Part of the My Podcasting Workflows series
I talked previously about the recording software I use for podcasting on the Mac. It’s all great stuff, and if you haven’t read that article, you should. Even if you think you’re not a podcaster, maybe someday you will be, and each of those applications has use far beyond creating podcasts.
At some point in the near-ish future, I want to talk about specific app setups and use methodologies for podcasting, but before I do that I want to talk about some general best practices for recording. Some of these will help make the life of whoever edits your podcast a lot easier, assuming they care about sound quality and conversation flow.
I know a lot of people say no one cares about audio quality or crosstalk or words repeated three times in a row, but people do care. It’s a lot different being in a conversation and not really hearing all the starts and stops and repeated words and uhms and ahhs, but they start to matter for people listening to podcasts.
Since your goal is to make your podcast as enjoyable as possible and you don’t know what annoys any given listener, why not make a good faith effort to make it as listenable as possible? In terms of recording, it takes very little extra effort to have a good quality sound and smooth conversation versus one that makes it obvious you couldn’t be bothered.1
My motto about effort is “I can care less than you do”, meaning that if you, the media or product producer, don’t even care enough to try, why should anyone else care about your product either? This is not the same as saying you have to sound like This American Life or have custom jingles and the best artwork in existence. It does mean you need to clearly be trying so that your listeners know you really do care about their experience. Other people won’t care about your thing unless you care about your thing.
Get Rid of Noise
If you have a noisy podcast, some segment of your audience, probably a much larger segment than you think, will notice and will care. There have been several podcasts I’ve tried in the past that I just couldn’t listen to because it was too obvious that the hosts just recorded without testing or listening back to their own material and threw it out there for the world to suffer to.
When I say noisy, I’m using the term as a catch-all for background noise, hiss in the recording, water heaters, air conditioning, vocal reverb or extreme compression (think Skype or Zoom recordings), and even things like clipping, which is when your signal is too loud for the mic to handle and the waveform clips at the top, resulting in a very painful noise in the recording. It’s amazing how many people don’t even bother to see if they’re clipping or not, and it can be hard to fix in post.
Some simple steps for getting rid of noise in your podcast include the following.
Consider Your Mic
Use a decent mic, preferably one that doesn’t pick up every sound between the mic diaphragm and Mars. For this reason, condenser mics like the oddly popular Blue Yeti will not work for many people.
Echoing Is for the Alps
Reduce echo in your recording environment. Foam panels and temporary throw rugs and curtains can do wonders to absorb sound rather than let it bounce around.
Don’t Blow Hot (Or Cold) Air
Record as far away from air blowers as you can. Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to record with AC or heating on – let your editor know (maybe that’s you) so they can test some recordings of yours and see if they can remove the noise cleanly. Chances are they can, but they may need a little trial and error.
Use your mute switch when you cough, snort, drink (unless your podcast IS at least partially about the drink), eat, or otherwise make noises that your editor should care about. Also mute whenever not talking to avoid the temptation to talk over someone else, which also makes editing take longer (again, your editor should care about crosstalk).
It’s All in the Technique
Learn good mic technique. This is harder than it sounds. It’s very easy to talk very loud sometimes and very quietly at other times. Some mics require eating the mic and others will overdrive in a second if you’re an inch too close and be at a nice level otherwise. Stay at a consistent distance and position relative to the mic, and don’t forget you ARE recording and not just having a nice zoom call.
What you’re striving for are consistent levels and quality of voice, and both can change drastically based on your own speech habits (talking loudly at the start of a sentence and trailing off into a whisper) or distance from mic. Practice and listen to your practice recordings.
Think Global, Act Local
Have everyone record their own mic locally. You will put each of these recordings into your editor and line them up. This will give you the ability to eliminate crosstalk (which you can’t do with everyone other than you on one track), get better, non-compressed sound quality (which you can’t do with a Skype or Zoom recording), compensate for noise and volume differences between other hosts (which is much harder to do with everyone else on one track), and can and should result in the best sounding voices for everyone.
Making everyone sound as good as possible is the editor’s goal. If you’re a host and also the editor, you get zero points for caring about the sound of your own voice and no one else’s.
There are lots of other considerations for clean sound, but this is a start, and I’ve already yammered on for almost 950 words now. So just one more thing:
Practice and Tweak
This does not mean I want you to be a tweaker, but I do want you to record and listen to the recordings. Have your co-hosts do the same, and give everyone’s test recordings to the editor to play with. Change your environment and/or recording settings as necessary. This takes practice, googling, and research if you’re not an audio engineer, but fortunately there is enough good quality affordable hardware and software that can create a nice sound that you don’t need to become an audio engineer either.
Next time I’ll talk about some specific software settings I use to try to get a decent recording. I know this post is very high-level and theoretical, but it’s really more of a nudge to think about these things and realize they need to be taken into consideration. Your listeners will thank you, but so will your inner producer. It’s your name on the product, so why not make it as pleasant to listen to as possible?
This probably sounds preachy, and I don’t claim to have the most amazing podcast production quality in the world. But I do TRY. The listeners can give me feedback if they think I’m failing at it, but if anyone says I don’t take it seriously, they are wildly incorrect. ↩