical track (like my wife, Jani, does in the life application segment of each episode of GET WISDOM, and as I do at the end of the episode). Because I knew that I would have things like voice-overs in GET WISDOM, I knew that Audacity would not meet my needs.
My hardware purchases largely used up the money budgeted for equipment to create GET WISDOM, meaning that I needed to minimize my expenditures on recording software. The Mackie Onyx Satellite comes with a copy of Mackie's Tracktion 2 software, but - as Scott Bourne predicts - I found this awkward for creating a podcast.
I was therefore fortunate that, because I am using a Mac running OS 10.4 to record, GarageBand 3 was preinstalled on my computer (iLife '08, containing GarageBand 4, has been released, but I have yet to upgrade). While definitely not a professional recording application - as Tim Gideon says, "This app is one that you'll graduate from, rather than grow with" - GarageBand's podcast recording features make it a very viable option. Gideon writes,
For podcasters, there's not much to discuss, and that's a good thing. The project window that pops up for sessions is incredibly user-friendly. You can record separate tracks for male and female vocals (with optimum EQ settings for each), a stereo track for music, and even a track for artwork—say, a photo of whoever's speaking—which pulls from iPhoto. These images appear when listeners watch the podcast in iTunes.
I am truly amazed at how easy it is to record and mix GET WISDOM using GarageBand. For a novice at audio recording and production, GarageBand is very intuitive and easy to grasp. Recording is remarkably easy, and the programmers have made it quite simple to edit and mix tracks (even including a "ducking" feature to automatically reduce the level of background music during voiceovers). It would be inadequate if you were wanting to record professional masters of your church choir, but it is quite adequate for basic podcast production.
At the same time, as Gideon says, I've found that I'm beginning to outgrow GarageBand. While I will continue to use it for at least a little while longer, I want far greater precision and control in editing than I am able to do in GarageBand. I also want more options for saving my recordings and converting them to WAV and MP3 files (instead of the very limited choices offered by GarageBand's extremely inconvenient - and quality reducing - process of sending compressed files from GarageBand to iTunes, where you then go through more steps to convert the file into other formats). I therefore intend in the future to transition to a more full-featured recording application.
There is very little to say about the settings I use in GarageBand, largely because I incorporate very few software effects; I do almost all of my processing using my DBX 286A channel strip, meaning that there is very little postproduction of that sort to perform.
Because I save GET WISDOM as a mono - rather than stereo - file (as do most non-music oriented podcasts), the input on each of my tracks is in mono. The only effect I include is - depending on whether the track contains my voice or that of my wife - the "Male Radio" or "Female Radio" Real Instrument from the "Podcasting" options, with only the default "Speech Enhancer" effect applied (set for either "Male Radio" or "Female Radio").
Creating the MP3 (using the "Share > Send Song to iTunes" command) is where things get a little tricky. I have the Audio Podcast export setting on "Higher Quality," which is the highest level in GarageBand; this sends the highest quality file to iTunes, where you convert it to MP3. In iTunes, I encode the file as an MP3 (for the podcast) at the "Good Quality (128 kbps)" setting, and encode it as a WAV (for streaming on The ARK) at a custom "44.100 khz, 16-bit, mono" setting.
If you look at the file info for the first three GET WISDOM MP3s, you will notice a difference from the MP3 of the fourth episode. While they all sound as if they're mono files (because the source audio tracks are all in mono), in reality the first three episodes were encoded as stereo files in full 128 kbps, while the fourth episode was encoded as a mono file in 64 kbps (which is the standard for podcast MP3s). I attempted to encode the first three episodes as mono files in 64k, and was baffled that they kept coming out as 128k stereo files.
I found that the problem was that in GarageBand I had left in the "Podcast" track, which GarageBand uses for including graphics and other elements for enhanced podcasts (even though I do not create an enhanced podcast). GarageBand therefore sent a compressed M4A file to iTunes, which iTunes read as a stereo file and therefore encoded as a 128k stereo file. When you remove the Podcast track, however, GarageBand sends an uncompressed AIF file to iTunes, which iTunes correctly reads as a mono file and therefore encodes as a 64k mono file. While the lower bitrate results in slightly lower audio quality in the mono file, it also results in a significantly smaller file, which is important for three reasons: 1) It is easier for people to download, 2) it reduces the bandwidth used on your server, and 3) since I allow people to stream the episodes using a Flash player (in addition to downloading the episode), the smaller size allows for easier and faster streaming.
For the Windows users who read this blog, I unfortunately to not have enough personal experience to give you meaningful advice. While the majority of my computer experience has been in Windows, I switched to a Mac before I began creating GET WISDOM, and thus only have experience with creating a podcast on a Mac. The main Windows application I have heard of podcasters using is Adobe Audition - for example, Leo Laporte uses Audition - but I have no experience with the application.
In my next article I will briefly talk about the music I use in GET WISDOM.
Posted in News
Posted on Thursday, November 22, 2007 at 5:55 PM by Jason Barker
In this episode of GET WISDOM we continue our study of 1 Corinthians, looking at what chapter two tells us about spiritual maturity.
Podcast (MP3): Click here to download.
Study Guide (PDF): Click here to download.
Posted in Episodes
Posted on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 4:06 PM by Jason Barker
Effective at the end of this week, I will no longer be on the staff of the Orthodox Christian Network. Due to a restructuring in the OCN, Fr. Christopher Metropoulos and the board of the OCN have found it necessary to eliminate my position (as well as eliminating or redefining a number of other positions within the organization). This means that after this week I will no longer create the study guides for Come Receive the Light or OCN newsletters and program descriptions.
I want to emphasize that I am not being "fired," and this does not in any way adversely affect the areas in which the OCN and the Department of Youth Ministry are working together in partnership. I will continue to create GET WISDOM for the Youth Department, and it will continue to be streamed each weekend on The ARK. The program currently being developed by members of Teen SOYO for the OCN is also still scheduled to be launched this winter.
If you would like to help the OCN during this time of particular need in the organization, please click here.
The Department of Youth Ministry, of course, can also use your support to help make possible things like my Bible studies and radio programs.
Posted in News
Posted on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 3:53 PM by Jason Barker
In the first two articles in this miniseries, I've written about the criteria and processes I used in selecting a microphone and an interface to create GET WISDOM. In this article I want to briefly discuss the channel strip I use, as well as reasons for not using a hardware audio processor.
Before continuing, I want to emphasize - as I have in my other articles - that the choices I've made are based upon my personal preferences, and are not indicative of any official recommendation from the Department of Youth Ministry or the Orthodox Christian Network. You may find that different choices in equipment or processes may better suit your preferences or circumstances.
A channel strip - also commonly called a mic processor - provides audio processing. This means that it processes - in other words, alters (and, according to taste, improves) - the audio that is recorded. A channel strip generally includes basic versions of several audio effects that can be performed by more sophisticated and powerful - but also more expensive - individual units, such as compression, de-essing, gating, etc. (I'll briefly discuss these effects below).
There are two general approaches to processing the audio for podcasts. One approach - and arguably the one most often recommended for beginners - is to use software for your processing. This is a very valid approach, and one that is relatively easily accomplished because most audio recording software offers at least a small array of basic processing effects, and there are also a number of free or inexpensive individual options (such as the very popular Levelator). The advantage of using software for your processing is that our original recording is pristine, i.e., unchanged by any effects. You can therefore try and retry different effects and settings in your postproduction (the editing you perform on your audio after recording it) until you have the audio track sounding precisely the way you want (or, in my case, sounding as good as you can make it until you finally get sick of postproduction and decide to just finish the episode). Also, if you make some "unfixable" mistake in postproduction, you will still have the original audio track upon which to fall back. Another important factor is that, since basic processing effects are built into most audio recording software, you will not need to spend additional money on a hardware processor.
The other approach to processing is to use an external hardware processor or processors. Many fully-dedicated professionals will use individual compressors, limiters, etc., to achieve the greatest control over their audio, but most part-time professionals or amateurs (like myself) who use external processing will use a channel strip that combines basic versions of this equipment into a single unit. The advantage of using a hardware processor is that you can hear exactly how the recording will sound as you're recording it (and even before you start recording). This greatly reduces the amount of time you'll need to spend in postproduction, but it also means that, if you have some problem with your audio that you didn't notice when you were recording it (such as a background noise that you didn't gate, or accidentally overcompressing your audio), you will either need to re-record the audio track or be stuck with the problem in your audio file.
Ultimately, your decision as to whether to use software or hardware audio processing will be based upon what is most comfortable for you. I am more comfortable using a hardware processor, because I prefer being able to monitor how my audio sounds as I'm recording. I - like many people - experience significant problems with latency when recording, meaning that time it takes for my computer to process and record the audio means that what I hear coming from my computer when recording is slightly behind my speech; by plugging my headphones into my interface, I can hear precisely how the audio sounds before it reaches the computer. Also, because I can leave my channel strip at the same settings for my recordings (with slight adjustments for current recording circumstances), I save time on postproduction.
One of the most popular channel strips for podcasters is the Aphex 230. I hope to someday use one of these in my recordings, but it was - and, at the moment, still is - beyond my budget. After purchasing the Heil PR40 microphone and Mackie Onyx Satellite interface - as well as necessary gear like cables, mic stand, etc. - I only had about $200 I could afford to spend on a channel strip. Needless to say, this means that I needed to settle on a unit that is far from top-of-the line, but there are nonetheless several decent channel strips for podcasters in this price range.
One thing that many people like is that the 286A does not use the complicated settings for compression, etc., used by most audio equipment: instead, for most features, it uses settings that simply go from 1-10. If you are intimidated by needing to learn complicated settings and audio ratios, this may be a significant advantage for you. To be honest, however, I dislike these non-standard settings. If you are new to audio processing, you might prefer the simple settings of the 286A, but you will probably find as you become more knowledgeable and comfortable that you dislike the lack of precision control that these simple settings provide. Despite this significant limitation, however, I found the sound quality of the 286A to be my favorite of the channel strips available in my low price range.
I'll briefly go through my settings on the DBX 286A so that you can get a basic idea of what I choose to do in my specific recording circumstances - you might find that different settings work better in your circumstances. For example, you can listen to this episode of PodSquod, in which Mark Jensen quickly sets up a 286A to his taste (he likes a very processed sound, and therefore tends to use higher settings than I do).
The 286A contains an adequate mic preamp, but I vastly prefer the Onxy preamp in my Satellite interface, so I run an insert cable from the Mackie into the 286A. Because the dynamic Heil PR40 requires a lot of gain, I have the gain on the 286A set at +40db to acquire a solid signal for processing. I also have the Highpass filter on the 286A turned on, thereby filtering out low-frequency sounds like hum and rumbles; this reduces some of the noise from wind and traffic outside my window, and completely removes the sound of my computer.
Because I am very soft spoken, I do not need a lot of compression in my recording (compression reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal, and thus prevents the distortion - called clipping - that occurs when your audio overloads an amplifier); I prefer the sound boost that comes from simpy increasing the gain to the boost I could get from compression. I therefore have the 286A's drive (which determines how much the compressor reduces a signal) set at 3, and similarly have the density (which speeds up or slows down the amount of time it takes the compressor to increase or reduce compression) set at 3.
As you can tell from listening to GET WISDOM, my speech is very sibiliant (which means, essentially, that I place too much emphasis on "hissing" sounds like the letter S, and I also struggle with silibant-sounding mouth noise). I therefore set the 286A's de-esser Frequency at 8k, which is the upper-end of the normal range for de-essing. Setting it higher begins to make me sound as if I have a lisp ("Thaint Paul then went to Ephetheth"). I set the Threshold at a moderate 3.5.
The 286 combines its equalization into the Enhancer's two basic LF (bass) and HF (treble) controls. These provide a great deal of audio color, so you will want to use them sparingly to avoid causing your voice to sound unnatural. I have the LF set at 3 to provide a little depth to my voice, but have the HF set at 0.
The Expander/Gate controls the level of a signal by "opening" and "closing;" this enables you to filter out - to an extent - unwanted background noise. This, along with the de-esser, is the main reason I wanted a channel strip. You will probably want to use something like this - in either hardware or software - to remove sounds like traffic, wind, dogs barking outside, etc. (I also sometimes need to remove less common sounds, like a highly irritable burro, llama, and group of goats, but that's another matter). I have the Threshold set at -15dB for moderate attentuation, but keep the Expansion Ratio at just above 5:1 for gentle expansion. The key with the Expansion ratio is to have it match as much as possible the the Compressor Density: both my Expansion and Density are around 10:00.
Finally, I have my output volume set at -8. This keeps my level consistently high without clipping.
In my next article, I will look at the software I use to record and mix GET WISDOM.
Posted in News
Posted on Monday, November 05, 2007 at 9:26 AM by Jason Barker
Last week I was suddenly unable to access my antiochian.org email address (and am still unable to do so). Since this problem is continuing, I have - at least for the the short term - switched my email address. You can now reach me at .
If you sent anything from Tuesday through Thursday to my antiochian.org email address, I probably have not received it, so you will unfortunately need to resend it to this new address. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Posted in News
Posted on Thursday, November 01, 2007 at 1:28 PM by Jason Barker
My new interactive Bible study application, Life Together: An Interactive Study of 1 Corinthians, is now available. The study currently goes through chapter ten, and I will add the remaining chapters in the next few weeks.
Posted in News