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How to Record a Podcast: Planning, Gear & Software Made Simple

Let's cover the 3 big steps, in depth. How you record a podcast, from planning, to gear, to software.

This is it: time to record a podcast. Planning is great, publishing is a given, but recording, that's where the magic happens.

In this article I'm going to cover every step. Here's a quick summary on how to record a podcast:

  1. Planning: what prep do you need to do so that the recording goes smoothly?
  2. Equipment: what gear do you need to be able to record a great quality show?
  3. Software: what tools do you need to be able to capture your audio?

By the end of this article, you'll know everything you need to record a podcast. All that's left is to hit that big red button, and get your voice out into the world!

Planning to Record a Podcast

It's tempting to miss this bit out… You know the subject, after all, and you're raring to go! Why not just wing it?

Well, as much as I'm a fan of the seat-of-the-pants approach, an episode plan can make a huge difference to the quality of your show. Don't worry, this doesn't need to take up your whole day. A small plan can make a big difference.

Pencil & sharpener, making plans for your podcast

Plan the Topic

First thing, what are you going to talk about? This is the gold. If you choose the wrong episode topic, then your $500 Heil mic and your pro level Zoom H6 recorder don't matter a whit. Listeners wont care about the show, perfect audio quality or not.

So, do your research. Figure out your ideal listener, and particularly what they care about. Then, for each episode, think:

  • What questions are your listeners asking?
  • What problems are they experiencing?
  • What are they struggling with, right now?

Every episode, you should tackle one of them.

How to Be an Ace Interviewer

Learn how the Pros draw out the best interview, every time.

Check out The Podcast Host Academy

How do you figure that out? Good old fashioned keyword research, tailored for podcasting. Check out that article for a full rundown of tools that can help you find a bunch of questions that you can answer.

Script the Episode

Scripting is an oft-debated topic. Should you go super-detailed, or might you go quite light and off-the-cuff? I answered that in a full article on how to script a podcast with a few example. But, let's cover it in brief.

On the one hand, a detailed script can make for a really tight, value-packed episode. It cuts the rambling and ensures you cover every single thing you need to.

The only trouble is, a detailed script can cut the spontaneity and drain your personality from an episode. It does take quite a bit of skill to read a detailed script and still sound natural, conversational. But, it's possible.

Plus, of course, it takes quite a lot of time to put together something so detailed.

Planning and Scripting before you record a podcast
Check out Podcraft Season 10, Episode 6 for our thoughts on planning & scripting.

On the other hand, a light script – just a collection of bullet points really – can provide enough guidance, but not tie you down. You can be more engaging, more free-flowing, more personable, and it takes much less time to prepare.

But, again, the downsides… with a light-touch script, you can much more easily lose your way, forget things and repeat yourself. The waffle factor increases dramatically and your episodes will tend to be longer. That's not necessarily a good thing…

It often comes down to personality and practice. Start with a detailed script, until you get more comfortable on the mic. Then, reduce the detail, bit by bit, until you find that balance between time spent, benefits gained and recording style.

What Equipment Do I Need to Record a Podcast?

Microphone

First, let's capture that voice. That's what the humble microphone is designed to do. You can find a collection of the best microphones here, so have a browse through and pick something that fits your space and budget.

If you want to keep things simple, go for a USB microphone. You'll plug that right into your computer, and record there. No other equipment needed, just software. I'll cover the recording software below.

Record a podcast with the Rode Podcaster
The Rode Podcaster: a top quality USB mic for recording a podcast.

A USB mic is ideal for anyone that'll be recording a solo show, or if you'll be recording with others on the internet (more on software for this below, too). And, let's be honest, that's 90% of the podcasts out there!

Digital Recorders

If you think you'll be recording a podcast with other people in-person, though, that's when a digital recorder comes in handy. The reason being, it's hard to record with more than one USB mic into a single computer.

In this case, the idea setup is one digital recorder and two (or more!) XLR microphones. For example, I use a Zoom H5 and two SamsonQ2Us for this.

Recording into a Smartphone

For solo recording or a two-person interview, an option I really like is the Rode Smartlav+. This is a lavalier mic (tie mic or lapel mic – those wee ones you see clipped to a shirt!) and it plugs right into your smartphone.

If you add a Rode SC6 adapter to this setup, then you can plug in two Smartlavs, and record an interview with someone right next to you! See the whole Smartlav interview setup here if you think this'll suit you.

Further Reading: Definitive Guide to Podcast Recording Equipment

What Software Do I Need to Record a Podcast?

The final ingredient, presuming you're not using a digital recorder, is software. In this case, we're talking about recording software, not editing. You can read our full guide to podcast software for the entire range, but we'll stick to podcast recording software here.

Recording Solo into your Computer

Let's take the simplest option first: recording a podcast on your own.

If you're flying solo, then the easiest choice is to record right into an editing package, like Audacity, or Audition. Audacity is the first choice for many, for one very good reason: it's free!

There are a few good reasons to pay for Audition, or one of the other paid editing packages, and you can find out more about that here: Audacity vs Audition.

But, if you're just starting, there's no risk in trying out Audacity first. It's really simple for recording, but if you want to learn Audacity inside out, check out our in-depth audacity course here.

Recording your podcast with Adobe Audition CC
Adobe Audition CC: a pro tool for recording your podcast, but overkill for most!

One final choice here, if you're looking to tie recording into the wider process, is Alitu: the Podcast maker. Alitu is designed to take care of most of the tech in creating your podcast. You can record solo right into the web app, then it'll polish up your audio, add your music, piece together all the clips (you can upload your other recordings too, such as an interview), and publish your final file.

It makes everything super-easy, for sure. It's a subscription product, so it comes at a cost, but if you're willing to trade a monthly payment for saving a bunch of time and stress, it might be worth a go.

Recording an Online Call

If you run an interview show then there's a good chance you'll need to record your podcast online at some point, if not every week! Similar if you have a co-host and they're not local to you. There are a few options here for you.

Recording a Podcast on Skype

First, you can go the traditional route: recording a Skype call. Skype is so well used that it's a good option for most folks. It's unlikely you'll find an interviewee that doesn't have a Skype account!

Skype offer a tool to do it themselves, these days, which makes things nice and easy. But, it's a little limited. So, you might want to upgrade to eCamm or Talkhelper. Check out our article on recording a Skype call for all the options, and full links.

Zoom.us

A tool that I like for sheer simplicity is Zoom.us. Zoom is, at a basic level, a video conferencing tool. You set up a room, give out a web link, and anyone can sign into the call via that link. It couldn't get any simpler, since your interviewee doesn't have to have a Skype account, or any software at all.

As a bonus, Zoom automatically records the call, and sends you an audio and a video file at the end. You can even set it up to record two speakers on separate channels, so you can process your interviewee separate during editing. Good for folks that love the control!

Zoom is free to use if you're only recording 1 other person, and it's relatively low-cost for bigger groups. Pop through to this link to see our guide to using Zoom for podcasting.

Double Enders

The final option is one that trades a little effort, and a drop of money, for much higher quality.

The term ‘double ender' refers to recording both ends of the conversation separately, directly on the speaker's computer. So, your mic is recorded on your computer, and your interviewee's mic is recorded on their computer. This bypasses the usual internet-phone issues of call-dropping and audio glitches.

There are a few companies offering this as a service now, making it pretty easy to run. You'll simply set up a new call and send your interviewee a link, similar to Zoom.us. But, this time, the software will record each side independently, and stitch it all together at the end. That just leaves you to download the final result and use it in your episode. Easy!

You can see a full list of double-ender tools in our guide to recording a podcast online. Just scroll down to the double-ender section.

Smartphone Recording Software

If you've decided that the Smartlav microphone above might suit you, then a final option is to record a double-ender call on your Smartphone. Ringr provide a great mobile app for this, so you can record into your Phone, via a Smartlav+ mic.

If you're doing a lot of interviews and you've decided that a double-ender tool, like Ringr, is worth the money, then a Smartlav+ is a good addition to your recording arsenal. It gives you a lot of flexibility, since you can then record a good quality online interview just about anywhere.

Remember to check out our best podcast making apps article if you want to go beyond recording, and create the podcast entirely on your phone.

Do you Know How to Record a Podcast?

I hope that's answered any questions you had about how to record a podcast. I know it can look a little intimidating at first, but really it's down to just three parts: the planning, the equipment and the software. Start simple, and work up from there!

As mentioned, the simplest way to start is to grab yourself a USB Microphone and just starting recording, solo, into Audacity.

Then, if you need to record a call, start with Zoom.us as the easiest (and free!) option.

From there, you can upgrade your online interviews via some of the double ender tools above. Or, you can start to record some in-person content with a set of lavalier mics.

Next Steps?

For more detail on each step, check out our detailed post on each:

If you still need any help with planning your show, with choosing your equipment, or with setting up your software, remember we run bi-weekly live support sessions in the Podcast Host Academy, where we can answer all of your questions. We also have a set of in-depth courses on all three topics, to give you confidence to start.

Whatever path you choose, remember that this is where the magic happens! It just takes the nerve to hit record, and the motivation to keep doing that every week. With that, you'll find your audience!

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Written by:

Colin Gray

Colin has been teaching people how to podcast since 2007. He's worked with Universities, businesses and hobbyists alike. He started The Podcast Host to share his experience and to help as many people as possible get into Podcasting. He runs Podcraft, to spread the art of podcasting, and does the Mountain Bikes Apart podcast whenever he can. Who doesn't like to talk bikes, after all!

May 31st 2019