Friday, April 1, 2011

Use What Works: Why a Podcaster Uses Switch Audio Converter Every Day

Guest post by podcaster Kole Ross

We take it for granted that our tools do what we ask them to. If they didn't, we probably wouldn't use them anymore. What makes a piece of software great, however, is how easy it is to tell it what to do. For me, Switch Audio Converter is one of those great programs, and I rely on it daily.

I'm an underemployed podcaster, a part the digital serf caste. You see us around, the overweight or underweight bearded dudes with laptops, blogs, and opinions about why Facebook sucks.

I graduated from an Electronic Media program where I was surrounded by these digital serfs, and learned how to use lots of different pieces of media software. Final Cut Pro, Adobe Creative Suite, Pro Tools, the list goes on. If you have more than a passing acquaintance with these software suites, you probably have an opinion about which one works best.

I get them, I understand how to use them, and I know how powerful they can be. When I was starting out, though, I could never shake the feeling that they were "too much." If you're cutting a steak, you don't whip out a Swiss army knife. You use a steak knife, like a normal person.

I started podcasting in 2007, wanting to turn my internet radio show into a packaged, persistent product. This first podcast eventually turned into Stand Under the Don't Tree and Riddle Me This, a video game talk show with a bewildering name. Three years later, I started a second podcast, Those Damn Ross Kids, a NSFW comedy podcast that I do with my brother, Kris.

When you're a poor student (or even a poor graduate—feed me please) it's difficult to afford fancy software to fuel your hobbies. So, you use what works. To this day, I edit my shows in Garageband because it's free and simple. A friend of mine once criticized me for using "kiddie gloves," but my response remains: "It doesn't get in the way when I sit down to make things." I like a program that does one thing well. Every button and lever I don't use is just wasting my time.

The same goes for Switch, which simply does what I ask it to without putting up a fuss.

The end product of a podcast is always an MP3 file, but it goes through lots of different phases in its life cycle. The shows are recorded over Skype as high-sample rate stereo AIFF files. My voice is always on the right channel, while the incoming audio from Skype is on the left channel. I drop this file into Garageband to separate the tracks, and re-export them so that I'm able to do multitrack editing, making editing out overtalk a breeze.

The separated files are still in stereo, though, so I pop those back into Switch to squash them into mono AIFF files. These are easier to edit, and take up half as much space. I then put these files onto separate tracks in Garageband and go to town, making what we say clever and insightful.

When I'm done with that, I apply the Levelator to the AIFF. The Levelator's motto should be "Crummy thing go in, pretty thing come out." It doesn't work all the time, but it's better than spending an hour trying to configure a compressor.

The final step comes when I drop the finished file into Switch again, compressing it to a 96kbps mono MP3 file for distribution. This is the best compromise between sound quality and size. It's a quick download, and it doesn't waste all of that time I spent equalizing it to sound good. Switch made this easy to figure out. All I had to do was mess with the encoder options and re-convert until I got something good.

Voila, that's a podcast. Spank it on the bottom, FTP it, and let the world know that it's ready.

There have been other times in my professional and academic career where Switch has bailed me out... For example with how finicky Final Cut Pro is vis-รก-vis what kind of audio files it will play nice with.

The moral of the story is this: Even though the aforementioned $1000+ media suites can probably spit out the kinds of files you want, I don't need all of the excess functionality that comes with it. Switch just exists. It's a box on my desktop that takes one thing and makes it into another thing, without complaint.

I don't need a Jaws of Life to open my beer, thanks. Just let me make something and get on with my day. My job is to be funny in front of a microphone, not fiddle with software.

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