Six steps to recording the perfect podcast

Andy Merrett Internet, Web 2.0 7 Comments

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Ever wanted to hear your dulcet tones on the Internet but didn’t know where to start? Read our handy guide to recording, editing and hosting your podcast and you’ll be there in no time.

We can’t guarantee you’ll be popular, but at least you won’t stay silent.

1. Get the right hardware

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It’s fairly obvious that if you want to record yourself speaking you’ll need some way of getting audio on to your computer.

There are plenty of ways of doing this, but you’ll want to get the best quality piece of kit you can afford if you want to sound good and minimise the amount of tidying up you’ll have to do later.

Podcast Pick:

My absolute favourite mic for podcasting (and indeed many other uses) is the Blue Microphones Snowball USB mic. At around £85 it’s not the cheapest option but it’s used by professional broadcasters and podcasters alike. Simply plug it in to a spare USB port and you’ve got a quality audio recording device for vocals, instruments and ambient sounds.

Alternatives:

Other ways of getting audio on to your computer include:

  • Dictaphone: preferably a digital one that saves audio files that can be uploaded to your computer. Alternatively if you have an audio input on your PC you can connect it up that way (a bit like a “tape to tape” function)
  • Standard microphone and USB audio kit: if you already have a decent microphone, buy a USB connection kit so that you can connect it directly to your computer.
  • Skype headset/mic: Audio quality may not be quite as high but if you already have a headset or other USB mic it’s a start. You can upgrade to better kit later if needed.
  • iPhone and mic: the iPhone records audio surprisingly well even with the mic on the standard earphones. Either use the built in voice recorder or a third party app like Griffin’s iTalk.

2. Get the right software

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Once you’ve got the hardware you’ll need a way of capturing your audio and later editing it. Some software may come bundled with the microphone that you buy. Others are freeware/shareware.

Podcast Pick:

If you’re on a Mac, I highly recommend Garageband. It comes as part of the iLife suite and is pre-installed on new Macs.

It has a number of features built in that make recording and editing podcasts pretty easy, and it’s not particularly expensive.

If you’re on a PC, try the free Audacity software (also available for Mac) which isn’t quite as user-friendly to begin with but is powerful.

Alternatives:

Alternative software includes:

If you’re planning on interviewing people or collaborating over Skype, you’ll need some software to record that, too.

Skype audio recorders include:

Here’s a great tutorial on podcasting using Skype.

3. Prepare and script your podcast

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Unless you want to run a completely impromptu podcast or are happy doing a huge amount of editing later on, you’ll probably want to have a rough idea of what you’re going to say and what things you might want other people to say.

Here are a few points to consider:

  1. How long do you want the podcast to be?
  2. What are the main subject areas you’re talking about?
  3. Are you interviewing one or more people? Do you have questions ready for them?
  4. Are you dropping in additional audio (e.g. music) and how are you going to introduce and wrap up those sections?
  5. What do you want the listener to take away from the podcast?
  6. How formal do you want to be?
  7. Do you need any/all of these sections? welcome / intro, overview of topics, main content, conclusion, future podcasts, credits and thanks
  8. Do you have full information about people you’re interviewing and resources you’re using?
  9. Do you have all audio files ready and permission to use them?
  10. Have you scheduled in enough time to record, edit, construct and upload your podcast?

This isn’t an exhaustive list but it does mean that when you sit down in front of the microphone you don’t suddenly “go blank” and you also don’t waste other people’s time or forget to ask vital questions.

4. Record your podcast

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Now comes the time to record your podcast. Here are a few tips:

  1. You may want to do it all in one go, or record segments over time and splice them together later.
  2. The advantage of recording in one go, when possible, is that you can achieve better continuity. Recording sections over time may make it harder to achieve a unified sound when editing, because the quality of your voice may change a little from day to day.
  3. Make sure you record and play back a test recording first to check basic levels – you don’t want to record the entire podcast and find that it’s too quiet to hear or so loud that it distorts (some things are very hard if not impossible to edit later on without losing audio quality).
  4. Ensure that extra software and hardware required is working (e.g. for Skype recordings).
  5. Unless your podcast is formal, you can afford to be fairly laid back about how it’s recorded. You don’t have to be 100% word perfect but try to avoid long pauses and “filler” noises (err, ummm). These can be edited out later but it will sound more natural if you don’t put them there in the first place.
  6. Just as a writers best work often comes from writing before editing, don’t be tempted to review or try to edit sections of your work before you’ve finished recording. You can always go back and record your own audio again at a later date, and interviews will just have to be left as they are.
  7. Relax. Imagine you’re talking to someone. It’s amazing that you can get nervous even though no-one is listening (yet) but try to remain natural rather than worrying about every nuance. You’re sure to improve over time anyway.
  8. If you’re planning to record any extra sounds (instruments, ambient / background noises, crowds, etc) you’ll need to plan those in to your recording schedule as well.

Once you have all your spoken audio in place it’s time to.

5. Edit your podcast

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This is where you assemble all your audio files, edit your vocals, add effects, and listen to it as a whole to ensure it fits together.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Have all your recorded audio files in one folder.
  2. It helps to use software that lets you edit on multiple tracks at once (this is great for layering, blending and fading in/out audio)
  3. Listen to your vocals and cut out any awkward pauses, obvious extraneous noises and such like. This is often done by marking the beginning and end of the soundwave you’re trying to get rid of and then deleting it and closing up the gap – a bit like tape splicing for the digital world.
  4. Drop in intro and outro music/jingles and extra audio tracks and fit vocals around these.
  5. Listen for obvious variations in the overall volume level (often between audio recorded at different times or from different sources) and adjust to even this out.
  6. Apply a moderate amount of vocal effects if necessary to enhance the sound. Don’t go overboard unless you’re trying to achieve a peculiar sound.
  7. Experiment with stereo panning, particularly in podcasts with more than one speaker, to add some depth to the mix.
  8. Save regularly and remember you can always undo mistakes. Keep the original audio files separate just in case something is erased that you needed to keep.

By now you should have a polished podcast that’s ready for the world, so it’s time to…

6. Host your podcast

iTunes

The simplest way to host your podcast is to use a free or paid hosting service like PodBean, MyPodcast or Podcast Revolution.

Many of these will allow you to upload your audio file and have it submitted to the major podcast directories, including iTunes.

Alternatively, you could host it on your own web server, but then you’d be responsible for both bandwidth (ensuring your web server has enough capacity to deal with everyone who wants to download it) and promoting it. Doable, but more complicated.

Whichever service you choose, ensure you keep copies of all your audio files just in case the service goes down or loses them (it happens) or you want to move host or do it yourself in the future.

Congratulations! You now have a lot of the information you need to start recording and distributing your own podcasts. Now you just have to do it. What are you waiting for?

By Andy Merrett | July 13th, 2009





  • http://blubrry.com Rob Blatt of blubrry.com

    There’s also paid podcasts hosts like Blubrry that provide extra services like statistics, advertising sales if the podcaster wants and promotion from a community. Great article!

  • Rob Perkins

    First of all your podcasts did not follow what you have compiled in this article and the first 3 or so were very hard to follow due to poor sound and recording issues.

    That said they were still worth a listen but suddenly with no word of warning or explanation you have stopped producing them.

    What gives? Can you not rekindle that idea and perhaps use the steps listed here? You are not the only one to just dump listeners without a clue as to when you will be back. Stephen Fry has not done a podcast in donkeys years yet strangely still tops the podcast charts!

  • http://andymerrett.co.uk Andy Merrett

    Hi Rob,

    I think the reason the podcasts stopped is because Duncan left, and yes we were well aware there were technical issues, but does that mean we’re not allowed to write an article about best practice?

    I don’t think we’ve intentionally “dumped listeners” but times and circumstances change.

    • Rob Perkins

      Okay perhaps Dump is not a fair word to use but there was no statement or anything and just because Duncan parted ways you have plenty of knowledgeable people there whom I sure could have taken over? I think the article was very good and informative and my comments were not meant as a sounding off more a little nudge nudge wink about the fact that this article covers how your podcasts could have sorted the sound issues:)

      Hopefully you might re-launch the podcasts but for now keep up the articles. Cheers.

  • dan

    Hi Rob and thanks Andy. I should probably say something on the matter of the Tech Digest podcast.

    As Andy said, the only reason we stopped the podcast was because Duncan and I were the only two people here full time to be able to do it. When Duncan left, we looked to do the TD podcast as a joint venture with Duncan’s new employers but, sadly, that hasn’t worked out.

    However, we enjoyed doing the podcast very much and Duncan and I will be starting it up independently but with the same format and content from next month. I will shamelessly advertise it on Tech Digest and tweet it out to make sure people know what it’s called and where to find it.

    We didn’t mention that we were stopping in the first place because we didn’t expect it to take so long until we got going again. We intend to run the new version until we are old men, no longer able to read our computer screens, and if there’s any interruption in future service, we’ll let everyone know. We’ll see what we can do on the sound issues too. ;)

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