Topic 2 Starting to record

Now that you are well prepared, you can start recording. But what exactly should you pay attention to when you start recording?

Provide a suitable recording space
A suitable room can greatly benefit the quality of your recording. If you are not recording in a dedicated studio, it is best to use a small, quiet room that is as soundproof as possible and that has little reverberation or echo (so-called ‘dry acoustics’). If the acoustics are not ideal and you have a limited budget, you can improve things with some small interventions. For example, many people recommend that placing a duvet behind the speaker(s). You can also help by placing materials and furniture with soft surfaces in the room, such as curtains or sofas. With a budget you can also consider investing in special acoustic panels. As your conversation is likely to address some challenging issues, it is also good to think about the environment that will make people feel comfortable to discuss these issues. Having a well set-up microphone so that your guest can relax into the conversation without having to be overly conscious of the microphone could be helpful.

Prevent and avoid disruptive ambient noise
You want to prevent unwanted environmental noise from ruining your recording. This can include disturbing noise from outside or from electrical appliances. Sometimes it’s also noise sources you don’t think of first, such as computer fans, or “leaking” headphones. One way of checking whether you are troubled by disturbing environmental sounds is to make a short test recording of the silence (‘room tone’). This short recording can also be useful when editing your podcast. You can use the recorded natural room tone to replace parts of the recording that are cut out. This keeps the recording sounding natural.

Choose the appropriate microphone(s)
Dynamic and condenser microphones are most commonly used in podcasting. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. If you are dealing with a room with some ambient noise or reverberation then it is best to use a dynamic microphone. This is because they are less sensitive than condenser microphones. If you are recording in a specially equipped sound studio then a condenser microphone becomes interesting. These sensitive microphones record your voice with a great deal of depth and detail, but they are also more sensitive to ambient noise. Condenser microphones are also often more expensive and require a power supply. When you decide which microphone(s) you want to use think carefully about the connection. Microphones with a USB port are easy to connect and use, but are less convenient if you want to record with multiple microphones. In that case you can better use microphones with an XLR connection. To use these with your computer, you need an audio interface or a mixer (with USB connectivity). This requires additional equipment.

Check if your audio signal is coming in
Before you start recording you’ll want to know that the sound signal from the microphone is coming in properly. No signal? Check whether the microphone (or audio interface or mixer into which it is plugged) is selected as an input device in the application with which you record. In DAW applications, check both the general settings and the settings for the track(s) you want to record on. Also check that you have plugged everything in properly and that your cabling is in order.

Determine how loud the signal is coming in
When your signal comes in, determine how loud it comes in. When you record too loud you get a distorted sound. If you use headphones to record, you can usually hear this quickly. Most recording programs also have level meters that show how loud your signal is coming in. This is often done with the colours green, yellow and red. If your meter reads red, then the signal is coming in too fast. The quick and easy solution is to turn down the recording level (also called ‘gain’) of your microphone (make sure you stay within the green range). At the same time, be careful not to record too softly. Although you can increase the volume during editing, this can bring noise with it. You can do something about this during editing, but it’s best to avoid it.

Practice your microphone technique
For a good recording a good microphone technique is very important. Make sure that you speak into the microphone and that the angle of the microphone is suitable. It is also important that the microphone is at the right distance from your mouth. If you hold the microphone too far away, the sound will not only become hollow and softer, but environmental and spatial sounds will also become more audible. If you keep the microphone too close, you may experience distorted sound or breathing noises or plosives (plop sounds). The latter can be reduced by using a pop screen. Practice with your microphone to find the right distance and angle. Use headphones if possible. Then you can immediately get used to how your voice sounds when you record.

Get familiar with your DAW application
Most DAW applications allow you to master the basic recording functions fairly quickly. Nevertheless, it is recommended to get familiar with it and do some experimenting before you start recording. On the internet you can often find a lot of information and tips to help you get the most out of your application and equipment. It is useful to learn how to work with multiple audio tracks within your application. You can use this to record multiple speakers at once. It also increases the possibilities when you want to edit podcasts.

Alternative Approaches

You can record your podcast in other ways too. For example, some podcast creators use conference applications with recording capabilities, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangout, WebEx, or GotoMeeting. Just make sure the guest has a decent microphone and it works properly.

It is not uncommon to see podcast producers record their podcasts on video. Often the recording is made using a webcam and an application that allows screen recordings to be made (such as the applications mentioned above). There are also podcast creators who use more professional equipment and do it on a larger scale, to the point that it looks very much like a television production. This does require additional resources and more production and editing time. Since you are not only recording sound, you will also have to take into account other aspects such as good lighting, camera placement, framing, the look of the location and the appearance and clothing choices of the presenter and guests.

Credit:Stijn Sieckelinck 2021

Usually podcasts (and vodcasts) are recorded first and distributed later. But there are also producers who choose to record their podcast live. This makes it more like a radio show. It offers interesting possibilities for involving the public and/or for reporting live on events. It can also be interesting when you want to react or respond quickly to certain events in a podcast. It does require some self-confidence and personal skills. You can’t edit out mistakes afterwards.  You also want to be aware that if you are dealing with a controversial or sensitive topic, you may get unpleasant audience reactions which can affect the very dynamic of an open dialogue that you are trying to create.

Check out this short clip from a podcast Resilience. In this case, the creators felt that a more professional production would be helpful. Partly to acknowledge the great commitment of youth professionals working to strengthen resilience in young people. High quality recording equipment was used for the recording and the podcast was captured on film. A professional location with the necessary stature was chosen.


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