So you want to make a podcast, eh?
Podcasts are the newest thing since blogs. When blogs first appeared, everyone wanted to make one. Some rose to the top in popularity and became full-time jobs. Other blogs were just for fun, and both types were fine. Podcasting is much the same way. These days, everyone is getting into the podcasting scene.
So what’s involved? Here are some general basics, shared with the help of a toddler with a dream.
1. Come up with an idea.
This is possibly the most important factor, though it’s often the most overlooked. All the best equipment and speaking/audio techniques in the world won’t help if you’re not consistent with content and have a solid idea. Will you use a script or talk on the fly? Is your topic and overall show something you yourself would enjoy hearing? That’s the number one piece of advice Jason Weiser of the Myths and Legends Podcast shares, and it’s part of why he can make a new episode week after week and still enjoy what he does.
Other factors to consider are: how often episodes will air (weekly, bi-weekly, in seasons, continuously), how long episodes will be, and how sustainable your content is for you at that frequency. These are some basic places to begin the planning process.
Once you’re ready with a great idea, it’s time to actually make the show.
2. Set-up your workspace.
Find a location to record and put together your show. A great workspace should be quiet (meaning minimal background noise) with little to no noticeable echo when you talk. Noise is any unwanted acoustic signal, whether it be electrical noise, ambient sounds, a refrigerator running, etc. Remember that sound in the air is just acoustic waves (pressure), so the harder your environment (bare walls, reverberating desk, essentially no dampening) the more distortion and echo you will have in your recordings. The easiest fixes? On a budget, use thick fabrics or foam (like blackout curtains, square foam panels purchased online, or even an egg-crate mattress cover) on walls/doors and over windows. Fancier options might include a sound booth, such as the popular Whisper Room or another type of sound booth (shoutout to my prior audiology days).
Minimally, you’ll also want a microphone and a way to record (usually using a computer, possibly a standalone recorder… though you will ultimately need a computer anyway).
A word about equipment: upgrade when you can, but don’t feel like you have to break the bank to get the absolute best before you’re ready.
There are lots of websites that discuss the difference between types of microphones, mainly dynamic versus condenser. Which one is best for you will depend on many factors, including quality of your workspace (again, that means how sound-treated it is), whether you are in a studio-type space or in the field, your budget, the number of people talking on your show, and more.
The sequence above shows an exchange from a Blue Snowball microphone to an Audio-Technica ATR2100, which is a pretty competitive starter dynamic microphone. The stand it comes with is a bit lacking, but its cardioid pick-up pattern does a very good job of catching sound directly in front of the mic (comparatively more than noise and other sounds surrounding it), better than you’d expect from it’s low price. (Again, shoutout to audiology and those polar plots, microphones, and amplification we had to study.)
Personally, I use a Shure SM7B dynamic microphone (with the puffy windscreen) on a Rode swivel arm boom stand mounted to my desk, all routed through a Cloud Lifter preamp and FocusRite audio interface to my desktop computer. I didn’t start out this way, but I do notice a huge difference after making the switch.
My husband uses the Heil dynamic microphone with a similar set-up. Our voices are different, so we tested them out before picking our preference. A lot can be changed in the mastering process, but the less you have to do after recording, the better!
It’s a good idea to check and record ambient noise levels prior to recording content as this is helpful in post-processing. Simply record a section of tape in “silence” for later use.
Another tip is working on microphone technique. Yes, there’s more to recording than just saying the words you want to have on tape. Talking produces sound which, again, is acoustic waveforms- essentially pressure in the air- and we control those vibrations from our vocal folds with our tongue and mouth like an instrument (simplified, of course!). For example, it’s helpful to account for explosive plosives that produce an amateur-sounding puff that microphones always seem to hear. You could use both a windscreen and voice control. Special breathing techniques can also help reduce large gasps for air that are annoying to edit out.
There are a variety of recording and editing programs out there. Audacity is friendly on the wallet; I prefer Adobe Audition if you can swing it. I recommend learning at least some of the intermediate functions of any software you select, and there are plenty of tutorials and YouTube videos out there.
4. Edit and mix.
How you mix your podcast together contributes a lot to the audio quality (and overall quality, really), style, and tone of your show. This will be different based on content (scripted, conversational), number of sound sources (host, host and guests, ambient sounds or you want to include), and more.
I edit episodes together in Multitrack mode so that my voice, guest voices, and music are all on multiple, separate tracks. This lets me make global adjustments to each sound source individually. I also use custom Effects Rack settings to help voices pop and be easier to hear (again, audiology…). I won’t go into specific details about that here because it’s more complex, but think of it like a digital photographer doing edits to enhance contrast, tone, highlights, etc. A quick search online for audio effects in Adobe Audition should be a good starting point.
If you’re adding music to vocal content, you’ll want to pay attention to the speech in noise ratio (SNR). Essentially, how loud is the speech of your show relative to the music? It’s better for music to be slightly too soft than too loud, otherwise you’ll have a lot of complaints from listeners that they can’t hear your show very well.
Another basic technique is to match loudness (the psychological perception of sound intensity expressed by physical amplitude) across tracks. This helps smooth out your sound and listening comfort.
5. Re-record sections as-needed.
Perfection is great, but we’re all human at the end of the day. If you had to re-record a word, sentence, or section… then you’d be just like me.
6. Export your file.
Once you’re all finished with your episode and you’re happy with the result, it’s time to export everything into a usable file that you can publish. How this is done depends on the program you’re using, but a common format is mp3. A simple program like Music Tag Editor can help you customize episode art, artist, title, and show name built into the file for use on players.
7. Drop the episode, then start again.
Finally, it’s time to publish. Find a hosting service that you like (such as Libsyn, Blubrry, etc.) and follow their steps to uploading your show. You will likely need to pay for hosting, so it doesn’t hurt to shop around. Whoever you use should also have instructions for adding your show to iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, and more. Make sure you know your RSS feed because this will make things a lot easier.
Then, it’s back to the drawing board to create your next episode.