Posted 2019 May 11
In honour of my appearance on Episode 121 of the Mac Admins Podcast, I thought I’d provide a little insight into what I think makes the Mac Admins Podcast so great.
The first time I was invited to speak on the podcast (as a part of a duo on Episode 28), I could tell very quickly that these people were prepared. Well prior to the show, I was directed to a web page that gave me details on good microphones to use, suggestions on what helps make the best possible recording, the exact settings to use to record your part of the conversation on your Mac (including how to set levels), even personal things like how you wished to be addressed and whether your place of employment should or should not be mentioned. In short: great documentation. Considering the people involved, I could have guessed this would be the case, but I was still impressed.
And, of course, since it’s a tech podcast, they leverage technology to make it the best experience for guests and hosts alike. Of course, we all know that technology, while a brilliant enabler at times, is not problem-free. I sense they are well-versed in the vagaries of doing this podcast over international video chat, such that they have Plan B ready to go when issues arise.
Even something as simple as having a text document open for all to see during the episode is a really nice touch. As a listener, when you hear someone (usually Tom) say that the information will appear in the Show Notes, someone may be typing that information into the Google Doc for the episode as they are recording. As well, there is an outline of the topics or questions the hosts want to cover, updated on the fly as necessary. As a guest, that means there will be no surprises; I am being given the opportunity to put my best foot forward. Like a conference talk, everyone wants the episode to be a success.
Hearing is Believing
The podcast team really cares about audio quality. I saw this first hand when they did a live recording at the Mac Admins Conference at Penn State in 2017 in a side room around a table with a group of guests; Pepijn was on the headphones regularly checking levels and sound quality. A live recording in an unfamiliar space can be a challenging scenario to work in, but they knew what it required, so they brought or acquired the equipment they needed to make a really good quality result.
Similarly, their standard recording procedure when doing the podcast by web chat is to have each individual record their audio locally and have the sound engineer stich it together after the fact. Having tech-savvy guests (and podcasters) certainly helps in this regard, but that might appear to be a lot of extra work for not much gain. Wouldn’t it be simpler for the podcast team if they just recorded the live stream from the web chat and pushed it out? Alas, simple ≠ good.
Using their method, you get CD-quality audio going in and the flexibility to adjust audio levels among the different speakers regardless of how they sounded in the online chat. The result is that it’s very easy to listen to the podcast even in challenging listening environments. The only time I have ever seen a comment regarding the audio levels among speakers in a Mac Admins Podcast episode was when they recorded live on stage at a conference, where they were at the mercy of whatever was going through the sound board. That tells me that regular listeners notice and benefit from the podcast team’s normal recording and authoring process.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t even mentioned the content of the podcast yet. While they have also done that very well, I think having a professional attention to detail starts a virtuous cycle that gives potential high-profile guests confidence to come on the show. This is reflected in the podcast’s ability to attract advertisers, individual backers, and even guests from the Fruit Company itself. It has a loyal listening base and rightfully so.
I felt the Mac Admins Podcast found its voice fairly early and is really firing on all cylinders now. It has been my privilege to see this podcast in process a few times now and witness some of the whys of their success. I wish them all the best going forward.
Oh yeah, I guess I should talk about the content of Episode 121. It is primarily a discussion about meetups, which turned into more of a panel discussion because everyone had some meetup experience to share. I learned things just being part of the discussion. So if you were worried that you would just be listening to the sound of my voice for 90 minutes, fear not. It’s not about me; it’s about building community. It was my pleasure to participate.
 As a side note for long-time podcast listeners, if you heard me on Episode 28 and have also heard my natural speaking voice, you may have noticed that there was the modern equivalent of an Alvin and the Chipmunks thing going on in that recording. It had nothing to do with their editing process. I found (and later confirmed using the same model hardware at work) that my Zoom H2 Audio Recorder, which I was using as a high-quality USB Microphone, had a repeatable bug that caused the pitch distortion. For Episode 121, I used a venerable Griffin Technology iMac and Lapel Mic combination to record the source you heard on the podcast. It was not nearly the same fidelity as my Zoom recorder is (when it functions as a standalone recorder), but the audio signal was strong and it sounded like me. (Contrast that quality with Tom’s mic in particular, which is a professional-grade mic with a windscreen.) I had the Zoom H2 record a backup in case we needed it, using it in standalone recorder mode. [Return to main text]