In April 2020, the number of active podcasts surpassed 1,000,000, underscoring the dramatic growth of this once niche industry. Sure, a compelling and highly produced podcast is an art form, but the beauty of this medium is that anyone can create a podcast, which has always been podcasting's appeal. Unfortunately not everyone has the means, technical know-how, or skill to do it. And that's okay, too.
As you go through this guide and later conduct your own research, you may discover there are cheaper or perhaps even free options on the market, on top of the suggestions we offer. Keep in mind that we're highlighting these specific models for a reason. Trust us, we've tried the more financially reasonable offerings on the market. We've slogged through the bad to get to these highly vetted services and equipment. If you embrace these tools as we have, you'll be able to outfit your studio, plug in, and have a great—potentially phenomenal-sounding—product.
There are many comprehensive equipment guides out there. If you're looking for a list of different equipment to compare and contrast features, check out this one from Discover Pods.
Our goal isn't to sell you on these products, but to provide an alternative to the typical DIY equipment guide you find on the internet. This is your manual to starting a quality podcast, with affordable, yet tried-and-true equipment.
Our biggest takeaway is this: Utilize what works best for you. After multiple rounds of testing mics, soundboards, and too many internet recording services to count, we eventually committed to the tools our team is comfortable with. But we're always looking to improve, as should you.
Let's get started.
What You Need to Start a Podcast: The Equipment
Of all the required equipment, microphones are the easiest to come by, but also one of the most critical for success and quality. Sure, your computers and phones have built-in microphones, but using them as your sole source of audio capturing will only result in poor sound, and consequently, poor show engagement.
Our go-to recommendation we use in-studio is the RØDE PodMic. Affordably priced at $99, the PodMic is sleek, and provides incredible-sounding audio. One of the main technical reasons we selected this model is because it's cardioid, meaning it picks up sound from the front and sides, and discards noise from the rear. This is ideal for a studio setting, as you only want to capture the sound of the speaker's voice, rather than ambient noise or outside sounds.
Now, you might be wondering how a microphone so inexpensive is our top choice. In short, the PodMic does everything we want it to, with supreme quality. Other popular (and expensive) microphones, such as the Shure SM7B or Electro-Voice RE20, are also great mics. However, both are traditionally intended for broadcast and unnecessary for traditional podcast purposes, whereas the PodMic was created for podcasting.
Note: There are plenty of good USB microphones on the market today that are easily compatible with your computer, and make it so you can record directly into editing software like Audition or Audacity. Aside from being limited to one microphone, this form of recording is not our top recommendation, as the audio can be lossy in quality.
When visualizing a mixer, or "board," a huge table-sized device may come to mind. Yes, those do exist, but you'll typically find them in music recording studios. Modern studios are generally outfitted with boards that are smaller, more accessible, and portable, allowing you to conduct remote interviews, if necessary. Best of all, these boards boast all the necessary features of its larger counterparts.
Our go-to mixer is the Zoom LiveTrak L-8, for a few reasons: It's new, top of the line, specifically designed for podcasting, and priced competitively at $399.99. Yes, this isn't inexpensive, but the mixer is imperative to recording, and we don't recommend frugality in this department. This Zoom mixer provides incredible flexibility for remote interviews, sound management, and inputs for up to six microphones.
Depending on your show format, you might be conducting interviews frequently. At Morey Creative Studios, we conduct interviews almost weekly on our agency podcast 'Inbound & Down' and our social justice podcast 'News Beat,' featuring multiple interviews per episode. There are simple solutions for interviewing, such as phone calls, Skype, Zoom, and similar web-based telecommunication solutions, but we leverage a platform called SquadCast, which was developed exclusively for podcasting. (We bet you're sensing a theme here.)
The functionalities of SquadCast extend far beyond that of a traditional calling platform. Similar to Zoom or Skype, SquadCast features a video component so you and the guest can interact. But it's important to note there's no video recording option. Its true differentiator is how it records audio locally. Essentially, the platform records both your side (this serves as a backup, as you're capturing your audio directly into the mixer), and the guests on your devices, separately. You're getting a clean, uninterrupted and internet-compressed version of their audio to use. Additionally, it's extremely user-friendly for the non-tech native, and offers a few affordable plans, starting at $9/month.
There are two quality options on the market for podcast editing: Audacity and Adobe Audition. Audacity is a free, more basic version of Adobe Audition, but naturally, you'll get a more robust set of tools and plugins with the latter. We prefer Audition, as we leverage the Adobe Suite as an agency.
This section requires a large caveat. Editing software has the highest learning curve of all of the equipment and software here. It's very technical, and requires precision and skill. It can be learned, but it will not come as naturally as say, connecting a microphone and interviewing a guest on SquadCast. Sure, audio editing can outsourced, which can be beneficial, since editing is the most time-consuming component of producing a podcast. On the downside, you lose the creative control and oversight that comes with producing a podcast in-house or hiring an agency that offers full-suite collaborative services, such as Morey Creative Studios.
Even if you recorded a great sounding podcast, no one will be able to enjoy your audio magic if you don't know how to get it out to the world. The final piece of software needed is a distribution and hosting service. This ensures your podcast is accessible online, and across all streaming platforms, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and TuneIn, among others. There are a number of options on the market that range in price depending on storage, number of shows and analytics features. This is the one area we recommend doing independent research, as the right service for you depends on the scope of your plans. Top companies in the space include:
Now that we've talked about the tools that work best for us, there are additional accessories you’ll need to purchase to get up and running. However, there is a fair market average and quality standard on these products that doesn't warrant a specific model selection. You'll need:
- Windscreens/pop filters for each microphone
- Mic stands that are compatible with your equipment. Among the options: tabletop, clamp, and floor styles.
- XLR cables for each microphone
The final "accessory" is a clean and controlled recording environment. It goes without saying that even if you have the most expensive equipment on the market, a noisy environment will negatively affect the audio quality.
There are myriad reasons why the podcast landscape has become so massive. One simple answer, according to Morey Creative Studios Producer and Engineer Michael "Manny Faces" Conforti, is that technology has made recording audio simple and inexpensive.
When considering starting a podcast, it's imperative that you research each and every element associated with such a production. As Conforti says: "Basic, one-person setups could be as easy as hooking up a cheap USB microphone directly into your computer. However, adding elements will therefore require more tools."
Let's consider a scenario in which you plan on having more than one host for your podcast. One problem that will quickly arise is that without the appropriate microphone, you could pick up everything in the room.
But there's a solution.
"You'll probably want to get separate, non-USB mics that are better at picking up only what you want—the voice of the person in front of the mic," says Conforti. "This, however, will require a device such as a mixing board or audio interface to sit between the mics and the computer. This is necessary to amplify and control the signals coming from the microphones. While it adds a bit of effort and expense, the results will be noticeably improved. Luckily, the meteoric rise of podcasting had introduced plenty of tools at multiple price levels into the market, so that no matter what your specific goals are, you can produce a quality-sounding podcast without necessarily breaking the bank."
There is a theme here, and not one we're manufacturing—the equipment on the market today was created with podcasting in mind. This is huge. This trend only gained steam over the last couple of years, largely due to the mainstream growth of podcasting. There's no doubt the industry and the equipment and services powering these podcasts will continue to grow—and you can participate in the phenomenon. When you're daydreaming about making it big like [insert favorite podcast here], try to remember that their popularity is largely attributed to the quality of the audio. Getting the right equipment is the first step on the road to creating a successful podcast.
To learn more about how to create a successful podcast, watch our free webinar here.
All equipment suggestions have been vetted by our Director of New Media and Head Engineer, Michael "Manny Faces" Conforti.
Originally published January 15, 2020. Updated April 22, 2o20.
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