A practical guide to creating learning podcasts: part 2 – preparing for and recording your podcast

Practical guidesIn part 1 of this guide, we looked at what podcasts are and how they can be used. In part 2 we move on to look at how you prepare for and then record your podcast.

Pre-production

A podcast needs a plan. Even if you are intending just to thrust a microphone in front of an unsuspecting interviewee, you need to know what questions you are going to ask and who would be best equipped to answer them. As I mentioned in the previous posting, radio is an excellent model here. The presenter of the programme would have researched the topic, got to know a little about their guests and prepared their questions. They would be mindful of how long each segment of the programme was intended to last.
Scripting:
As a general rule, a script is only needed for a monologue and monologues should only be used in moderation. Listeners tune out when the same voice goes on for too long, however interesting the speaker. On radio, they would only rarely hold on a single voice for more than a few minutes. But if a monologue really is what is required, think first about whether a script is absolutely essential.

Bored listener
Listeners will tune out if the same voice goes on for too long

Professional voiceover artists are very good at reading a script so it doesn’t sound like they’re reading a script. By and large, the rest of us aren’t. If you’re going to be doing the voice as well as preparing the script and you feel confident enough to work directly from your outline, then go for it. An alternative is to do a trial recording with you improvising from the outline, then convert this to a full script, ironing out the less successful elements. That way, you’ll end up with a tight script that sounds natural.
Voiceover artist
A professional voiceover artist can make reading from a script sound natural

When scripting, it’s hard to avoid slipping into report writing mode. Keep reminding yourself that the words you are writing will be read aloud, not from the screen. Try speaking the words yourself and keep revising until you can put them across effortlessly.
Whatever you do, avoid what Cathy Moore calls corporate drone. Write as you would speak. That means short sentences, simple language, active voice (“The cat ate the mouse” not “The mouse was eaten by the cat” ) and contractions (“I can’t remember …” not “I cannot remember …”). You can also help yourself by making absolutely clear (perhaps in bold type) which words need special emphasis.

Production

Professional recording:
When it comes to recording your podcast, nothing beats a recording studio. Here you will be able to record in perfect conditions, in a specially-prepared room without excessive reverberations or extraneous noise, with an engineer who handles all the technical stuff allowing you to concentrate on communicating, and with the right microphones and editing equipment to ensure a perfect recording. So, if you can, choose this option first. Studios are nowhere near as expensive as you might think and there are lots of them around. If you prepare well, so you can get on with the recording without delay, you probably only need to book for one or two hours.

Recording studio
You can't beat a professional recording studio for quality

At the end of the session, have the engineer provide you with all the digital files in their highest quality format , i.e. as they were recorded, ideally with all the obvious mistakes and pauses edited out. If you do ask the engineer to convert the files into their final, compressed format, then make sure you are also provided with copies of the originals, so you can easily make changes in the future.
Doing-it-yourself:
Of course it will not always be possible to use a professional recording studio, either because of budget or because you haven’t got time to get it all organised. If you’re going to do the recording yourself, then with a little care you can still obtain excellent results. Working with one microphone is always going to be easier. Of course if you’re recording a monologue, then that’s all you will need, but even with interviews you can still manage:

  • You can direct the mic at the interviewee to record all the answers to the questions, then record your questions again later. This will mean that you have to edit the questions in, which will require some cutting and pasting.
  • You can use a hand-held mic and direct it at whoever’s speaking at the time. This will work fine as long as you don’t talk across each other.
A radio interview
You can use a single hand-held mic to record interviews
Although almost any microphone will deliver reasonable results when recording speech, it pays to use a decent one. Assuming you’re not wanting to hand hold the mic and you’re recording directly to a computer, then you should look at a USB condenser mic. There are now lots available and you shouldn’t have to pay over $100. It pays to add a pop shield, an inexpensive accessory that stops the signal level exploding whenever the letter ‘p’ is spoken (and yes, this does make a real difference). If you want to get recording studio quality, you might also purchase portable soundproofing materials for deadening the sound. See Soundproofing and acoustics for podcasters.

USB condenser mic
USB condenser mic

Soundproofing and pop shield
Portable soundproofing and pop shield

However good the microphone, you need to ensure a good quality signal. That means positioning the mic 4 or 5 inches away from whoever is speaking and setting the input level on your computer or recording device as high as you can without suffering ‘clipping’ (digital overload) when someone speaks loudly.
Mixer
If you record with multiple mics, you'll need a mixer

Multiple mics:
If you are running a panel discussion or want to conduct an interview without worrying about who’s got the mic and when, then you’ll need more than one mic. That makes things a little more complicated, because you’ll then need some sort of ‘mixer’ to sit between the mics and the computer or recording device. The mixer allows you to plug in multiple mics, balance the volumes, position the various inputs in the stereo mix and provide a single, combined signal for recording. If all this is too much for you, you probably are better off using a professional facility.
Coming next: Part 3 – editing and distributing your podcast
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