In season one of Maron, Marc finally meets a woman his own age. Tired of dating younger women, he’s entirely taken by the confident and sexy Alexia (Gina Gershon). However, he quickly learns that she seduced him only so he would appear on her teenage son’s fledgling podcast. It’s one of the more clever instances of podcast humour as it deconstructs the nature of the new social media landscape (and what it means to be a podcast “star”) as Maron becomes faced as much with his own obsolescence, in spite of his newfound success. Since this episode aired in 2013, the joke that “everyone has a podcast” has been drilled into our cultural consciousness and even the lowliest sitcom writing now draws on this trope.
It certainly seems as though just about everyone you know, especially if you work in or near the media, has a podcast — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, how do you set yourself up for success? Obviously, having a passion for what you’re doing should be the first step. If you don’t care, why are you even doing this? Secondly, trying to set up the most professional sounding podcast as possible will help you, at the very least, start at zero. Too many people will tune out of what you’re saying if it sounds cheap or poorly produced — don’t give them that option when you already have so much competition stacked against you.
To get a clearer idea on how to improve the sound of your podcast, I consulted with Francisco Peres, who has worked in the television and film industry for over 10 years. He’s worked in community-oriented programs that help to make audiovisual technology accessible to communities that traditionally have not been represented in mainstream media. He studied film production, with a speciality in Sound, at the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema in Portugal. Lately, he’s been working as a producer with a Youtube Channel on a no-budget reality show called The Green Rush about an Ohio-based tree-cutting company. He also produced a short horror film, Spiders, which will have its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival this summer. He also hosts a Portuguese language radio show in Montreal at Radio Centre Ville called O Menino da Radio.
What is the most basic equipment I should have to make a podcast?
The most important thing is a good microphone. Whether you’re doing just audio or video, you want to invest the most in good sound. Even with the highest production values in all other aspects, if you don’t sound good, people will tune out. You can get a pretty good microphone in the $75-$150 dollar range. Exactly what kind of microphone and set up you get depends on what you want to do. If you’re going to be alone in a room telling a story, something like “Hardcore History” or “You Must Remember This”, you’re going to have different needs than if you have 3 or 4 people in conversation in a room.
Some microphones I would recommend are the Blue Microphone Yeti and the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone. Always do research, there are a lot of amazing resources on Youtube where you can compare a lot of different products to find the best one for you. Usually too, on Youtube, they will also demonstrate how it sounds, so you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you are getting.
Investing in a good headset is also integral. How can you tell if your audio sounds good if you don’t have the equipment to measure that? You can always keep track of levels and sound through other means, but having quality headphones means will also help you understand what you sound like as you’re recording. It can help you be more aware of your voice, what you’re saying and how you sound saying it.
An audio interface or mixer can also be a valuable tool, though it’s not the kind of thing you can just “wing.” If you’ve never used one before, do research and invest in something cheaper, just to get a hang of it and see if it will help you out. I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely necessary, but it can be a very valuable tool if you want to sound absolutely professional.
For recording audio, use something like Audacity, though these days, I also use Youtube directly — which is very useful for saving a copy immediately in the cloud. Try out different things as tests.
There are other things you can get too, pop guards, mic stands, etc. But they are not absolutely necessary and the kind of thing I’d buy later on once you’re pretty sure you will be doing this regularly.
What if you’re doing a podcast and your guests are remote?
You have a choice to make in this case, because the most consistent problem I hear when people are recording streams is a drop in quality. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a lot more common since, as the producer, you have a lot less control.
First, you’re going to have to decide if you will have guests on your show who don’t have the right equipment. If they are using the computer’s built-in microphone because that’s all they have, the quality will be noticeably lower than yours (assuming you’ve invested in the right equipment). This can be a little awkward, though a good way around this can be to focus on inviting people who host their own podcasts, as they should have some basic equipment.
While not always necessary, I’d generally also recommend you ask any guests to record their own sound. This is good for consistency and can be a good safety against any problems. Some people’s streaming capabilities are different, and they will be fading out. Make sure to use a clap once you all start recording for easier synchronization and editing later.
What do you recommend for distribution?
Getting on iTunes is a big step, so focus on that first. The easiest thing to do is check out their guide available online.
If you’re really serious about podcasting, I’d also heavily recommend investing $5 a month for https://www.libsyn.com/, which distributes your podcast to all appropriate channels.
I also recommend YouTube as an option, even if it’s just audio. I listen to a lot of podcasts through YouTube channels only, just because it’s easier. It’s a good way to find an audience, and I think it should help motivate you to include some video components. Video is the future! For the most part, a lot of podcasts could only be improved with some video involved, even if it’s not the highest quality. Remember, even when it comes to video, as long as you have good sound, you will hold onto an audience — assuming you have content they want to tune into.
What do you recommend for editing audio?
Open Broadcast Software and Audacity are great. I even use Adobe Premiere, just because I mostly do video editing, so I’m very comfortable with the software.
What are tips for telling the difference between good and bad sound?
Having a good microphone should save you a lot of trouble if you don’t know much about sound, same with the headset. Otherwise, keep track of levels and pitchiness. When listening to and recording sound, make sure that the audio levels on your computer in the middle to make sure you’re being as accurate as possible.
Best places to find royalty-free music and effects?
I use Incompetech
What else do you recommend for people who want to start a podcast?
Honestly, this two-hour video from John Campea really lays things out better than I could. Check it out, he goes into the technical of his own setup, but also what it takes to actually make a successful podcast. The most important thing is finding your voice, and being consistent in how often you’re posting. Hitting all the technical marks just makes sure people don’t tune out before giving you a chance, it won’t make your podcast good in the same way that having the most expensive camera is not going to make your movie a masterpiece.
Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she has written for Vice Canada, Cleo: A Feminist Journal and Little White Lies Magazine.