In this article I will cover:
- Things to consider before you start your first podcast
- What an audio chain is and what you need to build one
- And tips to make your podcast sound more professional
Are you at the point in your life where you have decided it’s time to create your own podcast? Maybe it’s because you just want to start a new hobby, maybe there’s a message you want to share with the world, or maybe it’s a way to support your existing business.
Whatever your reason ends up being, the fact of the matter is that you want to start a podcast. And that may raise at least one dilema which I hear a lot from people. And that is, “How do I start a podcast?”
Depending on who you talk to, it may end up sounding like an easy task or a daunting one, but most current podcasters start with two questions. The first question is what is your podcast going to be about. It’s a not so simple question when you start thinking about it. This is because, you have to think not only about what the podcast is going to cover, but who the podcast is for (aka your target audience).
If you don’t have an answer for that, then the second question will be a moot point because it involves making an investment. Something you shouldn’t do until you have the first question answered. That second question of course is what equipment do you need?
When I say that this second question involves an investment, what that means is that you will need to spend some money on audio equipment and if you start looking right now, you may get a little overwhelmed with your options.
If you are at the point where you need to get the equipment, here’s some friendly advice from someone who has been working several years in improving his sound equipment on a limited budget at times.
Unless you plan on hiring someone to handle all the audio engineering for you, you will need to take some time to learn a little bit about the trade and I hope this information suits you well.
Before I get too far into that, I would like to point out that there are some other parts to running a successful podcast that we won’t be covering in this article, but if you are interested in learning more please feel free to reach out to me and I’d be happy to help. I’ve mentored others before in creating a podcast and would be happy to work with you too!
With that said, on to the audio side of things.
When you start looking at equipment, you need to think of the entire audio chain. An audio chain is the equipment needed to get the spoken word to your computer. And it simply starts with a microphone, which goes to something that turns your analog audio into a digital signal and then to a laptop or some other recording device. This is where people get caught up on spending lots of time and money.
We’ll get into that a bit later, but before you start thinking you need to get the most expensive gear to make sure you sound super professional, take note that some podcasts that I have listened to are pretty good and have some pretty limited sound quality. There are some things you want to take into consideration such as making sure your episodes aren’t too quiet, too loud, or have too much unwanted sound. One way many podcasters do this is by listening to themselves as they record by wearing headphones. It may be weird at first, but trust me when I say that it helps a lot. If you’ve recorded an hour long episode only to find later that it doesn’t sound good, you’ve just wasted a lot of your precious time and may not feel like doing it again.
And while I did say that the audio quality isn’t as important as the quality of the material being discussed. Any improvements you can make, will create that much more of an enjoyable time for your listeners. Here are a few suggestions to help make your podcast sound better.
- Pick a good location - One that is quiet with little to no background noise and chance for interruptions. If you need to, be sure to put a “Do Not Disturb” sign up so people know not to come knocking on your door.
- Dampen the sound - Look up, down, and around you. Do you see a lot of flat smooth surfaces including walls and floors? The more audio can bounce around, the more echo you will get. Clap your hands and if you can hear an echo, consider putting up blankets, towels, or other materials that absorb the acoustics to deaden the audio a bit. Time to relive your childhood days of having a pillow fort!
- Test your audio - Do a couple dry runs and play it back. If you want to check the background noise. Hit record, leave the room for a few minutes, comeback and play back the audio to see if you can hear any unwanted sounds.
- Deal with plosives - You may notice when you talk into a microphone while saying, “Peter piper picked a pepper” the air from your “Ps” make a loud puff sound that is hard on the ears. The best way to fix it is with a pop filter. If you don’t want to buy one for $10-$20 you can make one by stretching a nylon stocking over a coat hanger for dirt cheap!
- Don’t touch the microphone - Microphones are very sensitive and can pick up a lot of sounds. Most importantly, when they get hit or just touched. Using a stand or boom arm is a great way to help with that. You may also want to keep from touching the table too.
Build your audio chain
Ok, let’s get into the equipment you’re going to need. It could be a simple setup or it could be as involved as what you would see in a professional recording studio. But for your sake, let’s just get your started with a few inexpensive options.
First consider your budget. You may be able to get started under $100 if you have some of the equipment such as a laptop or recording device. You may also be able to just use your cellphone to do it all and with the tips previously mentioned, it may work out perfectly for you. While that may be the case, let’s take it a step further than just a cellphone and cover what you will need.
- Microphone - You have two choices. A USB mic or an XLR mic. Getting a USB mic will be enough to get you started because it can plug right into your laptop and you can get started without anything else. The price though may be a little bit more up front, but it is a super easy route to go. If you go XLR, you will need more to complete your audio chain. A basic XLR mic can start as cheap as $20-$30 dollars. If you decide on an XLR mic, take note if it needs phantom power. This will affect your next purchase.
- Mixer board/preamp - First think about how many people will be talking and if you want to share microphones. If you have multiple microphones, find a mixer board or preamp that will support the amount of microphones you need. The more you need the more expensive things will get. Many inexpensive mixer boards provide phantom power (aka 48v power). You can usually get a 1-2 microphone mixer board for less than $100. I’ve used Behringer brand mixers before with no problems. I currently use a Focusright Scarlette 2i2 myself and really enjoy it. It really wasn’t that much more expensive either. Just make sure you have something that has USB output so it can then connect to your computer.
- Headphones - As mentioned before, having some headphones will help you hear what you sound like. You can either have some that fit in your ear, over your ear, or get some that completely cover your ear. The ones that cover your ears are best but most expensive. Regardless of what you pick, most mixer boards have a spot for either headphones or monitor. If not you can also just plug them into your computer. This is the only area where I say it’s ok to use a splitter so more than one pair of headphones can be connected should you have another person speaking.
- Cables - Before we get to the computer, let’s talk cables. The only thing you really need to pay attention to is making sure you have a long enough cable and if you are worried about electrical interference, you may want your audio cables to be shielded. For a starter setup, you shouldn’t have to spend too much on cables. In fact, I suggest going to monoprice.com for all of your cables. Sometimes you’ll spend more on shipping than you will with the actual cables.
- Laptop/Recording device - Option one is you can buy a stand alone recording device. Some may actually have a spot for you to plug in your microphones and also act as a pre-amp. If it doesn’t then you would just plug it in to your mixer’s auxiliary out and hit record. If you have a laptop, you would plug your mixer to it via the USB output. As long as your laptop or computer isn’t too old, it should be able to recognize your mixer/pre-amp as an external microphone.
- Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) - This is the last thing you will need if you don’t have a stand alone recording device. The DAW is the program that will record and edit your audio. There are many options, each with their own features and plugins. And the best part is the cheapest option that works pretty darn well is called Audacity. They have an upgraded version with more features, but if you don’t need too much the free version will do the trick.
And that’s pretty much it. That’s what you need to get yourself started. To recap, your audio chain simply will look like this: Microphone > Mixer/Pre-amp > Computer/Recording device > Headphones. Everything else is just stuff to put on your wish list such as a microphone stand, pop filter, higher end equipment, and maybe even a dedicated space with sound panels.
Tips to make your podcast sound more professional
Once you get your feet wet and are ready to create an amazing show, here are a few suggestions on how to take your show to the next level.
- Plan your episodes - Plan and research your topic then have either a script or at the very least a bullet point agenda. You will sound more organized and if you have your facts ready at hand, you will sound like you know what you are talking about.
- Learn when to talk and when not to - This is especially important when you have a guest joining you who may not know what to do. You need to know when to speak, and when to just stay silent. If you continuously talk over or interrupt the other person, your listeners will actually get more annoyed with you and may not want to listen to you. If you regularly have more than one person talking and are in the same room, consider having a talking stick that you can pass back and forth. Whoever has the stick is allowed to talk and it helps prevent constant talking over each other.
- Add music - Music can really add to the show in so many ways, but make sure you have the rights to use it. Using copyrighted music is the quickest way to get your show pulled off air, so avoid using your favorite Neil Diamond album as your source for music. Instead use royalty free music or purchase the license for the music you use. Of course if you would like some worry free licensing see below for a great option.
- Check your audio levels - Avoid “peaking” which is the point when audio is so loud it starts to clip and sound distorted. Keep in mind the more tracks you add to the audio like adding music will also increase your audio levels so you will need to adjust accordingly. When it comes to the music you’ve added, it also helps to lower the music levels when people are talking. This is called audio ducking and your voice should never be competing against the music.
- Have an amazing intro/outro - Have an amazing intro and outro that really defines your show. If you have it as a separate audio file that includes your music, you can easily create a template which you can just drop your audio in and you’re done. Doing it that way makes it consistent and recognizable. You can either record it yourself or have a different voice that serves as the announcer to help distinguish when the actual hosts start talking. Hiring a voiceover artist to do this for you is a great way to go and will ensure you have the professional sound you need to kick off each episode.
In fact bringing in a voiceover artist to do your intro and outro could help you create a vibe for your show with minimal effort. And if you are looking for music for your podcast, choosing a voiceover artist that also provides music licensing can take out two birds with one stone.
I can help!
If you are looking for a voiceover artist to help create an amazing intro/outro for your podcast and maybe could also use worry free high end music licensing, I would love to provide you with some options and can offer a free consultation to discuss your needs.
I can provide you with a high quality, male voice for your show and have access to a huge library of high quality music for your podcast. Even if you plan on having your podcast on YouTube, I can provide licenses that satisfy YouTube’s terms of services.
I encourage you to listen to this intro/outro demo to help spark some ideas and if you would like to have a sample read before you make a decision, send me a message and I would be happy to offer a free sample read!
If you decide to take on the challenge on your own, I hope you find this information useful and feel free to message contact me if you have any questions or would like some more advance advice on bringing your podcast audio to the next level!