How To Get A Great Sounding Recording Without Spending Hours Weeks Training To Be A Sound Engineer
As a professional you might have toyed with the idea of making a podcast or other on-demand audio content. Maybe to promote your business or organisation, perhaps to educate your audience or staff on some aspects of what you do. Read on if you are looking to record a professional podcast from home.
If you're just recording solo it's not always possible, practical or desirable to go into a studio to record your voice. Whereas If you are able to work from home then it's often easier to record there than if you're in an office - work is rarely a quiet environment.
At least, even in a noisy house there's likely to be a time when it's quiet - even if you have to bribe the kids for an hour or so.
What follows is a simple, factually correct and no-nonsense guide to making the most of the space you have and getting the foundations of a great podcast or voice recording from the comfort and convenience of your home.
The focus is on getting the best recording with the minimum amount of hassle. Setting yourself up to do as little as possible with the sound so as you do no harm.
There are many different ways to record but rather than confuse I'm going to prescribe an easy and affordable way to get it done that works, so you don't get stuck having to make too many decisions.
Throughout the guide I'll add more technical asides in special boxes. You can choose to completely ignore these.
In fact if you want a 2 minute read, skip to the summary.
Your Podcast's Format Determines The Setup You Need
For the purposes of this guide, I'm going to assume that you only wish to record one voice ( your own ) where you are.
You may want to record an interview with someone remotely but your setup stays the same. You're not in control of their end but you could always send them this guide to help them optimise their space.
Adding additional people into your recording space significantly adds to the complexity of the process. If you do wish to go this route, you will need more complex equipment, the acoustics will need to be better and the editing will be harder.
If you are looking to record a group I'd highly recommend asking an expert for advice or finding a good quality podcast studio where you are or using our podcast studio in Reading if you're lucky enough to be close by.
Choosing Your Recording Space
Before you decide that your home office, if you have one, is the only place that you can record in. You might consider a quick wander around your home to assess your different options.
What you are looking for is a quiet, dead space.
I'm sure you don't need me to explain 'quiet' but for now - 'dead' means you can't really hear the room - sound doesn't echo or 'reverberate' around the room.
If you haven't already got a dead space that is quiet then you will find it easier to choose a quiet space and make it deader than the other way round. We're not looking for perfect here either, we're looking for as good as you can get, quickly.
Finding Your Quietest Space
Have a walk around your home listening out for sounds, what can you hear?
There are two categories of noises that you want to listen out for and they are - occasional and constant.
Dealing With Occasional Noise Incidents
Because we're not building a bunker in the desert it's likely that there are going to be occasional sounds. Dogs will bark, Kids will run in, the doorbell will ring - not to mention trains going past, the telephone, cars beeping, fire alarms.
Is there somewhere that is usually quiet or sometimes quiet? Is the noise is in your control? Is there a specific time when it's quiet?
Your Strategy - Stop the noises that are in your control - can you bribe the family to be quiet for an hour? Turn off the phones, shut the doors and windows, go the quietest place in your house. Maybe even record in the dead of night.
Coping With Occasional Noise During Recording
Whilst recording - listen out for occasional noises and get used to stopping until the noise has finished. Then go back and pick up your thread. Do this if you hear noise on your guest's end too. ( It's a great skill to have when for example your guests SKYPE starts to sound like a dalek )
Dealing With Constant Noise
Fridges, air-conditioning, central heating can all make constant noise that you don't always notice because you long ago tuned them out.
Your strategy here is to move away from constant noises if you can't turn them off. Whilst constant, continuous background noise is often easy for a professional to filter out - if you can avoid them you are going to get a better result.
An Aside On Context in Background Noise
Whilst background noise is generally not great for your audio clarity - every radio or news interviewer knows that background sounds can add a lot . If you're a fishmonger in a busy market, a reporter in a war zone or reporting from the factory floor - then the context of the background noise is beneficial, maybe even essential to the recording. Still, in these scenarios you're possibly not the host or anchor and you're likely too not working from home!
Soundproofing your space
There is a lot of misunderstanding and incorrect information about soundproofing and sound treatment amongst podcasters and voice over artists.
Soundproof means - sound doesn't coming in or out. It's the same idea as waterproof - meaning to stop water from getting in or bulletproof - you get the idea.
Something you stick on a wall is not soundproofing but in fact acoustic treatment. That is - it helps to make your room dead, but it does nothing to stop noise getting in.
Soundproofing can be costly and complicated and it will usually make the room sound worse - which will in turn create an even greater need for acoustic treatment! For example, concrete bunkers are generally soundproof but they sound terrible inside!
Luckily for you a single voice podcast doesn't have to require any soundproofing if you choose your space wisely.
Super Simple Sound Proofing
Sound gets in and out of a room in three ways, and they are from simplest to most complex:
- Through Air Gaps - 85% of sound gets through 12% gap. This is a big deal and where you will find your simplest gains. Shut doors and windows tight and try and seal gaps with draft excluders.
- Straight through the materials - literally sound travels through your walls. It's beyond the scope of this article but generally adding mass to the materials cuts this down
- Diaphragm action - essentially your wall or barrier acts as a drum, vibrating in tune with the sounds thus spreading the sound outside. Adding mass and different materials to the barrier cuts this down.
Remember: You can not hang sound-proofing on the wall.
Finding Your Deadest Space
One of the major components of how a space sounds is how much the sound bounces around the room ( known as reverberation )
Think back to a traditional stone church - generally a large space filled with hard surfaces. When you talk in such a place the hard surfaces reflect back the sound of your voice and because the room is large the reflections take time to get back to you and are heard as an echo. In other words it takes a short while for your sound to decay.
Remember too - how this makes the preacher a little harder to understand but makes the choir sound lovely!
In contrast, if you are in your living room with lots of soft furnishing there are almost no audible reflections - they are absorbed by the cushions, curtains and sponges. In extreme cases it may even make conversation harder to hear because the sound is absorbed. For our needs, this is ideal.
This is often true in bedrooms too, with their mass of duvets and mattresses. If you really want a dead space - close your curtains and sit in the middle of the bed or even get under the duvet!
Super Simple Sound Absorption
Sound Absorption is what makes a room sound 'dead'
The basic idea is this. We want the sound of our voice to reach the microphone and then disappear. That is, sound doesn't bounce around the room and come back to the mic moments later. ( This effect is what's known as Echo - or more correctly - reverberation )
If you imagine your voice as a squash ball hit hard - your job is to stop it bouncing around the room. Cushions, duvets, hanging fabrics, thick curtains all do a great job.
You can buy acoustic treatment to hang on the walls, but start with bed's, sofas, curtains and even hang a duvet behind you.
Your Final Consideration Is Comfort and Practicality
Hey you don't want to be too comfortable as you'll fall asleep and you want your brain active and focused so you'll want to be at least upright to project, consider even standing up!
Choosing And Setting Up Your Equipment
Some people over-egg how simple this is. It can be simple, but if it's wrong then it can be tricky.
For the purposes of this guide I'm going to assume that you are using a laptop or desktop computer to record yourself.
After your laptop the only absolutely essential thing you need is a good quality Microphone. You cannot record a professional sounding podcast on your built in microphone. Okay?
I really recommend that you also purchase this equipment but at a push you can go without
Boom Arm - Helps to position your microphone, especially if you're in front of a screen.
Cradle - This helps to suspend your microphone, allowing it isolate it to some extent from table kicks and bangs.
Pop-Shield - Prevents 'Pops'
HeadPhones - Closed, Over-ear headphones for monitoring.
Because you are just recording yourself you should choose a quality USB Dynamic Microphone like the one below if you are in any doubt about your environment.
Our Recommended Equipment Setup For A Podcast Pro
This is a great option for all podcasters that will see you set up, sounding good and podcasting in no time.
Technical Aside 1: Why USB
In proper studios a microphone is connected to something called a pre-amp which is a separate amplifier used to increase the level and shape the sound of different microphones. This is then connected to an interface which converts the signal to digital for your computer to process.
Put simply A USB connection on a microphone cuts out the need for all this extra gear and allows you to plug a mic straight into your computer.. It's not as high quality but it's definitely 'good-enough'.
Technical Aside 2: Why Dynamic
There are two fundamental types of microphone, dynamic and condenser. Good Condensers tend to be more sensitive and better at responding to high frequencies, particularly at a distance than dynamics. If your room is a little bit 'echoey' or if there is background noise then a dynamic mic is much better as it will pick up less background noise.
In a great acoustic ( great sounding environment ) either mic type can be used, with individual voices having different preferences below is an option for more studio-quality environments.
A Starter Setup For A Voice Pro
This is a slightly more professional setup for more of a voiceover artist. It features a large diaphragm condensor microphone which gives a more detailed sound but really needs an optimised environment. If you are at all in doubt then this is not the package for you.
Setting Up Your Equipment - Recording Device
As this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to every option but a recording plan that works well - I'm going to assume that as a professional you own a decent laptop computer or desktop. Note that I said decent not - super.
If you really don't want the hassle of recording it yourself - then you might want to check out our RecordHub service - we'll record it for you with any number of guests that you want.
Multiple Voices, multiple locations, one great sound.
Choosing Your Recording Software
There are so many different options for recording software and if you really want to procrastinate you should go join a podcast forum and ask for advice on the best software. ( Actually - please don't )
As a professional with more important things to do with your time, it's likely you'll want to outsource your editing getting a better result without the hassle of learning software, so all we're actually concerned with in this guide is the recording.
There are some great software options for audio pros, journalists and podcast pros but what I'm going to suggest is that you use the most common software used by podcasters. It's not the best, but it's simple and it's free. It works on Macs and PC's, there are many great guides to using it, and you know what?
Recording quality is the same with every single piece of software you can buy and what you learn will translate if you move to a more versatile solution at a later date.
Choosing A Recording Format
Even though podcasts are in MP3 format - you should always record in higher quality WAV files ( Can be AIFF on a Mac )
WAV files are CD quality or better and are great for editing as they have the most detail.
MP3's are smaller file sizes and are perfect for downloading and streaming your finished podcast. They work much like jpg images in that they are compressed - If you zoom in you lose detail and things get fuzzy.
With MP3's the encoding algorithm focuses on and records the details that are most important to your ears. The trouble with this approach is that if you want to change the sound slightly for example to boost frequencies or remove background noise - the detail isn't there. Ironically background noise needs to be recorded in good quality in order to be able to remove it successfully. Our own Podcast Doctor reports a much higher repair success rate working on WAV rather than MP3
Setting recording levels
We're not looking to turn you into a recording engineer here but if we can get a decent level it's going to help. What we're looking for is somewhere in between two extremes - If you record too high you will get distortion which is bad and very difficult or impossible to repair. If you record too low then there will be too much background and system noise.
The meters in most software that monitor your level go through a kind of traffic light system. Green is a good level, amber/orange is okay occasionally and red is bad.
If you aim for 50% full level during your main conversation perhaps popping into high orange for a laugh or excitement, you should be fine. Bare in mind that you're usually a little louder in real conversation than in practice and try and allow for this when setting levels by setting them a bit lower.
Deciding If You Need To Wear Headphones Or Not
If you look at photographs of a podcaster - they will invariably be wearing headphones - but is this necessary?
Sometimes....but not always.
if you need to hear something or someone else then you always need to wear headphones.
You should never listen to anything over speakers at the same time as you are recording. The sound of your guest will be picked up by your microphone and create a bad sounding 'echo' as it's sent back to your guest.
So if you have a producer talking in your ear, if you're talking over music or if you're interviewing someone remote you must wear headphones.
But what if you're recording an interview with someone in the same room?
Well actually in this situation you don't - you might want to - briefly to check how it sounds but then take them off and unplug them - making sure you turn off any speakers too.
Working without headphones for in person interviews will make for a much more natural conversation - if you think about it you would never talk to each other in a pub or cafe with headphones on.
When to wear headphones:
- You need to hear something else e.g. remote guest, music or a producer.
- To block out background noise and allow you to focus better. ( Although some noise will still be picked up by your mic )
- To monitor what the mic is actually picking up. This can also help you learn mic technique.
- To look and feel badass
When You Don't Need To Wear Headphones
You don't need to hear anything else and:
- You're recording a guest in person.
- You are recording just yourself and you are confident of your mic-technique and recording process.
- Your only available headphones spill horrible noise over your microphone.
- You want to feel a bit cleverer then all those other podcasters
What Headphones do You need
I would say start with the headphones you have but with one caveat - they must not spill noise. The most important thing here is not sound quality - If someone else can hear your headphones when you are wearing them then so can the microphone. This type of headphone - called 'open' are often the most expensive and usually the best sounding but alas they are not fit for this purpose.
Conversely noise cancelling and 'closed' headphones are perfect for this purpose.
Earbuds can work, but make sure that you are not recording the microphone as it will sound horrible.
Mic Technique - Tips From The Pro's
How Far From The Mic?
A great starting point is to be 6" from the mic as a starting point. If you hold up your hand with fingers stretched out, place your thumb on your lip and your pinky on the mic - that's a good distance.
Play With The Proximity effect
Any mic that you're likely to be using to record a podcast unless it is omni-directional, and none of my mic recommendations above are is going to suffer or benefit from an effect that occurs when getting close to the microphone. As one moves towards the mic there is an increase in low frequencies or 'bass tip-up' known as the proximity effect.
Late night DJ's use this to create a 'sexy' warm close sound. It's also used in the Voice Of God effect used to promote movies. Works well when softly spoken - a bit like whispering in someones ear.
Stop 'Pops' Caused By Plosives
Go to make an explosion sound with your mouth but stop just before you make a noise. If you look in the mirror you will likely see your lips held tightly together with your cheeks puffed out. To make the explosion sound you force the air out through your closed lips. If you hold your hand out in front of your mouth you will feel the puff of air as you do.
This is exactly the process you use to make the sounds "B" and "P" known as "Plosives" because to sound them you literally explode the air out of your face.
A microphone capsule is actually a very fine sheet of material that vibrates in the air. Can you imagine the effect of exploding air onto it? Actually it causes no physical harm at all but it does create an audible bump not unlike a bass drum in your audio.
Podcast Doctor Says:
There are two types, or levels of pop. Bass only ones (not usually a problem) and some big ones that are completely broadband ( all frequencies ) and impossible to fix. It’s this second type that needs serious avoiding.
The broadband ones are more likely made by 'P's.
If you feel the need to shout, do it 'Off-mic'
Your microphone is very sensitive, but it's most responsive when you are directly in front of it and close, practice moving forwards and backwards as you raise your voice or lower it. If you need to shout consider even turning your head, so that your voice is aimed away from the mic. You may be surprised how much lower the recording level is. As always, there's a lot to learn when starting out so to get great at it will take time. Keep at it, and don't be too hard on yourself.
The Record A Professional Podcast From Home Summary - Five Steps To A Better Recording
Find a quiet, dead space.
Do what you can to cut down external noise, then use soft furnishings to deaden down the sound. Consider Sitting on a Sofa or lying on a bed.
Use a good-quality USB dynamic microphone and your computer
Let's not get complicated but keep the quality up. A good USB mic will just plug into your computer and work. It will usually have a built in headphone connection too.
Speak Close To The Mic
Speaking close to a dynamic microphone ( 6" ) minimises the effect of the environment that you're in. Allows you to record in sub-optimal environments.
Get Help With Editing
If you're a professional, it's likely you have a lot of other things to do. Save time and get a better result with a professional editor.
Ready To Get Started Recording Your Podcast?
If you've followed the process above you should be able to produce a recording as good as most of the podcasts out there and most importantly it will be a great foundation for a sound engineer to improve on. You'll most likely need to practice a few times before you get comfortable on the microphone. May it be the start of a great adventure!
We’d love to hear what you think about our guide it as well as whether or not this type of content is something you’d like to see more of from us in the future.
Join the conversation in the comments below and we can’t wait to hear the recordings you make.