Sunday, October 04, 2009

Advice to New Podcasters

Yeah, yeah, there are probably dozens of blogs that say 'this is how to do a podcast'. Well, if there are, I've not been able to find them, and I know a lot of folks who are trying to make a go of it right now, and several of them have asked me for advice. So, to avoid repeating myself ad nauseum I give you:

Now one thing I'm not going to get into is technical details on how to use the various editing programs available. I use Audacity because it's free, and has a relatively short learning curve. If anyone has specific questions about that program I'll try to help, but otherwise what I'm about to say is pretty general.

1. Microphone. Folks, I cannot stress how important it is that you get a decent mic. I know that you may not have the funds to drop on a $200 Sennheiser, but the $5 stick mic that came with your computer won't cut it. You can get a perfectly adequate microphone for podcasting for less than $20. It wants to be directional, preferably cardioid, so that it only picks up what you want it to, and spend the extra fiver to get a pop guard. Just remember that what you are presenting to your audience, regardless of how wonderful the content, must be pleasing to the ear or they won't stick around.

2. Mixer. A mixer is not a necessity, but it makes the life of the podcaster much easier. If all you are doing is plugging your mic into your computer you're stuck with the sound. If you can pick up a small mixing board, and they are out there for around $100 or so, you can tweak all kinds of things to help improve your sound quality. It will also open up the world of call-in shows to you, because you'll need to be able to feed the sound from your speakers into your output, otherwise the audience won't hear your callers.

3. Speaking Techniques. There's a delicate balance between being too close to the mic, and too far away. Experiment with your set-up and settings to find what works best for you. Be careful when speaking to not fire your 'plosives' such as P, B, and T right into the mic. I find that if I turn my head just slightly off the direct axis of the mic, and be mindful of not hitting those consonants too hard, it greatly helps mitigate the unpleasant pop you'll get. Of course, you can always remove them later when you edit, but it's much easier to not have to do that in the first place. It's the same with S and Z. They can create a very unpleasant hiss when said loudly and directly into the mic. Another problem with being too close to the mic is breath. Breathing into the mic is very, very annoying and is usually something that is difficult, if not impossible to edit out later.

4. Awareness. While many podcasts sound like a bunch of friends just sitting around talking about something you'll notice that that best ones never let go of the awareness that they are performing for an audience. When recording you must always keep in mind that while you may be alone in a room with a microphone, your voice will be going out to, hopefully, hundreds of people. Most of these people will not share your background, geographical location, or knowledge of the minutia that make up your life. So when you are talking about things, try to constantly ask yourself 'would I need this explained to me if I had no idea what it's about?' Now, admittedly, it is fine to assume a certain level of knowledge on the part of your audience, for example with my show I am reasonably safe in the assumption that most of my audience has a working knowledge of Star Trek and most high profile Science Fiction projects, but when I start to go on about some bit of off-screen trivia, or some obscure TV show from the 70s I almost always make sure to give it a bit of explanation and maybe even a way for folks to find out more about that topic. And it is best, especially if you are doing a show with close friends, to avoid in jokes and colloquialisms that most of your audience won't understand...unless you then let them in on it.

5. Tangents. Most shows have a general theme, and then specific topics for each episode. Of course, since we are human beings, we often go off on tangents that don't really pertain to the topic du jour. The crew at have refined the tangent to an art form, but that doesn't mean that tangents are always a good thing. Some of our earliest criticisms for Starbase 66 involved us straying too far from the topic. You can stray, and I encourage it in the raw recording because lots of good stuff can be found in a tangential conversation, but I usually end up cutting most, if not all of it out. Audiences are fickle, and usually they don't tolerate too much deviation from the established course. Of course, you need to find on your own just how much leeway your audience will give you, but for the most part the more on course you stay, the happier your audience will be.

6. EDITING! It is with great dismay that I have found that some folks want to podcast, but don't want to be bothered with editing. I'm afraid that's like wanting to be a Baseball player, but not wanting to be bothered learning how to catch a ball. YOU MUST EDIT YOUR PODCAST! There will always be something said that doesn't work, or some outside noise that gets in the way, or thousands of other things that your audience won't want to hear. It's all about the audience, folks. If the product you put out is not something they find compelling, and enjoyable, they won't come back for more. Eventually you will develop a feel for your show and its natural rhythms, but don't be discouraged if the first few aren't great. On average your first three attempts will not be usable, and even the old pros have to toss a show here and there because it just didn't work. In my opinion it is better to not put out a show then to put out something that is not worthy of your audience.

7. Recording. This final point is for folks who are not able to record with everyone in the same room. There are many ways to do this, we use the Skype voice over internet software, but they all have one thing in common...lag. No matter how far away you are from your cohosts or guests, there is going to be some sort of time differential between you. Sometimes you can get away with just recording the show as it happens, but most of the time one or more of you will be distorted, or drop out, or have other problems that will eventually bother the listener. The unpleasant, and time consuming truth is that it is best for all parties to record their own track, and then have your editor synch them up. I won't lie, this is the worst part of podcasting. It takes many hours to put together a one hour show, but as I said above the result is something that your audience will want to come back for, and that's the goal. You can have the best podcast in the world, but if the sound quality is crap, no one will listen. As you get better at editing you will also get quicker, but there really are no shortcuts to a quality show.

And that's all I'll get into today. I hope someone found this information helpful, and for those of you dear readers who don't care about podcasts:

See you tomorrow,


Purple Pigeon said...

I don't really know much about padcasts, much less needing instuctions on how to make a good, one, but i very much appreciated the pic of the ever so cute ickle baby squirrel!!

trekkygeek said...

Hi Rick.
Thank you so much for this great advice for us beginners. I have recently started my own podcast thanks to the likes of yourself, Simply Syndicated and Leo Laporte giving me "The bug", and i found your advice helpful. I use Audacity becuse I want to do this very cheaply, I also use a very cheap headset but will probably invest in a condenser microphone, I think my cheap mic makes my voice sound quite flat and would love it to sound richer, but it may actually down to the fact that my voice is rather dull. LOL.
As for editing? that seems like far too much hard work ;-) This is why I leave it short and sweet. I hear horror stories (from yourself included) of a 1 hour show taking 3 or 4 to edit and I just don't have the patience so I do it it one go and hope there is no outside interference. I leave all the clever stuff to the pros. like yourself.

flurrious said...

Ha. I was going to say the same thing as Purple Pigeon. Baby squirrel!