What gear do you really need?

Oh this topic causes more “discussion” than just about any other in the podcasting sphere. That being said, these are my recommendations. Feel free to disagree, argue and contact me.(Insert smiley face here).

What gear you need depends upon what you are doing. A solo producer doing monologues will need a different setup from a vox populi specialist out in the streets. Or would they??? Hmm. I’ll get to that.

Let’s go back to first principles: There are few things we all need.

  1. Something to record with.
  2. Somewhere to record.
  3. Something to edit with (maybe).
  4. Post production (maybe).

Something to Record With.

The first thing new podcasters think of is a microphone. Sort of obvious really. Most of us think of radio stations and/or musicians when we first consider this option. There are many options and we need to consider what we are doing. If money is no object, it is possible to go down many rabbit holes. Remember we are not radio nor are we musicians. We are voice artists, Thinking this way means we can rule out many of the products on the market. We need to learn to use our voices as our voices. The best way to do this is to publish. Any number of “practice” episodes will not have the same effect as going live.

So the question remains: which recording device?

I had a student who was doing some catchup study who had fifty odd episodes online. He used a $30 mic from eBay. Now the first thought was: That will sound horrible. It didn’t. He had learned where to place his mic in relation to his recording space, the pitch and volume of his voice and the post production techniques he was using.

When I started World Organic News I used an iPhone 5 and an app called: Opinion. This little app allowed me to record and do some rudimentary editing. It has drawbacks. I couldn’t and still can’t listen to myself as I record and this is important. I could, of course, hear myself during playback and editing but not live. Hearing yourself live is a key skill when recording.It allows you know what you actually sound like as you go. As a beginner, though, it didn’t matter. It just took a little longer to prepare each episode. The recording quality is good in the newer smartphones and getting better with each new phone. So you can produce a podcast using a phone as your primary or even only mic. Do not dismiss it until you’ve tried it. It is a great way to start, especially if you’re not yet sure podcasting is a thing for you.

The next step “up” is the microphone. If you go this route get one that allows you to plug in an earbud or headphones which allow you to hear yourself as you record. This ensures your recording device is actually collecting your voice, as you intend it to sound.

There are any number of YouTube videos on mics. I don’t use one so I can’t really give an opinion. My thinking is that most mics are designed for musicians and therefore not suitable for podcasters. I understand this puts me in a minority position and I’m ok with that.

What do I use and recommend? A digital audio recorder. In my case I use a Zoom H2n. The great advantage of this model and Zoom has many is that it’s small enough to be portable and built like a brick outhouse. It will take a beating and not break. Designed for journalists to use in the field, it can be setup to cut out most unwanted noise and still collect my voice as I intend it.

I’ll be doing a whole blog post, YouTube video and podcast on this little beast in the near future. For now I’ll cover the benefits.

While using this tool, I record into the sd card and then move the file into my editor. This means I always have a separate copy of the audio I can go back to if the editing process turns to poo. However the H2n can also be used as a mic for direct to editor recording, it is my mic of choice for YouTube hangouts, that is live recording, It has a variable arc of recording so I can place it to the side in a fixed position when interviewing in person or I can move it from my mouth to the guests if needed, outside. The wind sock is brilliant and works as designed. I use it collect background sounds as used on Sound Collages to add to an indoor recording to give colour. It comes in at just under the AUD$300 mark so it’s not the cheapest tool but for the money, the most versatile and useful I’ve found. I purchased mine second hand for AUD$185 some five years ago.

Somewhere to Record

This is where the mic option becomes important. A post here covers the recording space. If you’re not sure where your podcasting journey will go, a more general purpose tool is a good idea. I’ve used the smartphone and Voice Recorder Pro (Apple or Android) to do outside recordings and that works well. A studio mic, radio or music, is much more problematic outdoors. The Zoom mentioned above was built for this and is the best tool I carry for this job. If you’re recording indoors only, then the choices are wider. Just give some thought to where you plan to record.

Something to Edit With (Maybe)

This is a step I would recommend until you know what you’re doing. For that reason I used Opinion and now I use Garageband. (A quick course in Garageband for Podcasters is here.) Audacity is another free audio editor for both Mac and PC. I find it unnecessarily messy and ugly to use but that’s just me. I hear many shows edited with Audacity I just don’t like it.

You do not actually need to edit. You can record, “live to drive” as they say and simply publish. This has time saving advantages for the producer but, I think, disregards the listener experience and it is for the listeners that we do this.

It’s is like the difference between a studio album and a live music performance. And I don’t particularly like the “live” album.

Your podcast, your choice!

Post Production (Maybe)

You don’t need to do this but I would highly recommend it. I use Auphonic to polish my audio and it is covered in the Garageband course mentioned above. It transforms the raw audio, recorded in .wav to a .mp3 file. .mp3 is the standard for podcasting. Don’t worry about why just yet. It is the standard so that’s the standard I use as do most (98%) podcasters.

 

Takeaways

  • Use a mic that suits your needs
  • Don’t fall for all the bells and whistles until you need them
  • Think about where you’ll be recording
  • Please edit and do some post production.

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