By Cerys Bradley and Anna Ploszajski
What could two amateur podcast makers tell you, a soon-to-be amateur podcast maker, about podcast making that you couldn’t learn yourself? Probably not very much, but we can tell you about all the mistakes we made and the tips we picked up along the way.
I (Cerys) use a Zoom H6, which is a portable recording device which comes with two microphones and has the capacity to take up to four more microphones plugged in. It is adorable, easy to use and great if you want to record at many different locations.
I (Anna) also bought some portable equipment but mostly used a recording studio at UCL. The equipment was of higher quality and had multiple microphones which is much better for interviews.
Having reliable equipment that works is important because, even if your material is solid gold and what you have to say is interesting, if your audio quality is poor, your podcast will be difficult to listen to.
If you’re in this long term and want to make something worth making then investing in equipment is definitely step number one. If £300 is a bit out of your budget and you don’t have a free studio at your university that you can make use of, try looking at what’s available second hand because this technology seems to be made to last. We both received funding for equipment which was relatively easy to acquire from pots of Public Engagement money.
It’s really important to familiarise yourself with your equipment before you try recording. There are lots of fun ways to do this, for example you could follow your housemate around as if they were a minor celebrity asking them banal questions about their day. When testing your recording device you should be trying to work out how to turn it on (obviously), how to record and play back, how to adjust volume and levels, how to store and save recordings and transfer them to a different device for editing, how to check battery life, and learning the difference between using mono and stereo and the various different microphone attachments you may or may not have. Also make sure your device is compatible with your computer and the memory cards.
Make sure you have enough time because a podcast will usually take longer than you think. Schedule 1.5 – 2 times the length of your finished product for the recording and at least 15 minutes either side for tech stuff. This is particularly important if you are working with guests.
Having a clear idea of the material you want to cover in advance means you are more likely to sound like an interesting person, as opposed to every guy you’ve ever met at a party. Note, this doesn’t mean you have to have a full script. If you want a conversational style podcast then having some notes to prompt you will help to facilitate the conversation without impeding on the tone. I (Cerys) like to write the opening and finishing sentence of each section in full, that way I know where I am starting and where I am going. I (Anna) jot down questions to ask my interviewees remember – having your notes the beauty of radio!
You may want to include other sounds in your podcast to. For example, I (Anna) like to include sound effects from the guests (no, not farts). When interviewing a jewellery expert, I asked them to clank their bracelets for the listeners. This takes the listener from feeling like they are overhearing a conversation to feeling as though they are in the room.
Always do a levels check before you start and try to speak at an even volume throughout. For editing purposes, if you make a mistake, pause in your recording and begin the whole sentence again.
Things that we have done which were silly: accidentally conducting an entire recording through the laptop instead of the aforementioned snazzy recording device and producing garbage, not recording a twenty minute interview, working with someone for over a year who shouted into the microphone making editing and listening to the podcast an unbearable experience, and recording a guest with very clanky bracelets such that there was weird scratchy noises all the way through the interview.
Some people really like editing, others (we) hate it because it’s really tedious. There’s lots of free software out there that will get the job done. Apple’s GarageBand and Audacity are two favourites. If you really hate editing, get someone else to do it and pay them.
If you’re using music, either write your own or use freely-available stuff. I (Anna) create loops using the software GarageBand on my Mac to make sure I didn’t land a hefty law suit.
It is important to prepare your guests a head of time on the content of your podcast so that they feel comfortable. Letting them know in advance the questions you intend to ask them or the topics you will cover is both courteous and will enable you to get the most out of them. It is worth pointing out here that not everyone does their homework and, if it is important that they do, you need to be very clear about what is expected of them and why.
After the recording, it is also polite to let them know when you will release the episode and how they can promote it. You should also let them listen to your edit before you release it. It is also important to try to get your recording out as soon as possible, instead of letting it sit on your computer for months (we are both guilty of this). Bear this in mind when planning your show, have you got an afternoon or evening free (who works in the mornings?) where you could feasibly edit your episode soon after recording?
If you are working with people who don’t podcast on the regular, you cannot expect them to have read this blog and, therefore, understand the importance of maintaining constant levels. You may need to tell them how to use a microphone and remind them to stop drifting away from it or to speak up. Pro tip from Anna: I always say to guests “You probably know this, but please try not to move around, scratch yourself, and hit the table”. It’s amazing what these microphones will pick up.
Some Final Thoughts
Podcasting can be a simple and elegant way to communicate science, but I (Anna) definitely underestimated the steepness of the learning curve and time it would take to set up. It gets easier as you gain more experience, though, and the buzz when your phone automatically downloads one of your episodes is awesome. Happy podcasting!
Click the links below to hear the Talent Factory podcasts.