Thunder crashes in the distance. The elements lash at the window of your tower room with unforgiving claws of sleet and ice. You sit, bathed in the amber twilight of the single candle atop the oaken slab of your desk as you pore over the ancient tomes and half-disintegrated scrolls you’ve collected from your many sojourns into the eldritch dark of forgotten libraries. The old clock strikes midnight with a mournful peal that shakes you to your very bones.
It is time.
What do you need to record a podcast
To record a podcast, you need a decent environment for recording, coupled with good microphone technique, recording software, and a guide to help you understand it.
You’ve put in the time, learned all the tools and tricks, invested in the best audio equipment money can buy (or, at least, the best gear for your budget), and written a killer podcast script to make the very angels weep in jealous awe at the sheer sublimity of your exquisite wordcraft.
Luckily, you’ve already gotten the hard part out of the way! You’ll quickly learn that actually recording your podcast is the easiest mountain to climb in your content creation journey.
How to record a podcast
You don't need to break the bank in order to produce a high-quality, professional show. Regardless of the money you choose to spend or save, there are a few common threads that are worth tying together when creating the tapestry of your show.
1. Set up a suitable recording environment
This is an often overlooked aspect of recording a podcast. While there are many guides written on what to buy for any given setting, you also need to consider the way your recording space is configured. It’s not hard to do, and a little preparation in this area will go a long way toward making your recording sound more professional and polished.
The size of the room and the things inside it will affect the acoustics of the space and subsequently alter the quality of the recording. Large, empty spaces will cause the sound to bounce around with the volatile and chaotic energies of an over-caffeinated housecat. Smaller spaces filled with sound-absorbent material such as carpets, heavy curtains, or books will help contain the sound and thus yield a much more mellow tone.
Additionally, small factors such as the airflow from a fan or other ambient noises such as air-conditioning units should be eliminated around the microphone.
2. Learn good microphone technique
Now that you have your space configured to your liking, you need to make sure you’re using your microphone properly.
Regardless of the microphone you’ve chosen for your show, there are a few things that you need to be aware of in order to properly use it. You want to place your microphone at the same level as your mouth and around two to three inches away from you.
TIP: You can find that microphone sweet spot by holding your fist between your mouth and the microphone.
If your microphone is too high, it will cause your voice to sound nasally and high-pitched, while speaking down to it will add a warmer tone. The closer it is to you, the lower the input volume needs to be, which leads to an overall higher-quality recording. Don’t get too close though, or your audience will only hear your heavy breathing on the mic.
3. Select the best recording software
When it comes to selecting software to use for the recording of your episodes, there are a few strong contenders to choose from. Luckily, G2 has a page dedicated to recording and audio-editing software to help you in this search.
G2 calculates user satisfaction rates by analyzing all user reviews that take the following into consideration: 1. Customer satisfaction with end-user-focused product 2. Popularity and statistical significance based on the number of reviews received by G2 3. Quality of reviews received 4. Age of reviews 5. Customers' satisfaction with administration-specific product 6. Overall customer satisfaction
A live look at the G2 Grid for this category shows the audio editing products available based on real time, validated user reviews:
Overview: Audacity is a true Swiss Army knife of software, able to record on both PC and Mac as well as being a top program for podcast editing. It’s easy to use, entirely free, and is one of the best places to start for newcomers to podcasting and audio software.
What users like: “The learning curve for learning Audacity is pretty short. If you already have some experience with audio editing software, you can master it in just a couple of hours. However, it’s still a robust tool for audio editing. Another things I like is that, in comparison with more sophisticated software, it’s small, so much it can easily be loaded on any USB device without taking too much memory of it. My favorite tool on Audacity, and what I personally thing represent its biggest strength, is the Noise Reduction tool. It works great for cleaning up the sounds created by background noises.” — Audacity Review by Mitch S.
G2 star rating: 4.3 out of 5
Overview: This is another option available on both PC and Mac, but is much more of a premium service than the bare bones of something like Audacity. It costs around $20.99 a month but provides you with functionality for editing and mastering audio tracks, EQ, background noise reducers, and more.
What users like: “Aside from a few initial learning curve moments setting up the audio settings, it's extremely to use this software to professionally edit audio. I use it daily as a full-time voice artist and it does the job wonderfully. I enjoy the presets as well. I remember a while back in college using a different software, but I can't remember what it was called. This other software was much more complicated to me. Adobe Audition is something I was able to pick up pretty easily.” — Adobe Audition Review by Chris P.
G2 star rating: 4.2 out of 5
Overview: Only usable on Mac systems, GarageBand is an excellent example of audio-editing software that can do it all. It’s easy to navigate and has a suite of tools that can be well-utilized by novice and veteran podcasters alike.
What users like: “I love how easy it is to use and how it is always so modern. I also am a fan of the price! Anyone who owns an apple computer, can utilize the software, and this is a solid plus. The software is free in the app store MOST of the time and if it is not it is usually very affordable when you consider how great the software really is. You can spend many hours with this application creating music and enjoying how there are so many different sounds. The Sound library is great! It is very large and serves as a wonderful sound bank.” — GarageBand Review by Ted C.
Of course, there are numerous other products to choose from. These are just some of the most commonly used local recording options for podcasters.
Learn more about the audio editing category and the listed products on G2.
Call recording software
When you have co-hosts or remote, call-in guests, you’ll want to use a conference calling software as the basis for the recording of your podcast. Most of these have plug-ins that will allow you to record the call directly.
Generally, Skype is preferred by podcasters as it allows you to easily separate the different speakers into different editing components, which makes editing and post-production a breeze. You’ll need to use a call recorder (such as Pamela for PC or Call Recorder for Skype on Mac) for the best quality, but these are all incredibly easy to use.
4. Improve your recording literacy
One of the first things you’ll notice when you’re recording for the first time is that there are numerous different dials and colorful gauges all screaming for your attention.
While most recording software won’t be nearly as complex as what is pictured above, it’s still worth your time to know your way around the interface. Luckily, there are only two vital concepts you need to be familiar with in order to record an audio-only medium such as podcasting.
Gain is sort of like volume, except it controls how loud something is before you mix it with any sort of processing goodness. In essence, it is the volume of the unfiltered, unedited input into your microphone. Most recording tools will have an adjustable gain setting. In most cases, you want it to peak around -10 or -12 dB, meaning that the loudest recording level should go no higher than -10dB.
Most recording tools will allow you to monitor the levels of what you’re putting into your podcast in real time. The input volume of your microphone will generally be visible as meters that range from green to red depending on the gain of your recording. Generally, you want your recording to exist in the green range with the occasional jaunts out into the yellow. The red levels are, unsurprisingly, indicative of an overload of input into any given channel.
Even with good visuals and metrics, you should make sure you’ve used your ears to double and triple check the quality of your recording. Listening to your recording in real time with a good pair of closed-back headphones is crucial to ensuring that you don’t lose an entire session to an avoidable issue that might arise during recording.
Recording best practices
These are some general tips that will help you push the quality of your recording to the next level:
Pause for effect
At the beginning of each recording, it’s a good idea to pause for three or four seconds after you’ve turned on your equipment but before you’ve started speaking. This is an excellent way to give yourself a little more leeway when editing your show to eliminate any ambient noise that could otherwise mar the rest of the recording.
Preparation is the mother of perfection
Even if you’ve followed all the steps of this article, there’s still a chance something will go awry in your recording. In fact, something probably will. Considering this, it’s a good idea to take a practice recording before committing to an entire episode of your show. This is an excellent way to identify any broad issues afflicting your recording setup for a relatively small investment of time and effort.
Shrug it off
No one likes making mistakes. Luckily, podcasts are a very forgiving medium when it comes to slip-ups and snafus. If you lose your train of thought or your guest launches off on some bizarre rant, you can simply edit it out later. Just make a verbal note of this mistake in the recording by saying something to the effect of “take out that last section,” pause for a few seconds for editing purposes, and then continue where you left off!
The power of muting
Don’t be afraid to use the mute button to save an otherwise excellent recording! If you or a co-host’s equipment starts to act up, a good idea is to hit the mute button when they’re not talking in order to cut down on the disruption their mic might be causing. These are always issues you can fix in editing!
That’s a wrap!
Now that you know the essentials of what it takes to record your podcast, you’re ready to start sharing your ideas with the world! Make sure you’ve taken all the above steps into consideration and you’ll be all set to have a great pilot episode.
Interested in what gear you’ll need to set up your own recording studio? Check out our guide on podcast equipment now!
Piper is a former content associate at G2. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, they graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Sociology. Their interests include podcasts, rock climbing, and understanding how people form systems of knowledge in the digital age. (they/them/theirs)