Podcast production is the reason I can’t go all-in on iPad just yet

My day job is as a healthcare policy analyst for a big charity. This post is about my other work, as a podcast producer — and is a response to educational tech writer Fraser Speirs’ recent post All-in on iPad Pro.

This year I produced 42 podcast episodes for a think tank here in London called the New Economics Foundation. Since February we’ve launched the Weekly Economics Podcast, which peaked at #3 on the UK iTunes chart and has been featured in the Observer, the Independent and the Guardian; the spin-off miniseries A Beginner’s Guide to Neoliberalism; and a new project with a pilot coming out in the New Year.

At the heart of the production is an 11-inch MacBook Air and Logic Pro X. Each week I show up at NEF’s makeshift studio, plug in the audio interface hooked up to a couple of AT2020s and occasionally the best pro-am podcasting mic of all time, and we’re ready for another interview with an economist.

Once recording is done, I often heavily edit the interview and voiceovers, add compression and EQ, edit the music, create a montage of news clips gathered using Audio Hijack, sometimes add effects, use loudness metering to mix the show, then export to MP3 and add metadata. After a few hours, an episode ends up sounding a bit like this:

Volume, pan and effects automation is a big part of the way I work. Sometimes this is for simple tasks, like making loudness consistent when an interviewee isn’t always exactly on-mic. But I also build more complex montages, automating dry and wet reverb levels and building idents for new shows. Here’s how that can end up looking in Logic:

And the end product is something that sounds like this:

I don’t know how I would do something like that on an iPad, though I’m hoping someone will point out how ignorant I am and show me how. I’ve read great things about Ferrite Recording Studio from people like Jason Snell (whose Incomparable podcasts I love), but at this point I get the impression I’d be rather hamstrung in a few essential parts of my production workflow:

  • Multitrack recording from external interfaces: I know there are a few audio interfaces that are compatible with the iPad via the USB Camera Connection Kit, and our Alesis iO4 is one of them. What I’m less clear about is how an app like Ferrite handles three or four tracks of input, or 24-bit sources — there doesn’t seem to be a mention of this in its user guide.
  • Downloading music from the Free Music Archive and using it in a mix: FMA is a wonderful source of Creative Commons music, and I have a few gigs of the stuff in a library I put together especially for podcast production. Adding music looks to be easy in Ferrite, but downloading from the web first is another issue.
  • Audio Hijack: capturing and importing news clips and the more ridiculous things our politicians say about economics is an essential part of my workflow for the Weekly Economics Podcast, though I know most podcast producers will get by just fine without it. iOS’s restrictive audio policies mean this isn’t possible on an iPad yet.
  • Loudness metering: all podcast producers should know about and use loudness metering. If you don’t know your LUs from your LUFS, you’re probably spending more time than you need to trying to mix audio by ear or by using misleading VU or PPM meters, and ending up with inconsistent levels within and between episodes. On the Mac, I use the free version of Klangfreund’s brilliant loudness meter Logic plug-in, and the paid version looks even better. I’ve yet to see an iPad app include this feature — but again, I’d like to be proved wrong. My guess is that this might be possible as an AudioUnit Extension in iOS 9.
  • Effects and automation: I probably use 5% of what Logic is capable of when it comes to effects, but I like that if I can imagine a sound, it’s usually possible to create. Ferrite’s effects and automation features are truly impressive for an iOS app, but as a user and abuser of Logic’s Space Designer and excessive reverb, echoes, looping and speed effects, it would leave my projects without some of their more grandiose production moments.

There are so many other features Ferrite gets right that I’d love to be able to jump in feet first. The crossfading, the automation (including on effects parameters, hallelujah), strip silence and quick selection of all following clips are all things I didn’t think we’d see on iPad for a while. But it feels as though we may still be a couple of years away from covering all of my particular bases, not least because of iOS’s restrictive audio policies that make apps like Audio Hijack impossible.

Developers like Wooji Juice, who make Ferrite, are the people putting the Pro into the iPad Pro. I can’t wait to see what they do next, and feeling like I live in the future, walking into a recording studio with only an iPad in hand.

Originally published at www.jshield.co.uk.