Low-Down on Podcasting – Part One

I just finished producing a podcast series for the Dubai Airshow, but I thought this would be a great opportunity to speak through the equipment you need to record audio podcasts.

Before you can do anything, you need a tape recorder. While tape-based systems were more rigorous a few years ago, I’m afraid it’s all gone digital now. The advantage is obvious: you record your sound, connect the recorder to your computer, and instantly transfer the recording for editing.

While you can get away with a fairly inexpensive recorder, like the Olympus WS300S, you should make sure to record using the high quality (HQ) mono setting, usually 64kbps MP3. That’s fine and good enough for podcasts. If you are really serious about podcasting, then a high-end recorder like the Tascam DR-07 is essential. This is the model I use and apart from chewing on batteries it is fantastic.

Purists will record using the uncompressed WAV format, but this gives you huge files that cannot be easily emailed. If you set the recorder to 128 or 192 kbps MP3, you will get files of approximately 1 Mb per minute, practically indistinguishable from WAV and easily sent via e-mail.

So you have your recorder, you have configured it to record 192 kbps MP3 files. Now what? Make sure to set the sampling frequency to 44.1 KHz. Again, the sample rate determines the quality of the output and 44.1 kHz is fine. In fact, if you set it to a speed that is not an exact multiple of 22.05 kHz, some MP3 players will make your recordings sound like Mickey Mouse; he was warned.

So now you have your recorder set up, with fresh batteries and a clean memory card inserted of around 1-2 Gb.

The next step is to connect a good quality microphone. While some recorders have built-in microphones, they are generally quite poor and produce a lot of handling noise when moving the recorder.

A good microphone like the Sony ECM-MS907 is worth its weight in gold. First of all, it is very small and compact, but more importantly, it can be changed from an acceptance angle of 90 degrees to 120 degrees. This means that you can stand with your back to a noisy environment and the microphone will reject noise coming from behind you. Or you can change it to 120 degrees, place it on the table and record two or three people at a time, as long as they are in front of the microphone.

If you’re on a real budget, Hama makes a microphone called the DM-20, which costs less than $ 10 on Amazon.

If you intend to record your own voice, perhaps while reading the newsletters, purchasing a pop filter may also come in handy.

This is a round disk of material on the end of a flexible arm that prevents you from hearing popping sounds while speaking into the microphone. This is caused by the rush of air from your mouth – try putting your hand about six inches from your mouth and say “pah” and you will see what I mean.

When interviewing people, it pays to stand next to them and hold the microphone below chin level and point to their mouth. That way the mic is out of the way of your breath flow and shouldn’t pop.

So now you have the recorder and microphone set up, the world is your oyster.

When recording material, try not to write too much, otherwise it will sound forced. And use very open-ended questions that require much more than “yes” or “no” answers. Questions that start with “can you describe …” or “can you explain …” usually work well, but be sure to listen to the answers.

Also, be sure to shut up between questions, just nod your head to the interviewee and smile sweetly. If the entire interview is interspersed with “aha” from you, it is annoying and difficult to edit.

So that’s the truth about podcast recording. Next time, we can see what he does with the raw material.