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Sept. 28, 2022

Setting Up Your Recording Space

In this episode, Joe talks you through what you need to get your podcast recording space setup!

At this point, if you've been following along, your podcast is really getting close to hitting the airwaves. But before you can do that, you need to record it!

If you’re not so fortunate as to live close to a Towncast Studios location, or another studio space, you will likely have to set up a recording space in your home or somewhere else with suitable, usable space. Most people are able to set up a decent-sounding space somewhere in their home.

It may be tempting to take the cheapest route possible and record a Voice Memo on your phone in your bedroom. While current technology is remarkable and can produce really good-sounding audio and video, we really recommend taking great care in the quality of these aspects.

Chances are, by this point, you’ve put a bit of work into planning your show and it would be a shame to begin recording and have the content suffer because it wasn’t recorded properly.

One of the biggest mistakes a lot of creators make early on is not taking the time to set up their recording space for optimal quality, and this can deter listeners early on.

And once that happens, it can be hard to get them to give your show another chance. So, much better to start out with a decent-sounding space and do the best you can in this regard.

And I have some good news: you don’t need to break the bank to create a good-sounding space. And, I’m going to help you set something up for yourself.

Acoustics 101

Ok, acoustics 101. I’m going to try to keep this simple. But I’m a bit of an audio and acoustics nerd, so… we’ll see how it goes.

Sound is a form of energy - physically, sound can be visualized as a wave. Just like a wave in the ocean, different sound waves have their peaks, their troughs, their different shapes, sizes, and speeds. Like water, sonic energy travels through molecules and is manipulated or altered based on a number of different factors. There are many physical implications of what that means, but all you need to know is that sound can be controlled, contained - and relatively easily, and cheaply. What we generally perceive to be “good sound” is really just sound that is a) captured in high-quality, and true to its source. And b) low in reflections - echos or reverberations. 

So, our goals, put simply, are to capture the sound source - i.e. your voice - at a high rate of accuracy. For this, we want a decent microphone that can help to capture your voice for the unique instrument that it is. 

Microphones

Let’s get you a good microphone!

There are a few different types of mics out there. Dynamic mics are very popular, affordable, and durable. Singers like to use them on stage because they can take a hit and keep going. While most dynamics usually don’t capture audio at quite the same capability as a condenser, they make up for it with their other benefits. For this reason, it’s hard to not recommend at least one affordable dynamic mic for you - a fledgling podcaster. One of the most popular podcasting mics around is the Shure SM7B. It sounds great, looks nice, and is proven to say the least. But at around $400 at the time of this recording, it’s not the cheapest option.

As far as dynamic mics go, I’d recommend the…

Samson Q2U

For one thing, the Q2U bundle comes with a bunch of stuff you’re going to need anyway. A mic stand. Two cables. Not only that, but it can be used with an XLR cable into an interface, or with a USB cable that can plug directly into your computer. Plus, a windscreen. Talk about bang for your buck!

Condenser mics are the other popular type of microphone. They are more sensitive in the sense that they are able to capture a wider frequency range. This just means that they sound better, and will generally do a better job of capturing your voice the way that it really sounds.

One characteristic of condenser mics to be aware of is that they DO require phantom power. What is phantom power? Well, it’s a supplemental 48v power supply that many condenser mics need to be operational and able to capture audio. Most interfaces - which we’ll get to in a moment - have a phantom power button, it looks like a little lightning bolt or, sometimes, it will simply say “48v”.

If you’re using a condenser mic that requires phantom power - as most condensers do - you’ll want to make sure that this button is engaged on the recording channel when you go to record. Otherwise, your recording may not record at all.

Condenser mics are pretty great for podcasting in a studio setting. Their sound quality is generally very good, they thrive in a studio setting because of their sensitivity, and if you pick the right one, they don’t have to break the bank.

Here’s a solid condenser mic for you to check out:

Audio Technica AT2020 Cardioid Medium-Diaphragm Condenser Mic

But honestly, I think the Samson Q2U is the way to go in terms of pure value.

Sound treatment

If you google home podcast recording space, there’s a lot of people telling you to stuff yourself in a closet with a laptop and a microphone. I’m here to tell you that that is probably not necessary. The idea with recording in a closet is that the layers of clothes in the relatively tight space serve as excellent sound dampers. It’s true - they do - and closets can sound great.

But, unless you’re recording stuff like professional voiceovers, audiobooks, or an interview for, say, NPR with crazy recording quality standards, then setting up in your closet is probably not what you need to do. 

I will say, that if you happen to have a walk-in closet, with carpeted floors and clothes lining the wall, then it could actually be a great option.

Again, our goal is to limit the echos and reverberations.

How do we do that? We’re going to need to find a good space for you to record in - one which will naturally sound “good”. Basically, we want to soften as many surfaces as possible. The softer a surface is, the better. So, think carpets instead of hardwood flooring. Think acoustic ceiling tile rather than drywall.

Basically, anything soft or irregularly shaped - i.e. not flat - that you can fill your space with is good. That’s why closets are so good for recording, they’re filled with layers of soft clothing that are also not flat. The sound is literally being disrupted, slowed, and broken down by these soft materials before they can hit the solid surface and bounce back into the microphone. Make sense? If not, I’m sorry. That’s the audio nerd I was talking about before. 

Let’s simply this. You want a room that meets the following criteria:

  • Carpeted floors
  • Minimal windows and doors
  • Curtains are good
  • Do include art on the walls, bookshelves, stuffed animals, furniture. Anything that will break up flat surfaces and add soft surfaces
  • Try to find a find a room that is inherently quiet. Not close to any loud traffic, loud people, or noisy air conditioning.
  • Also be sure to do everything you can keep quiet. Meaning, no noisy clothes or jewelry. Don’t tap the table or touch the mic

With all that met, you’re probably in good shape to get started.

Computer/Laptop

You’re going to need a computer. Laptops are good because of the portability, but if you have your recording space setup in one place anyway, a desktop totally works. I don’t have any specific recommendations. For what you’ll be doing, you don’t need a heavy-duty machine.

Personally, I prefer to use my MacBook for the portability and the syncing capabilities with my iPhone. But there are plenty of options out there. Consider your needs and then do a bit of searching around for something that fits your budget.

Interface/Audio Recorder

You might want to get some sort of an audio recording device. This may sound obvious - of course you need an audio recording device! And it is, the reason I mention it is because there are different directions you can go with this, depending on your situation. In most cases, you’re going to want to buy something that you can plug multiple microphones into, set the levels, and then record externally to something like an SD card.

Zoom makes some nice products - not to be confused with the Zoom video conferencing platform. Different company!

But the Zoom I’m talking about - those that make recording devices - have a wonderful piece of hardware called the Zoom P4. This thing was made for podcasting.

For just under $150, you get:

  • Four XLR inputs, with individual gain controls for each
  • Four 1/8” headphone jacks
  • Four phantom power switches so that you can use condenser mics
  • Battery-power. It takes two double-A batteries to be exact. (And in my experience, the P4 can run for over 3 hours of straight recording before the batteries start to run low).
  • It can also run on USB power
  • It even has a TRRS jack for patching in someone who wants to join the conversation over the phone!

You also get 4 four sound pads that you can load with whatever audio clips you want. This means - ostensibly - that you could load a clip of your theme music onto one of those sound pads on the Zoom P4. Begin recording with up to 3 other people - 4 total - and record an entire podcast live-to-tape.

It’s hard to think of a better option than the Zoom P4 for most podcasting endeavors just starting out. It’s sleek and portable, the features are plenty, and for all that you get, the price is pretty incredible.

Zoom P4

And worth noting: there are some cases where you don’t really need an interface.

  • If you’re recording at a studio such as Towncast Studios where everything you need is already there. You just show up with your content and do your thing using the professional gear. Actually, in this case, you wouldn’t need any of the stuff mentioned in this episode.
  • Another instance in which you wouldn’t need an interface or a recording device is if you’re recording monologue material - that is solo stuff. In that case, you could probably get away with a USB-powered microphone like a Blue Yeti. Something that plugs directly into your computer and is able to capture audio that way.

But if you’re planning to have one or multiple co-hosts, or interview guests frequently - basically any show in which you’ll have multiple people live in your recording space - it’s probably a good idea to invest in an audio recording device.

Headphones

Do yourself a favor and pick up a pair of headphones. I recommend closed-ear  headphones. If you get open-ear headphones, and you’re recording, the sound of your headphones can be picked up in your mic and create some weird feedback, plus it can be distracting if you have other people recording with you. 

Here are some good headphones to consider:

ATH M20X - $49

Sony MDR-7506 - $95

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro - $149

Recording software

Audio is recorded through what’s called a DAW - colloquially referred to as a daw. This acronym stands for digital audio workstation. Within these software programs you can record, edit, and process audio. There are many different programs out there. Some good ones particularly for podcasting include Adobe Auditon, Reaper, Hindenburg. All of these require some payment - either a one-off payment or a monthly subscription.

But the one I’ll recommend in this episode is Audacity. It’s free, open-source software, available on both PCs and Macs. It’s really a great way to get into the world of audio recording. In the show notes, I’ll include a link to download Audacity, as well as a helpful YouTube video to get you setup to start recording within Audacity.

Learn more about Audacity and download it here

Here’s a good video that briefly explains everything from downloading Audacity, to recording, to editing, and finally exporting your final audio file

Some other quick tips

Don’t get a headset

While they may seem convenient, the inherent movement that comes with wearing a headset makes for a high probability of noise that is distracting and virtually impossible to remove in post-production

Get some sort of a mic stand, a windscreen, and if possible, a shock mount. 
If possible, don’t hold or touch the mic once you get situated. Some people use a short mic stand that can sit right on their table. Some use a taller mic stand. Others use an articulating arm that clamps onto a table. The choice here is yours. 

But generally what you want to do is: get the mic situated so that you’re comfortable, and then don’t touch it during recording.

Consider getting an external hard drive

Audio files are generally not very large, but they can add up! When you’re first starting out, you should be good for a while with an external hard drive with a capacity of at least 256gigs. These hard drives can be in the form of a USB thumb drive, or a larger box shape that plugs into your computer. Make sure you get a hard drive that works with your computer’s connection setup.


Don’t forget cables

Unless you are going with a USB powered mic, you’re going to need XLR cables for each mic you’re using. You can buy these on Amazon or at your local music store. A generic brand cable will do, and no need to buy one that’s too long. Consider your recording setup and buy a cable that will make the distance.

Thanks for reading!