In this post, we’re going to be discussing recording your podcast and the gear you’ll need to do it. Also, just a couple of quick notes on this article. First of all, it is strongly encouraged to listen to the podcast version of this article. There’s just so much more depth I was able to add with the podcast that you can’t do justice to in text.
Secondly, this episode felt like “the episode that would never end.” I kept finding new things to add to it, and I’m certain I could keep going ad nauseam. This is why I’m letting you know that I’m going to be developing a page on HumblePod’s website where you can see all my gear recommendations. When the time comes, you’ll be able to find a link for that on this post, and it’ll be a standalone page as well.
The Modern Challenges of Podcasting
Recording and editing your audio is not the easiest thing to do. Since the pandemic, more people than ever are working from home. That means more close quarters with people you love the most, and… more opportunities for interruptions! Dogs barking, cats running over your keyboard, kids crying, and unexpected deliveries all add up to less true “quiet time” to sit down and record episodes, much less editing them.
If you’re producing your show as a hobby, I’m just going to set the expectation now: be prepared for long hours of your spare time going to recording and editing. If you’re doing a podcast for your company, I say, “Same.” As you’ve already seen in this series, I’m trying to do a lot to help make your process as easy as possible, but, regardless of our best-laid plans for the show, it all comes down to the audio we capture for the show and what we do with it.
Quality Content + Quality Audio = Good Podcast
Recording your audio is the “execution” of your idea. So getting this part right is equally as important as getting your positioning right. This is where you will establish the credibility you hope to bring by having a podcast… But, all of that can go out the window if you open your show and it sounds like this, [bad mic audio] “Welcome to My New Podcast, where I talk about interesting things with interesting people.”
Some of you reading/listening will say, “So what? It’s a podcast. Isn’t it more important to have a good idea than have it technically correct?” And, yes, if you’re a hobbyist on a budget, I definitely encourage you to get after it. Don’t let having “expensive gear” get in the way of a good show. There are plenty of successful shows that are done on a low budget at low fidelity.
The problem is the majority of podcasts with low budget and low fidelity don’t have good content. They are two white dudes joking about how “unscripted” their show is and acting like they’re amazing. And that’s just not what podcasting should be for several reasons that I have outlined in previous episodes… and several more for which this is not the platform to discuss. Suffice it to say, if you’re doing this for your business, you should absolutely ensure you have a budget for some decent gear, and you should absolutely stick with everything we’ve covered so far for producing your show. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.
So, what gear do we need for podcasting? First and foremost, you need a way to capture the audio. If you plan to record in person at all, then I recommend getting a physical recorder like the Zoom P4 or Rodecaster “Pro.” I do not recommend relying on a laptop or tablet to successfully capture an entire podcast session. I know, sure, there are some that will do it, but I can’t tell you the pain and heartbreak I’ve felt when you get to the end of a session and see the infamous, “System Out Of Memory,” followed by the program crashing without saving your hour-long recording session with someone you spent months trying to get on your podcast.
If you’re recording by yourself or across the Internet, then, of course, use your computer. A USB interface like the Scarlett Solo or Universal Audio Apollo are great picks depending on your budget. If you want a good starter USB mic instead of an interface, I recommend the Audio Technica ATR2100, Samson Q2U, and the Shure MV7… and please, DO NOT get a Blue Yeti. Sure, they’re all the rage, but they are terrible mics. As for recording software, I recommend a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) like Adobe Audition if you’re doing solo content or Audacity if you’re on a budget. Garage Band works, too.
When it comes time for online interviews, I recommend Remotely. I’ve done some extensive testing of online recording platforms, and in my experience, they have the most consistently good audio of any platform I’ve found while also having the capability for video. Zencastr and TryCast also deserve honorable mentions here. Although I we have run into issues with Zencastr audio getting out of sync in the past, and TryCast is just a mess of a product to download audio from if you don’t know their UI. TryCast has great audio though, and a simple workaround with audio is just to have TryCast upload all audio directly into Dropbox, but still… not perfect.
Now for the fun stuff: Microphones.
We can waste a ton of money on mics, so it’s important that we find a mic that works well from the outset. How do we know what kind of mic is good for podcasting? In general, I recommend a dynamic mic with a cardioid polar pattern. If that terminology is Greek to you, let me explain.
Condenser Vs. Dynamic Mics
Microphones are classified as either condenser mics or dynamic mics. Technical specifics aside, the important thing to know is that a condenser mic is going to be way more sensitive and requires phantom power (+48v) in order to operate. A dynamic mic is going to be less sensitive to sound and does not require phantom power to operate.
For podcasting, I prefer dynamic mics. They tend to work better in real-world scenarios where there is bound to be at least some background noise. Condensers are great for capturing voice, sure, if you have a full-fledged sound booth… but take them outside a studio and you’ll find yourself capturing every. Single. Noise.
One thing to note with dynamic mics: Since they don’t have phantom power they are often underpowered when it comes to their gain input. This is especially true if you’re recording on a mic like the Shure SM7B. You’ll find yourself cranking the mic gain to 11 in order to capture decent audio. And there’s a huge problem with that. All audio recorders and interfaces have a noise floor. Mics and cables add to that noise floor, but if your mic gain is maxed out, that noise floor is going to be really obvious regardless of how good your mic is. Add to that the fact that your mic may still be underpowered, and by the time you increase gain in post, you’re left with a very loud background that you’ll need to tame (if you can). To fix this, you’ll need to buy a gain booster like the Cloudlifter CL-1. This attachment will allow you to use phantom power to boost the gain on your mic so that you don’t have to crank the input gain to 11.
To be clear, you don’t need one for every dynamic mic, but they are useful for some of the better mics on the market, including the SM7B and my personal weapon of choice, the Electro-Voice RE20.
Now, what about the polar pattern? Why is that important? The polar pattern is how the microphone picks up sound. There are several different ways you can set up a polar pattern on a mic, but the two we’re concerned with are Omnidirectional (Omni) and Cardioid. The Omni polar pattern picks up sound from any direction. This is great if you’re using a lavalier mic (a lapel mic) and can’t rely on expert placement to capture sound. A Cardioid polar pattern, on the other hand, is directional. It rejects noise that doesn’t come in from the proper angle. You must address the mic directly in order to properly capture audio.
Given these differences, it should be pretty clear that 99% of the time you’re going to be using a Cardioid patterned mic. However, I bring up the differences here because the Blue Yeti (and many imitators) are known for boasting “Omni” and other weird pattern options within the mic itself. These are gimmicks. You should never record multiple people around one mic for an interview-style podcast. Every guest should have their own channel and their own mic. And if you’re recording solo content, nobody wants to hear your podcast and your roommate flushing the commode or your dog barking. Cardioid gives you more control over these situations and ensures you can still have a fairly quiet recording even in louder environments.
Choosing the Right Mic for You
With all this in mind, how do you choose a mic that’s right for you? If you’re able to make it out to a local music shop and test out mics, then I recommend doing that. Talk to the store associates and play around until you find a mic that sounds right for you. Just remember: Dynamic and Cardioid… and also don’t think, “well, I can EQ this out.” Some voices just don’t sound good on certain mics, and that’s okay. If you’re trying to find mics and can’t go to a local store, then I recommend checking out the Podcastage channel on YouTube. Bander is way smarter than me on mics, and after several video reviews, he’s quickly a “control” for how a mic should sound.
The 5 Rules of Recording
As for mic recording and technique, I have five simple rules you should always follow:
#1 Speak with your full voice. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve recorded with someone and they have gone from being a great, outgoing (and loud) person to all of a sudden shriveling on the mic. Hearing your own voice in the monitor can be part of the head game as well, and to that end, I recommend keeping monitor volumes low unless they specifically request the volume to be increased.
Not speaking with your full voice sometimes comes across as vocal fry as well. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when someone talks like this [imitate vocal fry]. Speaking with your “full voice” will help to quickly rectify this situation. I find this one to be most common when discussing serious matters, by the way.
#2 Use headphones. If you plan on recording live, always have a pair of over-the-ear headphones for your guest. They will ensure that they can stay close enough to the mic and will help them focus in on the conversation. As noted above, don’t let volumes get too loud to ensure they still talk at a comfortable volume. As you may have already realized, people are self-conscious about the sound of their voice, and many people don’t even realize this until they hear themselves on the mic for the first time.
To that end, if you’re recording online, make sure your guest knows to bring headphones. There is nothing more painful than an interview where you hear the host in double. In addition to sounding like an obnoxious echo, if you want to take out your laugh, cough, sneeze, or whatever on the recording, it’s going to be doubly hard when that is also heard on their end during the most important line in the entire interview. This also prevents the guest from “yelling into the laptop,” one of my top podcasting pet-peeves.
Just remember: Friends don’t let friends yell into laptops.
So what do you suggest to your guests? At a minimum, suggest (God Forbid) AirPods. Bluetooth devices are the WORST kind of microphone you can use for recording, but it beats yelling into a laptop. A step up would be an inline mic on headphones. That’s right. The basic Apple EarPods are better than your fancy AirPod Pros for podcasting. Beyond that, if you can afford to ship them a mic, or recommend they buy one, that would be the ideal scenario.
#3 If you’re recording solo, read your material out loud more than once before you record. This will save you time in editing. You’ll probably run into a thousand things you want to fix just reading your writing out loud anyway… I know I do!
#4 If you stumble over a phrase, go back and re-state it. Make sure you don’t OVERSTATE it, of course. If you’re recording live, this is a good practice to get into as you can always go back and use the cut where you didn’t misspeak.
#5 You’re only going to sound as good as the audio you record. If you’re recording in-person. Take a minute to listen to your surroundings. If you’re recording online. Listen to your guest’s surroundings (and yours!) make sure you’re in as quiet and distraction-free of a location as you can manage. If you hear a bunch of reverb, you may want to reconsider recording in your bathroom. Use the walk-in closet instead. Seriously. That’s one of the best places you can record at home. A blanket fort is a close second.
Technically speaking, I recommend that, at a minimum, you set up your audio files in a WAV (or “wave”) format with a bit depth of least 16-bits and a sample rate of 44.1 kHz. Personally, I recommend recording at 24-bit with a 48 kHz sample rate. It’s good enough for podcasting and it won’t eat up storage on your computer’s hard drive.
Now that we’re set up, it’s time to record the trailer… which brings us to your homework.
For your homework, we need to record that trailer. Make sure you have your script ready!
One last quick pro tip before you dive in, too. When you start recording, I recommend you open with three to five seconds of complete silence. This is your opportunity to catch the room tone. We’ll need this when we go to edit, and I’ll explain why once we get there. If you’re recording with a guest, I recommend counting down 3-2-1 on your fingers so everyone knows when time is up and when to start. Once that countdown is up, you’re live!
Once you’re done recording, make sure you do the obvious. Stop the recording. Then ensure that you’ve saved the project file if you’re recording on a computer, or ensure the audio was captured on a recorder. After you’re done with that, you’ll be ready for the final step before we launch your podcast: the edit. It’s going to be fun!