How to Record Better Podcast Audio
One of my biggest pet peeves when listening to podcasts is bad audio quality.
Granted, I have been editing and producing podcasts for over ten years, so I am well aware that my opinion might be a little biased on this topic. Nevertheless, I have noticed that I will immediately give up on listening to a show if the audio quality is distorted or bad, even if I really want to hear the content.
I wondered if my ears might be extra sensitive to poor audio from years of working in the field, or if other people were legitimately bothered by bad audio as much as I am. I decided to make a post on Facebook, asking my internet friends a simple question: How much does audio quality matter when you are listening to a podcast?
I was surprised to find that I was not alone. The answers were nearly unanimous, and from all different types of people. The overwhelming majority of people that I spoke to told me that they do the exact same thing that I do: they shut off a podcast when the audio quality is bad.
It makes sense when you think about it. Most people listen to podcasts with their headphones on. When you're listening in headphones, every little bit of distortion, static, buzzing, or hissing is amplified exponentially. It don't think it would be too crazy to assume then that the number one biggest thing that turns people away from podcasts is bad audio quality.
I have personally edited thousands of podcast interviews, and over the course of doing so have learned some of the very best tricks of the trade. Today I am going to share a few simple hacks that podcasters can use to immediately increase their audio quality, and the majority of these won't cost you a single dime.
Make Sure EVERYONE is Wearing Headphones
If you are recording interviews with guests, make it part of your checklist at the start of each recording to put on headphones and ask your guests to wear headphones. If you aren't wearing headphones, then the sound of your guest's voice will bleed into your recording. If your guest isn't wearing headphones, then your voice is likely coming out of their speakers and it's going to end up on their recording as well. Ensuring that everyone is wearing headphones for the duration of the interview will help you get isolated audio tracks for each voice, which generally sound better and allow for more flexibility in the post production work as well.
Use Multiple Recording Sources
Every podcaster eventually loses a great interview because their recording fails. It’s pretty much the worst case scenario, and it happens to the best of us. The best way to prevent this from happening is to record from multiple sources. Zencastr, Call Recorder and Pamela are good ways to record backup audio while you are simultaneously recording locally. If you are trying to create high quality audio though, I would not recommend using any of these as your primary recording method. Which brings me to my next point...
Let’s get real here, if you want to sound like a professional, you are going to need to record your audio locally rather than using audio from a Skype call. There are tons of great recording devices and methods of doing this. I'll share a few of my favorites:
- The Blue Yeti is generally the go-to microphone for entry-level podcasters. It is easy to use, and connects via USB.
- The Zoom H4N Pro is a great portable all-in-one unit, which is especially handy if you want to record while you travel.
- If you are looking for a little more firepower, I consider the Shure SM7B to be the gold standard of broadcasting microphones.
- If you decide that you want to use higher end microphones, you will need to purchase an audio interface. The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is probably the best entry level interface on the market. I personally use the Audient iD14. It's a low latency USB interface with Burr Brown converters, and it offers a lot of bang for the buck at $299 USD. There are more expensive options out there, but unless you are recording several people speaking at once, I can't imagine that most podcasters would ever require anything more sophisticated.
- A pop filter is another relatively cheap and immediate way to increase your recording quality as well.
Most people use free software tools like Audacity to record their audio. I've found Reaper to be a much more powerful and functional alternative with an unlimited free trial. (The license is only $60, so I would highly recommend that you eventually purchase a license if you intend to use it full-time, as the developers are insanely talented and they work very hard on it) If you aren’t very tech savvy, or you’re worried about learning how to use a new piece of software, check out this video tutorial on how to record basic audio in Reaper. If you devote an hour to learning how to use this, it might be the most valuable hour you spend all year.
Record at the Proper Volume
One of the biggest hacks to improving your audio quality is simply to make sure that you are recording at the proper input volume. If your input gain is too loud, the audio will clip and distort. If your levels are too low, the recording will be too quiet, and there may be a lot of ambient noise or hissing when it is brought to the proper volume.
Make a test recording, and try to make sure your input levels are maxing out at about 80%. This is usually indicated by a yellow or orange zone in the fader. If your fader is going into the red, you need to decrease your input level. If your audio is maxing out well below the yellow zone, you likely need to increase the input. This will probably take a little bit of trial and error, so work with it a bit and try to find your sweet spot before you start recording interviews. Once you've found the right settings, write them down or take a screenshot of them in case you need to refer to them in the future.
Ask Your Guests to Record themselves on their Smartphone
Many guests are inexperienced with audio, and they might not have access to professional microphones.
You can get around this by asking your guests to record themselves using their smartphone. Smartphones have developed to the point that they are capable of recording relatively professional sounding audio. Now, it won't sound like a crystal clear radio broadcast, but the audio that can be recorded from an iPhone or Android device is far superior to anything that you can rip from a Skype call.
iPhone users can use Voice Memos. Android users may need to use an app like Smart Recorder if their phone does not come with an internal recording app. Ask your guest to hold the phone 6-12 inches away from their face if possible.
This is the single best piece of advice that I can give any aspiring podcaster, and it is simultaneously one of the most complicated to follow, as it requires that you provide your guests with detailed instructions on how to do this prior to the interview, and that you rely on them to send you their audio files once the interview is over. If you can build this process into your recording checklist, the improvements to the audio quality of your interviews simply can't be understated.
There you have it. If you have any specific questions, or you want to know more about how to improve your audio, reach out to us for a free 30 minute consultation. We would be happy to talk to you, no matter where you are in your podcasting journey.