Recording high quality audio is something that every podcaster is looking for. Whether it’s starting out a new show or improving the sound of an existing one we’re all looking for that slight edge that will make our podcast sound more professional.
But the fact is that many of us, whether our show is a hobby or one we run for our business, don’t have the luxury of recording in a sound studio with professional grade equipment.
Good news is that you DON’T NEED those things to create high quality podcast recordings from your show.
This is the #1 question that we get of our new customers, and quite frankly the one place that is difficult for anyone to consistently deliver on with their podcast. So many variables to into the final product, so we’re going to break down each of them step-by-step.
Our recommendations below are for anyone to record good sounding audio, for relatively little money, and very little technical expertise.
Let’s get started
We covered gear a bit in a separate blog post, but we’ll give the cliff’s notes version here as well.
The list of mics below is in order of Price, and you may say quality, but any of these will absolutely give you a high quality audio recording, and are trusted by many of the top podcasters out there.
The one standout in the list above is the Logitech headset mic. This is not a conventional handheld or mounted microphone, rather it is similar to what someone in a call center or who works on the phone a lot would use. But don’t let this scare you away, it produces great quality audio, with some benefits that regular mics don’t allow for (like consistent distance from your mouth).
With the Shure SM7b you will need an audio interface as it is an XLR connection only (the Rode and Audio Technica are both USB). A good selection for this is the Scarlett Focusrite Solo. This combination will give you incredibly high quality sound for your show.
As you go up this list you will find that the mics produce a more ‘rich’ sound, but they may also start to introduce more of the unwanted background noise, and environmental imperfections. So keep that in mind when thinking about how “good” you want your audio to sound. A better mic picks up more of everything, not just your beautiful voice 🙂
A good example of this tradeoff is the very popular Blue Yeti. The Yeti is an extremely high quality microphone, and is will pick up a broad range of your vocal qualities. However, along with this sensitivity and high fidelity comes the unwanted background noise, hum, and other environmental noise that is present in your home office, but wouldn’t be in a professional sound booth.
So we like high quality mics, like the Rode Podcaster or the Blue Yeti, but ONLY if you are able to control much of the unwanted sound variables in your recording environment.
Aside from the mic itself, assuming you’re choosing one of the mounted or handheld mics there are a couple pieces that you may opt to get as well.
Every time you say “please” and “Thank You” you’re moving a lot of air, and those P and T sounds come off really harsh to the audio editors and your eventual listeners. A POP filter is designed to physically dampen the sound of your Plosives, so that they’re not quite as drastic in the recording. This results in a much smoother sound, and without anything harsh for your listeners.
If you’re in an office or regular recording space you may opt to more permanently mount your mic to your desk. A Boom Mount is a great solution for this, and gets the mic up off the desk, and closer to the level of your mouth.
This is an important consideration because as we’ll talk about in a bit, the vertical alignment (above or below) your mouth will impact the sound of your voice.
An added bonus of the Boom Mount is that now the mic isn’t physically sitting on the desk, where you might accidentally bump into it, set a glass of water down on, or bump the desk with your chair. All of these would result in a really harsh mechanical sound on the recording, which is almost impossible to filter out. The desk clear of the mic is a great way to avoid any of those “ameteur” sound interruptions.
This gets real easy. Use Skype.
Skype is free, most people in the world use it already, and even if they don’t they can sign up in a jiff.
Skype also lets you record your podcast conversations really easily. Depending on whether you’re on a PC or a Mac there are plugin solutions that work directly with Skype to give you awesome recording fidelity.
If you want to get fancy, or really don’t like Skype you can use something like Google Hangouts, any of the conference calling services (UberConference, Zoom.us, etc.) but few of these will offer the ability to later split your and your guest’s sides of the conversations into separate components. This ability is the key to making post production really easy for you down the road.
There are a few blossoming web based recording tools which work alongside a Skype of Google Hangouts call. The most notable is ZenCastr, which is currently Free, and does a nice job of recording both your and your guests’ side of the conversation locally and then uploading them to a shared server. This provides “lossless” recordings, but it one added layer of complexity on top of a regular Skype call recording.
Just recording something locally, without a remote guest? Here are a few quick recommendations, again depending on your operating system:
- PC – Sound Recorder
- Mac – QuickTime
- Either – Audacity
Now that you’ve got your gear picked out and your computer set up to record your new show it’s time to think about how you’ll actually get the recording environment configured. A little bit of preparation here will go a long way in making the end product much more rich, clearer, and professional grade.
To begin with, let’s talk about how you physically sit in front of the microphone. Whether the mic is on a boom mount or a desktop tripod you want to make sure it is roughly at the vertical level of your mouth.
The mic being angled up or down will create a different quality to your sound. The mic being angled down at your chest from above will create a more rich, whole sound to your voice, while the mic being angled up will create a more ‘nasal’ sound.
You should position the mic to where it’s comfortable for you to sit with the mic roughly a fist distance (2-3”) away. The closer you can physically be to the mic the lower the input volume needs to be, and the richer sound you’ll be able to create. Too close causes mumbled and garbled sounds, so we like to recommend about a fist width distance between your mouth and the microphone.
When connecting the mic to your computer (regardless of your recording software) make sure that your external mic is selected as the Input channel, and not your built-in microphone on your computer. Far too many good podcast episodes have gone to waste because of this one missed step.
Within your recording software there will be a volume indicator. This tells you both how loud your recording mic is picking up, as well as the loudness of your guest(s). Both are vitally important in creating audio that can be easily edited, filtered, and enhanced later on.
The sweet spot with audio recording volume levels is to have all of the Green taken up, with a bit of yellow occasionally, and almost no Red. This will result in a volume level that you can “play” with a lot in post processing, without having to sacrifice either clipping for a mic being too Hot or increased noise from gaining up a mic that’s too soft.
If you’re recording any sort of setup where sound will be coming from your computer (a Skype call for instance) it is vitally important that you have headphones on so that your guests voice doesn’t bleed over into your input side of the recording. This will cause echo and reverb, which are quite challenging to get rid of later on.
Unless you’re using aheadset mic like the Logitech that we recommend, it’s imperative that you wear some kind of headphones so that the sound coming out of your computer does not get picked up by your mic as well. This would cause a large amount of reverb and echo on both sides.
The standard Apple headphones that many of us have, or anything that you would listen to music to, is just fine. Some opt for the “over the ear” headphones like the Sony MDR 7506 which will give a slightly richer sound.
Remote Interview Considerations
Another consideration when conducting remote interviews is to ensure that you are maximizing the bandwidth of your internet. Even the best internet (thank you Google Fiber) can bog down sometimes if you have other applications running in the background.
If you’re able, hard wiring into your router via an ethernet cable will ensure the highest speed and most reliable internet connection possible. If this is not possible just know that the distance between you and your wireless router will determine to some extent the speed of your internet. Further away = slower.
We often see poor internet connections affecting the Guest aspect of a remote interview, not your own, so making sure that everyone on the call is following these best practices will help immensely.
Also a consideration, both for optimizing internet speed and for reducing unwanted distractions, is to close or mute all applications that are running on your computer. This is especially important for ones that might deliver notifications or sounds.
Your Recording Environment
Now that we’ve gotten our gear set up, our recording software installed and configured, it’s time to tackle the last topic when it comes to recording great sounding audio for your podcast: Your recording environment.
No, we’re not talking about climate change here. We’re talking about the physical room that you’re recording in.
Is the space you’re recording in large or small? Are there lots of soft items in the room like a bed or couch, a bookshelf with books on it? Carpet on the floors? All of these things will affect the ambient noise of the room.
Sound bounces around a room in waves, and it will reflect off of anything that is hard. It will be absorbed by anything soft. Desks, tile floors, glass paneled walls of an office, are all culprits that lead to a large amount of reverb and echo in a room.
Also often a guilty party are things that create moving air like air conditioning or heaters, your computer fan, or an open window. Reducing this circulation of air around your microphone will allow it to only pick up your voice, and nothing else.
Prepping Your Guest
Our time is all valuable, and that should be kept front of mind when working with your podcast guests as well. There is a lot we can do to prep them ahead of our call so that they know what to expect not only of the content and format of our show, but how to be a good podcast guest too.
A page on your website that describes exactly what your show is about, how to book a time slot, what questions/topics you might ask, information you may need to prepare high quality show notes (like a headshot image or affiliate link), are all things that will streamline your guest booking process and ensure that your guest gets the absolute most out of your podcast interview as possible.
How your guest can optimize their recording setup should be a part of this prep as well. Telling your guests that poor audio quality is not acceptable for your show is a very fair expectation to set up front. Someone coming on your show with just a pair of earbuds may not be acceptable for everyone. Set this expectation up front and avoid misunderstandings when it’s recording time.
When your interview calls starts you can do a quick sound check to make sure your guest’s sound levels are appropriate. Remember, we want all Green, a little Yellow, and no Red on both sides when looking at your volume indicator in your recording software.
After the soundcheck feel free to go through that recording environment checklist with them too:
- Optimizing internet connection by plugging directly into your router or getting as close as possible
- Windows and doors closed and AC/fans off
- Phone off (not just on vibrate)
- All apps on your computer (or auto updating software like Dropbox) closed
- Podcasting mic connected, selected as Input, and powered on
Preparing for Editing
Whether you’re a DIY podcast editor, like I started out as, or you employ a fantastic service like PodcastMotor to do your audio engineering for your show, there are a few handy tips that will help your show out.
- A Moment of Silence – before the episode starts, take a 2-3 second moment of silence. This silence can be used later for filtering ambient noise against, and eliminate some of that low level hum.
- Take your mistakes in Stride – if you make a mistake, say something you don’t want to say, or your guest goes off on a tangent, it’s OK! Take a moment to regain your composure, leave an audio cue in the recording “Ok, let’s take that last part out…starting again now”, pause for a second to allow for enough editing space, and start again. The beauty of podcasting is that it’s not live, and anything can be edited out later. Just leave some room, and make sure that you get the message you want in there somewhere. We can clean almost anything up in post production.
- Mute when necessary – if you’ve done everything you can to optimize your recording environment and audio gear but are still getting some funny noise, don’t be afraid to mute your mic when you’re not talking. Especially if you know you battle things like a hum, echo, or background noise then muting your microphone will go a long way towards saving you editing time on those long stretches when you’re not talking during an interview.
Podcasting is a really fantastic medium, and every day there are tools that make podcasting easier and more accessable for everyone. The big obstacle has long been recording high fidelity audio, every episode.
We truly hope this guide has helped you improve a few things about your audio setup for your podcast. If there’s anything that we’ve missed or you would like included let us know. Drop a comment in below and let us know what your favorite trick, tip, or hack to recording great sounding audio for your podcast is.