A primer on podcast production
The second article in our Podcasting 101 series: practical tips for creating a podcast on Substack
Recording audio is an art. At Substack, we admire podcasters with beautifully produced, high-fidelity recordings and also support tinkerers who are interested in diving into podcasting with no experience or fancy equipment.
Here are some basic considerations podcasters should keep in mind before, during, and after hitting “record.”
Align your production plans with your publication strategy
Are you launching a brand-new podcast?
Start with a pilot episode, or “episode zero,” that helps your audience get to know you and charts out what they can expect from your podcast in future episodes. Before you release your first episode, bank two or three episodes in advance. That way, you can keep releasing episodes regularly and have a cushion of recorded material teed up.
Are you hosting an existing, ongoing podcast?
Once you find your rhythm and have a steady publishing flow, think about clustering your outreach and recording schedule. Send invitations to guests and create recordings in batches so that you have a robust pipeline of episodes in different phases of production.
Are you offering additional listening material to your paid subscribers?
If so, program your bonus material in advance so that you have an easier time editing it together after you’ve finished recording.
Set up your audio “studio”
Find a quiet, acoustics-friendly room. Try to surround yourself with sound-absorbing objects like upholstery or books, and steer clear of rooms with many windows or hard surfaces. Silence your phone and any devices that might vibrate or make sound.
Create a script. This could take several different forms, depending on the nature of your podcast. If you’re recording a read-along version of a written post, you’ll need to have the post fully written and edited before you start recording. If you’re recording a podcast on your own, you may want a full script, or it might feel more natural to work from bullet points. For interviews, script your introductions and share key topics or questions with your guest(s) beforehand—but let the magic unfold without too much scripting.
Remove distractions. If you have a tendency to fidget with loose items (like paper, pens, or keys), put them away while you’re recording. Tie back long hair to prevent it from touching your microphone.
Prepare your tech. Make sure you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Test your equipment, audio levels, and software before you start recording. Make a few test recordings, and try to keep your audio levels well below red if you have a meter, and well below clipping (distorting your input by maxing it out) if you don’t.
Plan ahead. Think about the assets you’ll want once you’ve finished recording. Photos? Video clips? Transcripts? Plan to capture these ahead of time to make post-production easier.
Tips and tools for a smooth recording
Settle in and get comfortable. Keep a glass of water on hand, especially for long recordings. Try to relax and speak slowly, as if you were phoning a friend. Mute notifications wherever you need to, and limit any other distractions. You might post the equivalent of a “Recording—on air” sign on your door.
Assemble your gear. An ideal podcasting setup includes a USB microphone with a sound shield, a mic stand, and wired, over-ear headphones.
If you don’t have a podcasting microphone, we recommend recording into headphones with a microphone and a cord (not wireless) rather than recording directly into your phone or computer. If Bluetooth headphones are all you have, don’t panic! They’ll do the job, just without the quality you can expect from wired headphones.
If you don’t plan on editing your recording, go the simple route: record your voice directly in the Substack Editor.
Work through interruptions. Try to remain aware of sounds that might interrupt the recording (sirens, dogs barking, etc.). If loud noises do occur, pause and wait until the sound stops, then pick up what you were saying just before the interruption.
Select your recording interface. For interviews, many podcasters record using Zoom, Zencastr, or Riverside, which give you the option to record video as well. Cleanfeed is another popular recording tool. Be sure to record files separately, and ask podcast guests to create a backup recording.
Transcripts and post-production tips. If you plan to edit your recording, it’s extremely helpful to have a transcript as a guide. (You can also offer a transcript as a bonus to subscribers.) Descript and Rev are helpful tools for editing and generating transcripts.
Podcasters: Are there certain tips, tools, or production details that make your life easier? Tell us about them in the comments!