6 Steps to Master Podcast Recording
Updated September 28, 2020 | Posted May 24, 2017 | Jacob Bozarth
I am an avid podcast listener and am always on the lookout for a great new podcast. I had a new one on my list I was excited to listen to that sounded like it would be killer. Everything from the content to the host to the intro music made me think this podcast would be really good. But sadly enough, I didn’t make it more than 30 seconds into the podcast before I had to turn it off. The quality of the audio was so bad that it was actually painful to listen to.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If your podcast is painful to listen to or the audio quality is bad, no one will listen to it! Thankfully, with the advancements in technology you can surprisingly have a good recording setup wherever you are at an affordable price. Sure you can spend thousands of dollars on the most expensive equipment (and we have) but this will not solve all of your problems. If you don’t know how to use these expensive tools you have you may still be left with a poor sounding recording. What matters most is not what tools you have, but how well you know how to use them.
In this post we will cover everything you need to learn to start recording your podcast.
Table of Contents
While you might not think as much about it as you should, as soon as you hit record, whatever happens in the background will be forever etched in the digital DNA of your recording. Now we are experts in reducing room noise and eliminating as much distraction that is picked up in your recordings as possible. Our clients come to us and entrust us with their precious recordings with good reason. We haven’t built a reputation as a leader in the industry for no reason.
Walk in closets are great because they usually have tons of clothes hanging that will naturally dampen sound. The key to finding a good room to record in is one that is “dead” with little room noise. To determine how much room noise your room has, simply clap or snap your fingers and listen for an echo or slapback sound. If you do not hear an echo or slapback, then it might work well. Other great natural sound absorbing materials that may help your room are couches, beds, carpet, rugs, chairs, etc. You can also buy basic studio foam to help dampen a room. Another affordable option is egg crate foam that you can buy at a craft store.
You may be surprised at all the sounds you will hear and pick up when you are trying to record, especially what you can hear while monitoring through headphones. For this reason you will want to pick a location that has few natural sounds such as HVAC’s, fans, computers, etc. Be aware that some lights actually put off sounds that can be picked up by your microphones. If possible turn off the A/C, heater, and any other natural sound making devices while you are recording.
Choosing the right podcast equipment is crucial to creating a professional sounding podcast. The beauty of modern recording technology is that you don’t have to spend thousands to achieve a high-quality sound. However, you do need to make the right choice about which gear to use, and then make sure you know how to properly use it.
We have written extensively on the best equipment for podcasting, so for the purposes of this post, we will provide our most basic equipment package for you, and then you can read our in-depth guides on best equipment, microphones, headphones, and accessories below to learn more.
Our beginner podcast setup simply requires you to buy a USB microphone, headphones, a mic stand and a pop filter. By spending less than $200 you can majorly upgrade your podcast audio quality and sound like a professional.
The AT2005 and ATR2100x microphones are nearly identical USB microphones from Audio Technica – that means they can plug directly into your laptop without the need for an expensive audio interface. But the unique selling point of the ART2100x is that it comes with 3 cable connection options: usb C, USB C to USB A, and an XLR connection. So if you want to set yourself up for more versatile recording situations (eg recording into a handheld Zoom H6) then we recommend starting out with the ATR2100x.
If you don’t have access to a laptop and want to record through your smartphone we have a solution for that below.
Garageband (Mac) or Audacity (Win) are our favorite options for recording on your Mac because they are free, are fairly easy to learn, and allow you to easily make some simple edits to your content.
We recommend using a microphone stand with a boom arm rather than a tabletop stand because tabletop stands tend to pick up even small movements on the surface of your table that can interfere with your listeners experience.
The goal of this blog is to help you go from thinking to recording as efficiently and easily as possible. So I’m not going to dive into every possible setup for recording your podcast. However, we have written extensively on the subject of podcast equipment, and so this beginner setup that I listed above might be missing critical pieces of information that you need for your specific use-case. Please read our other blogs below to learn more about how to choose the right equipment for your specific show.
Choosing the right equipment and recording tools for your podcast are decisions that directly influence each other. The type of microphone you use will impact what recording tools it is compatible with, and the type of recording equipment you buy will similarly exclude certain microphones or cable connectors.
There are many different methods for recording a podcast, from simply recording with your iPhone on platforms like Anchor all the way to renting out professional studio space.
While there are ways to avoid using a laptop when podcasting, we recommend you use a laptop for producing your podcast because it will come in handy for recording, editing, coordinating interviews, distributing, and marketing your show. Here are several ways you can record a podcast on your laptop.
Our first recommendation is to record your podcast on your laptop using GarageBand (Mac) or Audacity (Windows). Recording on GarageBand or Audacity will give you the flexibility to easily stop and start your podcast as you record, add as many tracks as you need to (like music or ads), easily edit your podcast as soon as you finish recording, and export in multiple formats for sharing with your podcast production team or for publishing on your hosting platform.
You can record into Garageband and Audacity with your laptops built in microphone (not recommended), a USB microphone that plugs directly into your computer, or an XLR microphone running through an audio interface.
While Garageband and Audacity are our first choice for recording a podcast on a laptop, they are definitely not the only method. You can learn more about some other podcast recording software in this blog.
Our second favorite method for recording a podcast is to record an XLR microphone directly into the Zoom H6 handheld recorder. The beauty of this setup is how compact and easy to use it is. It’s super easy to travel with this setup and collect interviews with guests on the fly, and the built in headphone monitoring makes it great for testing and setting your recording levels (more on that later in this post).
Equipment You Need
Recording a podcast on your smartphone should be more like a last resort than a first-pick for most people. Although platforms like Anchor have made it easier than ever to just start recording from an app on your phone, their audio quality is almost never as good as recording through a handheld recorder or laptop (mentioned above). While there are some decent bluetooth mics, lav mics, and different adapters for recording directly from your iPhones, we try to recommend this setup the least. It takes a lot more work to get the same quality of audio from a smartphone at this point in time.
But with that being said, if you are going to record on your smartphone we recommend using a lav microphone like the MOVO LV4-O instead of your built in mic. You can track your podcast with the MOVO LV4-O on your native voice recorder app.
There are several ways to record a phone call, including running your phone through the Zoom H6 handheld recorder, the TapeaCall app, simply using Zoom, or Skype + AudioHijack. You can read step-by-step instructions on how to record a phone call so that your guest just has to dial in and start talking in this blog.
Recording a podcast remotely is more important than ever in 2020. There are numerous solutions for recording a podcast interview remotely, for both audio-only podcast and video podcasts. We’ll list out our favorite remote recording tools below, but you can learn more details about how to record a podcast remotely in our guide on remote recording for podcasts.
Squadcast is our favorite platform for recording audio-only remote podcasts. They offer a free trial to get started, make it incredible easy to invite guests to your call, and their recording interface makes it easy to choose your audio inputs and outputs, and see the audio settings for your guest as well (amazing tool for troubleshooting and quality control). Learn more about Squadcast and watch our tutorial video in our Review of Squadcast.
If you are looking for a free alternative to Squadcast we would recommend recording with Zoom using the double-ender method, recording audio for both guests locally on your separate computers through Garageband (Mac), Audacity (Win), or the Resonate Recorder.
Zoom is our top pick for recording both audio and video podcasts. They support HD video recordings (up to 1080p on their Business, Education or Enterprise accounts), and record high quality audio. If you are going to record your podcast with Zoom, we highly recommend that you review our checklist for optimizing your recordings in our step-by-step guide to recording a podcast on Zoom.
Other Remote Recording Tools
Squadcast and Zoom are the tools we recommend most often for recording a remote podcast interview. But there are many different ways to create a remote podcast. Learn more about remote recording in our guides below.
We’ve put together this quick checklist of best practices for recording a podcast to ensure that each episode of your podcast audio is consistent, professional, and success. Once you’ve found a quiet recording environment, added any necessary sound dampening, and set up your equipment it’s time to do a couple final tests before hitting record.
Remember, it’s better to put the extra forethought into the pre-production phase to save yourself dozens of hours in the post-production phase fixing low-quality audio, removing (or attempting to remove) distracting background sounds, or rerecording content that was accidentally deleted or never recorded in the first place.
Best Practices for Recording a Podcast:
The last element when recording your podcast is finding the correct recording level. Recording too high levels can cause distortion or clipping, and recording with the gain too low may cause hissing or hollow sounding narration.
Whether you are using an outboard mic preamp, an interface, a handheld recorder, or a usb mic there should be an adjustable gain setting. (If you need help finding this adjustable gain setting on your device, please contact us.) So now that you have found your adjustable gain setting, what is that magic level you should record your narration? A good rule of thumb is to have your mic peak around -10 to -12 dB. This means at the loudest part of your recording the level should go no higher than -10dB. Most recording devices have these numbers listed on a visual meter. However, if your device does not have these numbers listed, try to stay in the green or about halfway up your meter. If you cannot find a visual meter on your device, well this leads us to our next point…
It is important that you have a way to monitor and listen to what you are actually recording. Even if your device has an excellent visual meter to check your recording level, we recommend you be a skeptic and never trust your eyes. In our world you must learn to only trust your ears. For this reason we recommend someone always monitor your recording with high quality, closed back headphones when recording. Monitoring your audio in real time will enable you to quickly recognize and address any issues with your recording. It is not sufficient to use earbuds or other cheap headphones. With these, you may not be able to hear and quickly identify issues with your recording.
After helping podcasters produce over 10,000 episodes of their podcasts, our team has heard far too many tragic stories of lost or accidentally deleted recording sessions. Recording a second copy of your podcast is an important final step to foolproof the recording process. Our go-to choice for recording a backup of your podcast is our very own free online recorder: the Resonate Recorder. The Resonate Recorder can easily be set up to record a redundant copy of your podcast in the background through Google Chrome.
For example, if you are recording your podcast on Garageband or through Zoom, simply go to the Resonate Recorder on Google Chrome, click “Start Mic Check,” follow the prompt to allow access to your mic, select your mic by clicking the icon in the browser window (top right), and press record. When you are finished recording, you can directly download the recording to your laptop and save it as a backup.
Even if you don’t record a secondary copy of your podcast audio, it never hurts to save a duplicate of all your files in the cloud or on an external hard drive. You may not get a second chance nailing that interview with your high-profile guest again, so putting in some extra effort to foolproof your production is definitely worth the effort.
Podcasting is an intimate medium. And the best podcasts make you feel relaxed, draw you in with interesting content and leave you with an idea that you want to share with the world. But sometimes when people start their first podcast, they struggle to keep that same natural tone of voice and style they would use in a conversation behind closed doors. Instead, they get a little too formal and sound somewhat stuffy. One way to find your natural voice and style is to take a few minutes before you hit record and shoot the breeze with your cohost. Talk about what’s going on in your day, something that has inspired you recently, or your goals with the podcast. But try to use that same natural curiosity, tone of voice, and style in your podcast.
Now, I understand that some podcasts will need to have a more formal tone and style. Some shows, like narrative podcasts or newscasts will need to adapt to the style of their medium. However, whenever it’s in your control, try to let your audience into who you really are, what you really talk like and get excited about. Authenticity leads to deeper connections with your audience.
When you make a mistake while recording your podcast, think ahead to when you/your team will be editing the content and think about the best way to handle the error. Option 1 is to just say “let’s delete that” or “take that out” and talk directly to your editor (or future self) in the recording. Option 2 is to simply pause and restart your sentence and say it again.
Pro Tip: When you make a mistake in recording, just say “take that out” and start over. Then create a transcript of your podcast using Descipt or Rev, open the transcript, and hit CMD+F (CNTR+F on Windows) to do a word search in your transcript for the phrase “take that out.” That way you can easily identify the exact spots where your editor needs to delete audio from the episode, along with the timestamp.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to speed up your podcast production process is to start at the source and fix the mistake as soon as you make it. Did you pronounce the guests name wrong? Just pause and try again.
Don’t be afraid to slow down, take a breather, and then dive back into the content if it’s going to improve your editing process by removing dozens of other mistakes.
Sirens, air conditioners, refrigerators, dogs barking, coughing and sneezing… Our team deals with these distracting sounds in podcast recordings every day. While we have the tools and skills to do some pretty incredible background noise reduction, the cleanest solution is always to start at the source. If a siren is passing, or your dog starts barking at the mailman, pause until the sound passes and start your sentence over again to avoid causing distractions to your listener.
Our last practical tip before hitting record is to drink water or warm tea to avoid that distracting sound of lip smacking. Additionally, we recommend getting a pop filter or windscreen for your microphone to further reduce those unnecessary mouth sounds like clicks, pops, and harsh sibilance. You can learn more about our tips on the best microphone techniques here.
When you are ready to export your audio files for editing and mixing, we recommend keeping them in a lossless format such as a WAV file. We also recommend exporting each individual track (all audio from guests, any music, other sound effect, etc) separately so your engineers will have the max amount of opportunity to clean up and improve your audio quality.
Best export settings for editing, mixing, and mastering
As we have mentioned a few times, it is always a good idea to do some test recordings prior to your actual recording time. Review these recordings with high-quality studio monitors or headphones and listen for any issues with the recording. If you are unsure if you have a good recording setup or would just like some further tips, feel free to send us your test recording. Doing multiple test recordings will also help you to better learn and become more comfortable with your recording setup. As with anything, practice makes perfect. Follow these simple tips and become a master with the tools you have. Hearing is believing. Schedule a call with our team to learn more today.
As President and Co-Founder of Resonate Recordings, Jacob leads the team and oversees all sales and marketing initiatives. Jacob can be found recording, producing, and mixing podcasts when he is not spending time with his family in Louisville, KY.