So you want to start a podcast? Well, hold up there. There’s a few things you need to consider first, and though the technical capabilities of modern computers should make this kind of stuff super-easy, the reality often isn’t as simple as it would seem. What’s the difference between microphones? How many people can you record, and how? Read on for the full lowdown.
Obviously, your choice of microphone is going to make a huge difference to the sound quality of your recording. All microphones are very much not alike. Here’s 3 basic rules to keep in mind:
Rule 1: Don’t Use The Internal Microphone
If you’re using a laptop, you might be tempted to just use the built-in microphone. The problem with these is that not only do they just sound horrible, they also tend to amplify vibrations and general noises from the internal workings of your machine.
Rule 2: Use Headphones
This should be obvious, but if you use your computer speakers to hear what everyone is saying, it’s going to feed back into your microphone too. Any headphones will do, even ones from your iPod.
Rule 3: Get a USB Mic
You can pick up a cheap analog microphone that plugs into the microphone jack, but these tend pick up electrical interference from your case and other components, resulting in an annoying buzz throughout. USB microphones output digital, avoiding the issue of interference completely.
So What Microphone Should I Get?
On the low end of the scale, a simple USB handheld microphone (Singstar or Rock Band, etc) will usually give you relatively good quality. You’ll need some separate headphones of course, but anything is fine there. Without a mic stand though, you will be holding them yourself, resulting in highly annoying fading in and out as your arms move – something our own Dave is all too guilty of. A lot of these microphones come with basic pop-filters (foam over the head) to somewhat reduce the popping sound from plosive consonants P and B, so for a budget option the quality is remarkably good.
Also on the low end is a USB headset mic, designed for Skype meetings and voice recognition primarily. They can vary in quality, but generally don’t sound as good as handheld karaoke style mics simply because the pickup is smaller. Until this week, I was using one of these – and my voice came out rather tinny. On the plus side, the mic will stayed fixed to your face, avoiding the drifting volume problem, and the headphones are built in.
On the mid-scale, a condenser microphone housed in a shock absorbent casing, with a pop filter, will set you back about $200-$300. I recently purchased a Blue Microphone Snowball, and the quality is fantastic. A slightly higher end alternative is the Samson CO1U.
You could also opt for a more dedicated hardware style approach – a mixer board, along with a traditional analog mic. If you’re planning on having guests in the same physical location, this is certainly a good option for getting the levels right pre-recording, but otherwise it’s quite overkill – especially when we’re talking about talk radio-type podcasting where it’s down mixed to 64kbs (more on output quality in a later article).
I’ve recorded a simple comparison mp3 here - using my iMac’s in-built mic, a cheap $40 USB headset, and the Blue Snowball.
Next, you’ll need to make a choice about the platform to bring everyone together, assuming you’ll have more than one person in the recording. If you’re just going to talk by yourself, then skip straight to recording software.
For audio podcasts, Skype is undoubtedly the king. Call Recorder ($20) is my personal favourite OSX app for really easy to use Skype recording, which will give you both your own recording and any other sides of the conversation in a separate track. Bear in mind that for group Skype video conferencing you’ll need Skype Premium, which starts at around $5/month.
We’ve already covered other ways of recording Skype calls quite a lot though, so I won’t talk anymore about that here.
- Record Skype calls for free with VodBurner
- How to record Skype calls on Windows and Mac
- How to use HotRecorder for Windows to record calls and conduct interviews
- 3 Must-Have Skype apps to enhance the chat experience
Google Plus Hangouts
For video podcasts with more than 2 people, Google Plus is the hot new way to do things. Though there is no native recording capability at the moment, any screen recording software that can also bring in the system audio will do fine. For OSX, iShowU HD is the best, starting at $30 for the basic version. For Windows, CamStudio is a freeware solution that will give you a standard AVI file to work with but is otherwise lacking in features.
Straight To Software Recording
Although your actual communication may be going on through Skype, you don’t actually have to record the Skype call if everyone records themselves on their local machine, then you combine all the recordings during editing. On the plus side, this gives you much higher quality recording and avoids the random audio glitching Skype sometimes has during a low connection speed. On the downside, this means everyone needs to have a certain degree of technical ability, which isn’t always the case.
For direct recording on the Mac, Garageband is pre-installed on most machines and more than capable – though it can be a bit of a memory hog. For Windows, I’d suggest the free Audacity. Both of these apps will also be used to edit the final recording.
Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to record, you really need a backup method as well. Run both, because losing an hours worth of audio due to some technical error is incredibly frustrating. We lost one episode recorded over Christmas – one of our best, in fact – due to my Internet cutting out, which in turn caused Justin’s Garageband to go wonky and die. My advice would be this – try to get everyone doing a local, high quality recording of their own voice – ideally, these will be used in the final cut; then have backup recordings via Skype Call Recorder or a similar app with at least yourself, and one other user. That should cover your bases.
That’s it for now. Next time I’ll be writing a basic podcasting editing tutorial using Garageband, but I’ve also written about the ins and outs of actually hosting your podcast using WordPress. As ever, comments are open for questions and feedback, and (shameless plug alert) don’t forget to check out the latest Technophilia Podcast – a weekly NSFW and irreverent look at the week in tech and cool new apps.
Image credit: Guy with headphones from ShutterStock