13 June, 2011 by ehauke
I’ve been heard, in public, declaring that it is perfectly possible to create a professional sounding podcast FOR FREE. I’ve been ridiculed and shouted down, but now it is time to set the record straight.
It IS possible.
ANYONE can do it.
And this post will reveal ALL the tricks of the trade.
Before I start, a little disclaimer. Everything I have just said is true, as long as you can say yes to one of the following statements:
- I own a laptop with an onboard microphone
- I own a computer with a microphone that I can use to SKYPE with
- I have a computer and a USB microphone
- I have a dictaphone – ask at work, you might be able to borrow one (or use it on the QT in your lunch-break)
- I have a digital audio recorder
- I have a camcorder
- I am an alumnus of a university that has a radio station
- I could contact a local community radio station
- I could contact my local hospital radio station
- I have a friend or relative with one of the above, and I can borrow it from time to time
OK. If there wasn’t a single statement up there that you could say yes to, then you are the unfortunate exception. But don’t worry, get in touch through the comments section and I will figure out a way to get you podcasting for free.
But everyone else, along with your ‘yes’ came a lifetime membership of the ‘I can podcast for free’ club, so let’s get started.
I’m going to run through the process chronologically in terms of production – if this is new to you, check out the process as previously described in the 5 ‘P’s of Podcasting post.
Free Podcasting: Tip 1 – Get Ready
Having an idea costs nothing. Think it through, plan your format and content and get ready to rumble. Don’t ever pay anyone to present, host or appear in your podcast. There are plenty of people who will help you out with this for the mere pleasure of it.
Free Podcasting: Tip 2 – Equipment
Lot’s of people say “the more money you spend on equipment, the more professional your results will be”. I have two problems with that statement – firstly, it just isn’t true. There is perfectly professional equipment out there that will not break the bank, and you may already own some of this. And secondly, why is there an assumption that you want to sound ‘professional’? And what does ‘professional’ mean? I like to think that ‘professional’ means well thought out and well recorded. Being ‘well recorded’ does not imply expensive equipment. It implies getting the absolute best out of whatever equipment is available to you.
So what equipment can you use?
1) Well, as I’ve already implied, if you have a computer with any kind of onboard microphone – even if you normally just use it for SKYPE, you can podcast. This is probably going to give you the lowest sound quality, so you will have to work very hard at keeping the sound as clear as possible. You’ll need to experiment to get the best out of this. Locate your microphone, and practice speaking at different distances from it. Listen to what sounds best.
2) A dedicated USB microphone may give you better sound. Again play around with it, and get used to how it records your voice the best. You might need to be very close to the microphone, or leave a little distance. You might even need to put something between your mouth and the microphone to prevent nasty sounding plosives or ‘popping p’s’. I’ll come back to making a ‘free’ pop-filter later.
3) A digital dictaphone can produce surprisingly good results – again have a play around to figure out what sounds best.
4) A digital audio recorder is one step up from a dictaphone. It might have microphones onboard that are good enough to use, or you might want to plug in an external microphone to get better sound. Again, play around with whatever you have and see what sounds best.
5) If you’ve not got (or got access to, or are not able to beg or borrow) any of the above, then consider trying to get into a studio. If you live near a university, they might have a radio station – and if you’re an alumnus you might be able to get free access. Try also your local community radio station or your local hospital radio station. If they’ll let you broadcast your podcast as a live show, you could easily record it at the same time.
So that’s equipment. But how do you get the best out of it?
Free Podcasting: Tip 3 – Peripherals
Now, I mentioned ‘popping p’s’. If you’re finding that the harsher consonants (or plosives) are making a horrid clicking sound in your recording, you can put something called a ‘pop filter’ between your mouth and your microphone. You might find that something really simple like putting a sock on your microphone works. But listen to the sound quality, and don’t settle for this if it dulls or muffles the recording.
You can make a pop filter quite easily. You will need some old tights and and a ring shape cut out of stiff card. The open diameter of your ring will need to be at least 10cm, preferably a bit bigger (up to 20m). You need to stretch several layers of the tights over the card ring and secure the tights with staples or glue. They need to be stretched pretty tightly (without bending the card though!) so staples probably work best. Now if you hold your pop filter between your mouth and your microphone this should reduce the popping. If it doesn’t work, maybe you need a few more layers of tights. Denier 80 are probably the best. Old woolly ones will muffle the sound too much, so avoid those.
Free Podcasting: Tip 4 – Location
Now, the quality of your microphone will influence the quality of the sound you can record, but you can help this along enormously by improving the quality of your location.
The ‘cleanest’ and most clear sounding recording will be achieved in a professional studio. But the closest thing to this is a fairly small room with carpets, curtains and lots of sofas, cushions and bookshelves.
I’ll explain. The thing that makes a recording sound the most unclear is too much reverberation. Imagine the sound you get when you speak in a cathedral or underground cave. It is echo-ey and your voice sounds thin and swamped by the echo and ‘space’ of the location. Now wherever you choose to record, you might end up sounding like you’re in a cathedral. And the reason for this is that every hard surface in your room will reflect the sound of you speaking. And the more hard surfaces there are, the more sound reflections will be created, and the more they will be perpetuated by bouncing back off several of those surfaces in turn.
To sound clean and clear on a recording, you want the sound that comes out of your mouth to 1) pass into the microphone; and 2) be absorbed everywhere else. This means that any sound not going directly into the microphone won’t be floating round the room, bouncing off surfaces and accidentally getting back to the microphone and recorded in addition to the ‘clean’ sound that went directly into the microphone.
Things that absorb sound include:
The other thing that can help prevent ‘bouncing sound’ is surfaces that instead of reflecting the sound as a whole, instead break the sound waves up. For this you need uneven surfaces. That’s why books on a bookshelf can help. All those different shape and texture spines help to break up the sound waves. The same can be said of shelves of nik-naks and ornaments.
So choose to record in the room that has the most soft furnishings. Try to organise your equipment so that you are speaking directly at a cushion, curtain, or other soft surface. This will help enormously. For the best sound possible, you could even get under the duvet – it’s pretty hot work, but very effective. A top tipperette here is to hang the duvet over a clothes horse – just imagine you’re building a den. At least that way, the clothes horse will hold the duvet off your head and you’ll be a bit more comfortable.
If you’re recording directly into a desktop computer, you may be tied to a single location. And it may not be the best location. But don’t panic. Cushions are portable. Gather them up and try to arrange them around your recording area so that you are speaking into a ‘nest’ of cushions. If you can’t manage to cover a large wall, try hanging a blanket or duvet behind the computer to cover the wall.
Now this may all seem like a terrible faff, but you will be thrilled with the difference – especially if you’re struggling with a poor quality microphone.
Free Podcasting: Tip 5 – Recording
OK. So you’ve got your equipment for free, on the sly or on lend. You’ve maximised the quality of your recording environment. But how do you actually record. Well, if you’ve got a dictaphone, digital audio recorder, or camcorder, you’re probably going to be recording directly onto a memory card of some sort. You’ll then be able to transfer your audio (or video – which you will need to convert to audio) onto your computer.
But what if you need to record directly on your computer? Well, worry not. There is FREE software that will do this for you, and even allow you to edit your recording, or add in sound effects or a theme tune. If you’re using a Mac, you’ll have got Garageband for free. This works very well and will allow you to record directly into the programme and then perform simple edits. If you’re using a PC or a Mac (and for some reason you don’t have Garageband or don’t like it) you can download Audacity for free from the internet. I think this is the best site for downloading Audacity. You will also need to download a file called a LAME file, which Audacity will need to export your finished podcast as an mp3. You’ll find that here.
So at this point, you’ve recorded your whole podcast for free. What is the next step?
Free Podcasting: Tip 6 – Getting your mp3 online
So you will need internet access to get your mp3 file online. But if you don’t have internet access at home, do not fret. Save your mp3 onto a memory stick and get yourself down to your local library (if it hasn’t closed down). Internet access is usually free and you can upload your mp3 to your hosting site.
Free Podcasting: Tip 7 – Hosting
The physical mp3 file has to be located somewhere on the internet before you can create your feed and get listed on iTunes. Now there are many free ways to create your feed, but fewer free locations to host your file.
For that reason, I would recommend using a service like Podbean. The basic package at Podbean is free and allows you to host 100MB worth of podcasts. But what does that mean?
Well, a 30 minute podcast exported as an mp3 at 128kbps will be about 30MB. If your podcast is mainly speech, then you could export at 96kbps or even 64kbps. I wouldn’t go below 64kbps though. This will give you much smaller file sizes. But even if you can only store so many online before you have to start deleting the oldest ones, that’s a pretty good start.
These services will also create your feed for you, and facilitate your iTunes submission.
If you’ve got your own hosting sorted, then creating your feed can be done easily for free. Firstly, get a free blogging account. Attach your online mp3 (with a download link or similar) to a post. Copy the RSS feed for your blog into Google’s Feedburner and it will convert your feed into a podcast friendly feed. This can be used to submit your podcast to iTunes.
Free Podcasting: Tip 8 – Promotion
Promotion will work as hard for you as you work for it. Start off by emailing all your contacts every time you publish a new episode of your podcast. Your podcast service should offer you options to link to your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Sign up for this, it will alert all your Twitter and Facebook contacts to each new episode. You could even create a Facebook page for your podcast, and get people to ‘like’ it. Then you can post directly to your podcast fans.
If you’re DIYing the podcast feed, then use a free service like Twitterfeed to link your blog posts (containing the episodes of the podcast) to your Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The end. This post has become hideously long. But if I have forgotten anything, let me know and I will address the offending omission. Also, I’ll be posting more detail on specific aspects in the future, so let me know if there is something that particularly interests you!