Tips for Setting Up for Podcast or Audio Program Recording

Companion to How To Develop a Great Podcast or Audio Program

If you look online you will see endless tips & tricks and adverts for all these things you must have to be “pro” when making a Podcast or audio recording. Generally, they are not helping you. Here is the advice I give to my clients:

Tips for Getting Set Up

A quiet room – The naturally quieter your room the better. This includes fans, air conditioners, computers, hot water heaters etc. Be aware that they all add noise and you should not rely on Audio-Post to “just make it go away” as everything has its costs against your program.  Similarly don’t go overboard as you need to be comfortable. You’ll know if your room is quiet when you walk in talking you’ll notice how the sense of space around you becomes muted. Soft furnishings help. There are things out there that promise to make your room into a  quiet recording space. They DON’T WORK. Well, kinda they do, but not enough to make them worth the dramas & cost. Use if you already have them but don’t buy them.

Script – You want a way to be able to see your script. Just be sure you don’t sound like you are reading. Write in Word or Google Docs & export to PDF so you can use your mouse or arrow key to advance a page. Setting page turns to occur during natural pauses helps – even if the pages look odd. Old-school paper is also ok if that makes you happier. Just be sure to keep all page turns away from when you are speaking lest the word gets damaged in the edit to fix the click or swish. You can use the same computer you record on as most machines these days will be just fine with several programs working at once.

Chair – You also need a quiet chair if you sit as you record. Any noises that your chair make will be recorded. You don’t want this. Same with clothing if you wear scarfs, shawls or anything else that can flap around and/or hit the mic stand. You will tend not to notice the strike but it will be there plain as day in the recording.

Microphone – you need one of these but don’t go overboard. At a push, you can possibly get away with the mic in your phone but it won’t be great. That is because those mics are designed to make all sounds louder. That means that background noise can easily become as loud as your voice. It is like how a photograph lacks the depth of being there – all the 3D is flattened. The same goes for webcam mics. Spend a hundred or so dollars on a decent mic. If you already happen to have a fancy audio interface then get a proper Mic, otherwise, for most of you, something like a Blue Snowball or Blue Yeti with a USB interface will do just fine to get you going. Avoid gimmicks. If you do decide to go for a better mic then go to a proper musician’s store and not a department chain that sells toys for gamers. Unless you are recording Frank Sinatra, you don’t need fancy gear. He’s dead, so you don’t need fancy gear. Settled.

Positioning is more important than the mic once you have something that is clear. Spend the extra money on a good mic stand so you can be comfortable as you perform your program. You want to be close to the mic. 4-6″ or 10-15 cm is about right for normal intimacy. Further away you sound like the equivalent of a photo of a person in a poorly framed happy snap who looks tiny in the distance. This is not really solvable once the mic is allowed to draw in too much “room” sound. Closer and you increase body & intimacy (like a radio jock) but at the cost of pops, clicks and mic contact bangs. As you get closer, it is worth considering talking across the mic if you are creating Plosives (Pops of Ps). Most USB Mics have shields built in so rarely a need for a pop shield if you aren’t shouting. See below for more info.

Headphones – are of questionable value. Use them if you are screen-casting only if you are needing other sound going  as you speak. You need to sound natural and unless you are experienced working & speaking in “cans” don’t go there. Whatever you do, don’t buy Beats or anything competing as they are overpriced, poor quality twaddle.

Recording Software – is where you to do your recording. Audacity will be the thing most people tell you to get as it is free. It is also significantly less fun than chewing off your own feet. It will do the job but it will do your head in too. Sadly there are not a lot of players in the simple audio recorder space as they all keep adding lots of useless and messy features you don’t want. It lets them appear to be a solution for all but then makes them a total PITA for anyone who doesn’t live for pointlessly cluttered interfaces. I work in a musician’s Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) and think the best suggestion may actually be MuLab which has a free version that will do a nice job once you are set up. If you are on a Mac then Garageband is similar and will do just fine too.

Make sure you only have One (1) Track of recorded audio. If you ever see more, then delete the ones that aren’t the program immediately. Don’t get clever. One track is all you want. Stay away from ALL effects. Once they are there they can’t be taken off. Some programs default to opening with effects in the Master Bus. Kill these too. Make yourself a Template file that is exactly what you need and no more and only ever work from that. Try to keep that program & even the whole computer from being used by anyone else lest they mess up your settings (which is a killing offense in any pro studio).

One other possible recording solution to consider is a Screen Recorder like the free OBS software. This is primarily designed for recording your computer screen but also will record audio only. It works just dandy. I am using this for new screencasts and it is behaving well.

Levels – are important. I won’t get into it too much but I can show you what you want the audio display to look like:

Too Quiet – Good – Too LOUD

Too quiet (on left) as there is not enough difference in level between background and foreground sound – your voice – so the final program will sound unclear. Too loud (on right) and you will be clipping or distorting which is horrible and hard to solve. In the middle is just right. You want to see that there is a noticeable difference between the speech & background but you aren’t making the levels go splat every time you get excited.

Remember that magic software is not what you want to rely on to fix poor recording technique as everything done will damage the voice’s selling power. Get a good recording first time and your program will not only sound good but sell far better.

Exporting your audio files – to send off for Audio-Post should be pretty simple. You need to Export the Audio either as a Wave File (a bit excessive for most Podcasts etc) or high-quality MP3 (256kbps will be plenty). .Wav or .mp3 are the extensions you should see on the files. Anything else may indicate you are sending a file from the recording software. Unless agreed on, this is not useable.

Housekeeping – for all your audio programs in their various stages is very necessary. Initially, you think it doesn’t really matter, then suddenly it matters a lot. I cannot stress this enough. Create a strong, simple system from the start. Relying on your Audio-Post provider to store your material is dangerous in the extreme as you are probably not paying them a monthly fee to manage all your files on multiple Terrabyte backups. Even if you are, here’s my suggestion:

Create a Folder on your Desktop with the name of your Business or Program. Inside that create these Folders:

  • Raw – which is where your raw recordings go.
  • Processed – is where you put the finished files that come back from Audio-Post.
  • Published – is where you move the Processed files once they are live. You may want sub folders here for time, subject or some other system that matches your program.

Once it is clear that a Program is live and all is good, you can probably delete the Raw files – unless your program is likely to become valuable like The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix back catalog, then keep it all well annotated forever.

I would also keep all other collateral for your Audio Program in this main folder too with Folders for Artwork, Licenses etc. It is easy to have files all over your drive, wherever each program defaults to storing things, but this is a recipe for disaster as sooner or later you can’t find things. Pop them in one place that you spring clean regularly. Any files that are current get kept. Any files that are old and useless get binned. Any files that are old but of historical value can be moved to an Archive Folder. Now Back Up this clean folder to the cloud or a USB Drive.

Ensure any naming convention is really clear and well thought through. Using initials may be ok now but what about in 10 years when “JKR456” sounds more like a downed airliner than “James Keith Rally 04/05/2006”? If you are filing by date then consider the format “2018-12-08 James Keith Rally” instead as this works great for keeping everything perfectly in order.

Any decent Audio-Post provider can assist you to some extent with any or all of these points if you ask. If you do ask then please understand that some things can’t be done very well by remote and some others are entirely up to you. Also if you ask for advice, please be sure to follow it and/or at least say thanks as most often your Audio-Post provider isn’t actually charging you for this time & trouble. It helps them cement the relationship with you so if you “blow them off” you lose value as a client. You don’t want that.

Hanging with the Hardcore – slightly more advanced

If you already happen to have a fancy computer Audio Interface that is dying to accept a Pro Quality Microphone then The Lewitt LCT 240 Pro is getting a lot of nice feedback for a really cheap mic.

If you don’t understand a word I just said then ignore that bit and look at a Blue Snowball and get a better Microphone Stand as that wee thing included isn’t likely to let you get close enough without doing something like crunching your chest over to lean into it, which reduces your power.

The image below (don’t you just love my drawing) is the best person-to-microphone relationship. Initially, 10 cm feels a bit close and intrusive but after a while, you forget it is there and become comfy. Give yourself time to settle in by practicing your material (incl the recording process) for 5-10 mins a day over a few days or weeks until the whole process feels natural. Tempting to skip this bit but that leads to more stress when it counts. You don’t need that.

In the image below, you may have also noticed that:

  • the Mic Stand comes in from the side. It can come at you from in-front but not all rooms allow this space so if you sit at your desk, the Mic Stand can be on your left or right and “fly” the mic in to you where you sit.
  • Sitting or Standing makes not a lot of difference for speech. Standing has a bit of advantage but seeing this isn’t singing, don’t feel obliged. The more important thing is to…
  • be Upward & Outward Facing. You will see our lovely model is tilted slightly upwards. This is because it helps open the throat for a more comfortable & authoritative performance.
  • the Sweet Spot for most voices is a few cms above and in front of the top lip (yellow line). Try a few placements but odds on this positioning of you + mic will deliver the clearest & cleanest results.
  • which reminds me of Pop Shields and similar baffles. Ideally, you don’t want to use them. Only introduce one if you are regularly Popping the mic on “P”s, even if your face is turned off the mic. Anything between you and the mic is reducing detail & clarity.
Mic Positioning
Mic Positioning

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