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Express Yourself – How To Get Into Podcasting

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Podcasting: An Introduction

Podcasting is a term we have all heard by now. The recording of audio to be uploaded to the web for listeners to download and listen to at time that is convenient to them. Podcasts offer an opportunity for long format discussion on subject matter that either does not get main stream attention or if it does is reduced 5 minute talking heads segments on news shows. Podcasts are also a great way for the creator to communicate more directly with a potential audience, anyone who listened to Bill Burr’s podcast over the years will understand this. However most importantly it gives the audience a chance to listen at their own leisure. Audio is one of the few formats we can enjoy whilst doing something else be it a long commute, working out at the gym or doing house work. Pod casts are available when we want them and not subject to time frames. So if you have a serious subject you want to talk about or are just a couple of friends who are obsessed with Tommy Wiseau’s The Room and need to tell the world about it, how do you get into podcasting?

Comedian Bill Burr has increased his popularity through his weekly podcast.
Comedian Bill Burr has increased his popularity through his weekly podcast.
A typical podcast studio setup.
A typical podcast studio setup.
Oh Hi Mark!
Oh Hi Mark!
Podcasting: Essential Items

We will leave the exact topic of the podcast down to you. The only piece of information we would suggest is try to be original or at the very least try to take a new spin on an existing topic. There are enough podcasts about how great Hamilton is already. Instead in this article we will focus on the gear that makes a good Podcast. Let’s start with what to avoid. Most computers, tablets and obviously phones will have a microphone built in. However these are typically of low quality and will not sound very good over a long time. Using a built in microphone of a computer comes across as sounding pretty amateurish and ultimately unpleasant to listen to. Also just rambling into a phone and then uploading your thoughts to the world get you compared to John Doe from Seven. No matter how spontaneous a Pod Cast may sound some basic level of planning will have gone into it. So with that in mind let’s invest in the following;

  • A Microphone
  • A USB Interface
  • Basic recording software
  • Headphones

A microphone is arguably the most important aspect of the Podcast. This is what will determine how you sound to the rest of the world. Getting a USB microphone can be tempting as it kills two birds with one stone. However there are draw backs. If you want a discussion with multiple people it’s going to be difficult sharP420ng a microphone and if you use multiple mics your USB slots on your computer will be taken up pretty quickly. There is also the conversion of analogue signal to digital to take into account. USB microphones will use the most basic of A/D conversion and your Podcast could suffer as a result. We would recommend a good quality condenser microphone. You will typically be in a controlled environment so the less sensitive dynamic microphones are not really needed. A condenser mic will pick up subtle nuances in your voice and ultimately sound better. If you are going to have discussions with people and only want to use one mic having the function to switch between uni and omni directionality would be a great way to go. Check out the AKG P420 or if you want the higher quality sound go for the AKG C314. Both offer excellent quality and the addition of multi pattern options. If you like the sound of these but are using more than one microphone or are not bothered by the multi pattern options then the P220 and C214 would excellent alternative.

The AKG P220
The AKG P220
The AKG C314
The AKG C314
The AKG C214
The AKG C214
The AKG P420
The AKG P420

The next element we need is our USB interface. Along with the superior A/D conversion over USB microphones dedicated interfaces will give you the following advantages. Phantom power from your condenser microphone, good quality preamps to aid with sound quality for your microphone, tactile controls for both input and playback volumes and multiple microphone inputs. The amount of microphone inputs you need will vary upon how you plan to run your podcast. Having up to 4 people each with their own microphone will obviously require a 4 input USB interface, The Tascam US-4X4 for example. However in most situations you can survive with a 2×2 interface. Sticking to the Tascam theme they have recently released a series of interfaces dedicated to Podacasts. The US-32 and the US-42 Mini Studios feature sound effects, voice filters and most importantly a broadcast mode. The broadcast mode sets up the interface so that everything that goes through it is reordered. In traditional interfaces the only item that is recorded is the input however the US-32 and US-42 will record background music that is playing and any of the special effects you trigger. This is highly useful as if you want to give an example of a movie or song clip you can simply play it on your computer and the Mini Studio will record the playback as well your input. Great for reaction pieces. The US-32 also comes with a built in microphone. As we have already established its best to use a dedicated condenser microphone but if you are really struggling cash wise this is a great alternative.

The Tascam US-4x4 is an excellent all-round soundcard.
The Tascam US-4x4 is an excellent all-round soundcard.
The Tascam US-32 is a soundcard designed specifically for podcasting
The Tascam US-32 is a soundcard designed specifically for podcasting
The Tascam US-42 has an extra Mic input over the US-32, and a "Creator" mode.
The Tascam US-42 has an extra Mic input over the US-32, and a "Creator" mode.

The recording software does not need to be particularly extensive. What we need is stability and ease of use. Any recording you do may need to be edited at some point some basic cutting and paste tools are essential. Also recording platforms that allow you output the finished piece of work in various formats. MP3 will be the most common, its small file size allows the Podcast to be easily uploaded by you and downloaded by the listener. So it’s important to make sure your software can do this. Fortunately a lot of USB interfaces on the market already come bundled with some pretty efficient software. The Tascam US-4X4 includes Sonar X3LE and Ableton 9 Lite. Both excellent choices for recording basic podcasts. Even better Ableton 9 lite is free to download directly from Ableton. Whilst primarily designed for creating loops Ableton 9 lite allows direct recording of audio and its easy to use interface makes editing very simple.

Ableton Live Lite is perfect for Podcasting, and comes free with the Tascam US-4x4 Soundcard.
Ableton Live Lite is perfect for Podcasting, and comes free with the Tascam US-4x4 Soundcard.

Finally we look at headphones. Now these are not technically essential but are recommend. When plugged into your USB interface they will allow you monitor everything that is happening and what’s being reordered. You don’t want to do a 2 hour Podcast and then find that the phantom power for your microphone was not turned on. The key aspect of headphones is to make sure that they are closed back. Open or even semi open back headphones will leak sound and in turn be picked up by your microphone. This will mean there is a weird echo on all of your recordings and at high volume levels may even result in small amounts of feedback. For a good set of closed back headphones you can look at the AKG K52, K72 or K92. If you want a little more comfort and sound quality you can opt for the K171MKII or the very impressive K271MKII.

The AKG K92's are an excellent entry level pair of headphones for podcasting
The AKG K92's are an excellent entry level pair of headphones for podcasting
The AKG K171MkII's are the next step up in quality and comfort from the K92's.
The AKG K171MkII's are the next step up in quality and comfort from the K92's.
For the ultimate in audio quality and comfort, the AKG K271MkII's are an excellent choice.
For the ultimate in audio quality and comfort, the AKG K271MkII's are an excellent choice.
Podcasting Equipment: In Summary

So in Summary the 4 major pieces of equipment you will need are:

  • Microphone – Try to use a good condenser microphone. Multi pattern options are good for recording multiple people using one microphone but not essential.
  • USB interface – How many microphones you use will determine the amount of inputs you need. The Tascam US-32 and US-42 are specifically designed with Podcasts and live broadcasting in mind and well worth checking out.
  • Recording Software – Simplicity is key. Check the software that comes with your USB interface or download Ableton 9 Lite for free.
  • Headphones – Better to have than not. Opt for closed backed sets to avoid messy audio leakage.

– Mark Wayte

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