How To Start A Podcast: Part 2
A guide to equipment + recording spaces.
Podcasting costs some money but it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. Podcasting is a space currently dominated by white men, traditionally the highest earners in the US. Part of the reason I created this series was to make podcast production costs more transparent, in the hopes that more women, people of color and lower-income earners take the initiative to enter the space. With this in mind, I’ll try to be clear about when it’s worth spending money, and I’ll try to offer options in different price points. This guide is not meant to help you create the pitch-perfect setup for an NPR-like show, it’s meant to help a beginning podcaster produce a high-quality, low-cost show right off the bat. You may well upgrade your equipment in the future, but you do not need to spend a lot of money just to sound great. If any readers have additional recommendations for this section, please let me know.
When I link to a product on this page, I’m using an Amazon Affiliates link because why not — but absolutely nobody is paying me or influencing me. Nobody at Big Microphone is reaching out to me. If I’m recommending something on this page it’s because it is the equipment I use to make my own show, or because I’ve heard good things about it from sources I trust.
You don’t need to spend a million dollars on a great microphone, but you need to spend enough money to buy a good microphone. This is so important that I’m gonna repeat it: You don’t need to spend a million dollars on a great microphone, but you need to spend enough money to buy a good microphone.
On the one hand, do not even consider recording a podcast using the microphone on your laptop, or worse, a headset microphone. There are also trendy apps to help you record and publish shows from your iPhone. Your iPhone microphone sucks. Don’t try to fight me on this. Nobody wants to listen to a podcast that sounds like a McDonald’s drive-thru.
On the other hand, buying a microphone is like buying headphones — there are lots of people who will tell you that if you aren’t willing to shell out on the $4,000 AudioMax SmoothSounder, you shouldn’t bother. Those people are probably microphone marketers. Most fans will be listening to your show through shitty Apple earbuds. This is just a hobby. Headphones are kind of like wine — there’s an enormous difference between a $5 bottle and a $20 bottle, but there isn’t a huge different to your savage palate between a $20 bottle and a $200 bottle.
Recording Science 101
The most important thing to consider when choosing a microphone is what kind of polar patterns will be needed for your show. WTF is a polar pattern? Essentially, your microphone is this orb shaped sponge which could theoretically absorb sound coming in from any direction. From which directions do you want to absorb sound, and from which directions do you not want to absorb sound? This is a concept that every podcaster should understand, because it will help you control whether or not you’re picking up background sounds, and will help you make sure everybody’s voice comes through loud and clear. Look at the 3 primary types of polar patterns below, think about the kinds of sound that you want to record and kinds of sound that you don’t want to record and buy a microphone which has the appropriate settings you need.
I record The Land of Desire using a Blue Yeti. I got a used one off of Amazon for about $80 and I am extremely happy with it. If you’re the kind of person who suffers from analysis paralysis, lemme make it easy for you: just buy a Blue Yeti. Why:
- USB cable plugs directly into your laptop during recording. No technical wizardry required.
- Different settings allow you to record in cardioid, bi-directional or omnidirectional. ~*~ You can have it all ~*~
- Reasonable price
- Comes with its own stand
- Looks snazzy
However, it’s not perfect for every podcast. It’s pretty heavy and it needs to be plugged into your computer during recording. This is fine for me since I record everything in my closet (more on that later). Unless you’re really working on your upper body strength it won’t work for interviews on the street, or anybody who travels all over town to record.
Look, I’m not going to write an essay about this because a good pop filter costs eight dollars and prevents you from sounding like you’re spitting onto your microphone every time you say a “p” sound out loud. I bought this one and the only trouble I have is getting it to stay in place with its little vise: Dragonpad USA Pop Filter. (I clamp mine onto a bookcase next to the table where my laptop and microphone sit. See photo below.) 8 dollars not to sound like a doofus? Put it in the cart, folks.
A Good Recording Space
Super glamorous behind-the-scenes peek at a successful podcast production studio:
I record The Land of Desire in my closet. Here are the features to keep in mind when searching through your own home for a similar space:
- Keep the space small or fill it with fabric — this prevents echo. Don’t record in your living room. (Unless you’re in San Francisco like me, in which case your living room may be smaller than a closet.)
- Look for a space the furthest away from the street as you can find. My closet is right in the middle of my apartment, so I don’t hear sidewalk sounds.
Don’t despair, there are lots of ways to make a room suitable for podcast recording. Stuff some t-shirts in the crack of the door to minimize sound creeping in. Throw a comforter over your head while you’re recording. (I’m not kidding — lots of folks do this! The great thing about podcasting is nobody knows how dorky you look while recording.)
In the end, a lot of suboptimal recording spaces can still work if you speak loudly and clearly into the microphone and use a cardioid or bidirectional setting to isolate your vocals and eliminate unwanted background noise.
Now that people are making decent microphones which can plug into phones (see the MV88 above), we may soon live in a world where you can produce a decent-sounding podcast using just apps. For folks who own a smartphone but not a computer, it may be best to invest in something like the Opinion app. I haven’t used an app like this to edit sound, so I won’t vouch for it personally, but I really hope more apps like this are on the way — it would open up the world of podcast production to huge numbers of people who may not otherwise have the tools to produce the high-quality show they want. If you’ve used apps like this yourself, or know of an Android option, please let me know in the comments!
Just about any computer made after 2010 should have the processing power you need to record and edit your podcast. If your computer is older than that, it depends. It’s important to have room on your podcast to store files during the editing process. It’s probably best to have:
- At least 2 GB of RAM
- Windows XP or Vista/Mac OS X
- At least 10 GB of storage — I’d recommend at least 20 GB.
I migrate all my WAV audio files to Dropbox after I’ve published an episode, so I have a backup of all my episodes without using up my whole hard drive. I delete my Audacity files after I’ve published the episode, because I don’t plan on ever re-editing an episode again, but this may a terrible idea in the long run. If you have unlimited storage somewhere, maybe keep the raw files. I have a tiny error in my favorite episode I’ve ever made, and it still keeps me up at night, knowing I can’t fix it.
Learn from my mistake: don’t get in over your head. When I first decided to launch a podcast, I figured that I should learn the best editing software out there right from the start. I decided to teach myself Logic Pro X, the software for professionals, so I could make a great show. It turns out, that’s a bit like becoming an astronaut so you can visit Niagara Falls. Overkill, y’all. After 2 weeks of utter incomprehension and despair, my kind and gentle boyfriend suggested that maybe, just maybe, I was getting too ambitious. Why not find something a wee bit simpler? The point of this endeavor wasn’t “Learn Logic Pro X”, after all, it was “Produce a podcast.” I took his advice and 24 hours later, I finished editing my first show on Audacity.
- GarageBand is free, but it’s not really made for podcasting, and it took forever to figure out how to do simple tasks. Over time, as more people post podcast-specific tutorials online, this may get easier, but I found GarageBand oversimplified and unintuitive. Many, many people produce shows on GarageBand, but many people also “outgrow” it as they get better at editing.
- Logic Pro X is expensive and the PhD-level app for sound design. Are you producing an actual Adele album? If not, don’t play yourself.
- In the end, I went with Audacity, and I’ve been very happy with it, all things considered. Is it kind of clunky? Yes. Does it look like I’m trying to burn a mix CD in 2002? Yes. Does it do everything I need it to do, easily and intuitively? Yes. It’s 100% free, which means it’s used by a lot of people who make a LOT of tutorials. I learned everything I know about Audacity through extensive YouTube surfing.
This is all the physical equipment you’ll need to record a podcast. The good news is, with the items listed above, you’ll be able to record your audio, edit the audio, and convert your audio into a format which is ready to share. The bad news is, we aren’t done with your set up — now we have to decide how to get your beautiful, brilliant podcast episode from your desktop onto the Internet.
Want to learn how to produce your own podcast? Check out the rest of my series How To Start A Podcast here.