We have arrived at Podcast Audio File Format portion of the process. And you’re in the home stretch. (So don’t blow it here.)
The audio file pushed out through your feed should be in the MP3 format at 96 Kbps, 112 Kbps, or 128 Kbps. We’ll come back to why in a minute. But first, we should address the fork in the process’s road: what you export from your DAW based on a final polishing.
The final polish includes three pieces:
- Track leveling
- Setting target volume
- Final master compression
If you’re a proper audio engineer, then you’ve done all your track leveling, compression, and target volume in the DAW. So you could export straight to an MP3 with the appropriate settings. For the rest of us, we’ll run our nearly complete audio file through a final process of processing.
The final process brings use to the rest of us…
The two biggest things new podcasters neglect to do is track leveling and setting an appropriate target volume. And going forward, I’ll do my best to stay out of the thick weeds to make this as simple and need to know as possible.
Adjusting each audio track to be close to a similar loudness is what leveling is. (To put it very simply.) So leveling avoids the problem of one person being a good volume level and the other being quiet or too loud. And then there’s a separate set of volumes for any theme music or sound effects to they don’t overpower voices.
We’ll come to the how to part in just a moment.
Target Volume is the overall loudness of an audio file. (Again, to put it very simply.) Setting the target volume will determine the volume level a listener will need to set the volume of their audio player.
An improperly set target volume can leave listeners needing to turn their volume all the way just to hear. It can also force them to turn the volume all the way down for fear of blowing their ears out.
Have you ever sat enjoying a TV show and a comfortable volume only to have a commercial come on that’s way too loud? This is advertisers playing games with the volume to get your attention. (Thankfully, the practice is no longer acceptable.)
There are separate settings appropriate for TV, Radio, and now evenPodcasts. All you need to know is that -18 LUFS is the universally accepted podcast loudness standard.
Compression is the act of lower the volume of loud sounds and raising the volume of quiet sounds. (One last time, to put it very simply.) Compression is the short name for it; it’s actually called Dynamic Range Compression. And that’s what compressors do: They reduce the range of how loud or soft sounds in your recording are.
If you play a compressor with too heavy a hand, you’re audio will end up boring and lifeless. Not setting enough compression can leave listeners turning the volume up and down as individual parts of the audio are too soft or too loud.
Getting compression settings right is very tricky for new podcasters. (Heck, it’s very tricky for some a lot of more established podcasters too.)
Fortunately, you don’t need to learn more about it than what you’ve just read. There are two “push button” solutions you can use to accomplish good enough to pretty darn good results without much effort on your part.
How to Finalize Your Podcast Audio File Format
MP3s are the most widely accepted and accessible audio file format compatible across devices. So go with an MP3 and don’t look back.
But you do need to decide what audio quality setting you will release the MP3. I’ll make this simple:
- Set your bitrate to 96 Kbps if you’re just starting out
- Set your bitrate to 112 Kbps if you’re established, using a good microphone, and recording in a good space
- Choose a bitrate of 128 Kbps if you’re a pro and your show is meant for an audio pro crowd
Note: Bitrate settings are a bit of a misleading indicator of audio quality, in general. But it’s a deep dark rabbit hole best left to the backrooms of audio engineer forums for debate, discussion, and argument. Just know it’s not a panacea for high fidelity.
However, there are two different “push button” roads to go down. So how you export will be impacted by which one you choose.
The Push Botton Solutions
The first option is to use Levelator. It’s a neat piece of free software developed some time ago. Unfortunately, it’s no longer being developed. But it is still available and usable. The downside to using Levelator is that the results are towards the bottom ends of “good enough.”
The downside to using Levelator is that the results are towards the bottom ends of “good enough.” But if you don’t want to spend any money, it will work for you. In this case, export your audio file from your DAW at the bitrate mentioned previously.
The second option is the use the service Auphonic. It’s the next best thing to having an on-staff audio engineer. The results are superb considering it’s an automated machine doing the work. And, yes, there is a noticeable difference in quality between the output of Levelator and Auphonic.
Auphonic does have a free version with limits on how many hours of audio your can process a month. But their entry level plan includes enough hours for most podcasters at a price most people can certainly afford.
If you go the Auphonic route, export your MP3 at 196 Kbps. Then upload your audio file and set your Ausphonic final settings to one of the three options mentioned earlier including the loudness setting.
Within 30-minutes they’ll return a file. From here you’ll need to add your final ID3 tags, show notes, and upload it to your media host for posting.