I’m certainly not an expert podcaster, and I was hesitant to write this blog because I’m not in a position to be telling anyone what to do as far as podcasts go. But I’ve had quite a few people ask about which tools I’m using, so I figured I’d share. These aren’t the best tools on the market — they’re mostly middle-of-the-road tools that I can afford and that work for me. So if you’re looking for a guide to podcasting for the professional, this is not for you. If you’re looking for an affordable, entry-level podcasting kit — well, here are some ideas. (I find researching podcasting online to be super confusing and overwhelming, but here’s one blog that I got a lot of great information from.)
Podcast Microphone: Zoom
I use a super portable little mic called a Zoom. There are certainly mics that will get you better studio sound, but I think this one does a pretty nice job. Here are the things I love about it: It’s incredibly light and portable; it uses regular AA batteries, so if you forget to charge it before an interview it doesn’t really matter as long as you have an extra; recording and transferring content is super simple. You get the choice of recording in MP3 or Wave. I record in Wave because that’s what my “sound guy” (a.k.a. my musician friend Brad) told me to do.
The Zoom mic is affordable (mine was a gift, but it’s about $100), and you can get a little bonus pack for about $20 that I’d recommend. That pack comes with a tripod, a cable to connect your mic to your computer, a carrying case for the mic itself and a pop filter (the little foamy thing on the end of the mic that helps eliminate some of the hissing and spitting sounds that mics tend to exaggerate). You’ll also want to get an extra SD card because the one that comes with the mic doesn’t hold much.
To record, you just turn the mic on and press a button. You and your interviewee should probably sit on the same side of the mic, but I never do that (it feels awkward), and it turns out okay. To transfer files to my computer, I just plug the mic into my computer with the mini USB cable and drag-and-drop them into GarageBand.
Podcast Editing Software: GarageBand
Is GarageBand the best software to use to record a podcast? Most podcasters will say no. They’re probably right, but I was really overwhelmed by all the other choices, and I knew how to do a couple of very basic things in GarageBand already, so I decided to stick with what I knew. It does a pretty good job. If you’re looking for another option, Audacity is the one that came up the most in my research; it’s free.
I generally find GarageBand to be counter-intuitive, and I do not learn well from YouTube tutorials, so editing has been a real struggle for me. Here are the things I know how to do (kind of) that are essential for putting my podcast together:
- How to import an audio file
- How to tweak your voice selection (I use Natural Vocal and turn off the echo)
- How to cut pieces out of a track and how to join a track together
- How to adjust volume on tracks (so your voice isn’t at an awkwardly different volume than your music)
- How to export your file (I export as MP3)
- How to do some basic compression
Producer: Musician Friend Brad
I tried to learn sound editing from the internet, but it wasn’t working for me. I really didn’t get it. You can pay someone to edit your podcast for you, but that was out of my price range. Finally, I realized I actually know lots of sound editors — it’s just that they’re usually editing songs instead of podcasts.
One of my coworkers, Brad, is a musician. He’s nice, so he mixed a couple of podcasts for me, and then he showed me how to do a few things I was struggling with (like compression, which I didn’t even know was a thing before he told me) on my own. I am not exaggerating when I say Brad showed me in five minutes how to do things I’d spent hours searching for online.
You can hire my friend Brad if you want to (email me), but he’s not your friend, so you’ll have to pay him. I’m guessing you have your own musician or amateur musician friend who uses editing software, though, and you can probably pay them in thank yous and beer if you just need to learn a few basics.
Podcasting Set: The Podcast Fort (or a table or something)
Your sound depends a lot on where you record. You’ll want to avoid recording in public places because they’re full of loud people. You’ll want to avoid recording outside because it’s full of wind. These are rules that can be broken, but if you break them, you’ll need to be a pretty proficient sound editor to make your recording listenable. As we’ve learned, I am not a proficient sound editor, so I try to make my recording as clean as possible in the first place.
Generally speaking, the smaller your space and the more sound-absorbing surfaces it has (like fabric or foam), the better. For my best recordings, I make a blanket fort in my house and record inside it (I stole this idea from my favorite podcast, Pop Fashion). It’s seriously just a bunch of blankets thrown over a couple of barstools, and it sounds awesome!
I don’t want to make my guests get into a fort (it sounds cool, but it’s very tiny under there; it’s also dark and it gets hot), so I usually just sit them at my kitchen table. I live in a loft which is cavernous and full of hard, non-sound absorbing surfaces — not ideal, but my listeners tell me they’re pretty happy with it (although Brad doesn’t like it!).
My set is completed by the Zoom mic on a tripod, a couple of glasses of water, my interview questions and a notepad and pen in case I need to jot something down to remember to include it in the show notes.
Want to hear how much audio quality differs depending on the surroundings? Here are a few examples from Everybody Hates Self-Publishing. You can listen through the links or search them on iTunes or Stitcher:
- Episode Zero: Why I Hate Self-Publishing is a good example of what the sound quality is like inside the podcasting fort (it’s also a good intro to the project)
- Episode Seventeen: Meet the Instagrammer was recorded in my loft without the fort
- Episode Eleven: Meet the Photographer was recorded inside someone else’s house, so I was battling lots of new sounds I couldn’t control.
Podcast RSS Feed: Libsyn
One of the most common questions I get from podcaster hopefuls is: “How to you get your podcast to iTunes?” It’s actually super easy. Well, it’s annoying the first time you set it up, but then it’s super easy.
This is how it works: You set up an RSS feed for your podcasts. This can be done through a blog, which is free, but if you list podcasts and blogs through the same feed, the iTunes podcast reader (which is called Apple Podcasts now, so that’s what I’ll call it from here on out) can get tripped up. To solve the problem, there are podcast-only streaming services that will give you a dedicated RSS feed that’s optimized for the podcast platforms — I chose Libsyn for this; it’s around $15 a month.
So first, I created an account with Libsyn. From them, you’ll get a link to your Libsyn RSS. Then you go to Apple Podcasts and give them basic information about your new podcast — things like your logo and the name of your podcast and some other basic stuff. They’ll ask for your RSS feed as well. You put all that info in, and then you wait for approval. You follow the same steps with Stitcher and whatever other podcast platform you want to use. Warning: This part is kind of confusing and annoying, and it’s different for every podcast platform.
After you’re set up and approved (approval can take a few days), you’re set! All you have to do to broadcast each episode is upload it to Libsyn; Apple Podcasts and Stitcher will catch it from your RSS feed without your doing else anything to make it happen.
Podcast Phone Call Recorder
I don’t know how to do this! I like doing face-to-face interviews best, so all my interviews so far have been done that way. I read some tutorials on how to record a Skype call, but they were confusing. I tried the Ringr App, and the sound quality was excellent, but the calls dropped so often that I had to stop using it. My next step is to try recording in Zoom (it’s a group meeting program that we use at work; I think it’s a different company than the one that makes the mic).
Podcast Theme Music
You can’t just use any theme music that you like; you have to pay royalties, and for popular songs, the cost is super high. I ended up getting my music from Tyler Ambrosius’s beat store. A beat store is designed for musicians who want to sample beats in their songs without paying royalties, so once you pay for the beat, you can use it and change it however you’d like in your podcast. Tyler’s beats are about $20, and you can listen to them all for free on his website until you find one that you think suits your podcast. Then you just download the MP3 and upload it into GarageBand (or whatever editing software you’re using). I use the same song for my intro and outro music.
You can also search online to find free music to use in your podcast, but I didn’t feel like wading through a bunch of songs and reading the rights carefully; to me, paying $20 to avoid that seemed worth it. If you know a musician who’s into the idea, you could also have someone write and play some custom theme music for you. If you do that, I’d suggest paying them for their time; it’s the right thing to do, and also you’ll probably get a better result and have a lot more leverage to hold them to a deadline. Here’s a podcast I did on how to ask for favors if you decide to go that route.
How Am I Doing?
I am certainly not the best podcaster. I don’t use top-quality mics; I don’t wear headphones when I record; I don’t know how to mix sound very well. I’m doing my best, but when it comes down to it, I’m a writer and reporter — I enjoy interviewing and sharing information, but I’m not great at the technical stuff. I wrote this blog anyway because I’m guessing a lot of people are in my position; wading through the plethora of information about this can be really confusing. But the truth is, you’re only going to get good at something like podcasting if you’re willing to go into that abyss, or if you pay someone a lot of money to help you get your sound right.
The good news is, the podcast listening community (so far) seems very forgiving — as long as you put a decent amount of effort into getting a good audio file, and you avoid picking up a lot of ambient noise, you’ll probably end up with something that’s at least listenable. And to me, it’s more important to focus on what I’m communicating than on getting the sound absolutely perfect. Sorry, Brad.
Carrie Rollwagen hosts the podcast Everybody Hates Self-Publishing and is a book reviewer for Southern Living and BookPage. She hopes you’ll buy all your books from your local bookshop (or get them from your local library). You can find Carrie on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter @crollwagen.