PodcastStarter.com: The easy guide to podcasting.
I wanted to start a podcast in 2013, and it was confusing. I decided to make a simple site, to explain what I learned. I recommended certain equipment, and hosting, and I was very happy to help people out. I received a lot of emails from people with questions, and I am not creating this expanded version of the website, in order to answer the questions that I've found out everyone has.
The original version of this site was very basic, and it just recommended 1 specific microphone, 1 specific podcast host, and some specific software. I am going to be a little more comprehensive this time, but I will still keep it uncomplicated.
Starting a podcast can seem confusing but really, it's very simple. All you need to do are 3 things:
1. Get a microphone.
2. Get a podcast hosting account.
3. Record your podcast.
Maybe you already have a good microphone. If so, great, go to step 2!
Otherwise, I am going to recommend you buy the Blue Microphones Snowball , for a few reasons:
A: Great value! Getting this mic for $49 is a fantastic deal, and if you click the link, you'll see that it has (as of this writing) over 700 reviews on Amazon with an incredible 4.5 star rating. The previous microphone that I used to recommend here for podcasting cost $99, and I thought that it was really cheap for something that gave you good sound, so this is an even greater deal.
B: This mic is filed-tested by podcasters. I didn't try this mic for a while, but I noticed that a lot of people who visited this page would end up buying it, and in fact it's the #1 selling mic for visitors to this site ever since my previous recommendation (the audio-technica AT2020USB) stopped being an up-to-date version. After so many people bought this mic, and also emailed me about it, I asked one "Hey where did you hear about it anyway?" and they told me that they followed a link from my site, wound up on Amazon, looked around and saw that it was basically the #1 choice of most beginner/intermediate podcasters. I bought one of them and tried it, and YES, it's very good, I was very excited about it.
C: It's a USB mic. Getting non-USB mics hooked up to your computer is a ton of work, and this saves you that trouble. I actually own a nice $230 mic that has an XLR connection instead of USB, but it's too much of a pain to hook to my computer, and requires a pricey interface.
D: Check out those Amazon reviews! As I mentioned, this has an incredible amount of reviews, which are mostly 5-star, so you can assume that if it meets almost everyone else's standards, it'll meet yours. I used the Amazon reviews search tool too, and 35 of the 700 current reviews specifically mention how good the mic is for podcasting - and those are just the people who actually bothered to mention podcasting, a lot of the other reviewers almost certainly use this for podcasts, but didn't mention it in their reviews.
E: Great value, part 1. There's a bundle available for this for $99 (currently) which includes headphones, and a pop-filter. I track what people buy who come to this page, and more readers bought this bundle than just the mic alone. This makes a lot of sense, because headphones are very important for podcasting, and a pop filter is a very very nice thing to have in your setup (more on this later!), so the bundle is an easy way to grab all three at once, cheaply.
You will not go wrong with this mic. Can you buy a $300 mic if you want? Absolutely, but you won't get three times the quality. If you really want to spend extra money, get a mic stand, a pop shield, and a shock mount. (Actually, you'll probably want a mic stand no matter what - see the link in the next paragraph for a bit more info on these 3 items.)
The Snowball mic I just reviewed is great for a podast where you're sitting at a desk or table, but sometimes you might have a setup where you want to move around a bit, or generally hold a mic, instead of sitting in one place and talking into it.
So if you want a handheld, I think the obvious choice is the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB, for a few reasons:
A: Fantastic value and performance. This mic has a couple hundred less reviews than the Snowball, but still almost 500 people went out of their way to give it an average 4.5 star review, which is a huge amount. At a current price of $56, just the features it provides alone are amazing, but the reports on the sound quality are great too. (I haven't used this one yet but the reviews of it are pretty convincing on the audio, and Audio-Technica are a quality audio company who make some great gear.)
B: It's both a USB *and* XLR mic. When I first noticed that a lot of people were getting this mic, I saw that it said USB and XLR, and had to double-check, because that's not very common in almost any mic, much less one this cheap. But it's true, this has both ways of connecting, which is surprising at any price. More than a few reviews I've read have expressed shock at the features this microphone provides for the price, and I have to agree.
C: Podcasters love it. An even higher percentage of reviews for this mic (over 10%) mention podcasting. The current "most helpful" review even states that it's becoming the standard mic for podcasting. That's a lofty claim, but I can see from the stats of people visiting this site that a lot of people do indeed use it, it's second in popularity for readers of PodcastStarter.
D: It actually comes with a desk stand! Honestly, the stuff that Audio-Technica packed into this for such a low price is pretty astounding.
Other equipment you may want/need:
When I started this website, I thought people would be happy to just buy a mic, a stand, and then do things on the cheap for a while. It turns out, I was wrong, and people really want to have a full setup, which is great. I'm going to go over the most popular/necessary extra stuff - the good news is that it's all fairly inexpensive.
Mic Stand. Unless you buy the mic that comes with a stand, you will probably need this. I am going to link the most popular ones, which are the desk style (useful, compact) and the more versatile, professional suspension boom scissor style.
The boom one looks much cooler, and is the most popular style, but remember that you need to mount it on your desk or table, so it may not be perfect. Also the one I linked says that it doesn't work with the Snowball mic, but that makes sense if you look at the Snowball - it isn't a traditionally sized mic, and I do not think you want to use it with a boom stand anyway.
Pop Filter. This is actually the #1 thing that people visiting this page buy! I guess because everyone gets different mics, but there is one obvious good choice for a pop filter. If you don't know, a pop filter goes in between your mouth and the mic, and makes it so the listener can 't hear any weird pops in your voice, or sibilance. An actual pop filter is not high technology, and in fact some people just make their own from a coat hanger and some nylons, but that is a very ugly, pointless hack, when you can just buy one for $7 or so! I do recall that these used to be harder to find at cheap prices, but now that they're almost giving them away, everyone should have one! Your listeners may thank you if you're a particularily word-popping type of person.
Mixer. Most podcasts have more than one person talking, and while you can change volumes later on while editing, it's extremely time-saving to get everyone's levels correct ahead of time, and the best way is to plug everyone's mics into a mixer. This is a very popular, simple, affordable mixer that is perfect if you are using 2 XLR microphones (and you can also plug in 1 or 2 cheaper non-XLR, non-USB mics into it at the same time if you want). If you need a mixer that will handle more than 2 XLR mics, this Behringer one will handle up to 6. It's a bit pricier, but it's the best deal out there, and Behringer are known for producing high quality equipment at very reasonable prices - your bang for the buck is much higher than with most manufacturers. As a bonus, this second mixer also includes a bunch of podcast software, so it may pay for itself!
Make everything easy - get an actual digital recorder. As you'll see in the next section, the main tricky part of podcasting is the software. It's not insanely hard, but it can be a pain. You can reduce a LOT of the hassle by getting a digital recorder and plugging your mics into it, sticking it on your desk/table/etc., and recording right into it. Most recorders have built-in editing tools that are a lot easier to deal with than some computer software, so for $200 or $300, you can eliminate a huge amount of time when getting your podcast setup together. I'm going to list my top choices here (I've used all of these, and they're also pretty accepted as far as being the best choices)
The Zoom H4N is the most popular digital recorder out there, and you can plug 2 XLR microphones into it. It sounds great and you can do most of your recording on this. I love all the Zoom products I've tried, and most other people do too - these are much better choices than other brands.
The Zoom H6 is the next step up from the H4N, and it has 4 XLR inputs instead of 2, and you can also buy a $70 add-on that lets you expand that to 6 inputs.
One nice thing about both of the Zoom Handy Recorders that I just mentioned is that they both include some very high quality microphones, and they're small and portable, so you can use them for a lot of different things. If you want to throw one of these in your bag and take it along somewhere to do impromptu interviews, you can, and they're also both very popular for recording audio for music, and a lot of people almost mount them on their DSLR cameras to get great audio when filming video.
If you don't care about HUGE portability, Zoom also produce some really great multi-track recorders that are a bit bigger, but also fairly portable (about the same size as a small laptop, and light). There are three in this range:
The R16 is the middle of this line, and I'm going to tell you something: If I had to start a podcast from scratch tomorrow and I wasn't doing it totally on the cheap, I would just buy this and a couple of mics, period. It has 8 XLR inputs and is very easy to work with, and it's light and portable if you want to go to a friend's house, or take it to your workplace or something. It can take AA batteries for extra portability, and it has so many cool features built in, including digital effects so you can add some compression or a noise gate to your podcast.
The R24 is the one of these that I actually own. The main benefit of this is that it allows you to multi-track to 24 tracks total instead of 16, but this feature is really meant for people recording music/bands, not for podcasts, which very seldomly do any multi-tracked overdubbing. There are some other small changes to this, like a bigger screen, but if you're ONLY going to use one of these for podcasting, you can save $100 by getting the R16.
The Zoome R8 is $100 cheaper than the R16, but it only has 2 XLR inputs. This might be fine if you're positive you'll only ever be using 2 mics, but in my opinion, it's safer to spend the extra $100 and get 8 inputs, just in case. Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad choice for some podcasters, but I just think it's worth paying 50% more for 4 times the XLR inputs - your mileage may vary though. This is also a fantastic recorder for someone who might want to record themselves playing music (as all of these are), but epsecially for solo performers and not someone who wants to record a whole band using a different mic for each instrument.
OH! I almost forgot - all of these Zoom recorders record to an SD card, which is very handy so that you aren't tied to a computer while recording, but they can also be used as USB interfaces and mixers, so if you want to plug them into your computer and record directly, that's fine too. So buying the R16 or R24 instead of a mixer is not the craziest idea, even if you only plan to use it as a mixer for the time being. Then, later on, maybe you'll want to record something away from a computer, or record a band, etc.
To start a podcast, you need somewhere to store your podcast, so people can listen to it! This is where a podcast hosting account comes in.
Technically, you can run your podcast from a web hosting account. Don't do that. A lot of people think "I'm already paying $10/month for my website, I'll use that." Don't do that, it's a hassle and a bad choice. You need special software and plugins, which are not fun to find or install. Worst of all, if your podcast gets popular, it can use a huge amount of bandwidth. Some web hosting companies will shut your account down over this, and some will make you upgrade to a more expensive plan. Some won't notice or care, but this is clearly not a risk you want to take.
There are several big podcast hosting companies that you can use, but my choice is Castmate, for a few reasons:
A: Cost: They have plans from $4.99 up to $80, and every plan has a 30 day free trial. I suggest you sign up for the 4.99 or $12.99 plan to begin with. The 4.99 plan is enough for most podcasts, and the 12.99 will definitely give you as much power as you need, unless you're doing daily podcasts.
B: Unlimited bandwidth: This is one of the most important things you want in a host. Some hosts provide this, and some don't. There is no reason to choose a host that doesn't provide it. Imagine your podcast taking off because it got featured by iTunes, or got some big link somewhere, and then having to pay a huge bill for overages that were completely out of your control, that would be gross.
C: Ease of use: Castmate has all the features other hosts, and more, but they make it a lot easier to use. It's a more modern, more Web2.0 style of site, with extra features. If you have a problem, they'll reply to you quickly, and give you great support (ask for Andrew, and tell him PodcastStarter sent you!)
I'll write up some more thoughts soon on hosting (including more in-depth stuff about why you shouldn't use a normal webhosting account or S3, and a few other no-nos.)
2015 update here: Make sure to read the previous information about the Zoom recorders, which I am seriously in love with personally!
Recording your podcast is probably the toughest thing to do, but let me tell you the easiest way:
To be as clear as possible, all you need to do is to hook your microphone up to your computer, record yourself talking, and then turn it into an .mp3 file. If you know how to do this already, skip this part.
If you sign up with Castmate, they have a built-in recorder on their site you can use. However, it is a Flash widget, and may not work on all computers, especially Macs. It also doesn't give you as many options for editing, so you'll probably have to get everything right as you record. It's an easy choice otherwise.
Other than that though, the most popular choice is to use Audacity, which is a very popular, free, open source audio recording program. You can download and install it in a few minutes, and begin recording very quickly.
Explaining how to use Audacity is tough for me as a writer, because everyone has a different skill level with computer programs. If you are at least a bit familiar with computer programs, it should not be hard, but even if not, they have great Help documents on the site, which even go into using the program for podcasting.
The important thing is just that you record your episode into the program, and then save that file as an .mp3, which you upload to your host. There are things you can worry about later, like bitrates and specific filesizes and audio settings, but that stuff is not something to worry about to begin. Record your mp3, upload it to your hosting account, and get some people listening to it!
Don't worry, there isn't really a step 4, I didn't play a trick on you. Step 4 is everything that comes after you get your mic, hosting account and recording program. I'm talking about what you actually put into your podcast creatively.
A lot of people focus too hard on getting the best possible equipment and getting all the technical details correct. Of course that stuff is valuable, but as long as you record something that sounds clear and not painful to listen to sonically, the important part is your content.
Nobody wants to listen to a beautifully recorded podcast that isn't interesting to them. If you follow my guide, you will be able to put most of your time and energy into creating an actual interesting podcast. Spending 50 hours on deciding what microphone and podcasting host to use isn't the worst thing in the world (I did it!), but I know that many people do this, and then never get around to actually making an episode.
So my advice to you is to follow my guide, make a few changes if you need to (or already have equipment/knowledge), and then go for it, get an episode out, tell all your friends, get them to tell all their friends, etc. The fun of podcasting isn't the technical details, as much as a lot of long-winded websites would like you think it is. The thrill is in getting your thoughts up and out there for the world to see!
Please let me know if you enjoyed this guide, or if you create a podcast based on it. I can guarantee that if you email me about it, you'll have at least 1 extra listener :)