Podcasting Gear Guide

Preamble

We’ve never written about podcast gear before, and since many of our customers are just getting started, it’s time we made a guide to get you started. This article will break down what you need and will cover different budgets, from beginner to advanced. Some of you have questions about how to record multiple guests via Skype and how to do mix-minus setups, but that’s something we’ll leave for a separate article as it involves more complexity.

For the purpose of this guide, all equipment is carefully selected from our personal experience. We don’t recommend anything we haven’t tried ourselves, or trust. We don’t receive kickbacks for product recommendations. There are some items on this list that you’ll need for any of the recommended gear, such as headphones and cables, of which we itemize at the bottom of this article. Note that all prices quoted are recent as of the writing of this article and are in U.S. dollars.

Entry Level

Audio-Technica has a long history of making professional microphones for musicians. The ATR-2100 ($64) is a well built and incredibly inexpensive dynamic USB microphone. It’s unique in comparison to other USB microphones in the market as it also features an XLR connector, should you wish to connect it to a more professional audio interface. At less than $100, you can’t beat its value. A stand and all the cables you need to hook it up are included. Just plug it into your Mac or Windows-based computer and start recording.

Audio-Technica ATR2100

Mid Level

When you first consider starting a podcast, you may not want to invest a lot of money on equipment. Thankfully, you can have a great sounding podcast without investing thousands of dollars.

Samson Q7 Dynamic Microphone ($79): This is a fantastic sounding microphone with good rear rejection, meaning it will better pickup your voice as you talk directly into it and not as much background noise. It’s ruggedly built, reliable, and affordable.

Samson Q7

Mackie Onyx USB interface ($99): This audio interface allows you to connect either one microphone or line level device and is bus powered, meaning no clunky external power supply needed. Mackie includes a great sounding preamp that provides enough headroom for dynamic microphone. It’s quite, trouble-free, and affordable.

Mackie Onyx

You’ll need to mount your microphone on something, and there’s no better choice in this price range than the Heil PL2T boom ($129). Once you use a boom you’ll never look back. You can clamp it to the side of your desk or permanently mount it using the supplied hardware kit. It allows you to easily swivel and move your microphone into a comfortable position, but it also mitigates the translation of low rumble into the microphone from your arms moving around on your desk. it also features built-in cable management so you can hide the cable from view.

Heil PL2T

Advanced

Shure SM7B ($399) microphones are our universal application recommendation for professional sound. They’re incredibly rugged and ubiquitous and you’ll find them in radio stations, voice over studios, and other professional environments. They’ve been used for singers, podcasters, broadcasters, and even on some instruments. We’ve yet to find a voice that didn’t sound good on this microphone. The only caveat is that it is a very low output microphone, which means it requires a lot of gain from your preamp, so you’ll need a good one that isn’t noisy and can provide a minimum of 60dB of gain.

Shure SM7B

As the SM7B is a low output microphone, we strongly recommend getting Triton Audio’s Fethead ($89). It’s a small inline device that connects between your microphone and preamp and smartly converts 48v phantom power into 27dB of clean, noise-free gain. This means you won’t need to drive your preamp as hard, which is always a good thing since that lowers the noise floor.

Triton Audio Fethead

When you get to a point where you’re ready for broadcast quality sound, you’ll want a capable dynamics processor/channel strip like the dbx 286s ($199). The 286s is a single microphone preamp and dynamics processor, featuring compression, de-essing, low and high-frequency effect, and noise gating/expansion. This is what we use for our podcasting and it’s one of our favourite pieces of gear. Even though we’re recommending this as part of our advanced podcasting package, it’s not as expensive as you might think. There isn’t a better channel strip out there at this price and ad this level of quality.

dbx 286s

For someone that’s been podcasting for a while and wants the ability to record multiple co-hosts and leave room for expansion, such as the ability to create a Skype/remote caller mix-minus, Allen & Heath’s ZEDi-10 ($199) mixer is a solid choice. It has four quiet, high-powered microphone preamps, multiple line level channels, and one auxiliary out so you can create a mix-minus setup for remote callers. It’s well built and has an excellent multi-channel audio interface, meaning you can record each input channel of the mixer discretely for separation and easier editing.

Allen & Heath ZEDi-10

To connect your dbx 286s channel stripe to your Allen & Heath mixer, plug it into one of the mono line level inputs on the mixer via a 1/4″ TRS cable (from the output of the dbx)

Accessories: Cables And Headphones

Headphones are essential for monitoring your own voice during a performance as well as for mixing. We recommend the Sony MDR 7506 ($99) headphones for several reasons: they’re well made, sound great, and are comfortable to the point where you can wear them for hours without fatigue. These headphones are inexpensive and are ubiquitous in the broadcast industry. They’ve become a staple because of all the reasons we’ve enumerated.

Sony MDR 7506 headphones

To connect your microphone to your audio interface, you’ll need a female to male XLR cable. You can use any brand, however, we recommend Mogami cables ($20) because of their superior quality and shielding.

Mogami XLR to XLR cable

If you’re connecting your dbx 286s to a mixer, make sure you get a 1/4″ TRS to TRS cable, which connects the output of the dbx to the input of your mixer on a line level channel.

Mogami TRS to TRS cable

A headphone amp is a necessity if you have a co-host that records with you. The PreSonus HP4 ($129) is a well built and extremely high quality headphone distribution amp. It provides four independent headphone mixes so each guest can adjust their own volume. It sounds fantastic and can power the most demanding low impedance headphones.

Presonus HP4

Podcasting Gear Guide: This article will break down what you need and will cover different budgets, from beginner to advanced. All selections have been carefully selected from our personal experience. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

At the top of the article, we talked about recording multiple remote guests via Skype. This requires further explanation and a completely separate article since it’s too involved in the scope of our podcast gear guide. Subscribe to our blog to make sure you don’t miss that.

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If you have any questions before getting started, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You can tweet us @FeedPress or reach out on Facebook.

Improving Your Podcast Interview

Last week I wrote about booking guests for your podcast. Today I’m going to address interviewing performance. There are two types of interviews that I’ll elaborate on and why they’re different.

In journalism school you learn how to conduct interviews. You must prepare, including getting as much background information as possible about your guest as well as having a deep understanding of the subject matter for discussion. Research and preparedness is critical, irrespective of the transmission medium: radio or podcast. My favourite interviewers are ones that engender an environment of safety and comfort. A skilled interviewer will be able to elicit the most interesting responses from the subject.

Research your guests

Knowing your subject is conducive to a better interview for both parties. By collecting as much background information as possible, you will be more confident during the interview. Spending the time to take interest in learning about the subject will make your guest feel more comfortable with you. It’s never about you, so act selflessly.

Write down critical topics to discuss

Preparing questions in written format is not something I use during interviews, but I do write down the critical topics for discussion and order them appropriately. The reason why I won’t write questions down is because I don’t want to read them, which makes the interview sound scripted and unnatural. My goal is for the listener to feel like a fly on the wall in a private conversation. If I can do that, I have done my job.

Look for something interesting to delve deeper

If you’re asking the right kinds of questions, the flow of the conversation should naturally progress and lead from one interesting topic to another. You should use reflective listening techniques to focus on what the other person is saying. Reflective listening is different from active listening and is described as follows:

Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker’s idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly. It attempts to “reconstruct what the client is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to the client”. Reflective listening is a more specific strategy than the more general methods of active listening. It arose from Carl Rogers’ school of client-centred therapy in counselling theory. Empathy is at the centre of Rogers’ approach.

When your subject mentions something intriguing, don’t just let the moment pass. Ask them to tell you more about it. This can often lead into new, interesting, and unexpected territory.

[Tweet “First time interviewing: invite a friend to interview and record the talk so you can review later. “]

Coda

You can only improve your interviewing skills and level of comfort by conducting many interviews. If you haven’t interviewed before and don’t know where to start, ask a friend if you could use them as a test subject. Make sure you record the interview and listen back to it so you can critique your own performance.

Creating A Podcast Recording Workflow

Whether you host one podcast or ten, having an organized workflow to streamline your production is highly recommended. I’m going to share some tips that I’ve found useful and hopefully you can take away something of value.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years (in addition to become a more proficient editor) is how to become efficient with respect to recording and production. Let’s start with setting up your recording environment (production techniques will be covered at a later time).

In the illustrated examples below, I’ll be discussing Adobe Audition, but the same concept can be applied to other popular Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) such as Pro Tools.

Create recording templates

When I schedule a day and time for all co-hosts to come together, I don’t want to waste time creating a session from scratch. What does a session entail? Depending on the podcast, it can include individual tracks for each host and guest as well as incidental music and opening/closing themes. Creating tracks, assigning inputs and outputs, setting levels and session sample rate/bit depth are the last things I want to deal with. This is why I automate this with templates.

In Adobe Audition, I begin by creating the ideal session for recording and then export it as a template. It’s important to note that if you include things like music or any audio, those also get saved with your template so you don’t have to import them again (this is a nice time saver).

You can start by creating a new multi-track session and then add as many tracks as you need. I highly recommend arming the applicable tracks for recording, assigning the correct inputs (where you’re recording from), and making sure you’ve imported any incidental music/fx that you need available. Make sure to set comfortable levels for your music so that they don’t overshadow your co-hosts or guests.

To create a new multi-track session on Mac you can use the keyboard shortcut of command + N. You’ll be presented with a dialog window to select some basic properties for your session, such as the name, sample rate, and bit depth. For spoken word, I always record at 16-bit/44.1 (anything higher is unnecessary for podcasts).

In the screenshot below, you can see in the drop down menu I have some templates already created for a few different podcasts (each with unique properties).

Select multi-track session

I highly recommend not wasting additional CPU and storage resources, so select 16-bit/44.1 and then create your session.

In the illustrated screenshot below, you will see what a prepared session template looks like for one of my podcasts. Two of the tracks are already record-enabled so that all I need to do is hit record and begin talking. Pretty handy, eh? Note my music track is also included with some fade automation written to the track. This will always be consistent for every recording session (another time saver).

Multi-track session info

Once you’re satisfied with the way you’ve configured your podcast session, you’re ready to export the template.

Session template

In Adobe Audition CC, go to File > Export > Session as Template. You will need to give it a name, as illustrated below. Note the preference to include markers and meta data. Don’t forget to check this option if you have additional data you want saved (recommended).

Save session as template

Export template

Coda

In future articles I’ll share other podcast related production workflows, but hopefully this gives you a taste at just one possibility waiting to streamline your recording session.

[Tweet “Podcast tip: Automate all the things. Create a session template to save time during recording. ?”]

Try podcasting on FeedPress

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Tips for Podcasting on A Schedule

Last week on Monday’s blog I touched on some tips for writing on a reliable schedule, including some observations and experiences I’ve had from trying to do the same thing here at FeedPress. Today I’m sticking to this topic of building good habits but will cover how I do this for making podcasts.
I’ve been podcasting for quite a number of years but haven’t always been as reliable and punctual as I am today. When you venture out into the world of recording podcasts for the first time, there can be numerous obstacles in front of you: self-doubt, uncertainty about what topics to discuss, and nervousness about reaching out to people you want to interview. The list goes on. Fortunately these are all solvable problems. A combination of a couple of challenges, including general things happening in your life, can derail you from publishing on a consistent schedule.

Unless you’re a well-known celebrity, TV or radio personality, building an audience can be a real struggle in the beginning. The amount of podcasters that become major successes that manage to build revenue streams from advertising are small. Do not let this deter you. Building a loyal and engaged audience is difficult but not impossible. If you have something interesting and can carry a conversation, just showing up to do the damn show is a big deal.

I publish all of my podcasts on a weekly basis, as do plenty of other podcasts. Releasing weekly is generally thought of as good practice and an excellent place to start. I recommend it. Unless you’re Serial and can afford to release bi-monthly, I strongly suggest aiming for one episode per week. You should pick a release day and stick with this as well. My observations from how listeners react to unreliable schedules is that it builds uncertainty which can lead to frustration. On a positive note, if you have frustrated listeners, at least that means they love your podcast enough to complain about it.

Some of my podcasts are unscripted, informal, and off the cuff. Others are require a lot of preparation with respect to writing scripts or collecting links to articles of relevance to discuss. Releasing on time and on schedule requires some level of preparation and planning, but it’s not a big deal as long as you have a solid workflow with the right tools to aid you.

The tools

In my example, I’ll speak to how all of the hosts at Hologram Radio–my network–prepare. For communication, we use Slack to chat with each other. We have separate channels for each podcast to keep things sane and a special “pitches” channel to discuss new show concepts.

Slack channels

In one case for a technology podcast I co-host, we discuss and analyze news that’s happening in various industries. Each of us will post links to articles of interest into our Slack channel and we use those for reference when it comes time to record.

There are some scripts that I refer to for my podcasts, such as reading an intro/outro or ad reads, as well as story related scripts. I write everything using Markdown, a popular syntax that spits out HTML. Markdown is wonderful because it’s ubiquitous and is written in plain text documents that can open on any system. I store copies of these scripts in Dropbox but also create snippets of text that get posted in Slack and then pinned as a means of easily referencing them in our communication platform of choice (see illustrated example below).

Slack pinned snippet

Planning for uncertainty

All hosts on my network have other projects and jobs and consider podcasting a very satisfying and fun hobby. As this is the case, planning is required with respect to making sure we can all get episodes out on a consistent basis. I used to be terrible at this and I have improved greatly over the years.

Unless the podcast you’re doing discusses topics that are time sensitive (such as a news podcast), recording multiple episodes and staggering the release can really free up your mind from concerning yourself on whether you can cobble together a podcast with all of your other hosts. Scheduling posts to automatically go out at a later date can easily be done with WordPress.

If you have co-hosts and even guests, you need to work with everyone’s schedule. This can be trying at times, so consider doubling or tripling up on some episodes and bank those for a rainy day. Sometimes life gets in the way, so when the day comes that something urgent prevents you from being able to record, you’ll have an episode of your podcast ready to go.

[Tweet “Podcast tip: Consider doubling or tripling up on some recordings and bank those for a rainy day.”]

Try hosting your podcast at FeedPress

I host all of my podcasts here at FeedPress (naturally). If you’re considering starting a podcast, make sure to check out our commitment free 14-day trial to get started. We provide you with all of the tools you need to easily write a post, add your show notes, upload your podcast and publish it to iTunes.

Writing on A Regular Schedule

If you’ve been reading our blog since June, you may have noticed we’ve been sticking to a more reliable schedule of publishing an article every Monday. I set out to change our mindset here at FeedPress because I was starting to feel not only bad about going for long stretches of time with no updates. Before writing on a regular basis, sometimes I wouldn’t post anything on the blog for 4-6 months until we had some new feature to announce.

Keeping quite whilst working on feature development can give the false impression of stagnation, which is the antithesis of what FeedPress is about. We are about continuous improvement. Improvements based on not only things we want to see ourselves, but things that our customers ask of us directly via our support channels. The last thing we want is to give the impression that we are resting on our laurels.

Every week I think about what I want to talk about on our Monday morning blog post. Some weeks I have plenty of ideas and other weeks not so much. I must admit, writing on a regular basis can be challenging when you’re juggling work related tasks and every day life. One thing I’ve found helpful is to make notes about topics and put them into Trello, which is what we use here at FeedPress for organizing and planning development. Trello is wonderfully flexible tool that can be used by anyone. It can be adapted easily to any kind of workflow, from project and product management to sales and marketing, to sky’s the limit.

Trello

I like many writers occasionally get stuck and end up staring at a blinking cursor. This still happens to me from time to time, but what I’ve found that helps is to always start with writing a headline first. In fact, I’ve often found if I can write a stellar headline, that can lead to the words for the opening paragraph to flow more easily.

Instead of trying to write a post in WordPress and stare at a distracting environment, I now start by adding cards in Trello with a headline of the proposed article. If you haven’t used Trello, a card is simply an entry where you write a title and then some content in the body to describe whatever it is you want to accomplish. In the screenshot above, you’ll see the first card has a due date to it. I always attach a due date to the card so I can be reminded of when it must be done but also so I can hold myself accountable. Attaching due dates to tasks is crucial and I’ve discovered over the years that accountability to oneself is paramount to getting anything done.

Writing on a regular basis is not easy but the dividends are worth it. As a writer you only improve by doing more writing and as often as possible. There’s a sense of accomplishment and a fulfilling nature to writing on a regular basis and on a set day and time. From a business perspective, publishing compelling content builds a loyal readership, drives website traffic, and if done properly, can engage your audience in a meaningful way. For example, when you post articles to social media, make the effort to reply to people who take the time to get in touch.

I’m interested in hearing if any of our readers write on a regular schedule. Do you write daily, weekly, monthly? Do you find that getting up and sitting down in front of your computer or pad of paper at a specific time puts you into a groove? Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook and let us know.