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 of how to record a podcast:
- Planning: what prep do you need to do so that the recording goes smoothly?
- Equipment: what gear do you need to be able to record a great quality show?
- 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.
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 won't 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.
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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.
If you're into physical notebooks or journals too, then you might fancy getting yourself a copy of The Podcast Host Planner. This acts as a great tangible reminder that you take podcasting seriously, and helps you plan out everything – from big picture goals to individual edit timecodes.
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 examples. 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.
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.
You Need a 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.
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!
Do You Need a Digital Recorder?
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.
For another recorder option, the Zoom PodTrak P4 is a newer piece of kit on the market. It's a dedicated podcast recorder that lets you record multiple mics, remote calls (online and phone), as well as play live music, clips, and effects in your episodes. Check out our full review of the Zoom PodTrak P4.
How About a USB Audio Interface?
Something of a middle ground between a USB mic and a digital recorder. A USB audio interface connects to your computer as if it were a USB mic, but you then plug in and run XLR mics into it. This is a great option for computer-based podcasters who want to improve their audio quality, whilst increasing their range of flexibility and control. Here are the Best USB Audio Interfaces for Podcasters.
Do I Need Any Other Podcast Recording Gear?
If you opt for a USB mic then a cable will always be included in the box. If you're going XLR and running into a digital recorder or USB interface though, then you'll need an XLR cable for each mic you use. Sometimes XLR cables come with mics, but it's good practice to have a spare one kicking around anyway. You can pick up a decent one for less than $20. Check out our full guide to audio cables for more on that.
Elsewhere, you might want to mount your mic on a boom arm for more flexibility and a better all-round feeling of professionalism. You'll also definitely want to use headphones for recording your podcast. A simple pair of earbuds will do the trick, but investing in a great pair of podcast headphones probably costs a lot less than you think.
Would You Like to Record 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.
What About My Podcast Recording Studio or Environment?
Good question! You can employ the best gear and software in the world but if you're using them in a sub-par environment then your podcast is going to sound bad.
The good news is that it doesn't need to be difficult or expensive to create a pro-sounding podcast studio. Check out our full guide there for a load of different options on that front.
A final pointer on this front is that the way you use a mic also impacts its sound quality. We can help you sound your best in front of whatever mic you use with our microphone technique for podcasters guide.
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, though can get a little clunky beyond that. If you want to learn Audacity inside out, check out our in-depth audacity course here.
The thing about Audacity, Audition, and any other “Digital Audio Workstation” is that they can take a bit of time and effort to learn. A lot of aspiring podcasters aren't interested in training to become audio engineers and many don't have the slightest interest in the inner workings of audio production – which brings me to my final choice…
If you're looking to tie recording into the wider process, then you might opt for Alitu: the Podcast maker.
Alitu is designed to take care of the tech in creating your podcast, and recording is one part of that. With Alitu, you can easily record remote calls or solo segments for your show.
As a bonus, it'll polish, clean, and level up your audio automatically, add your music, piece together all the clips (you can upload your other recordings too, such as an interview that was recorded elsewhere), and publish your final file.
Alitu 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. Why not sign up for a week's free trial with Alitu and see what you think?
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.
I've already mentioned Alitu which lets you record online calls, as well as edit, produce, and publish your episodes. This makes Alitu the ideal all-in-one podcasting solution.
Alitu is far from the only online call recorder option though, here are a couple of others…
Zoom.us – Free, Lower Quality
The most common these days 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.
As a bonus, Zoom automatically records the call and sends you an audio and 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-Ender' Call Recorders – Paid, 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 good double-ender call recorders on the market these days, 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!
Our top choice at the moment is SquadCast. Our link here is an affiliate, which means we may earn a small commission if you were to sign up through it – though at no extra cost to yourself.
As I say, though, there are a few great options on the market today. So if you'd like to shop around a little more, then check out our guide to recording a podcast online.
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 provides a great mobile app for this, so you can record into your Phone, via a Smartlav+ mic. Riverside.fm also has a new iOS app that let's you go mobile with your podcast recording.
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!
From there, you can upgrade your online interviews by switching to a dedicated ‘double-ender' call recorder. Or, you can grab yourself a mini podcast studio like the Zoom PodTrak P4 which will let you record both remotely, and in-person.
Or, if you want to keep things as easy as humanly possible, go for Alitu. With Alitu you can record your podcast (be it solo eps or online calls), edit, produce, and publish it all in one simple to use interface. You don't need to know the slightest bit about audio production as Alitu automates all of the complicated stuff for you. Try it free for 7 days and see for yourself.
For more detail on each step, check out our dedicated post on each:
If you still need any help with planning your show, choosing your equipment, or setting up your software, remember we run weekly live Q&A 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 the 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!