We Asked an Emmy-winning Audio Engineer What You Actually Need to Start Podcasting. Here’s What He Said.
Lisa Stuardi | Podcasting
In our latest episode, award-winning audio engineer, Reid Mangan outlines the audio essentials for getting started with your corporate podcast. The punchline? It’s easier than we thought! Listen to the full podcast or read the highlights below.
Think before you shop.
Having a plan for your content is essential before you actually start shopping for gear. The kind of content you plan to make will influence everything from what gear to buy, to who creates the content, to where it’s recorded. The truth is, if you’re not able to do a verbal elevator pitch on who your show(s) are for and what the first 3 episodes are about, you aren’t ready to shop for gear.
A classic mistake people make when they’re just getting started is that they start buying gear before they have fleshed out their shows. Sometimes buying gear feels like momentum. It’s tangible, it can be done quickly, and it doesn’t take as much mental energy as planning the content. But that’s like shopping for groceries before you’ve decided what’s for dinner.
You can have a great show on terrible gear, and for the most part, it’s still a great show. You can have a terrible show on great gear, and it’s still terrible. No amount of gear is going to save a terrible show. It’s important to think and plan before you shop.
Start with the space.
The next thing you should consider is the recording space. No amount of gear is going to make a bad space sound better. When you create a corporate podcast, audio is the only one of the 5 senses you'll be using, so it’s important that you keep your audio as clear and crisp as possible.
The number one thing that you should think of is, what does the room sound like? Walk into the room and think to yourself: Is it a pleasant sounding room? Is it noisy? Can you hear the air conditioner? Is there a refrigerator going? When you talk, can you hear it echo 17 times before it goes quiet again? You aren't going to be able to make something that sounds radio quality unless you have a room that's pretty good sounding. It needs to be relatively quiet with minimal echo. That's number one. People take that for granted, I think, because listeners pick up on issues with sound and fidelity, and a lot of it is not the microphone that you choose, it's the room that you're sitting in.
Another important aspect of space is comfort. For example, if you’re interviewing guests, the space has to feel inclusive and welcoming. It’s easy for guests to get nervous, so you want to create a space that allows them to speak freely and easily. Pick a room that isn’t boxy and stiff, and decorate it with comfortable furniture and artwork that makes it feel more like home rather than an interrogation room.
Some companies have gone so far as to build a professional sound studio, which is not only great for recording, but can be a wonderful recruiting tool. It’s something they can show off. When guests come by they can say, “This is our corporate podcast studio where we can create our podcasts for employees, talk to our staff, and reach them on a daily basis." But you can also have a sales manager talking to his sales team, and he’s just knocking out the podcast right in his own office, or his home office, any place that is convenient. It doesn’t have to be a formal studio. It just has to have good acoustics.
Put people before gear.
Unless you already have an audio engineer on staff, you should really consider hiring a contractor to come in, set up, and run your first couple of episodes. This has a lot of advantages. They’ll alleviate the tech requirements of producing your first podcasts and allow your team to focus on the story. Sound engineers usually have their own gear, and they’re already familiar with it, so it can save time and energy in case technical issues arise. Contractors can also be a great way to “try before you buy.” You can learn from them how the technical parts of a corporate podcast are done, and it saves you the trouble of buying anything right out of the gate until you know what you really need.
Hiring a contractor to come in and work on a show is also a lot easier and more cost-effective than most people think. Costs vary by market, but in most places, you can typically hire someone for $600 to $1000 a day, including a “kit rental” fee to cover the cost of them supplying the equipment. It’s a great way to get started and learn.
In terms of where to look, private podcast gear rental houses are a great place to start. They’ll know talented people in your local market. You want to find someone who is genuinely enthusiastic about the project. A good engineer will care about your project as much as you do. They will, off the bat, start asking a bunch of questions to try and make sure that they know exactly what you're looking for, and then can provide you with exactly what you need from both an engineering and an equipment basis. You also want someone who is personable, because remember, some people that you may be bringing in might be customers or executives or other VIPs. Every part of your production team needs to be professional. As far as they know, this person works for your company.
Don’t cheat on quality (good gear is more affordable than you think!).
The cost definitely depends on how much you want to spend, but you can you can start for as little as $150, and you can go up into the multiple thousands. For a really nice setup for four people to talk in a controlled environment, you can do great sounding things for around $1,000.
If your use case is just a sales person sitting in their office recording a podcast for his team, you can do that for $150 with a USB microphone that plugs into your computer. You can just sit there, talk into it, and record it on your computer, and send it out. $150.
For a good quality, stationary setup that feels more like a studio, you need 4 main things: you need a microphone and mic accessories, like a stand, and a cable. You need an amplifier to amplify the microphone. Then you need a recorder. Usually a record/mixer combo that will mix the different microphones and record it is best. There are different levels of quality with each of these items, but at the most basic level, that's what you're going to need.
Microphones: The requirements for a mic is good-quality sound, a durable build, and user-friendly. Each mic also requires a stand and cable for each one. A basic setup will run you about $400 per mic, $25 per mic cable and $100 per mic stand.
Mixer: Mixers are the big boxes with a bunch of knobs that sit on the table. These are used to connect mics into recording software. You can get a relatively inexpensive mixer that for about $400, and you can plug as many as four mics into it at a time. You don't have to run that to a computer to record. You can if you want. It does come with software, and you can run it to a computer to record everything. But you can also use an SD Card, like you would put in a point and shoot camera.
Headphones: At least one pair of headphones is needed to check for distortion, levels, and sound quality. Skip the earphones and go for good quality headphones that aren’t too expensive. A good pair of headphones cost about $100 each. It’s generally better to have headphones available for your guests as well, but you don’t have to.
Another benefit of investing in quality audio gear is that good gear will be good gear for a long time. Audio typically doesn’t have updates or upgrades that you need to keep up with every year. It’s made to last a long time and deliver consistent, high-quality content for years. The $150 - $5000 you invest can go a long way.
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