Podcasting takes time and planning. Very few people can just turn on the recorder and get exactly what they want in one take. If you’re doing interviews or have a second host, the likelihood of a simple process gets even slimmer — you can’t control both sides of a conversation.

Well, you can’t completely control both sides of a conversation, but a well-planned interview with a structure that is worked out ahead of time can go a long way. And of course, there’s the post-production editing, giving you the ultimate say in how the conversation unfolds.

I’ll expand on these two ideas in the future, but the message here is that a good podcast takes time. The preparation, recording, and editing of a 10-minutes interview for Boston Behind the Scenes or the Current Science & Technology Podcast takes me between two and four hours — and that’s just for an interview show. If you want to produce a highly-edited podcast in the style of NPR’s This American Life, you’re looking at more like 75-150 hours of work for one ten-minute piece!

Of course, those numbers are for once you get good at it…

 

So, you want to start a podcast from scratch? It’s a lot easier and cheaper than you’d expect.

At it’s most basic, a podcast requires a computer, a microphone, and a place to host the files. You can do that (and do it well, with good sound and using good software with support) with the following:

An Apple Mac mini with keyboard, mouse, and monitor for $797.
– This comes with GarageBand, iMovie, and plenty of other stuff you might want to use for your podcast.

A Blue Snowball USB Microphone for $160.
– Get the one that includes a stand and cable for a high-quality studio condenser mic that’s ready to use right away.
– You’ll also want a pop filter.

A year of hosting at Libsyn.com ($5/month) for $60.
– This gives you a blog, rss feed, and unlimited bandwidth — in case you get popular.

WANT TO RECORD IN THE FIELD?

You can get an iRiver iFP-790 for as little as $25 on eBay. Pair that with a Giant Squid Audio Lab Mini Gold-Plated Omni Mic ($15) and a set of RadioShack Tie-clip Microphone Windscreens ($3 for four — Item #33-4006), and you’re set for recording on-the-go.

That’s it. A whole home studio/mobile podcasting setup — including the computer — for about $1,000. You may already have an adequate computer, and could drop the price to about $275! If you want to have two hosts, buy another snowball and use them together (easy on the Mac, may be possible a PC — depending upon your software).

Of course, even the best equipment in the world won’t help if you don’t have a compelling show, but the skills needed for that come with practice, so get out there and start podcasting!

 

I like the sound of phone calls

That means that many people won’t agree with this post, but I have good reasons for liking the sound of phone calls, and I’d like to lay them out for you:

Skype or other computer-based voice-over-IP (VOIP) systems sound too good sometimes.

Too good? Let me explain: If you use Skype properly — with good microphones — and have a solid connection, it will sound just like the two people are in the same room.

That’s if you use Skype properly with good microphones and have a solid connection. It is very hard to guarantee that all of those requirements are met at both (or all three or four) ends of the call. This creates the kind of “Last 1%” problem seen in computer animation: You can create a computer animated person that looks and moves 99% as realistically as an actual human, but the missing 1% makes the viewing experience disturbing.

It isn’t this severe in a Skype call, but it is a problem. I’d rather have my listeners hear a phone call sound they are extremely used to — and therefore know that I was on the phone with someone — than have it sound like we’re in the same room using a cheap recording rig. Then again, the show I do professionally is going for that “radio” sound, so we use a telephone hybrid at work. I don’t do phone interviews for my home show, but if I did, I would save money by using SkypeOut or Gizmo to call a real phone for that “phone sound.”

Phone calls are a known quantity to everyone in the developed world. Skype calls are not.

In fact, the fact that phone calls — and phones — are a known quantity is my other reason for suggesting a “phone sound” interview (using the regular phone network or a VOIP-to-phone connection). Unless you are only interviewing other podcasters or tech-geeks, most people don’t have nice microphones or know how to use Skype. Anyone can use a telephone.

THE DOUBLE-ENDER

If you really want good sound, you should set up a “double-ender.” This is when you call you interviewee and talk to them over a regular phone line, but both of you record your side of the conversation at your respective ends. You then have your guest email you the file of their side, and you combine them in editing. This has the same potential problems as Skype when it comes to your guests’ recording abilities, but you’ll never have connection issues.

 
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© 2010 Adam Weiss: Podcast Consultant