How to choose a podcast microphone and other podcast recording tips
How to choose a podcast microphone and other podcast recording tips
At last, the bit you’ve probably been most excited about: actually recording your show. This is where the fun should really begin, provided you’ve got the gear (and ideas) to get you and your guests sounding great. If you know how to use it, there’s no reason why entry-level equipment can’t do the job.
Which podcast microphone should I use?
Finding the right microphone doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. There are different levels of price-point depending on the type of microphone you opt for, and each category comes with its unique selling-points and downsides.
If this is your first foray into the world of podcasts, you might decide to start with an Entry-Level USB Microphone – for the time-being at least. They’re simple to use: plug one of these mics into the USB port on your laptop and it’s normally as straightforward as “hitting record”. However, most computers won’t be able to record from two USB mics at the same time, making these great for solo shows but more limiting if you have a co-host or guests.
What are your top tips for podcast recording?
“Knowing your audience is our best tip for prepping for a podcast recording. Whether it's your first episode or your 300th, prepare how, when and what you share, keeping your listeners front of mind. We feel connected to our listeners so we're not just talking to each other when we record, we're talking to them too. From a practical perspective we try not to record when we're rushed or stressed as that will show through in our recording. We turn off all distractions and give the podcast our full attention to bring the greatest quality content to our listeners.”Amy Revell & Kirsty Farrugia
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If you feel ready to up the budget a little, you might go for a Mid-Level Dual Output microphone – a mic that has both a USB output as above, but also an XLR output, making it compatible with external devices like an interface or mixer. Interfaces and mixers work between your microphone and the audio workstation on your computer, allowing you to record from multiple mics and better control levels. This is another bit of kit to consider as you expand your home studio set-up.
You might eventually decide you want to go for a much more complex, professional-grade microphone. Bear in mind, however, that more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better here. Professional-grade mics are great if you’re in a studio, but if you’re recording from home – as many podcasters are – they might do too good of a job, picking up lots of atmospheric noises that would otherwise go unnoticed.
How to record a podcast remotely
If you’re interviewing guests on a regular basis, the chances are they won’t all be able to meet you in person. Being able to record remotely opens up a world of possibilities, giving you access to higher-profile, in-demand and even international guests.
Recording a conversation remotely will rely on using third party software. You’ll probably be familiar with Zoom. But you may not know that the video calling software makes it very easy to record a conversation, by simply pressing the record button at the bottom of the screen once the call has started. Be aware that the file that downloads automatically will be an MP4, which you’ll need to convert to a MP3 or WAV file before you can edit it into your show. Zoom calls can also sound very compressed, so you might not get the audio quality you’re after.
Zencastr is a popular option among many podcast creators thanks to its straightforward, user-friendly interface. Better still, link it with a Google Drive or Dropbox and it will download your audio files automatically after every conversation. You can download and use it for free with certain limitations or, alternatively, pay a monthly subscription fee to access the full service — giving you the option to download higher quality WAVs.
Squadcast is a more expanded interface than Zencastr, and is probably better suited to the more experienced podcast creator. However, once you feel more at home with your craft, it may be an option worth exploring. Squadcast is a little more pricey, with monthly plans ranging from $10 to $150 for audio only (after a week-long free trial).
Finally, Riverside.fm sits in a similar bracket to Squadcast with a little more focus on video recording. This makes it a great option if you’re planning on hosting videos of your interviews alongside the pod. Plans cost between $9-$24 a month, and the free trial for this one only lasts an hour.
How to master podcast microphone technique
Having a microphone is one thing. Knowing how to use it is what really matters. Fortunately there are a few simple rules that will make sure you always get it right.
First, you need to be the right distance away from the microphone. Opinions differ on precisely how many inches away you should be, but as a red line you should be at least a full hand-span away. Once your mic is connected to your computer, you can test out levels by looking at the waveforms on your audio workstation when you talk. If they’re maxing out, you’re too close. To get the most out of everyone talking, every guest on the podcast should have their own microphone.
What’s the golden rule(s) of microphone technique to remember when recording?
“This is going to sound ridiculous but make sure it’s plugged in and selected! It’s embarrassingly common to have a great mic in front of you doing nothing as you have your computers built in mic still selected in your DAW. Once that’s sorted, make sure you’re not coming in too hot and causing distortion, then simply try to keep a fairly consistent distance from the mic (facing it rather than talking away from it).”Scroobius Pip
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Now you’ve sorted the distance, it’s important this remains consistent. Try not to move closer or further away during the recording, otherwise your levels will vary across the session. You might find it easier to stay in one place if you’re sitting down, but some people also prefer the way they sound when they’re standing up – so don’t write it off if you can make it work. It’s also very important not to touch the microphone during the recording, as this can create noisy interferences.
Finally, it’s worth getting acquainted with plosives. A plosive is the sound your mouth makes when you say a word with a hard consonant, like a P or a T. The air you push out forming these letters can prove too much for your microphone to handle at such short range, creating a fuzzy distortion on impact. The easy fix for this is to buy something called a pop filter, a small barrier that sits between your mic and your mouth. They don’t cost very much and will save you a lot of stress in the edit.
How to make the most of your podcast environment
We don’t all have access to recording studios — and, besides, some of the best podcasts in the world are recorded in bedrooms and kitchens. The key is making the most of your environment.
If you’re recording from a room in your home, it's a good idea to turn on your mic, put some headphones on, and listen to the ambient sounds without anyone talking. This way you’ll pick up on any background noises it might be worth getting rid of: the drip of a tap or the vibration of a washing machine, for example. Audio quality will also be affected by the size of the room you’re recording in, and what’s in it. A larger, emptier space can sound echoey as sounds bounce back, while a smaller, carpeted room with lots of furniture will help absorb the noise.
If your podcast involves reporting on a story, for example, you may want to record interviews or snapshots of audio on the move. While you won’t be able to capture the same quality of audio as a proper microphone would, you can get good-enough quality sound using something as simple as the voice notes feature on most phones. You might decide to take this one step further and invest in a portable microphone or dictaphone, which can take the quality up another level. If you think you’re going to be outdoors a lot, it’s worth investing in a foam windscreen as well. These are low cost and will save you a lot of background interference.
Wherever you record, don’t forget that atmosphere is part of the appeal of many shows. If you’re recording from your kitchen, build that into the podcast. As long as the audio is clear, people will appreciate being welcomed into your home.