Everyone knows that content is king. You believe that your podcast will succeed on the strength of your content, so you serve your king—you craft an impeccable strategy, write the perfect script, you record the interview of your life, you can hardly stand how great it is. Your listeners are going to love this!
And they would love it, but they’re so distracted by how it sounds that they bail after only a minute or two of listening. The king is dethroned.
Starting a podcast has never been easier, thanks to smart phones, video calls, hangouts, and a myriad of low-cost equipment that sounds great. But it’s only after you actually begin the work of production that you realize just how many technical hurdles there can be.
Here are a few tips to help you record, edit, and mix a podcast that sounds as great as your content deserves.
Podcast Recording Tips
The first step to great-sounding recordings has nothing to with editing, or with audio tools like EQ and compression. It has everything to do with recording levels, mic technique, and your room. A few suggestions:
- Check your audio input levels
In the days of recording to tape, the noise floor was a much greater concern than it is now. Tracking required a careful dance of getting enough volume from your vocalist or instrument without distorting the recorded signal. With digital recording the noise floor can be much quieter (if one exists at all), but the tendency is still there for people to record at levels that are far too high, causing distortion or digital clipping in their recording.
Setting your input for a peak level of around -10dB will leave you plenty of headroom for a clean sound, and prevent problems down the road.
- Use proper mic technique
We’ve all heard distracting plosives or “P-Pops” before (Principal Frye, anyone?) and cringed with hyper-sibilant “S” sounds. Both of these issues are caused by excessive bursts of air hitting the microphone capsule, a symptom of poor mic technique. If you notice too many plosives or harsh sibilance in your recordings, the simplest solution is to move off-axis from the microphone. Setting your mic up to the side, angled slightly toward your mouth, will prevent bursts of air from hitting the capsule directly and can result in a smoother, more natural tone.
- Select a great recording location
While you might really enjoy singing in the shower, recording in small spaces with hard, flat surfaces will almost always mean a more reverberant sounding recording. If possible, record in a quiet, large room with plenty of space around you. Stop for a moment and listen on your headphones to what’s happening in the room. Do you hear a refrigerator? Is the A/C unit loud? Eliminate any distracting sounds where possible. If a small space is the only one available, try to find one with fewer reflective surfaces or lots of material that can absorb or diffuse the sound – furniture, carpeting, or even a closet full of clothes.
The point here should be obvious, but the simplest way to deal with audio problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Get it right at the source, and you’ll be that much closer to a polished recording. Cleanly recorded audio will make the technical aspects of editing & mixing in a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) much easier.
Podcast Editing Tips
Once everything is recorded, you’re on to the editing phase. Let your content goals be your guide here – are you looking for a leaner, faster pace? A shorter run time? Does it make sense to preserve a conversational dynamic? Is it a narrative format, an interview, a monologue? Identifying your goals before you start cutting & crossfading will keep your episodes flowing naturally. A few tips for editing:
- Use crossfades between clips
Every time you cut a clip/region in your DAW, make sure you insert a crossfade to join adjacent clips. Forgetting crossfades can mean distracting pops or clicks might wind up in your published episode.
- Pay attention to your breath
Make sure you pay attention to where breaths lie between sentences. It can be easy, especially if you’re editing at a low volume or less than quiet environment, to cut breaths in unnatural ways and cause a “hiccup” or double-breath effect.
- Trim filler words & false starts
Once you’re editing, you’ll probably begin to notice just how often “um,” “uh,” and “like” make appearances, or how often speakers begin a sentence before they have a complete thought to share. It can help trim time (and make everybody sound more eloquent) to simply delete fillers & false starts altogether. Be mindful to preserve inflection, though. If the sentence flow sounds halted or unnatural, it’s better to leave it alone.
Podcast Mixing Tips
This can be one of the more challenging aspects of your podcasting life, because it requires a bit of expertise on how to use sound-shaping tools like equalizers, compressors, and limiters. When you’re just starting out it can be easy to overdo it, so it’s always best to err on the subtle side. There are plenty of resources available on YouTube for a deep dive into each of these tools, but here are a few basics to keep in mind:
- Tweak your audio using equalizers
EQ is perhaps the most powerful sound-shaping tool available. It gives you the ability to boost or cut frequencies, compensating for excessive volume in particular ranges. If your audio sounds too “boomy,” for example, odds are good there is too much bass (250Hz and below). If it sounds “muddy,” there is probably too much volume in the low midrange (250Hz – 500Hz). Too much upper midrange (2-4kHz) can sometimes sound “harsh,” and buildup in the highs (6-20kHz) can make something sound “shrill” or “piercing.”
To identify specific problem areas using a visual EQ plugin (stock in most DAWs), create a boost and sweep it left and right. When you hear a particularly offensive jump in volume, put a cut there. Using cuts more often than boosts – a technique called subtractive EQ – can help you tame the sound without adding volume.
At the same time, the occasional boost in the low end can add body to a “thin” sound; a boost in the highs can add clarity to “dull” recordings. Knowing when to cut and when to boost takes practice, but in the end will yield powerful results.
Always pay attention to the overall level of your audio. Cutting or boosting frequencies with EQ will reduce or add volume, so make sure you compensate accordingly. The human ear tends to think that louder sounds better, so compensating for level changes will help you know whether you’ve truly improved the quality of a sound with your changes.
- Smooth out your podcast audio with a compressor
Think of compressors as automatic volume controllers, helping you tame the peak levels of your audio by reducing their volume, or “compressing” them. This has the overall effect of “smoothing out” a vocal recording, for example. The variety of controls on a compressor can feel intimidating, so here are some definitions in layman’s terms.
Compressor terms defined
Threshold - This is the level at which the compressor will start doing its reduction. A threshold of -10dB, for example, means that only signals above -10dB will be reduced.
Ratio - Without getting too technical, this is simply the “amount” of compression applied when a signal hits the threshold. For podcast vocal recordings, I find that a ratio of about 4:1 typically gives me adequate control without making things sound “squashed.”
Attack - How quickly the compressor will respond to peaks. A relatively fast attack is ideal for recorded speech, responding almost immediately to its natural peaks, where a slower attack might feel less natural.
Release - How quickly the compressor “lets go” of a signal. Again, moderately fast release times are the most natural sounding solution on a human voice, where a slower release will cause the compression effect to “linger.”
- Lift the volume of your podcast with limiters
A close relative of the compressor, limiters are often found with similar controls and are characterized by high ratios, which ensure that signals are stopped in their tracks at the threshold “ceiling.” Running your entire podcast through a limiter on the master output can help lift the overall volume of each episode without clipping the signal or adding distortion. A limiter threshold of about -1dB is typically adequate for leveling a podcast episode – just bring up the input gain until you start to see the peaks trigger the limiter.
This post is by no means comprehensive, and you might even have more questions than when you started! As we’ve advised podcasters on how to get the most out of their recordings, we’ve found some of these resources to be helpful. Feel free to reach out directly with any specific questions as well—we’re always happy to help. Happy podcasting!
- A Step-By-Step Podcasting Tutorial with Pat Flynn
- Aaron Dowd – The Podcast Dude
- How to Get the Best Sounding Audio for Your Podcast - Buzzsprout
- The ear training guide for audio producers - NPR