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How To Podcast: Talking Tech

Gulp. It's the reason most of you contact me.

Which microphone do I need?

How do I make it sound perfect?

Which editing software should I use?

And to be honest - I could give you a thousand different answers. But in reality - you don't need to spend a million bucks on a snazzy microphone, a brand new Apple Mac and buy Adobe Audition outright....

I've started hosting workshops titled 'How To Start A Podcast In 10 Days For Less Than £50'. Because it can be done.

I'm noticing a trend. When people first come to podcasting - either business or individuals - they'll be some parts of the process they can nail. But others which leave them stuck.

When I first started podcasting five years ago - my sticking point was how to choose a host (which I'll write a future blog post about!). But it seems for most of you starting out that tech seems to be like a scary black hole almost as terrifying and overwhelming as buying your first car. Particularly if you don't have any previous editing or audio experience.

And here's the truth... even with 10 years broadcasting experience as an award-winning radio journalist - I had to go back to school and learn my 'craft' all over again when it came to podcasting.

Because that perfect polished BBC sound we're all used to isn't necessary for podcasts.

In fact, listeners LOVE the raw and imperfect moments - such as your cat meowing in the background, the other half bringing in a cup of tea, or as once happened to me - my housemate arriving back at our flat mid-recording drunk!

Talking tech is something I cover in more detail in my podcast coach workshops. I don't go into detail because really we need to be having a one-to-one conversation about what it is you're trying to do and what's relevant to your project. For example will a £30 USB mic into your laptop with a Zoom Video Conference account do the job, or for a more professional business panel discussion will it be simpler to hire a recording studio and engineer for an hour?

The best piece of advice I ever received about tech during my sound engineering training: "You can't polish a turd."

And it's true.

Take time to plan your content, your guests and your recording environment properly before you even press record - and the whole process of editing will be much simpler.

Because if you think you'll be able to edit out the booming radio in the background, or remove the wind during an outside recording, or take out every 'erm' 'so' 'well' in the edit...then think again. A) This may be impossible and B) you may end up sounding like a robot not a human.

I can't stress enough the important of planning for these events. Did I mention planning? No? PLANNING MATTERS MORE THAN TECH.

One of my jobs (well, really it's a passion) is to keep up with latest trends in podcasting and make great connections with talented people highly regarded in the audio industry. So for my next article in the 'How To Podcast Q&A' series I reached out to a chap I'd met through my BBC freelance projects and a significant voice in the UK Audio Network forum - Iain Betson. With 25 years experience in the broadcast world, he's a go to point of contact when businesses need to work out how to make an idea turn into reality technically! I think he nails a few of the points about what you need to worry about when it comes to tech, and what you don't need to worry about:

Clare: As a new podcaster, where to should people start with microphones? Iain: Depends on what your podcast is. In the fixed location or are you out and about? Whatever the scenario, keep things simple to start. I'm not a great fan of them, but if you are recording a simple one-voice piece to your PC/Mac, consider a USB connection model. If your podcast will take you "on-the-road" consider a hand-held omni or cardioid model. (I'll leave the description of the techy bits for later). You will also need a recorder if you go mobile of course.

Clare: How much should a first time podcaster be spending? Iain: £150 will get you a really good model of whatever type of podcast you plan (see above) but I have had good results with far cheaper mics. I once recorded a BBC Radio 4 four-person panel discussion programme with four, same-model, mics, costing £30 each and it sounded fine on-air. Don't discount Chinese mics BTW. In the last 5 years SOME models now rival more well known brands yet are quarter of the price.

Clare: How best to record guests when not in person? Iain: Try and avoid a phone quality recording (recording phone calls is a whole separate technical area anyway). Consider an AoIP solution such as Skype but the issue will be the sometimes variable quality these links provide and also not knowing what your interviewee will use to speak to you. Using the on-board microphones on a laptop etc can be fraught with quality issues. Alternatively consider a "tape-sync" (detail on this separately) but this will require more organisation and, very likely, paying someone to help you.

Clare: Which editing software is the best or cheapest? Iain: Audacity is free. It's ok and will get you started.

You maybe able to pickup a legit copy of Cool Edit Pro (version 1.1 was available as CD, version 2 was a upgrade download I think and you needed Vers 1.1 to do this). But it won't run in Win 10 machines without a lot of faff - I have a dedicated Win 7 machine just for editing. Cool Edit Pro became Adobe Audition. It's still a great piece of software but the monthly rental costs make it expensive long term.

I've used Reaper and liked it. It's available (at least when I tried it) as a time/function limited trial, but long term, its not free.

For iPhone/iPad apps there are many free ones to choose - just download a few and try them - I've used Wavepad on my iPhone/iPad and like it. There are similar Android Apps too. Just don't buy them.

Clare: Do I need jingles, bed tracks and stings? Iain: It depends upon the format or content of your podcast, but from a listener perspective don't fall into that YouTube trap of using inappropriate music etc for the core content. I once heard a WW1 battle piece using EDM music. Just awful and an insult.

Clare: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve learnt from as a sound engineer? Iain: The biggest mistake I have heard podcasters commit, from a technical perspective, is poor levels. Too high, too low or the most common, poor relative levels between the chat and prerecorded tapes.

Clare: Any advice for a complete novice starting out in podcasting? Iain: Start simple - don't expect to have a four voice drama or a political discussion of any note in the can from day 1.

Use online resources to learn techniques (although some advice you see/read, can/will be conflicting).

Ask those further down the road for advice. Do what I did when I first wanted to get into radio. LISTEN to how an audio piece is put together. The junction between audio items - do they fade, do the mix or hard cut? The voices. The questions asked/ the answers given. The pace. The tone. What is this audio trying to achieve? De-construct it and then focus on parts of it and go from there.

Clare: How long should it take to edit a 30 minute podcast? Iain: How long is a piece of string! Depends on the complexity of your content but, if your are creating a monologue or a dual-header assuming you make few fluffs, then all that will be required is a listen back and a bit of "nip and tuck"/"top and tailing", so around 45-60 mins.

Clare: What do you love most about working with sound? Iain: I call audio that compels me to listen to the end a "sit in the car moment". Your journey has finished but you sit in the car listening to a piece of compelling audio to its conclusion. Be it a song or spoken word.

The only time TV has ever done that to me was with the 9/11 coverage. Audio, on the other-hand, gets me right "there". It raises the emotion, a well-crafted piece (and it doesn't have to be complex - a single voice can make me "sit in the car") can truly tell more than "a thousand words".

Audio can stand on its own, video can't. That's why we have 1000s of radio stations and podcasts, concerned with one niche topic, yet no TV channels devoted in the same way!

More info on who Iain Betson is and what he does it - visit his website.


Need a hand in getting started podcasting? From online group training to one-to-one coaching to full bells and whistles production services - drop us a note to and find out how we can get you to 'start podcasting now'!

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