So You Want to Start a Podcast? Pt. 2
People naturally flock to stories and ideas that are interesting. But if the quality of your podcast sounds like you hijacked a Walkman and are recording at the bottom of a well, the best content in the world won’t save you. There’s a ton of equipment out there to make your podcast sound clean and professional.
It can feel overwhelming to find microphones and software that work for you, which is why the second part of our podcast series dives into the best options for recording and editing your podcast. If you missed part one on creating content, check it out here.
Your First Decision
Perhaps the biggest decision you’ll have to make is whether you record directly through a computer or via an SD card. There are pros and cons to each. Using a computer means you have the file readily available to edit as soon as the recording session ends. But to get top sound quality, you’ll need to rely on both a mixer and the computer itself. If one experiences a problem during recording, it will likely render the other one useless.
Meanwhile, a recorder with an SD card is only reliant on the device it’s in. After recording you’ll have to upload the file to a device with audio editing software. Most devices using SD cards require batteries instead of being plugged into a charger, so you’ll want to make sure you always have spare batteries on hand. A device using an SD card is a bit more portable, so that may be a better route if you plan on taking your podcast on the road often.
Your next decision is about what kind of microphones you plan to use. There are three main options to choose from:
USB Microphones: A USB microphone is typically a cheaper and lower quality option, though it plugs right into the computer, bypassing the need for a mixer. For USB microphones, we recommend a Blue Yeti or a Snowball. Let’s dive into what these two mics offer a bit more:
- They come with their own stand and plug in easily to a USB port. They’ll work with nearly every audio editing software.
- They’re both condenser microphones, so they pick up sound from any direction. If you can only use one microphone, you could have two hosts or a guest gather around the same microphone to speak into it. However, because of the sensitivity of these mics, they’ll pick up any sound. That includes chair squeaks, papers shuffling, or even a honking car horn outside.
- A noise filter is helpful for cutting down on this background noise. The LyxPro VRI-30 is a reliable option, but even standard acoustic panel studio foam will be effective in dampening some outside noise.
XLR-Cable Microphones: If you’re going the mixer route, you’ll likely need mics that use XLR-cables. These plug into a mixer or other recorder, and while there are many different options, we’ve found the following setup to work quite well:
- Behringer Ultravoice Microphones: These mics are quite inexpensive but require male-to-female XLR cables (either 15 feet or 6 feet in length), since they will plug into a mixer. Unlike the USB microphones, they are dynamic, meaning they primarily pick up the sound that comes from directly in front of them.
- Hamilton Nu-Era Tabletop Mic Stand: To make things easier for hosts and guests, we also recommend mic stands. It can be cumbersome to have to hold a microphone for an extended length of time. Having stands keeps everyone relaxed, which leads to a smoother, more natural conversation. The Hamilton Nu-Era Tabletop Mic Stand is a great, inexpensive choice.
Mixers: Mixers are a bit more technical but will improve audio quality tremendously because you can control individual channels. If one guest is very quiet and another naturally speaks in a booming voice, you can account for that using a mixer. With a USB microphone, this difference will be notable, it would take many hours of editing to correct for it, and even then, the result will not be great. When choosing a mixer, consider how many guests or hosts you may have on any given episode.
- Behringer U-PHORIA supports up to four microphones and connects to editing software via USB. The U-PHORIA mixer also plugs easily into an outlet, so there’s no need to worry about a battery giving out midway the episode.
- Zoom H6 is hard to beat if you’re going the portable recorder route. The H6 is a recorder and mixer all in one. It supports up to six different tracks at once on an SD card with up to 20 hours of battery life.
In a perfect world, everyone would be able to come to your studio to record in-person. Face-to-face conversations will always sound better than remote ones, but if your guest must join remotely, you have a few options:
- Zencastr: This platform is made for podcasters by podcasters, so they try to make remote recording as easy as possible. As a result, it’s become an INK favorite whenever we have a remote guest. You’ll provide a custom link for your guest; all they need is a secure Internet connection (either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi) and some kind of microphone, even if it’s just the default laptop option. Zencastr records each guest’s audio individually in both .mp3 and .wav files, so you’ll get a nice, crisp recording even if your guest isn’t right next to you.
- Call Recorder for Skype: If you’re an Apple user, this can be a helpful recording tool. It’s an add-on to Skype that can record both video and audio. The downside is that your guest must also have Skype downloaded.
- Uber Conference: Recording a phone call usually won’t produce as high-quality a podcast, but it can be done in a pinch. You’ll give your guest a conference line and record the conversation. All they need is a phone and an area with good cell phone service.
You could certainly spend a lot on editing software, and you’ll get plenty out of advanced programs like LogicPro, Pro Tools, or Reaper. With these tools, you can cut out audio you don’t want, adjust noise levels to remove unwanted hiss or static, and splice in music during intros or outros. However, we’ve found we can accomplish just as much with free software. We use the multitrack functionality of GarageBand to record an individual channel for each host and guest and the software pairs well with the Behringer mixer.
After recording and an initial edit, we use Audacity, a free downloadable program that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. While the user interface is fairly simple, Audacity offers quite the extensive suite of helpful options for podcasters, including noise reduction, silence finders, compressors, and fade-ins and fade-outs. Audacity does have a bit of a learning curve, but the comprehensive manual and Audacity Wiki includes tips and tutorials that will have you editing like a pro in no time.
Now you have the tools to not just put together killer content, but also make sure it’s getting delivered to people’s ears in crystal-clear quality. Next time, we’ll go into the best ways to market your podcast to your target audience.