Ever feel like taking your voice to the web, literally? Podcasts are a great way to interact with people and supplement a blog. Here’s what you need to know, from buying a mic to hosting it on your site.

(Image by notfrancois)

Step 1: Premise and Dedication

An audio podcast — netcast, if you really want to be brand impartial — is a great way to start a communicative repertoire with people over the internet. It’s also a great supplement to a blog, for readers who don’t have time or for more in-depth analysis. Before you do anything, though, you really have to nail down a premise. How is your podcast going to work for you? What is it supposed to do for your readers? How long will it run? How many people will host, and will you have guests? Is it straight-forward like a talk-show, or a sound-scape with effects and background music? Planning a general outline is a good idea, too, so you can fill it in for each episode. Organization makes podcasts much easier to listen to and understand, and if you have to put in ads you’ll know where to break.

Whether you’re doing a small-time podcast or a fully-professional one, dedication is key. Unlike blog posts, where a momentary tangent can set you off and you can churn post after post out at your leisure, podcasts are more structured. There’s less time for tangents, and you need to have source material for your talk at your disposal. Even if you’re only doing a monthly podcast, there’s still a lot of preparation to go through, and this is all before you consider the physical equipment and bandwidth you’ll need. You shouldn’t be discouraged, but you need to realize that it takes time, effort, and a lot of dedication to be able to finish episodes. It’s definitely a responsibility, but there’s plenty of it that’s fun and entertaining, too.

Step 2: Equipment

minimal setup

(Image by themaccraic-david)

Here’s a list of equipment you will probably need in some form:

  • Microphone
  • Preamp/Condenser/Hardware EQ
  • Computer
  • Audio Editor
  • Headphones
  • Stands for Mic(s)

Since you’re recording audio, the most important piece of equipment is your microphone. This is where most people will probably spend most of their money, and rightfully so. If you don’t capture good audio, there’s little you can do to bring the quality up. As the adage goes, Garbage In = Garbage Out. There are two types of microphones that are relevant here, dynamic and condenser. Dynamic mics are usually more expensive, but they do a great job of isolating the voice so you can get rid of background noise. Condenser mics are cheaper and make your voice sound more “natural,” but they’re more vulnerable to background noise. The Heil PR 40, at $320, is a unanimously recommended dynamic mic that still sounds very warm and natural, and there’s even a shockmount available for it.

Ultimately, it depends on your setup. If you’ve got more professional means, you can afford better equipment or hire someone to man the mic who knows good technique. If you’re on a lower budget, though, it makes sense to spend more for a dynamic mic with a good stand. Check to see if your mic requires a preamp to boost its signal; some do and some don’t, but it’s an additional cost to factor in. USB mics are an option as well, the advantage being that they don’t require an audio interface, but if you step up later on to more professional equipment, you’ll have to replace it. The Samson Meteor Mic is a great choice for $100.

If you’re running a podcast, odds are you’ll have a computer that can handle audio processing and the like. The benefit of having a real preamp, a hardware compressor, or hardware EQ, is that you’re getting a really good signal from the mic. Some mics (especially the XLR type) require preamps or a proper audio interface to add gain and allow your computer to work with them. The M-Audio Fast Track Pro is a 4×4 USB audio interface with preamps built in. It works and sounds great, is pretty portable, and can be found cheaply for about $170. If you’re on a low budget and using a USB mic, you can probably skip the preamp and use good recording software.

As far as software goes, Audacity is a great, free, cross-platform sound editor that also records really well. If you don’t mind spending some money, Adobe’s Soundbooth is good, and Mac users have GarageBand, and both make editing audio much easier.

Good stands are important because they can dampen ambient feedback and keep your hands free to use your computer. They’re also really important because they take strain off of your neck and back. This is key when you’re trying to speak clearly, enunciate, and project. Slipping a thick sock over your mic works pretty well in place of a pop filter if you’re on a budget, and this is important because it allows you to keep the mic close to you when recording.

Lastly, you’ll want a good pair of headphones. You need to hear what everyone — whether remotely on Skype, from the mic right next to you, or just you — are saying, and you need to do it without it feeding back into the mic. In-ear monitors work really well, or over-the-ear cans, but whichever you choose, make sure they’re decent quality. Those old iPod headphones you have laying around probably won’t cut it.

Step 3: Setup and Recording

podcast station

(Image by theunabonger)

Once you’ve decided on your equipment, you need to designate your setup. You need a professional sound studio, just a clear room where people can move, sit, and talk without much background noise. If you’re in a more public setting, you’ll need better equipment, but it can be done. Mic stands are optimal because you want to be free — free to move your arms and free to keep a good posture. Get a good recording level from close to the mic, and hopefully that sock will keep the spikes in volume down. Compressors are good for this reason, but like previously stated, aren’t completely necessary.

Once everyone’s comfortable, record. Try to speak slowly and enunciate. This isn’t just for the listeners; you can edit much better if you can hear things clearly and your voice has a steady pace. You’re going to mess up here and there, and that’s fine. Just say that you need to cut/edit it (so you can remember to do so when you go through it again), and keep talking. Leave some breaks when you can, and if you need, you can always record in different sessions. And lastly, don’t forget to keep sipping water. Talking is a thirsty business!

Step 4: Editing and Polishing the Audio

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If you started with good audio like you should have, then you just need to make edits and cut out the errors. You may want to add breaks and put ads in. Luckily, we’ve got a article that’ll tell you just how to go about making these kinds of edits using Audacity!

In general, you want the audio to be clear, so you can use some noise removal if your mic or recording settings didn’t filter everything out. It should also have an even volume throughout the track. The compressor effect in Audacity is easy to use if you know how it works. If you don’t, we’ve also got your covered: HTG Explains: How Does Dynamic Range Compression Change Audio?

When all is said and done, you can export everything into a .mp3 or .aac file. You can raise the quality if you’re adding music and have multiple speakers, but if it’s just you and you have a good quality recording, you might be able to compress it down without a lot of negative effects and you can probably get away with mono audio. Plain voice tracks aren’t really complicated, and unless you tried to make it more “interesting,” a 64 kbps .mp3 in mono is fine. If you’ve got more going on, you can go with a 128 or 160 kbps file in stereo. Keep in mind your bandwidth limitations.

Step 5: To the Web!

podcast itunes

(Image by Bert Heymans)

Finally, you’ve bought the equipment, talked and talked, and edited it down to a nice organized piece of discussionary art. How are you going to get people to listen? There’s two parts to that: the hosting and the feed. Hosting is where the podcast is coming from, whether it’s your website, or a higher-bandwidth storage space. Feeds are how they’re accessed by a reader/aggregator, like iTunes.

If you have your own blog, you can host your own podcast and design your own feed. There are plenty of web resources on how to create your own iTunes-compliant podcast RSS feed. Podcast Generator is a great PHP script that lets you easily publish a proper RSS feed for your podcasts. It’s open source, so if you have your own hosting, you should check it out.

If you’re running your podcast independently of a website, you may want to consider third-party hosting. Often, these websites will not only host your podcasts, but will make the proper RSS for you as well. You can advertise/publicize it as you need and the feed’s URL will go back to the host. The downside to this approach is that there are often limitations, either to length, file size, or bandwidth, or the amount you have to pay per month to expand them. Here’s a short list of a few podcast hosts:

While you can do a podcast for free, you definitely want to spend at least a little on better equipment. Things can get expensive quick, but if you know an audiophile, you can probably get access to a lot of decent components cheaply. If money is an issue, you can always start with what you’ve got and improve as you go. There’s a lot out there and with podcasts having taken off over the past several years, you’ll find some good deals and information out there specifically for this niche. But don’t forget that all the fancy equipment in the world won’t make a difference unless you have something to say.

Do you record at home? Have you started your own podcast? Are you an avid listener? Join the comments and help out some podcasters who are just starting out!