Podcasting - Getting Started (Part 1)
There is no doubt that podcasting is a great medium. I like to think of it as Radio 2.0. You can listen to your favorite shows whenever you want and when you want - even in a subway tunnel. Internet radio and podcasting has turned the radio industry on its head in the last 10 years. The best part is (for better or worse) is that anyone can do it. Even you.
Creating a podcast sounds easy enough. I mean, record your voice (or voices if you this is a team effort) and then just upload to a podcast hosting service, right? Well, sort of. You certainly don't need to be on the 12th floor of some downtown office building in a radio station sound booth. This is something you can do from your own living room or closet (more on that later).
In this blog post, I'll cover the basics on how to get started - location and equipment. And in part two, we'll talk about production (software, editing tips, etc.) and publishing (choosing a host and how to get it on iTunes, Google Play, and more).
Now, with this as well as any hobby, you can spend very little -- or drop hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for top of the line equipment and recording space. If you've never done podcasting before, I'd recommend the bare essentials until you figure out your show, and what works (or doesn't) for you - both equipment and production wise.
You can start a podcast with as little as a smartphone and an app, but with a little investment
Great sound is more than just a quality microphone. Where you do the deed is just as important. As an example, when I first started doing this for a university course, I had just moved into a house and had very little furniture and nothing on the walls. While the echo sounded cool when playing guitar, recording my voice was another story altogether. My voice would reverberate off the walls and give my recordings a very hollow sound and it showed in my work.
So what is ideal?
If we're going to get down to the brass tax here a sound booth is always preferred - but not necessary. Unless you are ready to rent space, drop hundreds or thousands on a prefab, building your own, or converting an existing room - there are some cheaper, more economical options for those just starting out. For real though, unless you're planning on recording music, a lot of that is really unnecessary.
The best thing you can do is plan ahead and reduce the amount of ambient noise where do your recording and just improve your recording space.
Here are some tips:
Find the quietest room in the house. You'd be amazed at what your microphone can pick up (street noise, neighbors, the dog licking themselves, etc.).
Reduce (or break up) reflective surfaces - carpeted floor, wall decorations (acoustic foam panels are even better), curtains over windows, blankets on the walls if nothing else.
The closet (photo below) - full of sound dampening clothes with uninsulated interior walls, this works surprisingly well if you are using portable recording gear.
Put a blanket over your head and recording device/microphone. This may seem strange at first (it is) but it works pretty well at keeping sound reflection down.
When recording and editing, enough can't be said about listening to your audio through a decent pair of studio headphones.
When I started my journey into audio and video last year I didn't know what I really needed. I got a lot of recommendations, though. For headphones, every professional I knew recommended the Sony MDR 7506 ($79.99 on Amazon). Not a bad price for some professional level gear considering similar pairs cost over a hundred dollars. So, I bought the Sony's.
They are a solid pair of headphones that exude quality. They also had a great flat sound - which is what you want for studio headphones. All the extra bass you find in Beats or Skull Candy mask a lot of the tones while studio headphones allow you to hear just about everything.
Back to the Sony's - they are considered the industry standard in many circles, but I found them incredibly uncomfortable. Seriously. It was like my head was in a vice while I was wearing them and the weight from the coiled cord coming off of one side was hard to put up with. Made my neck ache. I couldn't wear them longer than 20 minutes or so. It's possible there is some sort of adjustment trick that I wasn't aware of. Either way, I returned them.
I'd go through a few more sets of headphones over the next year or so.
At first, I'd try staying on the more economical (cheap) side of things (JVC HARX700, $41.05 on Amazon) but I got what I paid for sound-wise. I ended spending more on replacement set (Direct Sound EX-29, $105 on Amazon) but they broke three weeks later. I even tried going back to the Sony's again... and returned them because, like before, were still uncomfortable. After a couple weeks of research, I ended up coughing up the extra dough and went with the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ($149.00 on Amazon) which were also reputable and much more comfortable. They are light weight, fold up for portability, and have interchangeable/replaceable cords. Even with the higher cost, I can't recommend them enough. Oh and there is a snap-in bluetooth adapter so they can be wireless - great for casual listening but using BT is not recommended for any sort of sound editing.
At that price point though, a cheaper set of studio headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x ($39.77 on sale right now on Amazon) will work much better for anyone just starting out.
Arguably, the most important part of recording a podcast, is the microphone itself. This is a tricky one too, as there a plenty of options out there. You can use your cell phone mic (the built in one or the inline ones on your headphones), a lavalier mic (clip on mic), standalone audio recorder, your computer mic, or a desktop microphone (preferred). While using your phone can work in a pinch (or to get you started), you tend to get what you pay for.
I'd recommend a desktop microphone to start out. Brand-wise, you can't go wrong with anything from Audio-Technica or Blue. Even the Amazon Basics brand are pretty well rated and worth looking into.
If you can swing it, adding a pop filter to your setup is a good way to improve your quality from the get go. Your breath while you talk - the breeze - can cause a popping sound while you record. Talking through a pop filter helps prevent that. It's not for blocking spit, as some would tell you.
For later down the road, I found having a swivel mount swing arm is nice so you don't have to keep your microphone sitting on your desk. You can just swing it out of the way when your done. Also, as you see in the picture above or on the one to the left, there's a suspension system holding the microphone. It's not necessary at this point, but something to keep in mind later. It keeps other vibrations on your desk or recording surface from being transferred over to the mic
Here's a search link on Amazon for some reputable mics. Choose one with a USB connection. This has two purposes - eliminates extra equipment and needed when using analog versions and it can amplify the microphone signal.
Before you publish your podcast, listen to your productions through a decent set of speakers (not your laptop). Even if you have to transfer it to your phone and sit in your car and listen, it's best to hear your production the way that most will hear it -- not through studio equipment.
Eventually, you could always get a set of studio monitor speakers for your computer. They'll have the flatter sound, like studio headphones and are great to have as well.
Like I said in the beginning, you can start all of this with as little as a smartphone and an app, but there are more professional options out there than range from a prescription service to free, and everything in between. I'm also a listing a few other programs not production related that are useful to a podcaster as well.
GARAGE BAND (FREE) - If you own a Mac, you have a free option already on your computer. Garage Band is a program has a simple and intuitive interface that's easy to use for anyone just getting started. It's probably one of the easiest audio applications I've ever used. Whether doing a podcast or recording music, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials out there to help you out if you get stuck.
LOGIC PRO ($199)- This is Apple's professional level audio production software. It's similar to Garage Band in a lot of ways but is feature packed and works great for music or podcast production. This isn't a great option for a beginner. However, Garage Band files import easily so if you ever decide to upgrade to Logic Pro, this is one less thing to worry about.
Price is on the higher side and is only available on the Mac (which may or may not be an issue for you) but it is a one-time cost. No subscription service required.
Windows & Mac Options
If you have yourself firmly planted in the Windows ecosphere or find yourself going between the two major operating systems, and you want an option that will work on both systems, you have quite a few choices.
AUDACITY (FREE) - I can't say enough good things about Audacity. It's an open-source program that has a lot of the same functionality of other premium audio applications and it's FREE. The interface is outdated and and not all that intuitive though so it may be a tough go for a beginner. But, if you can get around that it's a solid option. Not only is it free to use, but it's available on Windows, Mac, and even Linux!
ADOBE AUDITION ($20.99/mo or $239.88/year)
This is the program I use right now. I really can't stand the subscription-based pricing format, but this is a great option if you already a user of Adobe's Creative Cloud suite -- or like the idea of free updates or upgrades. I'm a student and my school (Academy of Art University) provides us with a free full-suite subscription to Adobe CC while we attend the school.
Audition is easy to use for a beginner and is feature-rich for the more advanced users. It's also considered one of the industry standard programs in many circles. My biggest gripe about it, is that it goes through spells of being extremely buggy and crashes at the most inopportune times, which is why I auto-save every two-minutes and manually save as often as I can. As far as cost goes, in one year you'll spend just as much (or more) on Audition than you will with other software, so it may only be worth it if you find yourself needing a multimedia set of programs (Audition, Premiere, etc.) that all work well together - especially for teams.
HINDENBURG JOURNALIST ($95)
While I haven't had a chance to use this program yet, and can't personally recommend it, it's designed specifically for podcasting and lets you publish your work straight to Libsyn or Soundcloud (something will talk more about later). It also offers a 30-day free trial for those who want to put it through its paces before laying down some cash. I'm considering giving it a shot.
CALL RECORDING SOFTWARE
This is one of the least thought about things when getting started until you find yourself in a situation where you need to an interview and your guest is calling in. You could always put your phone on speaker mode and record through your desk mic (not recommended), or use a call recording app for you mobile device, but if you want a other options, here are some solid choices.
Skype has been around a long time and is solid calling and messaging app. It's available on both Android and iOS, internet browsers, and has native desktop apps for both Windows, Mac, and Linux - so it's available to essentially everyone with an internet connected device.
Recently, they added a call recording feature which records both audio and video, and is saved to the cloud so you don't have to worry about performance options on your device. For anyone just starting out, this is an easy choice.
ECAMM CALL RECORDING FOR SKYPE ($39.99 - Free Trial Available, Mac Only)
Until recently, you weren't able to record Skype calls in the app itself, but this is still a great option for other reasons. Recording video and audio with Ecamm on Skype works really well and records each caller on separate audio (and video) tracks which is super helpful when you need to clean up audio or video afterwards. There's nothing worse than trying clean up multiple audio sources on one track. If you find yourself porting over your work into a video format, Ecamm has some other helpful software like, Ecamm Movie Tools or Ecamm Live for cross-platform live streaming from your Mac. Pretty cool.
For Windows users, I'd recommend using the in-app recording features that are in Skype.
Getting started with podcasting can be a pretty daunting task so try not to get too overwhelmed with all of the options. Take one thing at a time. There are plenty of people who start podcasting only to quit weeks later because it isn't what they expected or didn't have time for it, or whatever. In Part 2 of this blog post, I'll take more about the production side of things - Podcasting format, editing tips, hosting, and how to get your podcast on Google or iTunes.
Feel free to ask questions or provide feedback in the comments.