Audio podcasts are like pre-recorded radio talk shows. In fact, many of them are radio talk shows that have been edited and re-released. The cost to produce a good podcast can range anywhere from free, with equipment you may already have, to high-end productions fueled by thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Whether you’re recording them live with an audience or pre-recording in the privacy of your home studio, here are five tips for a better audio podcast:
Keep the File Size Down
Good quality audio doesn’t have to come with a large audio file. The vast majority of audio podcasts are distributed in MP3 format. This is a lossy format, though when your podcast is primarily vocal and talk, no one should expect audiophile-level quality. Unless your podcast includes a significant amount of music, you can easily get away with a mono 64 kbps MP3 without any significantly noticeable loss of quality.
FM radio, for example, is broadcast at a slightly lower quality than you will find on an mp3. In fact, in the United States, FM is limited to 10 kHz due to FCC regulations surrounding possible interference. A standard mp3 can go well beyond that range.
A large file size can drive away potential listeners as they have to wait to hear your content. This may not be as important in today’s broadband environment, though users downloading through mobile devices over 3G or 4G will note and appreciate the quick downloads.
The Host Should Sound Better
In nearly every case, the host should sound better than anyone else on the podcast. This means better than the guests, callers, and in some cases even the cohost. While you should strive to make everyone sound as good as possible, the host is where you need to really key in settings and make sure everything is absolutely right. There is a subconscious association with sound quality and legitimacy listeners experience when tuning in to your podcast, especially for the first time. This doesn’t mean you should sabotage your guests audio quality. Simply put, things should be set up in a way that works best for your host first before working on everything else.
Before you send the audio file out to your subscribers, do some processing on it, even when it’s recorded live. Audio normalization can be achieved through expensive hardware on a live basis, though most independent audio podcasters don’t have the funding to set up a cabinet full of audio equipment. Programs such as Audacity, Adobe Audition, and Garage Band have great tools that can turn bland audio in to something more rich and powerful. Normalization is probably the most important post-process to apply. This takes all the audio from the entire track and adjusts sound levels to reduce the occurrence of sudden loudness and quietness that can occur when the speaker moves towards or away from their microphone. Some people, if not most, have a tendency to make the first word they say in every sentence slightly louder, and this process can help even this out as well.
Choose a Good VOIP Client
Skype, Mumble, ooVoo, Team Speak, Ventrilo, etc. are all decent enough solutions to bringing other hosts and/or guests on the show. If you plan to take calls from the open Internet, set up a phone number where people can call in or open your VOIP client up to take incoming contact requests. For many podcasters on a budget, a solution such as setting up a Skype-In number for people to call can save you on long distance charges and give you fairly good audio quality to boot. Google Voice also allows you to set up a phone number that forwards to your regular phone so you don’t have to give out your actual phone number. Once the broadcast is finished, simply unlink the two numbers and Google Voice will continue to take voicemail messages on your behalf.
If you don’t broadcast live, you may want to set up a voicemail box through Google Voice or Skype so people can leave messages for you. These messages can be transferred to an audio file and processed after the fact, allowing you to improve on terrible phone connections and clip out unnecessary content such as profanity or rambling.
Have a Plan
This is one general tip for anyone wanting to do a show of any kind online or otherwise. Make a general plan beforehand so you know where to move to once one topic or activity gets sour. If you have a call-in show, you can still plan a topic or two to hit once you have a call that throws things off. If your podcast covers news topics, make sure that you and everyone on your panel has a copy of all the stories you intend to cover during the program. It’s ok to go off topic once in a while, in fact, audiences generally appreciate a break from the typical format. It’s important make sure you can point things in the right direction and have everyone on the same page when things need to move along.