podcasting, but until you really get into it, you don’t TRULY understand what all is involved. For what it’s worth, what follows are my observations; sort of a journal of my journey into podcasting. I initially posted here that there was no good, detailed, documentation of what the aspiring podcaster needs to know. However, that is blatantly false. Podcasting for Dummies is one of several resources available on Amazon.com and I must ashamedly admit that I have not yet read it. I believe I’ll have to correct that oversight right now. Pardon me while I click on the “1-click” button…
In the meantime however, I will continue to document my (mis?)adventures into the world of podcasting.
Step 1 – Acquire the proper hardware. This basically boils down to at least three things: a computer, a microphone, and headphones. If you’re planning for your podcast to go onto iTunes, I also recommend that you get an iPod (or other digital music player), so you can play your podcast in what will be its “native” environment. Also, you may want to invest a little money in creating a simple recording environment. There are other items that I’ve seen recommended, but this is what I have, and this post is about podcasting on a limited budget.
Computer – Now, you obviously already have access to a computer, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, so we’ll consider that item to have already been addressed.
Microphone – So the next bit of equipment is going to be a microphone. I’ve read and heard all kinds of recommendations, from $20 gaming mics to $1000 studio mics. Most of the podcasters
I’ve listened to fall into the $100 to $300 range on what they use. I’ve heard podcasters who use the cheap Gaming/Skype type mics, and you can hear how much the quality suffers. I’ve heard others who go just a little more expensive, getting mics in the $50 to $100 range. I considered some of these initially, looking seriously at the various products offered by Blue Microphones. They have a range of decent products from the $35 Snowflake, to the $150 Yeti. The problem I had with these is that they all seemed to be USB mics, and I found early on that recording in the vicinity of my computer left considerable ambient noise from the computer hard drive and fan in my recording. That meant I needed a stand-alone microphone that I could carry well away from the computer.
In reading the specs on various mics, I decided that the $150 Zoom H2 was the one for me. It’s portable, digital, doesn’t have to be connected to the computer to work, and is sensitive enough to put up stomach noises if you’ve recently eaten. I’d heard some podcasters that I like and respect mention that little tidbit, and after using the H2 for a while I can vouch for the veracity of the statements. Besides, I found it on sale for $120.
Headphones – Most podcasters recommend “can” style headphones. Personally, I haven’t yet made that investment. I use a cheap ($15) pair of Sony wraparound earbuds, or a “behind the neck” set of pressure headphones. Either of these plug directly into the H2 so I can hear exactly what the mic is picking up as I’m recording. I may change my mind in the future, but for now, I get along fine with the cheapies.
Recording “Studio” – This can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. I have listened to some podcasters who have gone all out, spending thousands of dollars on a true, sound-proofed, recording studio in their homes. Others have done nothing more than create a “sound box” of cardboard and egg crating for their microphone. I personally tried the latter and had very little luck. I still got all sorts of echoes and external noise from throughout the household.
What I have settled on for now is something that I have heard many other podcasters recommend. I record in the closet. Many podcasters have noted that the hanging clothes in the closet act as sound dampeners, eliminating echoes from walls. Also, if you find the right closet, in an interior area of the house, you can (hopefully) cut way down on ambient household noises. I record in the closet of our guest room upstairs. I’ve hung a bunch of my old t-shirts, and stood an old twin mattress up on the back wall. It’s not perfect, but it does an adequate job for now. I plan to purchase some curtain rods in the near future, along with some cheap but heavy curtains that I can hang from them along all four walls. Perhaps even a bit of that same curtain to drape overhead. That should eliminate all chance of echoes in my recordings, and hopefully also greatly reduce background noise. As it is now, my best recording time is late at night, after the rest of the family is asleep, and when the air conditioning can be shut off for a while. I mentioned before how sensitive the H2 is. I often have to stop recording for airplanes passing overhead, dogs barking outside, or the air conditioning unit outside running. Even from inside the confines of the closet, these things significantly interfere with the recording process.
If that is too much trouble, I’ve heard other podcasters recommend the simple method of setting up some simple portable clothes racks around themselves, and hanging heavy quilts or blankets on them, essentially creating a portable recording studio. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for it, but this is a technique I’ve heard people swear by.
I’ve found that if you’re ‘casting on a budget, there are several free or low-cost programs that you will need. At a minimum, you will need Audacity and The Levelator. The price is right for these two programs; they’re both absolutely free. Even I can afford that.
The Levelator does one thing only, but that one thing is very important to a podcaster. It takes your audio source (in .wav or .aiff format only – that’s important, so remember it) and sets the audio to a uniform volume. That means that if you accidentally step back from, or closer to the microphone and end up with an audio feed that suddenly gets louder or fainter as a result, The Levelator saves the day.
I also currently use the very affordable sound editing program Goldwave, and I think I’m going to invest another $40 in Goldwave’s companion product, Multiquence. Goldwave is another sound editing program that has considerably more to offer than the more basic Audacity. With Goldwave, you can import, export and save audio files in a variety of formats (although NOT Audacity’s proprietary .auf format – but there is an easy way around that), and manipulate them using a variety of sound effects. The one drawback I’ve found so far is that Goldwave only allows you to work with a single track at a time. That means setting timing and using math to effectively mix music into your vocals (again, more on that later). That’s the reason I think I’m going to invest in Multiquence. It works well with Goldwave, and allows you to run multiple tracks together before mixing them.
And last, but far from least, I highly recommend that you download and install iTunes. Now, I’m sure that 99% of you already know what iTunes is, but for those few that may not; iTunes is the free music player available from Apple that is used to organize and play sound files (mostly music). What many of you may not know is that it can also be used to convert those sound files to specific file format standards, and to create and edits ID3 tags. If you don’t know what any of that is, don’t worry. I didn’t know what a lot of it really was at first. If I can learn about it, you can too. I’ll begin getting into the details of some of this in the next part of this blog series.
For now though, I think I’ve rambled on long enough.