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Podcasts-Recording and Producing: Recording Your Podcast

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In this section we will talk about best practices when recording your podcast. We will talk about where to record, how to set up and use your recording equipment to have the best audio possible before editing. 

Setting up your recording equipment

Recording is the point in the process of making a podcast where you have the most control over whether you are going to have good sounding audio. While you can fix things in the editing process, you can't fix everything. Often it is much easier and quicker to solve problems while recording then later in the editing process. 

There is a wide range of available recording equipment. Some of it will have you recording directly onto the device (such as handheld recorders), others will be interfaces that record your audio directly into the software where you are going to edit. It is important for you to familiarize yourself with your equipment and how it works specifically. Here some things you should absolutely know before you begin to record regardless of what kind of equipment you use:

  • How to start, stop, record and playback audio
  • Where the microphones are or how to plug them into the device
  • How to adjust the input volume (or gain) for each microphone (there maybe multiple different places to do this, so be careful)
  • Where the display for the input volume for the microphone is
  • How to monitor your recording (or in other words how to listen to it while you are recording)

Again all of this will depend on what equipment you are using, so take some time to learn about your equipment first.

Where to record

Where you choose to record your podcast might not seem that important at first, but there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid noisy or crowded areas- your microphones will pickup up background noise. People or traffic in the background could easily get onto your recording
  • Avoid being outside- besides just being difficult to control the volume, even a small amount of wind blowing across your microphone could add unwanted noise, only record outside if you have a wind cover for your microphone
  • Pay attention to computers, fridges, air conditioners, fluorescent lights and other equipment- computers, monitors, and fluorescent lights can all interact poorly with microphones and create humming, buzzes and other noises on a recording. We are often use to hearing our fridges and air conditioners on in the background, put they will stick out on a recording. 

How to use your Microphone

There are several things to keep in mind with your microphones, you should be familiar with a few different things. First you should pay attention its microphone pattern. In other words what sound around the microphone is being picked up. There are a few different common types.

  • Cardioid - Named for it's heart-like shape. Good for isolating specific sounds, such as a single speaker. If you want everyone on your podcast to have their own track giving each member their own cardiod mic is the way to go.  

  • Omnidirectional - Picks up sounds in all directions. This works well if you are trying to catch a lot of different sounds on a single track (an interview might be a good option), but you will not be able to isolate individual voices. Also, pay special attention to background noise if you use a Omnidirectional mic. 

These are important things to consider when working with your microphone.

  1. Where you hold your microphone- some will require you to hold the microphone very close to the sound source, others will be more forgiving. Depending on the microphone you use 'close' or 'far-away' might mean different things in terms of distance.
  2. How sensitive your microphone is- Some microphones will be more sensitive than others, which could mean they clip easier or pick up more background noise. Microphones that are less sensitive might require you to increase the gain on the mic, which could generate more background noise  
  3. Placing the microphone closer means more clarity and volume but it can lead to plosives, which are when certain sounds (such as the 'p' sound) from your mouth cause a sudden rush of air and cause loud popping noises. Moving the microphone closer can also lead to an increase in the bass frequencies. 

Levels

Having good levels is one of the most important things in the recording process. Before any recording test your levels, first at your expected volume, than at the loudest you expect to be (laughing etc.). You should be able to see your levels read out on a meter. Many levels reading will color code the levels green, yellow and red. If the volume goes into the red the sound will clip and distort. Ideally, you would want your loudest volume to be in the yellow range, or just under the point at which it clips but never higher. 

For an example this is display from a handheld field recorder:

In this example the bars on the far right are the point at which the sound will clip. 

  • You can adjust volume- by moving closer or farther away from the microphone, but you will get more plosives and more low end if you move closer.
  • You can adjust volume- by turning the gain up or down on the device. Keep in mind increasing gain can also increase background noise, both from your surroundings and from equipment itself. 

Always remember to monitor the recording as you go.