How we made podcasts during lockdown

Written by Alan Black

In my past life, I made a lot of radio ads. It was great fun. It was also terrifying.

Lots of writers hate radio. I loved it. But when things go a bit wobbly, a great producer and engineer can really get you out of a jam.

For our podcast, we had neither. Come to think of it, we didn’t have a recording studio. Or any kit.

So here’s what we’ve learned making our first podcast episode. Including how to avoid getting rejected by Apple.

1. An idea is nothing without a format or a name. 

We had a simple idea to start with: a panel discussion about brand language.

But how would we make that work over a 20-minute podcast?

Formats came and went during our discussion. A magazine-style podcast felt like the simplest solution, but it’s been done to death. Interviews would be great, but it’s hard to guarantee a quality recording.

We finally settled on the idea of an agony column. Each episode we help a listener solve a thorny brand language issue, working through a three-step process.

It was different enough to stand out, but familiar enough to not need a load of backstory.

You’ll also need a name. Naming is hard, and we do it for a living.

Our tips: look for similar podcasts and figure out their naming strategies. Do something different. Keep it short. Very short.

And very obvious.

2. Write an outline

Chris knocked together a raw podcast script, showing how the three-step format would work.

He filled in some details, and then the rest of us piled in to write our own parts.

It wasn’t – and still isn’t – a script.

We see it as more s a detailed running order, with detailed notes reminding us of the points we need to land.

3. Buy the kit

Yes, you could bodge together a podcast using the microphone in your AirPods. But it’s going to sound a bit rubbish.

We mostly settled on Rode kit, which we also use to film our vlogs. It’s easy to use, well made and fairly priced. Here’s what we used:

Rodecaster Pro – a production studio with everything you need to record and live-mix your podcast. We use it for voiceover work too.

Rode Procaster – a decent studio dynamic mic, which sounds great for the money. The only downside is that it picks up every creak and thud… this thing grabs every detail. It uses an XLR connector, so you need an audio interface or production studio like the Rodecaster Pro.

Rode NT-USB – a dinky mic for remote guests. As plug-and-play as it gets. Because it’s a condenser mic, it’s a bit more forgiving when it comes to background noise and rubbish room acoustics. This is also a great choice for 'one person' podcasts. Without getting technical, you can only plug 

Rode PSA1 – this mounting arm puts the mic exactly where you need it in the studio, and then back out of the way when you’re finished recording.

Rode PSM1 – when you move the mic during recording, you’ll hear all sorts of unwelcome creaks. But not if you use a shock mount.

XLR cables – nothing fancy

4. Choose the editing and mixing software

Although our Rodecaster Pro was doing most of the clever stuff, editing is still important. We used GarageBand on MacOS. It’s free, and you can learn the basics in an hour or so.

On a PC, Audacity is a great choice. (It works on Macs too – Audacity have just released a version for MacOS 10.15.)

Editing, mixing and mastering matter a lot. It's what makes your podcast sound more 'pro' than 'am. We're still learning.

5. Find some music

Stealing copyright material is a terrible idea.

Either commission someone, or buy a track.

We used PremiumBeat because it’s easy to find the track you want, and most tracks come bundled with short edits and loops. You often get ‘stems’ too, which isolate the individual instruments. A track costs around £50.

6. Choose some sound effects

Recording your own sound effects is great fun.

It also takes an eternity.

There are plenty of royalty-free and creative commons sounds out there, so why not find your effects there instead?

We chose Freesound. The quality is decent, but can also be a bit wonky – your ears will guide you. With a little rummaging we found everything we needed.

7. Record all the guests and host 

Yes, you could use Zoom, Facetime, Skype or just about any other conferencing tool.

Yes, it will sound horrible.

And who wants to listen to horrible sound? In fact, your podcast won't get far if you ignore the Apple podcast best practice guidelines.

We used Cleanfeed. It’s one of the tools the BBC have used to produce radio panel shows during lockdown. It’s fantastically easy. It’s also cheap.

8. Publish and distribute 

Without getting technical, hosting a podcast is tricky. Unless you know what you’re doing, don’t sling your audio masterpiece on your main website server. Both will come a cropper.

We decided to go with a specialist podcast host. There are plenty out there.

BuzzSprout got our vote. Their free plan is a great place to start. You get hosting, submission to the main podcast sites, and free podcast players to embed in your site.

If you decide to pay for a plan you can choose to add what Buzzsprout call 'Magic Mastering'. This evens out the loudness levels in your podcast. It does some other things too. We like it. And while it might not be the last word in hi-fi, it's another way to make sure your podcast sits pretty with Apple. 

Now all you have to do is wait for the listeners. Speaking of which, you can listen to our first episode right here.



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