Every gear-head wants to know what you have under the hood.
Every gamer asks about RAM and frame rates.
Every podcaster craves a fancy microphone.
But really, it’s not the size of your price tag, it’s what you do with it that matters. In fact, if you don’t follow the tips outlined in this article, even a microphone stolen from the gods themselves won’t save your podcast from sounding like it was recorded on a rusty banged-up hand-me-down. “But certainly this wealth-saving advice will cost me something?” you ask. Why no, Mr. or Ms. Rhetorical Device, this advice is also free! But if you WANT to pay me for it, we’ll figure something out later. To the listicle!
1. Blanket Forts
That primordial instinct buried deep within our lizard brains to pile up couch cushions and drape a blanket over them is actually a natural defence mechanism against bad audio recording. Unfortunately, as we grow up, many of us start to fight these urges seeing them as infantile and unprofessional. If you cannot get access to a professional recording studio, I encourage every podcaster to revert to their child-self.
Let me explain with science. Big and hard is bad. Small and soft is good. Whenever you speak toward your mic, some of the sound misses, bounces off one of the walls in the room, and then goes into your mic a second time a fraction of a second later. This will make an echo effect on the recording that will make it sound to your audience like you recorded on site in Atlantis or perhaps you are a spooky ghost. Both Atlantians and ghosts have reputations for producing terrible podcasts and you don’t want to get roped in with them.
Two ways to fight this effect are 1) to record in a smaller space (reducing the time difference between speech and echo) or 2) to have walls that are soft and irregularly shaped (breaking up the sound waves of the echo). A blanket fort is a small space with soft irregularly shaped walls that you make with things you already have lying around your home.
I’ve used this trick for years. I hang blankets with binder clips from the ceiling fan over my dining room table. I have fit up to 6 people under there during some recording sessions. For comedy podcasts or ones recorded with close friends it can help set a silly tone and sense of intimacy between the performers. This also isn’t just my own silly idea. Recording under a blanket is a common trick used by voice-over professionals and audio journalists when they can’t get into a recording studio because they are on-the-road or in a rush.
– It will make you look unprofessional to prestigious guests who won’t believe your pleas of “industry standard”. If you get an interview with a celebrity, maybe splurge on the studio rental.
– It can get hot under there. Consider the season and climate before making six of your friends breathe each other’s hot air for hours or they might leave the tent not your friends anymore. Also, COVID.
2. Give Everyone Their Own Channel
I don’t know your exact technical setup. I’m all the way over here, being on the Internet. You’re all the way over there, living a real life with practical considerations. But if you can find a way, do it. Having every speaker recorded on their own audio channel will give you so much more control when editing.
You can adjust audio levels to match between the quiet-talkers who instinctively lean back and the loud-speakers who excitedly lean in. You can delete the sound of someone hitting the mic or clearing their throat in a really phlegm-filled way. In a narrative story, you can add effects on one actor’s voice so they sound more like a demon, ghost or robot. In discussion podcasts, your noise reduction will work better leading to a crisper sound.
Even if you don’t have enough for everyone, more channels are still better than just one. If you have fewer channels than speakers, try getting performers who tend to speak at the same volume on the same track. Put anyone with a habit for erratically oscillating between shouting and whispering on their own track.
– This might require more equipment or more expensive equipment to pull off. Sometimes soundboards with many input channels still only output one or two. Be careful to check when buying equipment.
3. Record Locally
Yes, podcast recording is just like supporting small businesses and buying produce. I know you can’t always get all the speakers physically in the same room, but if you are recording with someone over an internet call, and if that speaker has the equipment and know-how, consider having them record it on their end and sending you the audio after instead of only recording the call. This can help you avoid that internet “worble” where, just for a second, they sound like a robot reaching climax. Just don’t forget to clap. To sync the different audio tracks. Not for the robot. Okay, him too. It’s very hard for robots to achieve arousal, you know.
-You do have to trust the person on the other end to record it right. Maybe still record the internet call as a back-up.
4. Cover Up Naked Mics
Plenty of people peak popping preposterous packs of percussive P’s. You don’t have to. Put something–anything–between your pouty lips and your mics. Best case is a pop shield (cost <$20), still good is a foam mic cover (cost <$10), still better than nothing is a literal sock (you already own a drawer full). Covering up will be easier than rewriting all your scripts without using any P’s.
-If using the sock method, remember to wash socks.
There you have it. Everyone will think you’re an audiophile, but you never shilled out any money to Big Microphone. Use these tips to get the best you can out of the modest microphones you already have. Because if you have something important enough to say, it’s important enough that people should hear it clearly.