Welcome to part 2 of launching a podcast - production! If you haven't already done so, check out part 1: planning. In part 2, I'll help you choose the best equipment and techniques to record in the highest quality possible.
PART 2: PRODUCTION
Microphones, mixers, preamps, oh my! There is a ton of recording gear out there, and if you don't have prior knowledge it can be overwhelming. The good news is you don't need to spend a ton of money on a fully-equipped studio to get started with your podcast. In fact, all you need is a good microphone, recording hardware or software, and comfortable headphones.
You're going to need one microphone for each person on your podcast. Microphones come in several different designs, and most vocal microphones you'll come across are dynamic or condenser, XLR or USB, and cardioid or other polar pattern.
Dynamic vs. Condenser
Dynamic mics have metal coils inside them that react to external sound pressure. They are generally the most durable type of microphone and are less sensitive than condenser mics. Most handheld stage and field microphones are dynamic.
Condenser mics have charged electric metal plates instead of metal coils inside them, and are more sensitive than dynamic mics. They require an extra power source called phantom power, which is usually supplied to the mic via an audio interface preamp or mixer. Some condensers have the phantom power built in to the mic. Condensers pick up a wider frequency range than dynamic mics, and can also pick up the quietest background sounds. Condenser mics sound best in a quiet, acoustically-treated room.
For podcasting purposes, I highly recommend getting a dynamic microphone.
XLR vs. USB
Microphones can have two different types of output connectors: XLR and USB. Some mics even have a hybrid XLR/USB connector.
XLR is the traditional output connector. This connects the microphone to a mixer, audio interface, or handheld recorder with XLR inputs.
USB microphones allow you to plug them directly into your computer via the USB port. You can get by with just a USB mic if you're doing a solo show, or exclusively recording guests via the internet.
There is another characteristic to every microphone: its polar pattern, or pickup pattern. The polar pattern is basically the degree to which the microphone will pick up sounds from the front, back, and sides of it. The main patterns are cardioid, bidirectional (aka figure-8), and omnidirectional. Most mics have one set pattern, but some have a switch so that you can choose which one you want.
A cardioid mic will pick up sound from in front of the microphone (aka your voice) and reject most sound from behind the mic and a bit from the sides. A figure-8 pattern will pick up sound equally from in front of the mic and behind the mic, but reject most sound from the sides. An omnidirectional mic will, you guessed it, pick up sound from all directions equally. Each of these patterns are useful for particular cases, but for most podcasting purposes, a cardioid mic is the way to go.
If you need portability and versatility:
Shure SM58 (Dynamic, XLR, Cardioid)
Audio‑Technica ATR2100 (Dynamic, USB/XLR hybrid, Cardioid)
Sennheiser e835 (Dynamic, XLR, Cardioid)
If you're recording in a silent, well-treated room, also consider:
2. Recording Hardware or Software
In addition to a microphone, you're going to need a recorder. You can either use a dedicated handheld recorder that contains built-in software, or you can download software on your computer.
A handheld recorder is the simplest and more mobile option. Most have multiple XLR inputs that you can connect an XLR microphone directly into, and the recording software is already built-in, no computer required. It will record onto an SD card, which you can later upload to a computer for editing.
Handheld recorder recommendations:
If using your computer, you're going to need an audio recording program.
Garageband (Mac only)
More advanced options:
For recording a guest via the internet:
Do you need an audio interface?
An audio interface converts the analog signal from your microphone into a digital signal that your computer can read. You'll only need an audio interface if you want to connect an XLR microphone into your computer. USB microphones have an audio to digital converter built-in to the mic. Do you wanna know something cool? Some handheld recorders such as the Zoom H4n and H6 can serve double duty as an audio interface.
Audio Interface Recommendations:
The third essential piece of gear is a comfortable pair of headphones. Sound isolation is very important, and you should always monitor what you're recording to make sure everything is being recorded properly. If you're recording a guest interview via Skype or similar, you and your guests need to wear headphones to listen to each other instead of on computer speakers or external speakers. This will prevent the other person's voice from being picked up on your microphone, causing doubling and audio bleed. At the very least, you can wear some Apple earbuds at low volume.
In addition to your core equipment, there are some accessories that you'll want to get:
mic pop filter or windscreen
mic stand or boom arm
XLR mic cable
A mic pop filter or windscreen will reduce your plosives, or the blasts of air when you pronounce p's, b's, etc.
A mic stand or boom arm will hold your microphone in place and reduce handling noise. I recommend getting a full-size mic stand or a boom arm that you can attach to your desk. If space or portability is an issue, then you can get a small desk stand but be aware that the mic can pick up movement noises from the desk such as accidental bumps.
When buying a microphone, check what's included in the box. Most XLR mics don't include the cable, so be sure to add this to your purchase.
assess your space
Once you have all your gear, let's find the best space to record. If you're recording in a room, choose the quietest place you have. You want to avoid echo, so rooms that have soft, absorptive qualities or furniture such as a couch, thick curtains, carpets, and bed are preferable instead of a dining room or bare conference room. Wherever you choose to record, be sure to close any doors and windows, silence phones and notification alerts, and turn off A/C or fans if possible.
If you're recording outside, such as in a park or on the street, then you obviously don't have much control of the surrounding noise. That's perfectly okay, and the background can provide some good ambience. Your listeners will be forgiving of the location as long as your voices are understandable, loud enough, and are not being drowned out by the background. In this scenario make sure to use a dynamic, cardioid microphone, and speak close enough to the mic to maximize the direct sound of the your voice and minimize the sound of the environment.
Let's get ready to roll! As you prepare to record your first few episodes, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Each mic will have an optimal distance where your voice will sound the best. A good rule of thumb is to hold it 3-6 inches from your mouth. Also, if you have strong plosives (bursts of air when you pronounce p's, b's, etc.), try placing your mic at an angle so that it's not directly in front of your mouth but still pointing toward it.
To determine what works best for you, your mic, and your environment, take some time to experiment with some test recordings.
Select Input Source
Within your recording software, make sure to select the input that your microphone is connected to. If you need help finding this in your setup, you can contact me.
Before you hit record, you need to make sure you're recording at a good level. You do this by adjusting the gain setting within your handheld recorder, audio interface, or software program. Note: this is different than the volume level going out to your headphones.
You should record at a high enough level, but not too high that your audio can distort. While talking, your level meter should hover around -12dB (or halfway up the meter if it doesn't have numbers). This will give you enough headroom so that your recording won't distort during unexpected loud sounds such as laughing or coughing.
If you need help finding your gain setting, feel free to contact me.
Record on Individual Tracks
If you're recording multiple people, make sure that each person is recording on its own track. This will provide flexibility in the editing and post-production steps. Contact me if you need help doing this on your particular setup.
Once you've placed your mic and set your recording level, it's time to hit record!
You don't have to record your entire podcast in one shot. If you need to take breaks, you can stop and restart recording where you left off. If you make any mistakes, pause for a second or two and restart your statement. This can then be edited later.
In addition to the body of your episode, remember to record an intro and an outro. Your intro can include your podcast name, host(s) name, sponsors, episode number + title, guest name, and other relevant info. Your outro can include a call to action and your contact and social media info.
Now we're heading into post-production territory. The post-production process can get pretty technical for those without prior knowledge, so my goal here is to give you an overview of what's involved and the basics of what you can do. If you need further help, you're always free to contact me and I'm always happy to help!
don't forget to edit
The goal of editing is to polish up your speech and remove or minimize mouth noises that will distract your listeners. While editing can be a tedious process, some level of editing is always beneficial. The amount of editing is both a matter of preference and speaking skill. Edit less if you or any guests are well-spoken and you want a more authentic and conversational feel. Edit more if you or any guests use a lot of filler words, false starts, and mistakes, and you want a more polished, professional feel.
Trim the beginning and end of the body of your episode
Cut out long silences
Delete any major mistakes
Remove excessive filler words, such as "um", "uh", "you know"
Remove false starts to phrases
Remove any unnecessary or uncompelling content
Rearrange parts of the episode if it will flow better
You can do the editing yourself, or you can hire a dedicated podcast editor to save you hours of time and to guarantee polished, unnoticeable editing.
mix it all together
Now that you've polished up the dialogue, you can assemble, mix, and master your whole podcast.
If you haven't already done so, find music to use for your intro and outro
Add music to your intro and outro, and add music and sound effects throughout your episode if you've decided to do so
You can arrange your podcast any way you'd like. A common template for a podcast episode is: podcast intro with music -> episode-specific intro -> interview / body of episode -> outro with music.
Adjust the volume of your music so that it doesn't overpower your voice
If you and any guests are louder or quieter than each other, adjust each track so that it sounds balanced
Use a high-pass filter EQ to remove frequencies under about 80Hz, which is where there might be rumble and a lot of low-energy frequencies that are not necessary to human speech. Do this on your voice tracks only and not on any music or sound effects tracks.
If the loudness levels are varied throughout the episode, gently use a compressor to balance them out
If necessary, reduce excessive sibilance with a De-esser plugin
Optimize loudness levels to -16 LUFS
Export to MP3 (optimal settings: 128kbps, constant bit rate, mono or stereo)