For beginners, there is no shortage of advice online. Not to mention the unlimited choice for the “proper” equipment to buy. I wish I had known what I know now about podcasting, I would’ve save a lot of time, energy, and not to mention money. So after 1 year of podcasting, I want to share what I learned so hopefully you could avoid the mistakes I made.
REALITY #1: The “Best” Podcasting Mic Chooses You
Choosing the best podcasting microphone is like choosing wands, “The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.” as Mr. Ollivander would say.
A lot of focus is given to this one piece of equipment. A lot of mics are also marketed as “podcasting”, “broadcasting”, “live” etc. As a beginner, I bought into the hype. I cycled through a lot of mics from the Blue Yeti, to AKG D5 to the Rode Procaster. NONE WORKED FOR ME!
Popular mics such as the Rode Procaster tend to work for most users and recording conditions. That’s why it’s popular. So I went for that. Unfortunately, it made my voice sound nasal and dark (picks up background noise as well). The AKG D5 made my voice muddier than it already is. The Yeti picked up every noise in the environment and made me sound like a dog lapping water from a bowl while podcasting. It’s like I don’t have thick walls.
REALITY: Each mic is tuned and designed in a specific way. Your recording environment is unique. Your voice is unique. What works for one podcaster may not work for you. What works in one environment may not work in your environment. Unfortunately, trial and error is the only way to figure this out.
You have to choose a mic that will make your voice sound good. By good, I mean: the mic will make you sound like how you really sound like if not highlight what’s good about your voice. In addition, good mics also mean you have less editing work to do.
WHAT I DID: I borrowed mics from other people. It’s funny that after spending an arm, a leg, and a tail, and an ex-girlfriend on mics, I ended up with a $20 mic–the Behringer XM8500 Ultravoice. The first time I heard myself on the XM8500, I was surprised at the sound of my own voice! Not to mention that with a sensitivity of -70db it just rejects unwanted noises. It’s like the mic just chose me! This is how Harry Potter must’ve felt when he picked up his wand.
REALITY #2: You Need Good Mixing or Reference Headphones
You can’t monitor or edit what you can’t hear. A decent monitor/mixing headphones is a piece of gear that a lot of podcast experts don’t talk about.
It’s importance is not highlighted enough that when I started podcasting I overlooked this important equipment. So I bought the cheapest of the cheaps. As a result, I kept wondering what my colleagues were talking about when they reviewed my audio. I simply couldn’t hear some of the frequencies and imperfections in the audio.
I don’t know when I have too much or too little bass or highs. I have to guess. Those small audio imperfections, no matter how quiet, was enough to make the final audio sound unprofessional and unappealing. Lacking a good reference point, I simply couldn’t judge the audio let alone mix and edit properly.
Most headphones favor certain frequencies. It colors what you hear so you think what you’re hearing is good, even if the actual audio is bad. Mixing on bad or non-mixing headphones makes you boost or push down perceived sounds/frequencies that is not there in the first place!
REALITY: Mixing or reference headphones reproduces sound accurately enough (without coloration) so it could be used as a reference point to judge the audio you’re listening to. You use it to judge if your track is mixed right because you get to hear how your recording really sounds like as it was recorded or mixed. Thus you’d know how the final audio would sound like played on a multitude of speakers and headphones.
WHAT I DID: Reference or mixing headphones doesn’t have to be expensive. I bought Samson SR850 Semi-Open Back Reference Headphones for mixing audio (like the XM8500 this is not expensive and a good piece of equipment). For good measure I also bought Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Studio Headphones for monitoring recording sessions.
With the DT770 I hear tiny things I used to not hear and adjust accordingly during recordings. Whatever I missed I could do later in editing and mixing with the SR850.
REALITY #3: Free Audio Editing Software Works Just As Well
I was told, “Don’t use Audacity! Avoid like the plague!” You need to buy an audio editing software to sound good or sound “like a pro.” That is the expert advice I received from my expert audiophile colleagues in the recording studio.
Of course, as beginners we defer to experts. So I did as I was told. I tried using Ableton but found it too complicated. Heck, GarageBand which is free was also too complicated for my purposes! (Not to mention GarageBand’s endless demand to download its essential audio library) I’m spending more time in those softwares to accomplish the same thing that I could accomplish with Audacity. Even after becoming competent, it still takes me more time in Ableton and GarageBand.
Options and features that are easily accessed with little mouse movement on Audacity are buried in those more pro softwares. The complicated clutter is just too much for editing and mixing a guy talking by himself.
REALITY: Professional software simply has too many options and features you don’t need if you’re just editing a monologue or an interview.
These features and options make the software heavy and complicated, especially for beginners. I find that I don’t even use the vast majority of these features! I also find that exporting and importing audio takes more time compared to Audacity.
The sad part is whether you use Audacity, Ableton, Logic Pro or any of these more “pro” software you won’t hear the difference in the final audio.
WHAT I DID: Too much headaches. Too much clicks. Too much time. So I just went back to Audacity. I accomplish more with this free software.
The professionals recommend what they use or know, not necessarily what will fit your workflow. I realized that for what I do (record, compress, EQ, edit, export) Audacity works just as well without the clutter of pro features I never use.
You need to use what works for you despite mainstream advice.