As the creator, editor, producer and host of the popular podcast, “Predictably Drunk”, I often get requests from people looking to start their own podcast, on how to get started. What equipment do they need, how do they upload it to iTunes and how long until they can retire from their day jobs do to the sheer amount of revenue your podcast will undoubtedly bring in. The answers, of course, are broad, varied and perhaps not exactly what you want to hear. But given that I have had no less than a dozen requests from fellow Stand-Up Comedians, and a handful from normal folks (I call them “normies”), I figured I would at least lend my under qualified expertise to getting someone started. In this installment, we will focus on the actual equipment. The hardware and software needed to record your sexy, sexy voice into a machine. In addition, I will attempt to give some advice that I wish someone gave me before starting my own death march to obscurity. Whoops, I meant to say podcast (damn Autocorrect).
It seems pretty obvious, right? But you would be surprised at how many times people ask me if they need a computer in order to do a podcast. Technically, the answer is no, you do not. But I promise you that your podcast will be awful and un-listenable if you do not have one. Technically speaking, of course. Personally, it doesn’t really matter what type of computer you use. Laptop, desktop, or tablet will all work. What does matter is that you:
A: Have enough memory to store all of your awesome podcasts that you will record and make a bajillion dollars off of
B: Know what operating system you are running (Apple IOS, Microsoft, etc.)
C: Have a compatible sound editing software that you are comfortable using (more on this later. What? You want to know more now? Too bad, you pushy, impatient prick. You have to wait).
Personally, I rely on my Dell Latitude E7440. Multiple USB inputs, HDMI cable, audio jack for headphone, and enough memory to let an Alzheimer’s patient borrow some. Since it is a Dell, I run a Microsoft operating system, and as such, I use a compatible audio editing software (see? I told you there would be more later) in Audacity. Audacity is a free program (you hear that? F-R-E-E) that allows you to manipulate your recordings in a seemingly, never ending amount of ways. From cleaning up sound artifacts from your original recordings, to laying down music tracks underneath your spoken words, and distorting your voice to make you sound better than you actually do (I use this feature A LOT). Audacity also allows you to record directly into the program and export it as an .mp3 file (AKA the file needed to publish to the interwebz) or import existing media and edit to your heart’s desire. There are other software’s out there that you can use, and I am sure they are way cooler and kick-assier than Audacity, but for the vast majority of all of us, Audacity will get the job done. Plus, did I mention it was F-R-E-E?
If you are running an Apple based operating system, you are screwed. Sorry.
Just kidding. I recommend Garage Band. Occasionally, I will record a podcast through my iPad, and as such, I need the ability to edit and upload through that app. I believe the price point is reasonable. As an app on a mobile device (iPhone, iPad, etc.) it is is $4.99 and for Mac laptops, it is a F-R-E-E-mium app. Meaning the base package is a free download with in-app purchases (which I doubt you would need for a verbal podcast, but feel free to buy those synth drum kits, if you so desire).
The other reason for having a laptop/desktop/tablet is for uploading your filed to your dedicated website that you should get for your podcast. But that is a topic for another blog. That blog isn’t written yet, but trust me, if you are reading this, you have plenty to do ahead of that one.
Along with the computer where you can edit, manipulate and record your voice, you will need a device to actually speak into. In other words, you need a microphone. Can you record your voice using your computer’s built-in microphone? Can you record your voice into your smart phone’s recording mechanism? Sure. But much like not having a computer, not having a dedicated microphone to speak into, your recordings will suffer and your listenership’s ears will bleed. Unless you are in a Death Metal band, bleeding ears by your fans is typically frowned upon.
There are two basic types of microphones. USB and XLR. I have both types and cannot really recommend one type over another. When I am podcasting by myself (i.e. my guest canceled on me), and am in my home studio (garage) I tend to use my Audio-Technica AT-2020.
This is a USB condenser microphone that plugs directly into my computer, and I can record right into Audacity and edit whatever I need to edit, immediately after. This is also my set up when interviewing guest via Skype, Zoom, or whatever popular audio social media program you prefer. This microphone is extremely popular for podcasts and music recordings and as such, is priced at around $100, per. I bought two of these when I was setting up my podcasting space. They are good microphones, but honestly, you can get by with cheaper equipment than this. USB microphones also tend to have more of a “hissing” sound when listening to the raw recording, which means you tend to have to do a lot of clean up in post production, which can be a pain in the ass if you don’t like editing (no one likes editing, for the record). The other issue I have found is that if you use multiple USB microphones (i.e. a live co-host or interview), and record into Audacity, it lumps everything into a single track, which sucks…a lot. Multiple tracks allow you to individually edit each recording and make for a better finish product for your podcast. Additionally, I have experienced latency issues with these microphones (basically, your voice gets picked up on both microphones and fucks up your recording).
If you go this route, I recommend getting a mixing board. It will split the tracks and give you more immediate control over all aspects of your recording (again, more on this later)
If I am interviewing someone in the green room of a comedy club, at a festival, or in a car while traveling to a gig (I recommend not podcasting and driving, for the record), I go to my “travel” microphones Audio_Technica ATR-2100.
You can find these at most electronics stores and are infinitely cheaper than the above mentioned AT-2020s. I bought a couple of these at Fry’s Electronics and have been extremely impressed. These are an XLR based plug in, which means they will not plug into most computers directly. So going this route means that you are most likely going to need an external recorder or a mixing board. The upside to these mics is that the dreaded “hissing” sound I mentioned about USB microphones is virtually non-existent. Many times I have recorded a podcast with these mics and have been able to put some basic finishing touches on the raw audio (intro music, sound effects, etc.) and release to my adoring fans without having to mess with the audio at all. They can be a tad cumbersome to lug around versus some smaller, lighter options, but the sound quality is crucial. I liken it to a woman cramming her fat feet into a pair of high heels for a night on the town. Sure, she could wear slippers or tennis shoes and be more comfortable, but the quality of the presentation takes a hit (Was that sexist? That felt sexist. Oh well, get over it, bitches).
You need these. Make sure you buy these. They make your lack of articulation on your P’s and B’s be silky smooth. These are cheap, effective and worth it.
This is one of those pieces of hardware that you can technically live without, but life is much better with them. Basically, if you can afford to add these, do it. Essentially, these act as a shock absorber for your microphone. Your mics slide into the mount, the mount is threaded into your microphone stand and all the normal bumps, bangs, and vibrations that a microphone is
exposed to during the recording process, are removed. At least in theory, anyway. If you decide to use your microphone as a boxing speed bag, no shock mount in the world will prevent the sound from being picked up. But most reasonable people elect NOT to physically abuse their microphones (rock stars aren’t reasonable people, they are animals and degenerates, so save me that argument), so you should be fine picking a couple of these up (one per microphone)
Sound Softening Squares
Again, a small, cheap, and simple addition to your studio/recording space that can make a large difference in sound quality. You have seen these in music and radio studios and can be purchased for cheap. Basically, what you are doing with these is preventing your own stupid voice from bouncing off the walls and coming right back at you and creating an echo chamber for your recordings. Listen, we all love the sound of our own voice, we just don’t need to hear it twice, split about a nano second a part. It will drive you nucking futs. Depending on the size of your recording area, you may have to purchase a bunch of these, but again, well worth it. And no, you don’t have to do the entire room.
And yes, you can do whatever crazy pattern you like. The total net area of coverage is what is important here, not what it looks like. As for what that area is, there are different schools of thought. Personally, I noticed a major uptick in sound quality once I covered roughly 25% of the wall. But I record in my garage that has a concrete floor. If you are recording where carpet is cushioning your feet, you may need less as your rug may act as a sound softener as well.
If you are going to record in the same spot each time, microphone stands are your friends. Dialing in where the mics should be in relation to you and your guests, etc., can be a bitch. And having to do it every single time is even bitchier. Mic stands allow you to lock in those mics at their ideal locations.
External Recorder/Mixing Board
This is an area that I learned I needed via experience. Basically, unless you want to lug your computer around everywhere when recording a podcast in a different location, an external audio recorder is crucial. I am not sure if I would be doing podcasts still without my Zoom H4N. This thing is my best friend. First off, it allows for multiple channel recordings, utilizes a standard SD memory card that easily pops into your laptop for post production work and has more inputs ready for use than Jenna Jameson in her prime. My XLR microphones plug into the bottom of this and the two tracks are automatically split during the recording. Which, as stated earlier, is a dream for post production. It also allows for a boom mic through an audio jack, micro USB plugs and an on board microphone for recording in a pinch. This is an expensive piece of equipment, but one that is essential if you take your podcast seriously.
As for mixing boards, I currently do not use one as I typically am fine with a single guest joining me. But if you want to have the Golden State Warriors starting line up on your show at the same time, then a mixing board that controls multiple microphones independently, is the way to go. Much like the recorder above, the advantage to a mixing board is that you have the ability to control mic levels, pre-load sounds, phone calls, etc. It is what most radio shows and music producers use (although theirs are extremely more sophisticated than what you will need) and allows you to record more stuff live, as opposed to dropping things in, in post production (can you tell I hate post production?) Lots of options for mixing boards out there. I would defer you to other folks who you can Google (fuck promotimg other people, right?). But the one I am currently focused on getting is the Behringer XENYX Q1212USB. Good reviews and allows me to record up to four people in stereo at the same time. Pretty much fits all of my needs.
And that concludes the hardware/software portion of starting a podcast. There are other options, brands, and ways to podcast, but those ways are incorrect, and you are stupid to take their advice over mine. In forthcoming posts, I will discuss how to get your finished blog up onto the internet, iTunes, Stitcher and podcast sites, in general, as well as recommendations on what to podcast about, what your schedule should be and how to find guests. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can listen to my podcast, Predictably Drunk on my website or on iTunes.