Friendly advice from a podcast listener


OK -- I got this e-mail from Justin Taylor after I posted this blog entry, and he communicated this post to the crew at Desiring God. Now, before we get to the outcome there, I didn't think that I was known as a person who was poking a finger at the DG ministry. I see myself as sort of a gushing fan of them, and I think my rep is as sort of a fanboy for Dr. Piper and all things coming from his direction.

So when I got this e-mail from JT regarding the audio from the last conference, last session, and the guys at DG thought I was representing them as "thoughtless", I was a little taken aback.

I didn't intend to say that they could have recorded that conference using Radio Shack mics and a hand-held recorder and gotten a better result -- and if I did, I was too harsh. I used that example only to point out that even the best people and best podcasters sometimes put out a less-than-satisfactory result.

If I offended anyone, I apologize. My only intent here was to give those who are looking to break into podcasting a sort of "errors to avoid" chunk of advice, including the error that it requires a jillion dollars of equipment to make a passable audio product.

That said, read on.

I am an avid podcast listener.

I mean, I listen to about 2-dozen podcasts when they come out, and there are probably another dozen I sort of monitor for the occasional laugh or whatever. I have decent commute-time to work and back home every day, so I have time for that.

But let me say something as clearly as I can here to all podcasters and wannabes: please -- think about your listener for just 5 minutes and apply some basic audio standards to your podcast.

For example -- and I use this example because it's such a visible example which generally does much better -- the DG pastors' conference audio Q&A session had the moderator's mike as some kind of direct source for recording, and the the panelists all were being recorded not directly from their mikes but by some kind of mobile unit picking up the ambient sound in the room. ugh.

Look: this is not brain surgery. My podcast (such as it is -- I am a failure as a podcaster because there is not an extra 20 hours a week in my schedule to write, produce, edit and publish a podcast) has been recorded on less than $150 worth of equipment, using less than $50 worth of software, and it sounds at least like something recorded from a mike within 15 feet of my face rather than a tin can on a string.

So here is my advice to everyone who wants to read about it on how to record your podcast with what I would call the minimal AM-radio quality that doesn't cause your listeners to constantly adjust the volume or wander what the dickens you just said. If you go with the full monte I suggest below, you will do better than AM quality. You'll approach low-band FM quality talk.


Now, look at that picture. It's a scan of my condenser mike, which I bought at Radio Shack for less than $30 including tax.

It's the RS 33-3012, and it takes a V-357 watch battery as a self-contained power source. There is nothing more critical to a successful podcast that at least one decent mike. If you are doing interviews, buy two of these. Please.

And if you have to patch two mikes into a single 1/8th inch jack, buy a basic stereo splitter and plug both mikes into the splitter and the splitter into your recording device. Use the tie clips and mount the mikes at mid-chest of the speakers if they are speaking at a conversational tone of voice.

Now, since you're reading this, I assume you have a computer. If you have a computer, it has a mike jack. And if it has a mike jack, all you need is recording software.

You Mac Users are all "Garage Band" at this point, and to that I say "AMEN". That's the right Mac option. For you PC users, download the open source software "AUDACITY" right now, and you will be ready to record using your decent external mike in about 20 minutes.

So for a max of $30, you can record a podcast that will fulfill the basic expectations of your listeners, namely that they can understand you; for $60, you can have 2 mikes and record interviews competently.


Now listen to me: using your computer like this is fine, but what if you're teaching in a classroom, or lecturing, or meeting with someone over coffee at a diner or something? Do you drag your workstation into the great unknown and hope the place has a decent outlet or your battery doesn't go belly-up?

Yeah: that stinks. So you have your mikes and your splitter. Now you need a quality recorder.

The Olympus WS-210S is exactly what you need -- and the image you see here is ACTUAL SIZE. It takes one "AAA" battery, and connects to either your MAC or PC via USB like a flash drive -- you move files from the device exactly the same way you move them from a flash drive. It records to .WMV file type (a complication we will deal with in a minute), but can record up to 100+ hours of audio (depending on quality) anywhere; you can, without fail, record up to 6 hours of highest-quality audio with this baby anywhere. It even has a built-it stereo mike pair which, frankly, are not great but can suffice in a pinch. The cost of this beauty is $75 at Radio Shack -- maybe less at AMAZON if you can find it used.

All my podcast files are recorded originally using the Radio Shack mike and this device, so go ahead and see for yourself what the quality is.

Now, obviously, my podcast is not in .WMV format -- that file format isn't handled by iTunes. So I bought a great piece of software for my MAC called "Switch" by NCH software (they have a Windows version) for about $40. You also need the extension "Flip4Mac" (free) so QuickTime will assist in converting the .WMV file to something more universally useful (i.e. - MP3).

I also found a completely-brilliant piece if FREE software called "LEVELATOR" from The Conversations Network. This will take your MP3 and manage the levels so that the whole thing comes out in a normalized format -- so your listeners are not constantly scrambling for the audio controls.

So far so good?

I could go into the advanced buy, but that involves putting together about $500 worth of equipment including soundproofing for the room/closet you will be recording in. It's geek-speak at best.

Don't bother with that.

For less than $200, you can definitely get into all the equipment you need for a normalized, well-recorded podcast that doesn't assault the ears of your listeners.

Try it out. You can do it. Help your listeners love you.