So that you, your host and your producer — that’s me! — have a good time putting your episode together, let’s run through some simple steps that’ll have you sounding great.
Whether you’ve done this a hundred times or this is your first, remember to take a moment to breathe. Relaxed shoulders and good posture will make your voice sound more full, so take a moment to get yourself in position, and make sure your microphone is only a few inches from your mouth.
Even if the topic of conversation is serious, podcasts aren’t grilling sessions, so we want you to enjoy the process. Once you’re relaxed, the rest is easy.
Mic check, one two
No-one expects podcast guests to have their own fancy microphones, but if you do have something, try plugging it in and giving it a go. If you’re thinking you might be a regular contributor or you’re hoping to guest on more podcasts, invest in a USB mic. You can pick one up from Amazon from around £30 (circa $40 US).
If you can, spring for a pop shield, as that’ll allow you to get close to the mic without your Ps popping (we call these plosives, and a pop shield or windsock [or even an actual sock] can help counteract the rush of air that comes from the P sound).
If you’re using earbuds to record, try and sit upright so that the cable doesn’t interfere with your clothing, as that rustling noise — which you won’t hear but the podcast listener will — can detract from your speech.
Hoodies with zips and toggles can be awkward because the cable from the earbuds can butt up against them, but if you’re sitting upright, that’ll help keep the cable straight.
If you’re using your computer’s in-built mic, there’s not too much to change. We’ll talk about other apps your compute is running later, but if your computer’s over-taxed, the fan will kick in and that will interfere with the recording and make it harder for us to hear you.
Always wear headphones!
If you’re using earbuds to record, you’re all set. But in all other circumstances, please use headphones. This is important because your mic will pick up the other end of the call. VoIP software like Skype and Zoom, and integrated call-recording services like Zencastr, can only do so much to counteract this echo, and they usually do it by cutting your mic signal, so if you and your host are speaking at the same time, we’ll probably miss one end of the call because the app is trying to reduce the feedback.
Chances are you already have a pair of headphones lying around somewhere. They probably came free with a phone and are languishing in a draw. Dig them out, dust them off, untangle the cable and plug them in!
Working the room
Before you start, make sure you’re in a quiet room. If you have curtains, closing them will create a softer sound with less echo (reverb). Usually, the smaller the room and the softer the furniture the better, but of course, not everyone has the luxury of finding exactly the right room to record, so just do whatever you can to make the room quiet and ensure you’re not disturbed.
There are primarily two options for recording:
- Skype (or other desktop VoIP apps like Zoom) where you might be asked to record your side of the call, and
- Web-based apps (like Zencastr, Ringr or SquadCast) where the call happens in your browser and is automatically recorded
Skype and other VoIP (voice over IP) apps
Most apps like these can record calls — or there are apps like Skype Call Recorder that can do the job — but if your host uses that approach, your voice won’t sound as good, because it’ll be using the compressed version of the call that Skype provides.
In most cases, we like to ask guests to record their end of the call.
If you’re on a Mac
- Open QuickTime Player (by going to your Finder, selecting Applications and double-clicking QuickTime Player),
- select File > New audio recording,
- click the down-arrow next to the red Record button and ensure your mic is selected,
- check the levels are OK (you’ll see the meter above the Record button flash as you speak),
- hit Record when your host asks you to.
- When you’re ready to finish, hit the Stop button (which is in place of the Record button),
- hit File > Save, and save the file to your desktop,
- send the file to your host via WeTransfer, Dropbox, Google Drive or similar.
If you’re using Windows or Linux
- Download and install Audacity for free (it’s ugly as sin but works really well),
- open the app,
- look for the dropdown box that has a little microphone icon to the left of it, and select your mic,
- hit the big red Record button in the toolbar, and watch the audio as it’s being recorded,
- adjust the slider with the little microphone icon to the left of it, and adjust it as you speak, so that the recording volume is high enough (gain), but not too high that you sound distorted (this is called clipping).
- Stop the recording by hitting the Stop button, then when you’re ready, close the file without saving changes. Doing this before hand is a good way to make sure all is well. You can always save the file and play it back to make sure it sounds OK.
- When your host asks you to, hit Record.
- When you’re finished, hit the Stop button,
- select File > Export > Export as MP3
- save the file to your desktop
- send the file to your host via WeTransfer, Dropbox, Google Drive or similar.
Steps 9 and 10 are important. You don’t want to save the project, as that creates a file that’s no use to anyone; instead you need to export your audio as MP3. If for some reason the MP3 option isn’t available or gives you an error, you can select Export as OGG. If you’ve not used the software before, the default export options will be fine.
Recording is handled in-browser and there’s nothing you need to do. As soon as your host clicks the Record button, your browser will start recording audio and, depending on the service, will either periodically send chunks of audio to the cloud, or will ask you to hold at the end of the call until the file has been fully uploaded.
Your browser may ask you to grand the website permission to use your mic. Make sure you grant it permission and if you see a cog button or something indicating that there are settings to change, look for a setting labeled “Microphone” or “Input device” or similar, and select your mic (sometimes your browser will default to your computer’s in-built mic, so you need to switch it).
An important note about web-based recording apps
Websites like Zencastr can use up a lot of your computer’s resources, especially if you’re on an older machine. When this happens, tiny chunks of your audio go missing, which increases the likelihood of your audio being out-of-sync with your host’s (this is called audio drift). It also creates a kind of dull clicking sound on the line, which can be tricky to remove.
Before you start, make sure to close any running apps you have. If you have it open — and if it’s not too much of a pain — close Dropbox (there’s an option to quit Dropbox if you right-click its icon in your status bar or menu bar). If you have a backup scheduled for your recording time, please consider putting it off until the recording’s finished, so your hard drive isn’t overly taxed.
If you’re feeling up to it, Zencastr has a guide on making some changes to your audio setup that will help counteract this effect. Only do this if you’re feeling confident in following the instructions.
Checking your levels
This is a bit technical, and is only relevant in certain circumstances, like when you’re using Audacity or a website like Zencastr, where you can see a waveform depicting the peaks and valleys of your speech. If it feels like too much work, don’t worry about it too much. In most cases, your host will tell you if they can’ hear you well enough, or you’re coming through distorted.
When looking at a waveform while you’re recording it, you want to see peaks and valleys as you talk. The peaks should not quite touch the top and bottom of the waveform window, but leave a bit of a gap so that if you laugh suddenly, it won’t sound distorted.
Similarly, you don’t want them to be too flat, so if you need to, turn up the gain a little (some microphones have their own gain controls on the physical unit, so check for one of those). If you see bars of colour that touch the top and bottom of the waveform window, you need to turn the gain down. (Remember, gain controls might be in the software you’re recording and on your physical microphone.)
Thanks to Antony Johnston, the creator of the Podcast Guest Guide for inspiration. If you have any questions, get in touch and I can walk you through what you need to do, or help you tweak your setup.
But for now, relax, have fun, and enjoy your podcast appearance!
Why am I here?
You’re most likely here because you’re going to be on a podcast that I’m helping to produce. That’s my job!
I’m Mark, and I help make podcasts for lots of people, and for myself, so if you get bitten by the podcast bug and want to see what it’s like on the other side of the mic — which doesn’t make any sense, because the other side of the mic probably won’t pick up your voice very well, but you get the idea — you can book a time to chat!