I used to host and produce the Ruby Book Club podcast with Saron Yitbarek. Each week, we read one hour of a Ruby book and discussed what we had learnt.
Since starting the show I have had similar questions from a lot of people:
I have a great idea for a show. What do I need to buy? What software do I need? Is it all very expensive?
Well, it can be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be.
I want to share the details around the equipment and software that I used (Saron had different, more expensive tools in some cases, but then again, podcasting is her business) in a bid to show you one way to produce a decent-sounding show that won’t break the bank.
Microphone — £128
The first step to increasing the quality of your audio is to get a microphone. This will likely be the biggest capital investment as you start your new podcasting project. Getting one is essential.
Why can’t you just speak into your laptop’s built-in mic or into the ones that come with your headphones? They’re not optimised for best capturing your voice and digitising it for media where audio quality is the main focus. They’re there for basic communication, so any recording of your voice will be of low quality and will come accompanied with a lot of surrounding noise. Dedicated microphones are there to focus on getting your voice to sound as clear and rich as possible via a recording. Remember — it doesn’t matter how amazing your content is: if the quality of your audio isn’t good enough, people will not stick around.
Starting out, you probably want a microphone that’s ‘plug-and-play’, i.e. there isn’t much of a learning curve getting started using the thing. For this, I would recommend USB microphones that you can plug directly into your computer. These mics are relatively inexpensive, yet still provide a huge upgrade to computer or headphone built-in mics. There’s a wide range of them available on Amazon.
Over the years, I’d heard great things about the Audio-Technica brand — mainly that the reliability and quality you get is amazing in relation to the price point. Because of this, I eventually decided to purchase the Audio-Technica AT2020USB PLUS USB Microphone.
I’ve been using it for over three years now and have only had one issue with it — I dismantled and screwed together my mic and its stand pretty regularly since I carried it between an office and my home. It wasn’t long before the grooves at the bottom of the mic wore off. I had to buy insulation tape to securely fit the mic into the stand again. Beyond that, audio quality on the mic has always given me what I needed.
Recording software — Free
Once you’ve got your microphone, you’ll need a way to record your content and conduct the actual interview.
For recording, Saron and I used Quicktime, which came pre-installed on our Mac computers. It’s also available via free download. That way, we could each record our own streams of audio separately and locally, giving us a high quality recording.
To have the conversation featured in each episode, we used a tool called Mumble. It’s open source software, primarily aimed at gamers, that enables two people to speak via one server. It has pretty granular audio controls which can come in handy to get the best sound quality based on your internet speed and quality. However, it does require a decent bit of setup, so it may not be the best thing if you’re just starting out and don’t have somebody around who knows what they’re doing and which settings would be ideal.
Something you’ll want to think about is backups in case your primary recording source fails in any way. It can be something as simple as one person forgetting to hit the button to start recording! Since Mumble also lets you record each stream of audio separately, it worked very well for backup recordings.
For an alternative to something like Mumble, I’m seeing Zencastr grow in popularity. Their sell is that you can easily get high quality audio since the app records each person locally using an extremely reliable connection that doesn’t rely on the users’ Internet. In that way, it does the job of the local Quicktime recordings, but you can also hear one another through the website. This means you can host the interview or conversation there as well. Guests can easily jump into a recording via a link they’re sent via an email, and the host receives a track for each guest once the recording session is over. I’ve used Zencastr as a guest and found the process straightforward. I recommend evaluating it alongside your recording options when getting started — the people who I know who use it generally only have very good things to say. The only downside is that because it’s relatively new on the market, there have been cases when it has lost an audio file or didn’t save the whole interview. However, it’s getting better and more reliable over time.
Editing software — Free
Even with a good quality mic, you’ll still want to clean up your audio, especially if you’ve got at least two people on the recording.
For the Ruby Book Club, each week we’d have two separate audio files. At the most basic level of editing, the tasks that need to happen are as follows:
- Reduce background noise from each track
- Sync up the audio files so people are speaking in time with one another
- Silence the track of the person not talking at any time
- Level the volume across all of the tracks
- Cut out any mistakes or do-overs made by guests.
To do these basic tasks, I used Audacity. It’s free and open source. It doesn’t look like much, but it enables me to do the tasks listed above and there’s enough documentation around for when I came across new things that I needed to do; for example, fixing occurrences of clipping.
Website Domain registration — £12 (annual)
You might opt for a custom domain if you want your listeners to regularly check out a website attached to the podcast. You can use any registrar for this. I love DNSimple for its user-friendly, intuitive interface, especially when it comes to configuring DNS records.
£12 seems to be the average price for a ‘.com’ domain registration.
Squarespace — £108 (annual)
You’ll need a place to store your podcast episodes and Squarespace makes hosting a podcast easy. It provides a built-in RSS feed — the tool via which people can access your content via different platforms, including Apple Podcasts — and you can manage episodes and serve a public-facing website for your listeners all in one place.
The price you see above is the annual Personal plan with a 10% discount applied. I’m assuming you’ve got a promo code tucked away from one of the podcasts you listen to? If not, you can google around and find one easily.
There’s one main downside to Squarespace — you don’t have direct access to the RSS feed. If your podcast is just a fun side hobby, this probably isn’t important. However, if you think you might want to do something a bit more custom and have more control over how your RSS feed works and is structured, you’ll likely find Squarespace limiting.
Purchasing all of the above in one go will set you back £128 + £108 + 12 = £248.
If you run your podcast for a year, that equates to £248/12 = £20.67 a month.
- Ownership of a decent computer and headphones. Ideally, you want headphones optimised for accurate reproduction of recorded audio — not for listening to your favourite music tracks, where certain types of sounds are enhanced.You also want them to be comfortable, since you’ll be wearing them throughout the recording and editing process. Luckily for me, I already owned a pair of the wonderful Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Studio Headphones. Again, though, if this podcast is a hobby, don’t worry about investing in new headphones if the ones you use day-to-day sound clear enough when you listen to music or are on the phone.
- Annual payment for Squarespace. If you pay monthly, it’s a few pounds more each month.
- Single host. Having a co-host helps financially. Apart from the mic, all of the above costs were split with Saron. Thinking of more hosts to save money? Keep in mind that there’s a tradeoff between a reduction in costs and the increase in complexity regarding organisation, logistics, and editing.
- If you want to be fancy, go ahead and purchase some music for your opening and closing. This is an effective way to level up in the polished-ness of your show. We eventually got theme music from Premium Beat and it set us back £40 for a perpetual license.
- Since things like the microphone and music are one-off capital investments — effective monthly running costs will decrease the longer you produce your show.
- Want to take your audio quality to the next level? Check out this ingenious hack from my business partner, @saronyitbarek.
If you have any questions about what I’ve said here or alternatives you’re thinking of using, you can find me @nodunayo on Twitter.