If you’re thinking of starting a podcast, one of the first steps you need to take is to learn how to record a podcast.
With tons of podcast software, many online resources, and even podcasts about podcasting, it can get overwhelming for the inexperienced.
As a sound engineer, I’ve recorded hundreds of voice talents in a carefully prepared studio environment, including actors, announcers, and speakers. Because the human voice carries so much emotional information, I’ve developed a refined ear for quality voice recording.
Although many podcasters record their shows at home, quality is essential for podcasting. Your voice, the way you speak, and the overall sound quality dictate whether the listener likes you or not.
So, in this article, I’ll show you all the steps you need to start a successful podcast without hiring a professional studio.
What Are the Steps to Record a Podcast?
There are four fundamental steps when you first start thinking about recording audio for your podcast:
- Planning Your Podcast. Before you start recording, you need to prepare to ensure the recording process flows naturally.
- Choosing Your Microphone. There are many professional and non-professional microphones on the market. Which should you choose?
- Recording Equipment. If you have the right podcast equipment, fewer worries you’ll have in post-production.
- Recording and Editing Software. Which podcast recording software should you use to record your podcast?
I could include another step, such as publishing. However, most podcast hosting platforms already include publishing to Spotify, iTunes, and others, so I won’t cover that in this article.
By the end of this guide, you’ll know everything you need to record your podcast and put your voice out in the world.
1. Planning your podcast
Some people might find this part boring. However, a well-planned podcast may help you avoid hassles when it comes time to edit.
On the other hand, you might be the type of person who turns on the equipment and starts recording without prior planning. And you might even get creative as you go. Sometimes, the best takes come without any preparation.
Unfortunately, most people do not have spontaneity as a consistent personality trait. So, to start things moving, some planning may be required.
What’s your topic?
This might be obvious, but it’s crucial to have in mind the main topic of your podcast episode. It’s so easy to ramble around and lose track of the topic. That’s why planning is essential for a successful podcast episode.
If you choose the wrong podcast topic, your expensive microphone and laptop won’t make a difference. If your audience doesn’t care about your topic, you’re done.
The best way to choose a topic for a podcast episode is to do keyword research.
You’ll want to target your ideal listener and answer the questions they might have. For example, if your ideal listener is a blogger, you might want to cover questions like:
- What are bloggers asking?
- What do bloggers need help with?
- Are bloggers having specific problems?
You get the point.
You don’t need to address every single question in each episode. But having a targeted keyword will attract your ideal listener. In the end, that’s what we all want, right?
So, how do you do keyword research to find the best topic for your podcast episode?
Fortunately, many SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tools on the web help us get the job done. However, you don’t need to go and start paying for a tool like Ahrefs (the best, in my opinion, but quite expensive, by the way).
You can use a free tool like Google Keyword Planner.
You may use this to look up keywords and see how frequently they are searched for. Try a few different searches to get a sense of what people are looking for.
I also think KWFinder is a wonderful all-around tool. You can use it to search for topics, and it will return results with relevant and related keywords, including monthly searches.
This tool helps find long-tail keywords and determine how likely you will appear on the first page of search results for specific queries. You can also look at other websites when you search for that term. Every 24 hours, you receive five free searches.
Another tool you can use is Google Trends. It helps you understand what keywords are trending at a specific moment.
Writing a podcast script is debatable. Should you write a script word for word, or should you only cover the main bullet points of your topic? It all comes down to your experience.
A well-written script can result in a tight, value-packed episode. It eliminates rambling and guarantees that you cover everything that has to be covered.
The only problem is that a thorough screenplay might rob an episode of its spontaneity and charm. Reading a detailed script and sounding natural and conversational takes a lot of talent.
Not to mention the time it takes to write such a detailed script.
A light script, on the other hand – essentially a collection of bullet points – can provide enough direction without tying you down. It takes far less time to prepare, and you may be more engaged, loose, and genuine.
It’s much easier to get lost in a simpler script, get off-topic and repeat oneself. Besides, this can result in lengthier episodes (which isn’t always a good thing, as most people might think).
Your personality, attitude, and experience are typically the deciding factors. You may start with a specific script until you feel more at ease in front of the microphone. Then, you can gradually reduce the level of detail until you’ve found the right combination of time spent, benefits achieved, and recording technique.
2. Choosing your podcast microphone
A microphone is probably the most important piece of equipment you need to record a podcast. What kind you get depends on your budget, how many people will be in the room, and how serious you are about podcasting.
To keep things simple, there are two basic types of microphones for podcasting: USB and XLR. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses.
USB microphones are the simplest to use because you can instantly plug them into your computer and start recording. They’re also very affordable.
However, you may find that the audio quality isn’t great if you plan on doing interviews from multiple locations or want to record music for your podcast.
XLR microphones give you studio-quality audio, but they require the most investment in terms of equipment and setup. You’ll need to buy a separate mixer or audio interface to connect an XLR microphone to your computer.
These microphones use an XLR cable to transmit audio to an external mixer or recorder, which is then connected to your computer via USB. The main advantage of this setup is that you can use multiple microphones at once (e.g., for recording interviews with guests) and adjust the levels individually.
XLR microphones are further classified into dynamic and condenser types:
- Dynamic. This is what radio broadcasters usually use, although it’s not really necessary for podcasting. It can handle louder sound sources like guitars, drums, or loud voices without distorting.
- Condenser. This picks up more audio detail and can record things from farther away than USB or dynamic microphones. However, it’s also more likely to distort when recording louder sounds.
I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much technical stuff, so I’ll cut it to the chase.
To make things simple, I recommend you record your podcast with a USB microphone. This is perfect for anyone who is going to record a solo episode.
It will plug directly into your computer and save you from having to buy an additional piece of hardware called an audio interface (which converts analog signals into digital format).
Plus, it’s extremely simple to use because the microphone is powered by your computer.
USB mics are available in different shapes and sizes, but I recommend choosing one with a cardioid pickup pattern.
That means the microphone is most sensitive at the front and least sensitive at the back, making it less likely to pick up extraneous sounds from around the room. It also helps reduce feedback if you’re using headphones.
Another factor is how close or far away from your mouth the mic should be during recording. The closer it is, the more pronounced your voice will sound (the more low-frequency content it has, making it warmer), so select a mic that can pick up sound from 3 inches away or less.
If you anticipate recording a podcast with other people in person, a portable recording device such as a digital recorder will come in handy in such a situation. This is because recording with more than one USB microphone onto a single computer is difficult.
A digital recorder can serve as an audio interface unless you have an audio interface with more than one XLR input. For example, the Zoom H5 has two inputs that let you connect two XLR microphones, in addition to headphone connection and built-in ambiance microphones.
Having a digital recorder is also great if you intend to record on the go and don’t want to rely on your laptop. You can literally keep it in your pocket when you go out.
Furthermore, because a digital recorder stores the data on a flash drive, you won’t have to worry about your laptop’s battery running out of juice.
As a final note, many digital recorders allow you to record audio files in WAV and MP3 formats. For better quality, stick to WAV files. You can later convert them to MP3 when you submit your podcast episode for distribution.
You might be asking, what if I want to record audio on my smartphone? Well, you can.
Some tiny microphones called lavalier mics do the job pretty well. They’re those mics you see clipped on people’s shirts when they’re recording. Sometimes, these mics are called tie mics or lapel mics.
Using one is plain simple: you plug it into your smartphone, and that’s it. The downside is that it’s hard to manage levels. A lavalier mic can be a good solution when you’re having a moment of inspiration outside your home studio.
3. Podcast recording equipment
We’ve gone over how to use the microphones, and now it’s time to connect them to your computer.
This section is for those who want to use XLR microphones. If you’re using a lavalier mic, or a USB microphone, having an audio interface isn’t necessary since your mic will plug directly into your computer.
An audio interface is a little box that connects your microphone to your computer via USB, allowing you to record higher-quality audio.
If you’re using an XLR mic, you’ll need an audio interface, which provides a preamp and analog-to-digital conversion for microphones.
Most interfaces have a headphone output that allows you to monitor what’s being recorded. This lets you verify that it sounds good before you start recording, as well as listen to yourself during recording.
This is the best choice for computer-based podcasters who wish to improve their audio quality while also expanding their range of autonomy and flexibility.
If you’re thinking of investing in your podcast audio quality, I highly recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, an affordable USB audio interface that lets you plug two XLR microphones at the same time.
With the Scarlett 2i2, you have total control of what you are recording, and it’s perfect for a home studio.
If you choose to record your podcast with a USB microphone, a cable is already included. On the other hand, if you’re using XLR microphones and connecting them to a digital recorder or USB interface, you’ll need a separate XLR cable for each microphone you utilize.
Although XLR cables are sometimes included with microphones, it’s always a good idea to keep a spare on hand just in case.
XLR cables are relatively cheap and come in different lengths. Be aware that you’ll need a Male to Female XLR cable because XLR microphones have a male output and USB audio interfaces have female inputs.
Headphones are important to the extent that you need to monitor yourself while recording. However, I met some voice talents who prefer not to use headphones and instead want to listen to their voice naturally.
According to my experience, it’s always best to monitor yourself because what comes out of our mouths does not always translate the way we think it will. Having good headphones or a nice pair of earbuds will help you feel what the final sound will “look” like.
There are several types of headphones on the market. For podcasting, I suggest you go for a closed-back headphone.
Closed-back headphones block any external noises and have minimal to low sound leakage (also called spilling). This means that you may listen to your own voice in real-time without worrying about whether or not sound is leaking into the microphone.
When you finish recording your podcast, the last thing you want to listen to is a fuzzy out-of-phase sound in your recording that resulted from headphone leakages.
I use the comfortable Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 ohm for my musical compositions, which I highly recommend.
Last but not least, if you’re using an XLR microphone, you should invest in a mic stand.
Mic stands come in all shapes and sizes, so it all comes down to your preference. Basically, you can select from desktop stands (or table stands) to tripods. There are also mini tripods that can come in handy when using a digital recorder outside your home studio.
Recording and editing software for podcasts
The next step for recording your own podcast episode is to know which recording and editing software you should use.
As with everything else, you can choose from many different software makers. Any audio recording software or music production software will do the job well. However, some of these tools are expensive and more tailored to the audio engineer.
Audio recording software
You should go with desktop audio recording software if you’re doing a solo podcast.
You might want to try Audacity, a free and cross-platform open-source audio recording software to keep things simple. It lets you record your voice and mix it with other elements such as sound effects and music.
This software also lets you add some effects, equalizers, and dynamic processing to make your recording sound more professional.
On the other hand, if you want to have access to more features and a better user experience, you may want to try Adobe Audition.
Compared to Audacity, Audition is significantly more smooth, but at the same time, it may appear to be a little more daunting to a novice user.
Audacity looks more archaic and simple than other recording software, but this will appeal to many people who are just getting started. Besides, it’s completely free.
What’s difficult about Audacity, Audition, and any other DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is that they require a significant amount of time and effort to become proficient. Many aspiring podcasters are not interested in training to be audio engineers, and many more have no interest whatsoever in the inner workings of audio production — which takes me to my final option.
To integrate recording into the overall process, you may want to consider using Alitu, the Podcast Maker.
It is the goal of Alitu to take care of the technical aspects of generating your podcast, and recording is a component of that. Remote calls or solo portions for your program can be recorded quickly and effortlessly with Alitu.
Alitu will automatically clean, polish, and level up your audio, add your music, put together all of the clips (you may even submit your additional recordings, such as an interview recorded somewhere else), and post your final file to your chosen platform or website.
If you want an all-in-one podcast software, then Alitu is a great choice. It is a subscription product, so there is a fee associated with it.
However, if you are ready to swap a monthly payment for the opportunity to save a significant amount of time and worry, it may be worth your while to give it a try.
Why not sign up for Alitu’s free trial and see what you think after a week?
Record a podcast remotely with video conferencing software
If you’re recording interviews-based podcasts, you’ll need some online video call recording tools to help you with that.
Again, Alitu is a great way to record online calls and edit, polish, and publish them. That’s why Alitu is one of the best all-in-one podcasting solutions.
On the other hand, you may want to use video conferencing software like Zoom and Skype, both free options. While they allow you to record multiple people simultaneously, the sound quality is not top-notch. Besides, the audio can get some glitches due to Internet bandwidth which might ruin your podcast episode.
If you still need to record a podcast remotely, you should consider remote recording software.
Record a podcast remotely with a remote recording software
The wonderful thing about these platforms is that they were designed to record podcasts.
That means that if everyone has their own microphone and they’re recording in a nice place, you can get extremely high-quality audio recordings as a result.
There is video integration in a number of the platforms such as Riverside, SquadCast, and Zencastr. Video integration is vital during remote recording because you need to see who you’re talking to.
Additionally, you can record the video on various remote recording platforms, which is ideal if you want to use footage from your show on YouTube or advertise it on social media.
Record a podcast remotely on a smartphone
If you decide you want to record your podcast episode remotely using your smartphone and a lavalier mic, then some podcasting apps will do the trick.
Riverside has a mobile app that allows you to simply invite guests, record, and download high-quality audio and video recordings from any location.
Riverside’s high-quality local recordings are also available on mobile devices, so you don’t have to worry about your internet connection. The locally recorded audio and full HD 1080p video will be available in your dashboard and accessible from your desktop once the process is complete.
You can try Riverside for free and record up to 1h to see if you enjoy it.
Acoustic Treatment for a Podcast Recording Studio
You can have the best equipment and software in the world, but if you use it in a poor setting with lots of reflections and background noise, your podcast will sound terrible.
There’s a whole school of how to isolate a room for sound recording, but I’ll just cover the basics here.
While it’s true that some of the most popular podcasts are recorded in basements and walk-in closets, there’s a reason why professional recording studios don’t use these rooms. There wasn’t a lot of thought put into the design or construction of these rooms, especially when it comes to how sound waves react with the surfaces in the room.
When you record your podcast in a room like this, you get a lot of unwanted reflections that muddy up your audio. Even worse, you might get some nasty resonances that make your voice sound completely different from what it sounds like.
To understand why this matters, think about what happens when you clap your hands next to a wall in an untreated room. You hear a reverberation — the original sound wave from your clap hits the wall and bounces back at you, creating another wave.
This repeatedly happens until all the energy from that first wave dissipates into space. It gets worse if there are hard floors or ceilings.
To get great-sounding audio, you need to control these reflections and resonances. This is done with acoustic treatment.
There are two types of acoustic treatment: absorption and diffusion:
- Absorption panels are used to absorb unwanted reflections from hard surfaces, so they don’t interfere with your recordings.
- Diffusion panels spread out the reflections, so they don’t reach your microphones at all.
You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands on acoustic treatment, as these materials are quite expensive.
If you avoid rooms with parallel walls, lots of windows, and have thick curtains, sofas, carpets, and pillows (even a mattress leaning against the wall helps) all around, you’ll get a room with a drier sound. This helps tremendously in the overall sound.
Also, be sure no external noises are coming from the street or the house (like the humming buzz of a fridge).
Ideally, you want your podcast recording studio to be the most “dead” (dry) as possible for sound reflections.
How To Record a Podcast — Wrapping It Up!
I hope that this list gives you a good overview of the different components when choosing a recording setup to record your podcast, and allows you to make an informed decision about what you need to get started.
I know this is probably a lot of information, but it all comes down to planning, choosing a microphone, recording equipment, and recording software — four crucial steps.
If you’re just starting your podcast journey solo, I suggest you choose a USB mic and try Audacity. When you need to invite other guests, choose a remote recording software like Riverside (if you also want video) or Alitu.
Alitu helps you record your podcast (solo episodes or online calls), edit, produce and distribute it in one easy-to-use interface. It also automates all complicated aspects of audio production, so you don’t have to know anything about it. Try it for 7 days for free and decide for yourself.
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