I put the call out for questions on my Instagram last week and got this great question. What exactly does it take to start making podcasts? Do I need to spend much money? (Also- I have an Instagram. You should follow it!)
Truth is, not much. That’s the brilliance of the medium, really, you can get in for not a lot of outlay. However, like anything, whilst you CAN, also get some pretty ordinary results. And as we’ve already discussed, there are plenty of reasons that's a bad thing. So what I’ve done, is set up what I'd consider the minimum requirements, and then the recommended specs, plus a budget. I’m Australian, so we work in weird Kangaroo dollars around here.
Now what I have not done, is considered your individual needs. If you’re a group of eight skydivers and your podcast idea is to record yourselves playing Dungeons and Dragons during freefall (firstly, I would totally listen to that) then your recording solution will be vastly different from a solo podcaster who’s just producing quick updates from their bedroom.
And the stuff I recommend here is an actual recommendation. I’m not sponsored by anyone. I mean, if manufacturers are reading this, then yes, my opinion is very much for sale. Have your people call my people. But until one calls and showers me with money and/or audio gear, this is honest!
Things that cost you no (or very little) money
If your budget consists mostly of a Bunnings gift card (or Home Depot, or Homebase...) then that's still OK. Indeed, EVERY level of budget should at least include treating your room.
By ‘treating’, I mean trying to calm down some of the reverb/echo in your room. This is another topic in itself (watch this space!) but the basic rule is soft furnishings good, hard surfaces bad. If you have to record in your bathroom, throw up some blankets and steal the pillows off the couch. Or even create a little vocal booth for yourself. Doesn’t take much.
Three pineapples (I’m Australian, yes we have colourful money and yes our $50 notes are yellow) won’t get you much in the way of fancy stuff. But if you’re smart you can at least get yourself going until you decide this whole podcasting thing is for you.
Microphone: Whatever Gumtree can supply you.
For the sake of everything that is holy, please do not use the onboard microphone contained in your phone or computer. They are for Skyping your Nan. And don’t even think about one of those gaming headsets you use to speak to 14 year olds on Xbox live.
Instead, pick yourself up a USB microphone off of Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace ($50-150). This connects straight to your computer through the USB port and is nigh-on foolproof. Some good deals to be had if you’re eagle-eyed and thrifty. Right now, your criteria are “it works” and hopefully “it comes with a stand or stand attachment”. Do not hold your microphone; microphones pick up handling noise which sounds like rattling in your recording). Brands to look for include Audio Technica, Rode, Blue (not the Snowball if you can help it), Behringer and Samson.
Recorder: The computer you already own.
For recording and editing, download Audacity ($0). It’s free, and for the price, it’s unbelievable. You’ve got all the basics for audio recording right there, plus some fun effects to play around with. As you grow, you’ll want to upgrade, but this will get you started.
USB Microphone: $50-150 on Gumtree
Audacity DAW Software: Free
Couch cushions: Free/strange looks from housemates.
If you’ve come this far and you want to get serious, either as a hobby, a side gig, or as a business, then this is where I would start. I’m gonna assume you’ve now found yourself a co-host, so this setup will be capable of recording two of you.
First thing to do is to stick your previous mic on Gumtree. Audio gear holds its value pretty well, so you'll be pleased to find that most of your initial investment can go back onto more gear!
You need a new microphone. That USB one doesn’t sound great, and it ain’t gonna plug into that fancy new interface we’re gonna talk about in a sec. "Microphones" is a whole other topic, but for now I would suggest dynamic microphones. They’re far more forgiving of dodgy room treatment than their more sensitive condenser cousins. The Rode Podmic is a good place to start as it’s cheap and well built and sounds OK enough. It's not sensitive, though, so get right up on top of it when you speak. Get the WS2 pop filters because despite what Rode says the internal pop filter sucks. Remember to budget for stands and cables.
For something a bit better, Rode's Procaster is a bit nicer sounding for about a hundred bucks more. I do recommend a lot of Rode stuff, because it's a lot cheaper than the alternatives like Shure's SM7B and Sennheiser's MD421. They're better sounding, but way above our budget for the moment.
Recorder: Your computer, but made fancier with an external interface.
Okay, so now we’re playing in the world of legit audio here, you’re gonna need an interface. What’s that? Well, it takes the analog signal from your microphone and turns it up a bit (hence the knob on the front) and then turns it into bits and bytes for the computer to understand through the trusty ol’ USB port.
“So Crispy, ya big lug,” I hear you say. “You’re saying I now need TWO bits of gear for something my USB microphone could do itself?”
Yes. Because the preamps and converters in your USB microphone will sound pretty lousy. USB mics aren't used in professional audio (yet, who knows if they ever will be) because the quality is pretty bad. So, I would recommend something like a PreSonus AudioBox. Sounds really clean and nice and is not too expensive- comes with software, too, if you don't want to spend extra money on recording software (see below). Note the two inputs so you and your mate can both get your levels dialled in. I use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for the same thing, and I love it.
Now, as for software, we’re on an ENORMOUS price hike (from free) to all of $60 US for a program called Reaper. I use Pro Tools ($900!) only because it’s what I was taught to use at uni. But from all accounts Reaper is amazing and customiseable and awesome and SIXTY BUCKS. Seriously, some great sounding albums have been recorded with this software, so if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. If I was to start again tomorrow, I'd buy Reaper instead.
ONE caveat, however. If you already subscribe to Adobe’s creative suite and have Adobe Audition, by all means use that. It’s what I learnt on, and it’s (well, it was) the software of choice for many a commercial radio station because it’s SUPER quick. Don't ask me how many unlicensed versions I saw... (buy your software, kids!).
This will get you a very decent level of sound quality for a two-person studio show. Gear like this doesn't really go out of date, so if you look after it, it'll last you a long time, too.
Rode Podmic Microphones x2: $300ish ($150ish each)
Stands, Cables, Windshields: $75ish
PreSonus Audio Box Interface: $230ish
Reaper Audio Recording Software: $60USD/$83ish AUD (at the time of writing.
Look, I probably could go on, but I won’t, for now. If we’re talking about just getting started in podcasting, then this is where I would start. In later posts, I’ll talk about better microphones and location recording and all that, but for now the best thing is to just record, learn, and get out there. Good luck!
And if you need any more help, then boy have you come to the right place! Check out my podcasting page for editing help and help getting started.
Chris Plumridge is a freelance audio producer, voiceover artist and writer from Leongatha in South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia.