For remote podcasting, I use an Ableton Skype mobile setup using my Apogee Duet audio interface, and I thought you might find it useful, too.
How does it work?
We’re going to take advantage of the way Skype works, and the way Ableton Live and the Apogee Duet work, to give you clean audio of you (the host) and your Skype guest, on separate channels in Ableton Live, so that you can have some separation there for editing….and do it from your boat! (Okay, or wherever you can get decent wifi or cellular coverage.)
Since I’m often interviewing guests overseas, like Ricky Kej, Glenn Schick, Ryan Biddulph and others—and often from aboard my sailboat Jacie Sails—I need a mobile podcast interview rig that is simple, yet gets good quality audio directly into my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, i.e., the software you record and edit with) with as little fuss as possible. (Well, at least as good as the Skype audio is to begin with!)
I’ve had a lot of questions and interest about my setup, so I wanted to share it with you.
In my case, I use a Macbook Pro, Ableton Live, and the Apogee Duet interface. However, this setup, once you understand it, can be modified to many similar setups. (My good friend and fellow podcaster Carnese Jackson is doing something similar with Ableton and his Focusrite Scarlet interface.)
I was talking with our good friend, Carnese Jackson (Episodes 6, 27, 28, and a little bit of Episode 9) about our podcasting rigs and how we deal with getting Skype audio, getting separate isolated audio of us, the hosts, and our Skype guests, into Ableton Live so that you can separately mix and treat the different audio there.
If you’re more of a “video learning” type, just click on the video. Otherwise, read on!
What You’ll Need
- Laptop (or desktop) with Ableton Live and Skype software, and USB port
- Apogee Duet
- Headphones w/ 1/4″ plug or 1/4″ adapter (I use the venerable Sony MDR-7506…)
- XLR mic cable (to get into the Apogee Duet input 1)
- TRS to XLR male adapter cable
(TRS means “Tip Ring Sleeve.” It’s basically just a quarter inch version of an XLR mic cable.)
Apogee Duet Audio Interface for iPad & Mac
(*This is what I use, and the model that’s shown in the tutorial.)
The Important Things
More important than just copying the setup is understanding the why, so you can adapt and troubleshoot your own setup as necessary. To that end, here are the key concepts that this setup revolves around:
- You want to isolate your audio and the guest’s audio on separate tracks of your DAW. Trust me.
- Although you need to send your mic’s audio (and possibly SFX) through Skype to your guest, you do not want to send their own audio back to them! (You want to send them what’s called a “mix minus.”)
That’s really the core of the matter, summarized right there, that we’ll be covering. But I want to add a very important warning:
- Protect your hearing! You’ll be using headphones, so turn them down or take the off before testing your setup, and use appropriate hearing safety measures at all times. Nothing like setting off a deafening feedback loop with your ears encased with headphones to make a bad day. If you’ve got things set up right, you should be able to hear a little bit (not a lot) of your mic or Skype through the headphones while testing them just lying on the desk in front of you, or holding them up closer, but away from your ears. You can then proceed judiciously from there.)
There are some additional wrinkles that we’ll cover later in other articles, such as:
- How to record a video interview with Skype
- How to keep your audio from bleeding into the guest’s mic. (Hint: think headphones)
Here’s a quick summary of what we’ll be doing:
- Plug breakout adapter into Duet
- Plug headphones into Duet headphone 1/4″ output (*need headphones with 1/4″ plug, or an adapter that will let you use the Duet’s 1/4″ jack)
- Plug USB cable into Duet and computer
- Plug microphone into Duet Input 1
- Use TRS-to-XLR male adapter cable to plug Duet Output 2 into Duet Input 2
The first thing you need to do is plug in the hardware cables to the Apogee Duet. The Duet is just a rectangular slab with a knob on it. (And some cool things that light up, like level indicators. But it sounds awesome! Or more correctly, it colors the sound much less than other alternatives I’ve used. Very smooth, indeed.)
You have to plug in the adapter that allows you to plug in XLR or quarter inch inputs and output to the Duet.
Then plug in your headphones into the headphone jack at the bottom of the Duet.
Then plug the Duet into your laptop, or whatever computer. I assume this is mobile, so plug it into your laptop with the USB cable.
The final piece of the puzzle on hooking up the Duet is that we want to plug in our microphone, in this case the Shure Beta SM 58, into the microphone input one on the Apogee Duet.
We want Apogee Output 2 with the TRS cable to go into (XLR) Input 2 on the Duet. Output number two is coming out of the quarter inch TRS balanced output on the Duet.
We’re using that adapter cable to run it back into input number two. That is critical. That’s what is enabling us to both send a “mix minus” to your guest, and to get audio from them in cleanly.
Let’s look at your Skype preferences. They’re pretty simple…
So… You’re in Skype.
You hit [Cmd + ,], and it will probably pop up to your general preferences.
Click on the audio and video, and make sure your Duet USB is selected as Microphone, and the Speakers, Duet USB. I would uncheck, “Automatically adjust microphone settings”.
I was driving myself crazy today wondering why the Apogee was turning itself up and down. This was the culprit. You do not want that happening. You’ll get a ton of background noise.
That’s about it on the Skype page… Yay!
Apogee Maestro Software Mixer Setup
Now, let’s have a look at the Apogee Maestro page. This Apogee Maestro is your virtual mixer for your Apogee Duet.
It may seem a little fiddly at first, but if you just make sure to follow it the way we’ve got it set up, you should be good.
On the inputs, I have them both set to Mic. In my case, 56 on the gain on input one for my SM 58 mic seems to work. I have around 38-ish for Skype. You may need to fiddle with the settings to get the best Signal-to-Noise ratio for your exact setup.
(This would be a good time to remind you: Protect your hearing! Turn them down or take the off the headphones or earbuds before testing your setup, and use appropriate hearing safety measures at all times.)
That’s pretty much it. I have soft limit on. No need to bother you with that. If your levels are set right you’re probably good either way on that one.
For output, just make sure that your headphones are set to output three and four so that everything works right. You’ll see here that we’re picking up the SM 58 microphone. We are not picking up anything on line two because we don’t have a Skype guest yet. You’ll see that the headphones left and right, which we’ve assigned to outputs three and four, are doing what they need to. Coming through Ableton Live, and back into your headphones.
Ableton Live Setup
Here’s the setup in Live.
First go into your preferences with the keyboard shortcut [Cmd + ,]…or simply “Preferences” under “Ableton” in the menu.
You’ll notice here that the input device is Duet USB. The output device is Duet USB.
For the input configuration, we’re using mono channels 1 and 2, which are all the Duet has coming in.
Note that we don’t need to check “1/2 (stereo).” The fewer inputs and outputs selected in Ableton Live, the less strain on the CPU, so activate only what you need.
For output, we’re choosing one and two mono. We’re going to be using those separately on the outputs. We’re using three and four in stereo for your headphone feed. Do that, and also you’ll notice the buffer size we’re setting to 64 samples. That’s in my case about the lowest you can get without starting to get your system get crazy. You might get away with 32. You might need to bump it up to 128. We try and keep it as low as possible without getting any glitches, so that you don’t have any lag in what you’re doing.
You may or may not be aware in Ableton that, by using the Tab key, you can switch between the arrangement view which is timeline oriented, and the session view which is cells for loops and samples and all that good stuff. I’m tabbing over to the session view. Here’s what we’re setting up for each channel. I believe you can do the same thing over in the arrangement view. I just for some reason like to be in session view when I do this stuff. But we notice the audio for the host is on external in here, and we’re bringing it from external one input. If you don’t see these choices, then you probably need to use Command Comma to go back in your preferences, and make sure that the inputs are enabled.
One the Skype guest, we are also coming from external in, and we’re coming in from input two. You notice on the audio to, T-O, the destination, the host and the guest have Sends Only. You’ll notice that Send A, if you come over here to the corresponding column Return A, it says To Skype. It’s going to external out number one. You’ll notice the Skype guest, the Send A is completely down at zero. That’s because the Skype guest does not need to hear the Skype guest going back into their ears. The whole thing we want to do is avoid echo and feedback. We want to get things separated.
Send B is actually what we use to send the host and the guest into your headphones. Over here in the Return B, you notice the audio then goes to the master, and the master out we have set to stereo three and four, which defaults to your headphones.
We’ve got this set up. Again, you can set these Sends and things up probably just as easily in the arrangement view. I just am used to doing it in the session view. Notice we’re over here on the arrangement view, because once you start getting into you podcast you’re on a timeline. You want to be in a linear sort of thing. We’ve got the channels record enabled. When we get ready, we just hit the record and play, record circle and the play arrow, which I’ve already done. You can see the audio scrolling out as I say it.
This is pretty much what it looks like when you’re recording your podcast. Here is a sample.