How to Improve the Audio Quality of Your Podcast: The Right Setup
One of the biggest letdowns in the podcasting world is finding a good podcast with poor audio quality. Sure, maybe I'm a bit biased since I'm obsessed with sound. Maybe if the content is good enough, podcast audio quality doesn't matter that much. Maybe your voice does sound better when you're talking 30 feet away in an abandoned warehouse.
Even if your content is top-notch, there are definitely some reasons to care about audio quality in your podcasts.
- First Time Listeners - If the audio is bad, they might not even stick around to hear your great content
- Sponsors and Partners - If you're trying to monetize your podcast with sponsorships and other partnerships, those other parties will want a level of production that reflects well on their brands
- Keeping up with the Joneses - If other podcasts have good audio quality, your listeners will want the same from yours
Here, we'll walk through two ways to improve your podcast audio quality. This article will be how to improve audio at the setup itself. A later post will cover the editing process (even if you've already recorded something that sounds bad).
Thought I was going to talk about fancy gear first? Nope. As a songwriter and producer, I've seen the microphones that cost more than my entire home studio rendered useless by the room they were used in. Now, there's the fantasy version of an "ideal" room, and there's the realistic version of an "ideal" room. Based on you budget and/or connections, you'll have to determine what's realistic for your room at this point in time. Here are a few categories of room issues to consider:Reflections - If you clap in your room, can you hear quick echos bouncing around? If you can, so can your microphone.
- Bass traps in corners - link - Use these in your room corners
- Wall foam - link - Use these on walls & ceilings near where you're recording (and yes, there are better, more expensive versions of acoustic foam)
- Reflector shield - link - If there's no video needed, this is the most efficient way to block reflections around your mic
- AC/Heat noise - If you can stand the heat or cold, turn off your unit for the duration of your recording. This will be immensely better than having it cycle on and off throughout your recording.
- Highway/Street noise - This is somewhat unavoidable without extensive sound treatment. However, if there's a room in your home or office on the opposite side of this noise, try to use that. You can also use dense foam or dense sound blankets to cover windows to at least reduce this noise.
Refrigerators, lighting, other electronic noise - Some electronics will emit a very faint light ringing. While it may not matter that much to you, some of you may be extremely detail-oriented to a fault (like me) and be driven crazy. Try listening to your electronics nearby and ensure they are creating noise that will annoy you when you listen back to the recordings.
The mobile setup - Some podcasts call for a mobile setup, where you're always recording somewhere different. If you don't control your environment - think about your microphone choice, as well as using a reflector shield mentioned above (they're usually quite mobile).
Once you have a space for your recordings, then take a look at your gear. For most podcasts - you'll want a directional microphone (either picking up sound from just 1 direction, or from 2 opposite directions if you have just one mic for 2 speakers). In general here are two words you should know: "condenser" and "dynamic". Condenser mics pick up EVERYTHING. Every little noise. They do not forgive bad rooms easily. Dynamic mics are generally more forgiving. They are very directional, and therefore aren't as susceptible to room noise.
Here are some great mics you can start with:
Ok so maybe this one isn't completely audio quality related. However, there is a low-hanging fruit for practicing your speaking that can drastically reduce your audio editing later in another post.
"Um". "Uh". "Like". The unholy trinity of filler words.
If you're a frequent offender of using filler words, you're either going to spend a lot of time editing them out, or they're going to be in your podcast and make it sound like a haphazard mess. Years ago, like every other teenager on the planet, I was afflicted with the "Like" filler word sin. It wasn't until a speech class in college at Indiana University that I really gained control of it. However, I'll spare you the time and money of going through a whole class and share the techniques that I personally found most beneficial.
- Record & listen to yourself - Well, you're already recording a podcast, so you can check this one off. Try listening back to your unedited recording and physically mark off the number of times you say each filler word. Do this after every recording. It will help you become extremely aware of when you're using these words - something you might be oblivious to at first. It's good practice to continually do this even after getting control of your filler words to help keep them in check.
- Have someone watch you real-time - Nothing raises nerves and performance level like a live audience. But I'm not just talking about a laugh track audience, or an entourage of friends sitting there checking their phones wile you record. All you need is 1 friend, and some obnoxious method of them getting your attention without making noise. Some suggestions include a giant red sign that says "NOOOOO!", a big foam finger they can shake in your face like Mutombo, a shameful head shake, holding up a number count of filler words on their phone. The point is, having someone call you out in real time when you're using filler words. It was by far the most effective method for me. Incidentally, catching them in the act is also the most effective way to house train a puppy (don't believe me?).
- Embrace silence - Learn to get used to silence. You don't always have to immediately find the right words. After using the previous two techniques, you'll start to become aware of when you're using filler words. When you feel yourself about to let one loose, just pause. And wait. Then, when you think of what you want to say, simply continue and say it, filler-word-free. It will definitely feel awkward at first, but your silences are not as long as you probably feel like they are. Soon enough, the silences will shorten as well. Even with longer silences, it will be easier to edit than a filler word. With filler words, you might need to cut within a sentence where you've blended words together. Or maybe you're talking at the same time as your co-host or guest. Either way, trimming out a blank space of audio is much easier than slicing between words or syllables.
Stay tuned for another post, where we'll walk through the editing process and how to improve audio quality of a recording that was already good, and how to save a podcast recording from poor audio quality.