5 Podcast Tips for 5 Podcast Types: Number 5 Will Help You the Most

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Podcasts. Still strong in the boom phase, it’s a good time to get in while the getting is good, and you’ll want to do whatever you can to make your podcast stand out. But here’s the thing: different types of podcasts require different ways of working. So, we here at B&H thought we’d give you a five-tip primer to get you inspired. Be sure you check out the last one—it’s the most important tip by far.

Tips for a Two-Way

A two-way is a show that typically involves one host and one guest. Pieces of gear I’d recommend for such an interview would be two Shure SM7B microphones, heavy duty desktop stands to keep them upright, and a portable recorder like a Zoom H4n. You could also get a simple two-channel interface if you plan on recording the audio straight to your computer. Good two-channel interfaces include the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, the Audient AUID14, and the Apogee Duet.

Shure SM7B Vocal Microphone

If you plan on having more than one guest a time, find something that gives you more channels, like the Zoom F4 Field Recorder, or the Focusrite Clarett 4Pre.

Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB 18x6 USB Audio Interface

The sound-design scheme of a two-way podcast is relatively simple. It should sound tight, close-miked, devoid of extraneous noise and room reflections—but not overly clinical, if you can avoid it. If you’re using something like iZotope RX or Audionamix IDC, don’t de-noise to the point of artifacts; people will be forgiving of a little background ambiance, and sometimes, it can become part of the character, if it’s consistent over a long period of time (Marc Maron’s old garage comes to mind). Do turn off anything that produces unwarranted noise, such as an air conditioner or a fridge. That way, less pesky background noise will get into the recording.

The format can often involve some theme music—which you should have the rights to—followed by the interview. When editing the interview together, follow the advice given in this article.

Tips for a Panel Pod

Some podcasts don’t involve a host and a guest. Instead, they’re free-floating beasts with many different people grabbing the mic at certain times. Here, your needs extend to a recording device or interface with larger channel counts, such as the ones mentioned above. You’ll also need as many microphones as you have hosts, be they Shure SM7Bs, or Sennheiser e 835s.

Sennheiser e 835 - Cardioid Handheld Dynamic Microphone

I’d like to put in a plug here for room treatment. With more than two people in a single space talking, you’re going to get room reflections and unwanted ambiance in the tracks if you don’t make sure your room is treated. Videos on how to treat your room can be found here.

Finally, a word on format: Learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses beforehand, possibly doing a few test episodes ahead of releasing anything to the public. Everyone will have their own persona and, to some extent, these will delineate themselves over time. But you can make a little headway by starting the process in advance of your audience. Oh, and don’t all talk at once.

Tips for an Investigative Piece

An investigative piece uses a lot of voice-over spoken directly to the audience, but splices it together with interviews, found audio footage, and sound design to create a non-fiction narrative. The big constant in such pieces is the person who narrates—the Sarah Koenig of Serial, or the David Ridgen of Somebody Knows Something. They anchor the piece, with other audio segments taking the story forward. For this reason, I’d advise spending a lot of time making these vocals shine.

Make sure the recording environment is free of extraneous noises coming from the street. Try to minimize noises coming from your computer, hard drives, air conditioner, and refrigerator when recording, as well.

For a mic, you could use the Shure SM7B, if you wanted, or perhaps you could go with a large diaphragm condenser for a more open, clear, and some would say “expensive” sound. Good choices here include the Audio-Technica 4040, the Aston Origin, and the Warm Audio WA-47. To the extent that you use noise-reduction software, do so tastefully. It’s better to use sound design and musical underscoring to cover up noise than to introduce artifacts into the main vocal’s sonic signature.

Warm Audio WA-47 Large-Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone

But when else should you use sound design, or music? Any place you’d like to indicate emotion. This video here discusses how to use music in a filmic context, but the basic concept applies: if you’re talking about something like pre-natal healthcare statistics, tense music can make the numbers feel gloomier than they are. Likewise, if you put down the carefree music of a pharmaceutical commercial, you could foster a different take altogether.

Also, by focusing on the main vocal in an investigative piece—making it sound as polished as possible—you give yourself more freedom to introduce found-audio footage of a lesser quality. You’d think it wouldn’t work, because it would sound worse by comparison. The truth is, it may sound more authentic by comparison, which is great for establishing tone and mood.

Tips for Audio-Drama

Audio dramas are making a big come back. Stripping away the visuals of episodic television, they provide immersive stories that your ears must decode. They differ from books on tape, since they often involve a large cast, and are frequently told episodically, utilizing sound effects and Foley to handle action.

The biggest piece of advice I could give you is not technical—it precedes the technical: learn to write a compelling script. Immerse yourself in literature, watch as many television opuses as you can find, and surround yourself with the best storytelling techniques.

You may have a germ of an idea, but the writing itself is no easy task. Find yourself a writer’s workshop (it’s easy—track down other writers and meet with them once a week; look them up online or look to your friends’ group). Spend time honing the dialogue, story, and overall prose until multiple people (as in, people who aren’t your parents) agree that it works.

When that’s set and done, you must discipline yourself in other pursuits, namely the creation of Foley, the implementation of sound design, and basic mixing techniques. Other articles on these topics can be found on Explora; we don’t have space to get into them all here.

A Tip for All Podcasts

Aside from turning out a good product, here’s another piece of dynamite advice: Network as often as you can, and network as effectively as possible.

Don’t be the person who only talks up their own show, who automatically asks for favors. Instead, go to meetups of podcast professionals (you can find them by searching for them online) and just hang out. You’ll make friends, score work, and perhaps snag a review or two.

But what if you’re a socially awkward individual, like me? Look for the other awkward individual in the group (they’re usually easy to spot). Bond over how uncomfortable networking is for both of you. Then, make a compact: you’ll both go around and hobnob, but you’ll be each other’s beacons and escape strategies. If your friend is in a juicy conversation, they’ll invite you to join. If you need saving from someone excruciatingly dull, they’ll bail you out. The hand signals and gestures can all be worked out ahead of time, and as you meet more and more people you both like, your network will grow.

I did just this at the HearNow festival, in 2018, and it got me more than one job and some attention for my own audio drama. So, I can wholeheartedly recommend the strategy!

That’s about all we’ve got on podcast tips for 2018. Feel like we’re leaving out something? Please let us know in the Comments section.

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