You’ve probably heard the news: we have now entered the era of big podcasting.
It’s easy to think of podcasting as a form of media with a niche audience, but podcasts are invading the mainstream dialogue more so now than ever before. The world’s biggest podcasters are full-blown celebrities. People pay money to see podcasts recorded live. Podcasting is no longer just an industry; it’s become a full-blown media powerhouse.
If you are thinking of entering the big leagues, the raised stakes have plenty of implications. With so many players competing over the rather minuscule amounts of time listeners have available to them, you need to try harder than ever to win a dedicated listener base. Once you do, you need to prove with consistency that your podcast is worth listening to, that you have a message that adds something to their life.
If you do it right, you will connect with more people than you could ever imagine.
After all, that’s what podcasts are about. By fleshing out your ideas through speech, you help listeners form a connection, understanding you the same way they would if they were sitting next to you on a bench.
Creating a podcast is a lengthy, laborious process. While different styles call for different approaches, every podcast has one thing in common: it needs to be recorded.
I encourage podcasters to write a script and edit as well, but you can get away with skipping those tasks if you have enough charisma, concision, and spontaneity.
Recording is different. There is simply no way to create a podcast without recording. However, podcast recording is not as straightforward as it sounds.
There are so many things you need to master in the recording process before you put your product out into the world. If you throw it together, you’ll have no way of competing with the cream-of-the-crop. After all, if listeners can detect a lack of care in the recording of your podcast, why should they care about listening to it?
Here’s my handy guide to making sure you know how to make the most out of the podcast recording process to get the best podcast you can. If you keep all these things in mind, it will be far easier to put out a podcast that sounds professional which, with the scale at which podcasts are being produced now, is an absolute must.
Get Your Microphone
I hate to break it to you: podcasting in an investment.
It can seem tempting to want to use the microphone on your Apple headphones or your smartphone to record your podcast. It’s free, it’s easy, and if listeners really care about what you say, it doesn’t matter how it sounds, right?
Wrong. As soon as listeners detect a compromise in quality in your podcast, they lose trust in your authority and you immediately start to fight an uphill battle. For some people, a cheap microphone won’t burn a bridge, but in order to appeal to as many listeners as possible, your voice needs to sound smooth as silk in their ears.
To accomplish this, you will need a microphone that records high-quality audio. You don’t necessarily need to break the bank, but a high-quality microphone is absolutely worth investing in, especially if you view this as a long-term commitment.
There are plenty of options on the market, and we don’t have time to assess the pros and cons of all of them in this article. Thankfully, I have another article about the best podcasting microphones, so be sure to check that out if you want to make an informed decision.
An ideal microphone is one that picks up your voice in a clear, crisp way and doesn’t bring any painful, cheap-sounding hums or clips with it. A low-quality microphone will distort your voice at higher volume levels, making it grating to listen to. If people have to wince when they hear your podcast, they will be far less inclined to keep tuning in.
But Wait…You Might Need More Gear
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a good microphone is all you need to purchase before you launch your podcasting career. While you can get away with plugging a microphone into your computer and going to town, there are quite a few other investments you can make if you want to take it to another level (spoiler alert: you should).
For example, certain high-quality microphones are only able to plug into your computer through XLR. If you purchase a USB microphone, you will be able to connect it directly to your computer, but if you’re set on a microphone with XLR, you will need an audio interface.
An audio interface is not only a worthy investment because you need it to plug in an XLR mic into your computer; it can give you far more flexibility and control over how your audio sounds. It also raises the ceiling for audio quality, which is a huge plus if you’re chasing the best sound quality possible.
Depending on which microphone you buy, you might need a pop filter as well. One the harshest sounds microphones pick up are the sounds your mouth makes when you say words with “p” or “t” in them. Your listeners don’t want to hear you spitting into the mic. Luckily, a pop filter helps contain the impact those ugly sounds have when you record them and can do wonders to make your audio files less grating to listen to.
You might also need a boom mount. If you’re recording while sitting at a desk that is too low, you might have to bend down to speak into the mic. Bending down can actually impact the sound of your voice, making it hard to get words out at a rapid pace (which, as a podcaster, is something you’ll need to do). A boom mount allows you to control how high up your microphone is, giving you the ability to adjust it to the perfect distance from your mouth.
Chances are you already have these, but a pair of headphones can be incredibly useful if you are recording over your voice at any point, or if you have multiple people on your podcast and want to hear their voice as you talk. Recording without headphones can be a tricky process, so plug those things in!
Pick A Recording Software
Once you’ve got all your equipment, you’ll need to make another big decision: what software are you going to use to record?
Different podcasters swear by different software, so here is a quick rundown of the more popular ones and whether they will work for you.
If you have a Mac, you probably already have GarageBand installed on it. It is extremely convenient and easy to use, because you can edit directly in it. When you’re doing something as simple as recording and editing your own voice, Garageband is a great entry point because it is uncomplicated and very accessible.
For users of other systems like Windows and Linux, you can get the Garageband experience by downloading Audacity, which is the most widely used amateur audio recording software. Unlike Garageband, it is designed specifically for recording, editing and modifying audio clips. Garageband’s focus is more on recording music, which means Audacity might be more technically geared to what podcasters do. It is also free.
There are fewer limits on what you can do with professional recording software like Adobe Audition and Pro Tools. If you are taking podcasting seriously and don’t want your efforts to be restrained by technology, you’re probably better off looking at programs like these. Unfortunately, they cost money and require a lot more time spent learning to get the most out of them.
Another option is Skype. Skype is free, and although it is mainly used for phone calls, it is perfect to use, alongside a Skype call recording software, if you have guests that are calling into your podcast. That way, both sides of the conversation will be recorded at the highest quality and you won’t have to deal with the issues that come when trying to record speaker audio on a mic. Using a call recorder on Zoom is another option.
Find A Place to Record
Now that you have your recording set-up, the only thing standing between you and your podcast is the recording process! That’s no small task, and for it to run smoothly, you need to create a recording space where it can thrive.
At risk of sounding condescending, I’m going to skip the part where I tell you to record at home or in a studio and not in a café. Obviously, background noise will only hurt the quality of your podcast, so you’ll want to avoid it at all costs.
Bottom line: you’ll want to choose an environment with minimal distractions before you start recording. Any screens, phones, street noise or animals might disrupt your train of thought, so don’t be afraid to lock yourself in and hunker down on the recording. There’s nothing worse than having your mind wander during a valuable tangent, leaving you at a loss for words when you have to regroup. Pick a time to record when nobody will be bothering you.
The type of room you’re in can affect the sound quality in a pretty direct way. For example, you might find that a room has a bit of an echo and reverb, and those sounds will be picked up on mic. If your room has a lot of desks, tiled floors or glass panels, it might be at risk of excessive echo. If you find this becoming an issue, pick another room.
If your home isn’t conducive to recording, there’s probably a nearby library or coworking space where you can rent out a conference room. Every area is different, so make sure you use Google to see what your options are.
Also, make sure any sources of pesky background noise (air conditioning, heaters, fans, fridges, washers, dryers) are minimized.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
Yes, there are podcasts that center around spontaneous charisma, where the best moments are off-the-cuff, improvised spurts of humor. If that’s what you’re going for, you need to have the chops to pull it off. If not, then you need to prepare for recording.
Make sure you have a script or at least some sort of pre-planned idea of how the podcast is going to go before you record. Otherwise, you will risk coming across as sloppy and unprepared. If you believe sloppiness is part of the appeal of your podcast, make sure you’ve thought long and hard about why. Make sure you’re not making an excuse for your own laziness.
If you have a co-host or a guest, it’s important to get them on the same page as you before you record. If anyone is unprepared going into recording, you are going to end up with a messy podcast episode. A good way to do this is to share your show notes with anyone involved before you hit the record button.
On the other end of the spectrum, nobody likes listening to a podcast where the podcaster is clearly reading off a script. Prepare, rehearse, and think about what direction you’re going to go in before you hit the record button.
Speak Clearly, With Good Technique
There’s only so much a solid recording set-up can do to make your podcast sound good. The rest of it is up to you, and more often than not, your speaking performance can make or break your podcast.
Make sure you do a test run to see if your microphone is picking up your voice before you record the whole podcast. Make sure you don’t sound too close or too far from the mic, and that your posture isn’t interfering with your ability to project your words.
A good rule of thumb is to place your mic at the same height as your mouth and at least two or three inches away. If you don’t want to get a ruler out, this is about the length of your fist.
Make sure the input volume on your mic is set at a level that complements your voice. Don’t move around too much during recording or you’ll risk having inconsistent volume. There’s nothing listeners hate more than having to manually adjust the volume level of their phone when they’re listening to a podcast.
Remember, You’ll Probably Need to Edit
Here’s some good news: you don’t need to record everything in one take!
Yes, while it’s tempting to get it all out, things are likely to go wrong. Don’t be afraid to stop and restart when you record, scrapping any audio that doesn’t add to the vision of your episode.
That being said, audio editing is a whole new process, and you’ll want to make it as easy as possible in advance. If you are recording and you make a mistake, pause and restart so you don’t have to edit around a bad take. Make sure you record at least ten seconds of silence of ambient sound in the room, which will be valuable if you need to filter noise out in post-production.
Also, don’t get too attached to everything you say. You probably love hearing yourself talk. You might find everything you say in a two-hour podcast episode funny, but that doesn’t mean your audience will. Be a harsh editor, and make sure you filter out any redundancies, weak points or filler before you put your podcast out in the world.
Depending on what recording software you use, you might need an editing software as well. Editing is a whole new process that we don’t have time to get into, but it’s just as important in making sure your product is good to go.
Congrats! Now It’s Time to Export
Now that you’ve recorded your podcast, it’s time to put it out into the world. Make sure you save it and export it into a file type supported by whatever platform you decide to use. Now it’s time for the fun part; uploading your podcast on a podcast hosting platform, promoting it on social media and watching your listener base grow!
In the saturated world of podcasting, it takes a lot to stand out. Even if you have the strongest vision, you’ll need to get the nitty-gritty technical things right before you can do anything else.