Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Podcasting 101

A couple of people have had questions about starting a podcast and were wondering how to get started. We're not podcast gurus in any sense of the word. We're still learning but we can offer some suggestions and a few of the things we've encountered along the way.

First, doing a podcast is extremely simple and fun. Don't over think it. All you need to begin is:
  1. Something to record your voice into and, 
  2. Someplace to put the finished recording so the world can listen.
When we started our podcast, we recorded at the kitchen table using an old beat up Sony laptop running a freeware recording program called Audacity using the built-in laptop mic. That's it. That's how we recorded our first 3 or 4 episodes. With a couple of mouse clicks, Audacity will export your recording into an MP3 format, which is the format needed for podcasts.

If that sounds like more than you want to do, there are easier options. Any smart phone will have the ability to record your voice and save it. My iPhone has a built-in app called Voice Memos. So does yours. You can push record, set the phone next to you, and start talking. When you're done, you can send the file to your cloud service or export it any way you like. The voice intros we've used on our podcast were all done this way. It's very simple.

If you don't have a phone that will do this, you can use an iPad, tablet, or an MP3 recorder. We have a Roland R-05 that we've used a couple of times. It's great when you're away and your regular podcast equipment isn't with you. We take this with us on road trips, day trips, or any time we're away from our regular recording hardware. You never know when the podcast bug might bite. Ours has a 32 GB SD card that all the recordings are on. After recording, you can remove the card and stick it in your computer or cable directly to it to transfer your recordings into your editing software. We recorded episodes 12 and 15 using the Roland R-05.

We experimented for well over a year as we continued to podcast. You can tell. From episode to episode of our early podcasts, the audio quality changes. Some of it's just bad. Sorry. It's been a learning process for us, so thank you for putting up with us and being part of the journey.

Once you have your podcast audio, you're going to need a hosting service for it. That's a place to put it on-line so others can listen. After using SoundCloud (When it was in beta), we moved to Podbean for a time before settling on Libsyn. Wherever you host your podcast, they'll be able to help you get listed in iTunes. Once your podcast is published you might find it magically appearing on other sites like Google and Stitcher.

In case you're interested, here's a list of the hardware and software we've been using for the last 8-10 months. All of this has grown slowly and is now set up in a dedicated sound room in our house with acoustic foam panels on the walls to eliminate echo and provide quiet acoustics.

  • Susan and I use Shure SM7B microphones on tabletop boom stands. These are some sweet mics with great quality. They require a preamp and the preamp in our little mixer (see below) needed some help, so we purchased a Cloudlifter CL-2. This device takes the 48-volt phantom power supplied by the mixer and converts it into a separate amplifier providing an additional +25db of amplification for each mic. Problem solved.
  • For in-house guests, we have two AKG D5 vocal mics on floor-standing boom mics. We had two friends join us for episode 55 (the Brocast) and they used these mics.
  • We record most of our podcasts through an Alesis MultiMix 8 mixer. This is a small 8 channel desktop mixer that meets all of our recording needs. This mixer is USB connected to our iMac. We import podcasts we recorded on our Roland R-05 directly into our recording software, bypassing this mixer and doing all of the mixing in software.
  • For software, we used Audacity through episode 53. Beginning with episode 54, we started using GarageBand instead. Audacity is a powerful tool, but GarageBand has more pro audio tools in it and post-production editing is faster. Plus, I believe the overall quality is better. Years ago, I used a pro audio software called Cakewalk to produce a music CD so while moving to GarageBand was a bit of a re-learning curve, it wasn't too bad. GarageBand has many more built-in tools than you'll ever need for a podcast, but it's now my software of choice. Plus, it was included with our iMac and integrates into iTunes nicely.

This is what we do, but it's not what you need to do. We're in a season of life that allows us to invest more time in podcasting. Starting a podcast is easy and never has to move beyond easy. I have some experience in audio production so I wanted to get back into it a little. You only need the two things we talked about earlier:

  1. Something to record into, and...
  2. Someplace to put the finished recording so the world can listen.

That's all you need for a great podcast. Keep it simple and have fun!! We are!!

- Mike