Popular Mechanics (South Africa)
PODCASTER'S GEAR GUIDE TO GETTING ON THE AIRWEB
Ever considered hosting a podcast? Perhaps you’ve got an X-factor voice, a great idea, and a lot to say. So your brand and concept are sorted – now all you need is the right gear…
You’ve heard it said that content is key, and it is. But we all know that if the quality of the audio is not good enough, the show might not get the chance it deserves. Your audio needs to be non-distracting, and good-quality sound is part and parcel of podcasting. However, you don’t have to spend heaps of money on equipment.
THE NO-BUDGET NEWBIE
The most basic approach is a cheap USB microphone (mic) for around R500 that simply plugs into your computer. ‘You just record,’ says Heinrich Schulz from Toms in Rivonia, Johannesburg. ‘The problem with cheap stuff, though, is that the quality can be horrible, and it could sound as if you work out of a bathroom.’ Still, in an environment with good acoustics and low noise, this might be all you need to practise the craft and build confidence before you take the plunge and part with more of your hard-earned cash.
‘The better option is a condenser lavalier mic – also known as a lapel mic or lav mic – that you plug directly into your phone to record,’ explains Schulz. A condenser mic uses the power from the phone to work; batteries are not included and don’t need to be.
‘Priced at around R2 000 for a Rode or a Shure mic, it’s a great place to start, if you’re still only dabbling with the idea of podcasting and just want to try your hand at it first,’ says Schulz. ‘But a lav mic can make your podcast sound very professional.’
On top of that, Schulz recommends getting a good set of headphones. ‘I think it’s very important to hear yourself speak because it gives you the chance to hone that entertaining “radio voice” you really need for podcasting.’
THE ‘BIT OF BUDGET’ NOVICE
If you have some money to play with, consider a USB mic from a reputable manufacturer such as Shure or Rode. The condenser USB mics require power to work, which is generally drawn from the device to which it’s connected. ‘The power activates a capsule inside the microphone that gives you better, clearer quality of sound.’ Be aware though that the condenser USB mic picks up any ambient noise, and if you don’t have an acoustically treated area, this can be very distracting for the listeners.
All USB mics have a headphone output, so as soon as you’re plugged into your computer, you can hear yourself on your headphones. ‘Prices for decent USB mics range from R2 000 to R3 000, and there are many different brands available.’
DO YOU NEED A MIXER?
There are a few reasons why you want to use a multi-track recorder-mixer combo. If you’re doing a basic single-channel podcast, such as a narration, then you may get away without one.
Mixers are handy though when bringing in multiple audio sources, or when adding sound effects. A mixer gives you much more control at the time of recording and greatly reduces the amount of editing or postproduction work on your final podcast. For example, prior to recording, you can set the levels of the mic to suit each individual voice or add in pre-recorded sound effects on the fly – things such as laughter, applause and even pre-recorded interviews.
THE DREAM SET-UP
At this stage, you’re probably looking at incorporating some high-tech podcasting equipment. Broadcast radio stations often make use of dynamic microphones. ‘You can get up-close and personal to the microphone, without distorting any sound. The voice is warm, crisp and clear,’ says Schulz.
To handle these microphones, you need to bring in that multi-track recorder-mixer unit, but the first thing to look at when it comes to a mixer is how many audio inputs (microphone, phone, audio sources) you need. Will you have a co-host? Will you have guests? Will you be taking calls? Once you’ve decided on the number of inputs, then you can consider which mixer suits your cause. There are numerous options on the market, the most prominent of which being the Rodecaster Pro and the newly launched Podtrak P4 by Zoom.
Podcast post-production is a personal thing. You may choose to listen back to your recording and cut out every little stutter, stumble or extended pause there is. Others might prefer to leave it exactly as it was recorded – the choice is yours. However, there are a number of ways to edit your podcast with free software options such as Audacity or Reaper.
Podcast hosting is a story in its own right. There are many different options to choose from, and a lot will depend on your needs and expectations. The best platforms such as Buzzsprout or Captivate charge from around $12 per month (±R180), depending on upload and storage limitations, although many have free options too. Be wary of entirely free hosting platforms, though – they are not necessarily a terrible idea, but it’s important to remember that if you’re not paying for a service, then you are in fact the product.