Blog, Podcasting

How to make your podcast better for free

A girl recording a podcast

As an audio guy and podcast editor, I come across people that want their podcast to sound better all the time. There is definitely a bunch of skills and tech that we can utilize to improve, clean up or in some case’s just attempt to salvage your audio in post. But the way to think of it, is that any work done in post, is just multiplying what was recorded.

In most case’s a few tweaks in recording can change the final product from “meh” to great. So why not check over these tips and see what one can help you.

1 – Recording Location and the humble pillow fort.

It may seem so simple. But that is why I think it is so often over-looked. Now, no one, (except maybe the odd audio-engineer) expects that all podcasts should be recorded in a pro studio. But care should be taken when setting up to record. Here are some considerations.

Reverb/Echo

Reverb and Echo will kill your recording. No ifs or buts, it will kill it beyond repair. Even mild reverb will drastically reduce the quality.

At least once a day I will get asked “hey, that sounds great. But can you just remove that echo?” – Sadly, its almost always impossible to remove reverb and echo from a recording after it has been done. However, it’s a pretty easy one to avoid. Just make sure you have plenty of soft stuff in your recoding area. Firstly pick the best room. One that has less hard surfaces, for example the kitchen is normally the worst, lots of hard surfaces that reflect sound and even hard flooring. A carpeted room is a good start, then try and soften any hard surfaces around you. You can prop up sofa cushions, or simply throwing a duvet over your recording desk can make a huge help. You can even hang your mic in a full closet for a great sound.

A good way to check is to clap. Go and clap in your bathroom, then stand in front of your open wardrobe (full of clothes) and you will really hear the difference. You can use this trick to help judge how good your recording space is and whether it needs more treatment.

Background Noise

Another simple one to over-look is background noise, here a few common culprits to keep an eye on.

  • PC/Laptop fans
  • Chair noise / creeks
  • Clothes rustling
  • AC/Heating
  • Traffic noise

Most of these can be simply solved by either switching off or removing the offending device. It might be tempting on a hot day, but keep the window closed.

2 – Separating Tracks

This is a super simple trick to really open up a whole new world of options to your editor. Make sure that whatever method or software you are using to record with that you have a separate recorded track for each mic/speaker.

Doing this means your editor can audio engineer each speaker to get them sounding their best and perfectly balance everyone. It also means that when one guy is having a coughing fit and another is still speaking… All that coughing can be removed completely without sacrificing the audio at all.

There is one downside to this, and that is it might cost you more to get it all edited as you are submitting more audio to your editor and it is more work for them, but the return you see in quality more than makes up for it.

3 – Zoom Zoom Zoom

Zoom hardware like the H5 is great.

Zoom the conference call software however is pretty much the worst thing to exist as far as audio is concerned. I will do a separate post on exactly how its literally the worst, and technically how it just mangles audio, but for now take my word that its about as welcome as a fart in a space suit.

There is solutions though. There is software such as zencastr, that works like zoom but without the garbage audio aspect. I have not used it myself, but it looks good. However, its not free, and I promised free.

Audacity is free, But does not take care of the conference call.

So here is what you do.

Set up Audacity on your device and set it to record. If possible, get each participant to do the same. Then open zoom and conduct your show. When the show is finished you will have 2 sets of audio one from audacity and one from zoom.

Now export your audacity project to wav files and send those to your editor. This also means you always have the zoom audio as a safety. Plus doing things this way also takes care of tip #2

4 – Mic Placement and Positioning

Mic placement can have a massive impact and even big budget shows get it wrong. Also, quite often the advertising and graphics on the packet are misleading. I have seen a few glamour shots from the mic manufacturer where the mic is placed half-way across the room. Ok it might look cool, but that is not how it actually works.

In general, you want to position the mic about 6 inches away from the speakers mouth hole. Do the hang five hand sign and that will give you the rough approximate distance. Also make sure you are pointing the mic in the right direction. Double check the instructions to find out if you have an end address mic or a side address mic. That is whether you should be talking into to the side or the end.

If there is a switch on you mic for “Polar Pattern” a general rule of thumb if its just one person being recorded with that mic is going to be to select the “Cardioid” pattern

5 – Get on the level

The last thing to check is that you are recording at the right level. If you are recording to loud you will destroy the recording. Too quiet and your editor is going to have a headache and the overall sound quality will be reduced. A good rule of thumb is to get you peaks to about -12db to -6db. If you are using audacity to record your podcast you can just click on the little meter at the top to activate the meter. Then use the gain control on your mic or interface to get it to the right level.

I hope this has helped and that at least one of these tips is going to get you sounding awesome. If you have any questions or need an editor get in touch.

And if you have got this and want to really take your podcast to the next level check out our podcast editing service.