Teaching Basic Audio Through Podcasting: Part 1, The Speech Project

Podcasting is a great way to introduce students to the basics of recording, editing and mixing audio. By the time my students get to podcasting, year 2 or 3 of my class, they have had a lot of experience composing and mixing MIDI sequences created in GarageBand and Logic. Recording, editing and processing audio is a whole new ball game. I break it down into a few projects that teach the basics of everything they need to know about audio before they produce their own podcast.

The Speech Project introduces students to prerecorded audio and how to edit, process and mix audio for clarity with music underscoring. Basically, the assignment is to incorporate one or more prerecorded speeches into self-composed music. The music needs to be appropriate to the speech or the point of the piece. They cannot use the speech in its entirety so they need to make selections and edit the audio files. I distribute a few dozen pre-selected speeches as aiff audio files via our Mac Network shared folders. The speeches cover a wide array of topics including politics, early sound recordings, poets reading selections of their works, baseball, the moon landing, space travel and Civil Rights era speeches. Students listen to them via iTunes and can then import the ones they want into Logic. The assignment is very open-ended and allows students a great deal of leeway and creativity. Students can underscore parts of the speech, combine different speeches, use snippets of the speech rhythmically, any combination or any other means they can think of. The results are amazing as students often transform the original intentions of the words into a new idea they create in the piece and highlight their new creation with music.

Additionally, students now need to learn about plug-ins. Compression, EQ and Noise Reduction are just a few of the basic processing tools needed to clarify the audio so it can be heard over the music without pushing the volume. Students can then explore effects such as Reverb and Delay. How about using a Guitar Amp Simulator on the spoken word? They are only limited by their imagination and the amount of RAM on their computer!

Next time, The Commercial Project: An Introduction to Recording Audio.

A technical note: It is best to have the highest quality audio files, aiff or wav, for students to edit and manipulate as opposed to MP3. When you load an MP3 into an audio editing program, it will automatically convert it into aiff or wav. That means it will extrapolate the missing information in the MP3 and fill it in according to the conversion algorithm. You might as well start with the best source file you can rather than leave it to the program to “fill in the blanks”.

A legal note: You can use these speeches for educational purposes but be careful if you want to use them in a podcast. They may not be public domain.

Sources for speeches:

  • I went to the local library and borrowed a collection of speeches on CD/DVD. I could choose the ones I wanted to distribute to my students and download them in the highest quality audio format.
  • http://bclacademicaudio.blogspot.com/ This is the Bloomfield College (NJ) Library’s blog for audio & video files that may be considered “academic” in nature: lectures; readings; literature; and, discussions.
  • http://www.americanrhetoric.com/ A database of and index to 5000+ full text, audio and video versions of public speeches, sermons, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, other recorded media events, and a declaration or two.

Podcasting Mics: BLUE Snowball

I just love how easy this mic is to use and how good it sounds. It comes with a desk top stand and you can get the suspension mount separately or some dealers sell all three as a package. I also use a pop filter that attaches to the shock mount. Plug the USB into the computer, make sure the System Preferences and software preferences (that’s in the Sound menu for each) recognizes the mic and you are good to go. Since this mic does not have any external gain control, you’ll have to set the Input level in the System preferences. A little experimenting and you’ll get the right input for your voice or instrument. Yeah, go ahead and try this bad boy out on an acoustic guitar, piano or any other instrument. I’s really meant to be used up close so you won’t get enough sensitivity for making a good recording of your chorus or band but it might work out really nicely for practice recordings. It depends on the volume of your ensemble and the room you are in. Try it!


BLUE Snowball