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Podcast Recording Techniques

Recording with a Microphone on Your Computer

There are a wide variety of microphones on the market today at very reasonable prices. Consumer electronics stores have plenty of them for sale. You can also pick up a good quality microphone for $10-20 online. You don't have to spend a lot. You can find microphones at Podtopia.net's Gear page, or search online for microphones for sale. It's always a good idea to check around online to see what customer reviews say about the mic you find. Sometimes, a less expensive mic can do the job just as nicely as a pricey one. Give your recordings a listen with headphones after you record them, to see how they sound.

Some key things to keep in mind when you're recording with a mic:

  1. Make sure you're in a quiet space, so you don't pick up a lot of background noise. If you can record in a room with wall treatments or a lot of fabric around you, that can help absorb echoes from your voice.
  2. Make sure you don't speak too closely to the microphone - if you do, your listeners may hear a lot of P's and S's, as well as your breathing, which is not good. Hold the mic away from your mouth, or off to the side, to minimize sounds which interfere with your recording. Note: You'll probably have to experiment with this a little bit, before you get it exactly right. And even if you don't, you can still edit your audio file afterwards, if things don't turn out right.
  3. Ensure that you record at the proper bit rate (sample rate), so that your sound quality is good... but your sound file is not so huge that it discourages people from downloading it... or it takes up too much space on your hard drive/server(s).

Recording with a Portable MP3 Recorder

While finding the right microphone and using the right technique is a step in the right direction, one piece of the podcast recording puzzle that doesn't often get mentioned, is the sound card in your computer. Sound cards take audio in (via the microphone jack on your computer) and they send it back out (through your speakers and/or your headphones jack). A low-end sound card can produce low-end quality, no matter how expensive your microphone is.

The sound quality is much better when I record directly into the iRiver, and the filesize is small, too. I haven't had much luck recording directly into my computer, perhaps because my sound card isn't good enough... or my microphone is deficient. I haven't had the time or patience to figure out which it is. Perhaps it's both.

Another alternative to recording directly onto your computer, is purchasing an MP3 recorder, and recording your podcasts on that. Then, you can transfer your audio to your computer for editing and uploading.

This is what I do, with an iRiver 890 (that cost me about $65 on eBay) and a Plantronics noise-cancelling headeset microphone (my "Madonna" headset). I record my audio into the iRiver, then I transfer the files to my computer (iRiver's file manager encodes them for me), and I can rename and upload them.... or tweak them, if there's stuff in the audio I want to take out (like all those "ummmm"s and "uuuhhhh"s and periods of silence when I've forgotten - briefly - what I was going to say).

Another great thing about recording with a hand-held MP3 recorder, is that I can create my podcasts anywhere and anytime I have some free time to myself. That's often when I'm driving to work. I have 45 uninterrupted minutes each morning, and again each evening, when I'm driving to and from work, when I can record. And with my noise-canceling headset microphone, the noise of the road doesn't "bleed" in, and I have both hands free on the steering wheel.

If I'm not driving and I have a hand free, I like to record straight into the internal microphone of my iRiver. The sound quality is surprisingly good, and it's nice to not have to mess around with all the wires of my headset, which has jacks for both microphone and headset. The iRiver is small enough for me to take with me anywhere, anytime, and with 256 Megs of space, it has ample room on it for many, many recordings. Another nice thing is, I don't need to wait for it to boot up and the programs to start, to begin recording. I press two buttons, and I'm good to go. with my PC, I have to wait a few minutes to get everythin running.

When I'm done recording, I hook up my iRiver to my computer and use the iRiver manager software to transfer my files to my PC. Then I can rename them, edit them (if needed) and upload them for my podcasts.

Note: I can't vouch for the sound quality of any other portable MP3 recorders. Some will probably be better than others, but I'm very pleased with the iRiver 890.

Recording by Phone

Increasingly, the phenomenon of audioblogging is catching on, and more and more services are making it possible to record an MP3 by simply making a phone call. Audioblog lets you do it, as does Audioblogger, and Garageband.com. If you search the web, you'll find more choices. Many (if not most) of them require some form of signup, and it can be free. You simply login, dial the number they give you, and record your message to their service... which then converts the recording to MP3 format and puts it on a server for you to reference. Once there, you can save off that MP3 and put it anywhere you like... or leave it where it is and point people to it.

One of the drawbacks of phone-based podcasting, is that you cannot edit on the fly. Once you say what you say, it's in the MP3 file. You can, of course, save a copy, edit it in your favorite audio editor, and post it to another website, but that's an added step.

Another drawback is the sound quality. If you don't care about your podcast sounding like a phone call, then it's no biggie. But if you want higher quality sound, then phone-based podcasting is probably not for you.

Bare-Bones Guerilla Podcast Recording (With a simple patch cord and the old gear you tossed in a box, 20 years ago)

There is yet another "low-budget" way to record your podcast without going through a microphone into your computer, needing to buy an MP3 recorder, or recording over the phone. Just use that old hand-held dictaphone or tape recorder you probably already have. Most of us have an old cassette player lying around, and we haven't used it in a coon's age (or, at least since CD's came out).

You can record your podcast onto cassette, and then play back your recording into your computer, using a "patch cord", or a cable with a mini-plug on each end. Patch cords are very inexpensive -- $2 or $3 at your local electronics store. The mini plugs should be the same size and type as your standard headphones or microphone plugs. Tell the guy/gal at the store you need a mini-plug-to-mini-plug patch cord for recording into your computer, and they should know what you mean. (If they don't, you need to find another electronics store!)

Once you have your recording on tape, attach one end of the patch cord to the output or headphones jack of your cassette player. Plug the other end of the patch into the input/microphone jack of your computer. Then, fire up your computer and start recording with your audio editing software. (Make sure your input source is marked as "microphone" or "line in" on your program.) Press Play on your cassette player, and your recording will stream into the computer, just as your voice would, were you recording your voice with a microphone. When your recording is done playing, save and/or export the file as an MP3, and you're good to go.

Granted, the sound quality is probably not going to be as good, as it would be if you were using a more sophisticated microphone, or if you were recording directly into an MP3 recorder. This is a bit of a "guerilla podcasting" solution. But if you're short on gear, you're not troubled by lesser quality, and you really want to get a recording up there, no matter what it takes, this is a very cheap and easy way to put your recordings into podcast format.

And it gives your old cassette player (and all those leftover blank cassettes from 1982) a whole new reason to be.


Copyright © 2005 by Kay Stoner - All Rights Reserved
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