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How to podcast

Radio Survivor Recommends: How To Start Podcasting

On this week’s show Eric and I answer another frequently asked question we hear: how do I start podcasting?

We give some basic advice to get started, focused on the basic gear you need, along with hints and tips along the way. To complement that segment I’ve put together some of that advice here, along with some suggested equipment. At the end are links to some more comprehensive resources if you want to really dig in.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive guide, nor a step-by-step guide or manual for starting a podcast. Instead, these are some pointers for getting started.

The equipment suggestions aren’t intended to be definitive, or even the very best you can get for any given price-point. Rather, these are items that will get you off the ground and running. There are many varied opinions, and plenty of reviews on the web and YouTube if you want to truly maximize.

A Note About Gear

There’s an understandable tendency to worry about equipment before ever getting started podcasting. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need the best microphones, mixers and headphones first, or else your podcast can’t possibly be good.

The good news is that’s not true. Really decent gear can be had for very little money, and many now-popular podcasts got started with bargain-basement stuff. If you’re a real bargain hunter you might even be able to equip yourself with used gear from a thrift store, or (even better) a local music store.

While a $300 microphone can sound better than a $15 one, the difference is subtle. And a lot of people may never notice. You might impress some audio nerds with the $300 mic, but unless they’re your key audience, it’s probably not worth the extra cost.

Moreover, many podcasts go away after a few episodes. If it turns out that podcasting isn’t for you, do you want to have hundreds or thousands of dollars of equipment gathering dust in a closet? You can always upgrade strategically down the line. And, it never hurts to have extra microphones. So if you upgrade mics, it just means you have some spares for extra guests or emergencies.

All links to equipment are Amazon affiliate links. Radio Survivor gets a commission on every sale, at no cost to you.

Step 0: You’ll Need a Computer

Before I get started, these instructions assume you own or have access to a computer you can install software on (or already has audio editing software). Though it’s possible to podcast using a phone, tablet or Chromebook, these methods have unique challenges and workflows. Luckily, you don’t need a brand new top-of-the-line computer. You can get by with a machine that’s under 10 years old, and running almost any variation of Windows, Mac OS X or Linux. Your local library or community center may have just what you need.

Step 1: Get a Microphone (or Microphones) and Headphones

Sounds pretty basic, eh? But having an actual microphone in front of your mouth is the single most important thing to having a clear, pro-sounding podcast. Headphones are key because you really do need to hear yourself in real time, so you can identify any noises and be sure you’ll be audible. To get started almost any headphones will do.

If You’re Hosting Alone: Get a USB Microphone

A USB microphone connects directly to your computer, requiring no other equipment. However, it’s only good for one person – unless you and your co-host are very close friends and don’t mind sitting really close.

For the most part, you can’t connect two USB microphones to a computer and expect to use them simultaneously with any ease. (There are ways to accomplish this with some software and operating systems, but it’s quirky and beyond the scope of this article.)

If You Have 2+ People Recording Together: Get a USB Mixer and Microphones

You really want every person talking to have their own microphone. Like it’s name implies, a mixer puts these microphones’s signals together for recording.

Mixers use more traditional microphones that have an XLR connector, so you don’t want USB microphones. There are some models of USB microphone that also have XLR. These are fine, but you need to be sure they actually have that connector.

Your mixer should have enough microphone inputs for as many people as you want to record at one time. Inputs are usually in multiples of two. The cost differential between a two-input and four-input mixer is small, so I’d opt for one with at least four, just in case.

Decent microphones can cost as little as $15 and as much as $1500 or more. To get started I see no reason to spend more than $25 or $30. The microphones at these levels are similar to the kinds you’d see on stage at a small club or music venue. The technical term name is a dynamic cardiod microphone (this means it requires no power, and has a relatively narrow pick up range).

They’re all variations on the venerable Shure SM58 design (which itself only costs about $100), like the Behringer XM8500, which I’ve used for years, and only costs $20. Again, you should have one microphone per person.

Step 2: Install Audacity On Your Computer

Audacity is free, open source audio recording and editing software. It does everything you need to record and edit your podcast. It also works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux – pretty much any computer.

You will also want to download and install the LAME MP3 encoder, since your final podcast file will need to be an MP3.

There are other audio applications out there, and there are apps you can use on a tablet or Chromebook. But Audacity on a computer is simplest way to get started. Plus, because Audacity has an enormous worldwide user base, it’s very easy to find tutorials or get help online.

Alternative Step 1 and 2: Get a Digital Audio Recorder

You can use a digital audio recorder to record a podcast instead of using a computer. One big advantage that Eric points out is that it’s less likely to crash than a computer. It’s a single-purpose device and isn’t also trying to run a web browser or games. The disadvantage is that nice ones can cost more than the mixer and microphones, and you’ll most likely still need a computer for editing and uploading your podcast.

Option 1: Low-Cost Digital Audio Recorder with Built-in Microphones

Recorders with built-in microphones can be a good all-in-one solution for recording yourself. The Zoom H1n and H2n have decent microphones and can even record directly to MP3 if you think you can do it in one-take, both for under $200. There also similar models from other brands listed below.

In a pinch you can record two people with these recorders. It works better for an interview situation where you can point it back and forth between yourself and your guest. This is better than just having the microphone in the middle, where it will pick voices up less clearly and will also pick up lots more room noise and echo.

That said, the H2n does this a little better because it has microphones on both sides, so you and a guest or co-host can each talk into one side. I’ve owned an H2 for a decade and does this on many occasions, with some success. Though I still wouldn’t want to record all my podcast episodes this way. The method still isn’t as good as having a mic right in front of your mouth.

Option 2: Digital Audio Recorder with XLR Mic Inputs

You can use an external SM58-style mic with a recorder that has XLR inputs, like the Zoom H4n Pro. They also have built-in microphones, so you have options. With this type of recorder you get the best of both worlds, though once you buy microphones you’ve probably spent more than if you bought a mixer and mics.

However, one of the biggest benefits of a digital recorder is that it’s super-portable. It’s very easy to record interviews or episodes outside your home/office studio, without lugging around a laptop and extra gear.

Step 3: Get a Podcast Hosting Service

Once someone has started recording and editing their podcast, they usually ask us: how do I get my podcast onto iTunes or Apple Podcasts?

The thing to understand is that iTunes is not a hosting service, like YouTube. It’s just a directory of podcasts. You actually have to host your podcast on the web with a service, then submit it iTunes.

There are many services out there, and the better ones will make this as easy as possible for you. We at Radio Survivor just moved our podcast from SoundCloud to Blubrry, which has very good customer support and will submit your show to iTunes and other directories, like Stitcher. Libsyn is another host that’s been around since the early days of podcasting and continues to update its service.

There are lots of other services out there, and plenty of reasons to choose one or another. We don’t want to recommend one over another because we haven’t tried them all. The only counsel we’ll give is to avoid SoundCloud. At one point several years ago SoundCloud started courting podcasters, adding podcast-friendly features. But since then the company hasn’t really kept up with the times, and has run into financial trouble.

Some website hosting companies, like Squarespace, include podcast hosting features, too. These can be a good choice for getting started, though may not be the best choice for a show that gets really popular. The podcast-specific hosts are designed to scale with you.

Note that most good podcast hosting services come with a fee. That’s because they’re mostly small companies focused on podcasting, rather than arms of big tech giants that can pay for everything with advertising revenue. Of course, the benefit is that you won’t suddenly have an ad stuck in your podcast like with YouTube.

Step 4: Promote Your Podcast

Once you’ve recorded and edited your first episode, then uploaded it to a host and submitted it to iTunes, Stitcher and other platforms, now it’s time to tell people about it.

The big difference between podcasting and radio is that a listener is much less likely to stumble upon a podcast. On the radio you always have the chance that someone will scan the dial or hit seek and find your station. But podcasting doesn’t have the same kind of browsing experience.

While Apple Podcasts and Stitcher both have front pages that feature new, interesting and popular shows, the editors have to choose from amongst thousands of podcasts to feature only dozens. There certainly is a chance you might get featured, but if you’re just starting out you shouldn’t count on it.

Instead you should go find your audience. Think about who would enjoy or benefit from your podcast and tell them about it. They might be in an online community, or maybe they already follow you on social media. And don’t discount people in your own geographic area. Just because podcasts are potentially global doesn’t mean you shouldn’t promote your show locally. Plain old face-to-face contact and word-of-mouth are still valuable. Make up fliers or business cards so you always have something to leave with a person you just told about your podcast.

Final Tips

  • If you’re recording your podcast on a computer, quit all other apps.
    That includes web browsers and email apps. You don’t want these apps to either crash – possibly destroying your recording – or making noises that might interrupt your show. This is particularly true if you’re using an older computer.
  • Record in a quiet place.
    It doesn’t have to dead quiet, but especially try to avoid things that hum or cycle in and out, like refrigerators. When we’re in a noisy environment our hearing is designed to tune out the noises, but a microphone doesn’t, and those noises will be much more prominent in your recording.
  • Record in a smaller, deader space.
    The smaller the space, and the more stuff that’s in it, the less echoey it’ll be. A small bedroom, that has lots of furniture, is probably better than a big living room with wood floors. To test: clap your hands. Do you hear a lot of echo? Then find a better space. If you’re recording alone, try an old radio correspondent’s trick: record in a closet.
  • Get close to the microphone.
    Though you want to avoid making lots of mouth sounds, the closer you are to the mic, the clearer your voice will be. It will also be louder than other noises.
  • Listen to yourself.
    Monitor with headphones while recording, then listen closely during editing. Use headphones for editing, too. Listening to yourself will help diagnose and avoid noise problems, and also help you learn good mic technique.
  • Use microphone stands.
    SM59-style stage microphones are designed to be hand-held, so they’re pretty good at minimizing handling noise. However, they’re not wholly immune, and the handling noise is much more obvious in a quiet recording space than in a noisy music venue. Using a table-top or free-standing mic stand eliminates this problem.

    Beginner’s Podcast Equipment

    Here are some suggestions to get you started. This isn’t necessarily the best gear around, but it all works, and won’t cost a fortune.

    USB Microphones – $100 and Under

    USB Mixers – Under $100

    XLR Microphones – Under $50 each

    Podcast Hosts

    Learn More About Podcasting

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