A Studio Engineer’s Guide to Podcasting
Podcasts are quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of audio today. Major brands like Apple and Spotify are making the space easier than ever to get into and celebrity actors, musicians, and public figures are making their own shows, bringing even more attention to the platform.
So in a world where everybody is trying to cash in on the next big thing, how does it feel to be uniquely positioned at the top of the food chain already? Let me explain…
As an audio engineer, producer, or mixer, you already know what makes something sound good. Even the musicians in our space that are just starting to record as a hobby have a leg up on all of the others trying to get into podcasting right now. Why? Because we understand basic principles of sound and the equipment that makes it sound that way.
In the podcasting space, the setups aren’t as glamorous, but the concepts are the same. A well-treated room is going to sound better than a reverberant one with echoes. A decent microphone is going to sound better than the one built into a computer, phone, or tablet. And knowing what to do with the audio once recorded is going to be what separates the good podcasts from the great ones.
Here’s what every studio engineer needs to know about his or her role and responsibilities in the new age of podcasting.
You’re Already a Podcasting Expert
Can you get a decent spoken word recording through a microphone without clipping? Great – you’re already an expert in the field of podcasting.
It absolutely blows my mind how many podcasts I’ve wanted to like, but couldn’t make it more than five minutes into because of the sound quality.
Maybe I’m a bit sensitive to bad sound as somebody that’s been working in pro audio so long, but I think more average listeners catch onto the issue of quality than some of these podcast hosts think. As audio engineers, you’re more capable and better equipped to handle the question of quality.
With even a basic understanding of microphones and digital audio, engineers and producers are becoming the confidants of the podcast space. People want to know how to get into podcasting, which means asking others for input on what equipment they need, how to set it up, and how to use it.
Think of these projects like you would your own home studio. They might not have guitars or drums to record, but they need a viable option for recording a voice or two into their computer and software to record it with.
Wouldn’t you consider yourself a better advisor on the matter than most others?
Editing Podcast Episodes
I like to think of the quality of podcasts in stages, with the biggest hurdle being the one we just discussed: getting podcasters to use the right equipment.
Once they’ve achieved the sound quality they need, there’s still the matter of editing. Unless a podcaster has a great flow and rhythm to their speech, there are likely pauses and breaks in their episodes that would really benefit from a bit of cleanup.
Podcast editing is actually not too different from audio post-production on spoken word – things like narrations and audiobooks. A decent audio editor can take out sibilance, reduce plosives, and eliminate mouth noises and other distractions in audio recordings for a seamless take.
The end result is something clear and concise – exactly what most listeners are looking for.
Podcasters who want to achieve a well-edited episode will experience a decent learning curve to understand how to make these edits and fades while keeping everything sounding smooth. What we’re seeing more and more often is this work getting outsourced to audio engineers that can make these edits for them.
And who better to do that work than the person that helped them pick out the right equipment in the first place?
Mixing Podcast Sessions
While many engineers will group the editing and mixing work together for podcast sessions, I do want to address that they’re two separate services that compliment each other very well. If you’re coming from a music production background where you’ve had to edit vocals or drums, you know exactly what I mean.
From my perspective, I can listen to an edited podcast all day long without any real mixing happening and be fine with it. If the levels are consistent and the audio has been cleaned up, an edited session is already going to be light-years ahead of any quickly recorded one with inconsistent timing.
But to really drive a podcast home, mixing is 100% the differentiator.
By spending time mixing a podcast, you can make use of additional tools in your DAW for a polished listening experience. Beyond fades, compression and EQ can help shape the voice to sound its best. Small amounts of reverb can be added to form a room around the speaker. Essentially, you can use the same vocal processing tools to mix a podcast as you might use on a pop vocal track.
All of this adds value and quality to the end result – and there’s nobody better to do it than you.
Is Podcasting In Your Plan?
Right now, we’re seeing major studios across the world retooling to become better equipped for the wave of business that podcasts are bringing. We’re seeing B & C Rooms in multi-unit facilities being turned into podcasting suites. We’re also seeing more people than ever wanting to get in on the action.
As an audio professional, you should seriously consider what all of these new potential clients mean for your business. Podcasters are creative people, so work on their show might turn into work on their music and so on – there’s always an opportunity to record something.
Regardless of your role in their work, you should be prepared to use studio best practices and communicate them to those DIYers who’d rather record themselves. Check out our eBook, Virtual Signal Chain Secrets, to understand the pitfalls of digital clipping, proper gain staging & compression basics that are sure to benefit any podcast’s quality!