My Podcasting Gear, Setup, and Process – Lean Blog Podcast
I often get asked “what do you use to produce your podcasts?” So, while this might not be of interest to all, I thought I'd put it in a blog post that I could refer people to as a starting point. I hope that sharing this will help people realize that podcasting isn't that hard and it doesn't require any expensive gear. I hope we'll see even more Lean podcasting, just as we've seen an explosion of Lean blogging. When I started, I relied on the book Podcasting For Dummies. It was published in 2008 and hasn't been updated, I believe. You can probably find good online resources, or even podcasts about podcasting, I bet.
What hardware and software do I use for recording?
I started doing my podcasts in 2006 using a Windows laptop, but have since converted to Mac. In my home office, I use a 27″ iMac and, for the times when I record or produce from the road, I use a 13″ MacBook Air (which is, hands down, the best laptop I have ever owned). The iMac is overkill for audio processing, as you can get by with any computer (it will just take longer to process and export audio files).
You will definitely want to upgrade from your laptop's built in microphone. I started with a fairly basic headset mic and earphone combo, sort of like this (about $15). You can get these with a USB connector or separate mic/headphone inputs. My MacBook doesn't have a separate mic input, so USB headsets seems to be the way to go for many users. I probably used this for about my first 30 or 50 podcasts.
I bought a separate dedicated USB mic that I used probably through about Podcast #120 or so, it was a Blue Microphones Snowflake USB Microphone. I think the sound quality was better and this was a portable unit that easily fit into my travel computer bag. It was probably due to all the travel, but the mic's casing cracked and the microphone literally came apart on me after two or three years. But stil, it was about $90 then and it's only about $50 now. I'd still recommend the mic, if you take care of it, as Blue is well-regarded brand (their Blue Microphones Snowball USB Microphone is less portable, but supposedly a little better).
Today, I'm using, connected to my iMac, a Audio-Technica AT2020 USB Condenser USB Microphone. It's about $100 on Amazon. I have it set up with a heavier desktop stand ($12), a shock mount ($30), and a pop filter ($15).
Since I'm playing around with an audiobook version of my book Lean Hospitals, I built a homemade “sound booth” to enclose the mic (basically like this) to reduce echoes from my office's walls. It's easier to put a box around the mic (and take it down) than it is to put soundproofing up all over the room. This is probably overkill for podcasts, but it was only about $35 of materials to make it myself. I call this my “Minimum Viable Booth” as the foam isn't yet trimmed or glued into place.
To reduce feedback when recording, I plug in and use a pair of in-ear ear buds (into the jack on my external speakers).
Since I normally do interviews and my guests are the star of the show, I use Skype for Mac (free) and a plug in called Call Recorder from Ecamm ($20). Back in Windows land, I used software called PrettyMay ($25). What I like about Call Recorder is that it records me and the guest in separate tracks. If you listened to that raw recording, you would hear me in the left ear and my guest in my right. Call Recorder has a utility that will split those into separate files, so the final product can have the volume balanced out and you hear each of us in both the left and right audio channels.
When I have lined up a guest, I can initiate a Skype-to-Skype call if they are a Skype user. The sound quality is best when we can do this, as it sounds like we are in the same room. My podcast with Paul Akers is an example of Skype-to-Skype. I can also use Skype and Call Recorder to place and record a phone call out to a regular phone for guests who don't use Skype. Calling somebody within the U.S. costs about 2 cents per minute. The sound quality is better when calling to a landline phone (like my podcast with Bob Lutz), while the sound quality is fairly lousy when calling to a cell phone.
I don't spend too much time on post-recording production. Most of the time, my guests and I record straight through as a single take, with any verbal stumbles being left in. I sometimes cut out any long pauses that are there before or after a question. I could probably get better at adjusting and tweaking sound levels in my podcasts, but the benefit to time ratio doesn't seem good. Update: In 2015, I started taking better advantage of “leveling” and “normalizing” tools in Audacity.
For sound editing (or for recording directly into the Mac), I use another piece of free software called Audacity. I started using this back in Windows land and it was an easy transition to the Mac version. I have tried Garage Band and others swear by it, but I have found Audacity to be easier to use.
With Audacity, I can combine the podcast interview tracks with my intro music, my introduction track, “bumper music,” and my outro music.
The announcer who introduces me is my friend Steve Sholtes, a multi-talented fellow who has done some voice work for his local NPR station back home in Detroit. So this was free (annoyingly, Steve wouldn't let me pay him). If you want an announcer, get a friend with a good voice or you can pay to have somebody so this online. The intro music, which I also use for the “bumper” transition between my intro and the interview is a piece of “royalty free” music I found online. You can either pay for a royalty-free track or you can find free tracks that are also royalty-free.
I use Audacity to publish the finalized podcast as an MP3 file. For a while, I was using Garage Band to output an AAC file that I was publishing as a separate podcast feed through iTunes. AAC files are smaller than MP3, but MP3 is the most flexible format and I decided that doing an extra version was a bit of overprocessing that didn't add much value (nobody ever complained about me stopping the AAC version).
I use Apple iTunes to add the podcast logo and notes about the episode into the MP3 file.
Uploading and Hosting
Now that I'm blogging on the WordPress platform, there are some built-in podcasting tools I probably could be taking advantage of, but when I was blogging on the Blogger platform, I had to find a separate podcasting host service and it works, so I've stuck with it.
I pay $9.95 a month to use a service called Hipcast to host my files. I log into Hipcast and upload the MP3 file along with some descriptive text. Hipcast then allows me to:
- Publish the podcast into an RSS feed (which I run through the Feedburner service)
- Push the podcast to the iTunes Store (I had to set up a podcaster account through iTunes, which is free)
- Embed a streaming audio player into my blog (I create a blog post / web page for each podcast)
Hipcast has basically given me, for my purposes, unlimited disk space and bandwidth, even as I'm over 137 podcasts.
Also, I have a checklist that I have used and modified over time, especially when I was doing the AAC version of the podcast, to help prevent skipping a step in this overall publishing process.
One question I often get is “how many people listen to each episode?” Counting visitors to a web page is very easy and straightforward (although just because somebody loads a blog page, it doesn't mean they read it).
Hipcast gives me download counts, but I'm not sure how reliable the counts are. Downloads don't equal the number of listeners. Let's say somebody shares the MP3 on an internal computer network or other site…
It seems each new episode currently has about 1,000 downloads that happen in the first few days. This is probably from people who subscribe via iTunes or other platforms where the podcast is automatically downloaded.
Some random episode stats, as of 2/5/12:
- #137, Jerry Bussell (2/3/12): 800 downloads (the newest podcast)
- #135, Dan Markovitz (1/2012): 3000
- #116, Jim Womack (3/2011): 7000
- #115, Eric Ries (3/2011): 5400
- #58, Steve Spear (1/2009): 6400
- #47, Norman Bodek (6/2008): 4700
I have to give Norman Bodek credit because it was his suggestion, in early 2006, to “do a lean radio show” that turned into this podcast. He was my very first guest and he remains a very dear friend.
A photo of my overall setup in 2012: