Whether you record at home all the time or you are used to a studio and are now recording remotely (looking at you Ira Glass), you might be wondering how you can record a great sounding podcast.
Our audio engineers here at Stitcher have been tasked to record shows like Office Ladies, Comedy Bang Bang, The Suga, and Freakonomics Radio all virtually from home. We talked with them to find out what they recommend for good sounding home recordings. If you are looking for the nitty-gritty tips, this is the place.
Before you think about equipment, you need to think about location. Stitcher audio engineer Casey Holford reports that any home recording can be vastly improved by thinking about what space you’re in. Get to the quiet spot in your house, find a closet and record facing into it.
Usually, the best type of microphone to use for home recordings in untreated spaces is a cardioid dynamic microphone, such as the Shure SM58. Other manufacturers make similar microphones that can connect to your computer or mobile device directly via USB.
USB microphone recordings will be vastly improved by being the proper distance from it (3–5 inches from the mouth), and always use a windscreen. Using a mic stand can also help reduce microphone handling noise.
Your Phone Might be A Good Mic
Our audio engineers have also been impressed and surprised by the quality of iPhone voice memo recordings if your phone is positioned properly. This can be a handy tool for guests without recording equipment or USB microphones. One trick is to set your Voice memo settings to lossless quality. Casey suggests this video from APR for iPhone recording placement. Another trick is to use a full paper towel roll as an iPhone mic stand if the guest cannot hold the phone the entire recording. If you are using a phone for recording, make sure to put it on airplane mode so no calls or texts interrupt the recording.
If you are going to be recording with guests virtually, all of our audio engineers recommend using Zoom.
Our Lead Systems Engineer Dave Seidel points out that Zoom can be set to record each participant as a separate audio file. A very common setup for us to record the Zoom conference this way and to have each participant in the podcast also conduct a local recording in Quicktime or Garageband in MacOS or Voice Recorder in Windows. This provides recording redundancy.
Brendan Byrnes, who engineers many of our Stitcher Originals such as LeVar Burton Reads adds that you should double-check that both Quicktime and Zoom are using the correct input. If a USB mic or interface ever gets disconnected, it’s possible Zoom will automatically change the input back to the mic when it reconnects, but Quicktime will not.
Earwolf engineer Sam Kieffer suggests having each person confirm verbally that they’re recording and then to double-check. Go person by person and make sure their QuickTime counter is running next to the record button. Many times, they actually end up not recording. You should also let remote guests know if they can hear something on their end, we might not be able to hear through Zoom, so pause for dog barks and helicopters. Treat it like you’re in the same room! If you’re tapping your pen on your desk, it’s going to show up loudly.
Jordan Duffy from Earwolf adds that you can take things a step further by remotely controlling your guest’s computer via Zoom, which allows you to walk them through setting the recording up.
Once you are ready to record it’s important to take extra steps to make editing easier. Earwolf engineer Brett Morris suggests having slates or making sure everyone does their best to start recording at the same time in order to find sync points more easily. Jordan will also screen share a timer for all participants to watch and clap at the same time can sometimes help with lag or delay.
Your preparation could even start a day or two prior to recording if you are able. Stitcher engineer Andi Kristinsdottir will sometimes ask guests to send home recording samples a day or two in advance so if there are any issues with the sound quality or recording process they can be solved before the scheduled session.
Mixing and Plug-Ins
Greg Rippin, who Engineers Freakonomics Radio and Brett say EQ match is very useful and they suggest The FabFilter ProQ3 plug in.
iZotope RX plugins, in particular Voice De-noise, Spectral De-noise, have come in handy. If you’re on a budget, the RX Elements bundle is worth it.
Using de-reverb plugins, even just slightly, can help tighten up living room recordings. Greg uses just a little bit of iZotope De-Reverb (~3dB of reduction instead of the default 10dB). Devon Bryant from the Earwolf team has been using SPL Deverb in a similar manner. Earwolf engineer Ryan also suggests RX Dialogue Isolate for tricky Zoom recordings.
Greg suggests if you have VoIP audio (FaceTime audio, Zoom, or Skype) that is breaking up and artifacting, try dropping a bit of clean room tone behind it. It’s not a major fix, but it’ll help it sound a bit less artificial and annoying.
While you may not have access to a studio, there are some really great advancements in recording and technology that can make home recordings sound great. If you want to talk audio equipment and editing with fellow podcasters, join our creator community on Slack!