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How I Podcast Smarter: The Gear

2016-12-20T19:52:04+00:00

We are back this week with a new “Working Smarter” mini-series on Podcasting. An increasing number of individuals and residency programs are starting podcasts, but it’s not always obvious how to get started.

What hardware is needed? What’s the workflow? What are the pitfalls? To help answer these questions we picked the brains of 9 star Emergency Medicine podcasters (@FOAMpodcast, @srrezaie, @TheSGEM, @stemlyns, @embasic, @Core_EM, @EM_Educator, @EMtogether, @EMCases) and asked them to share their secrets.

From dead simple set-ups to semi-professional studios, you’ll learn from veterans how to get your voice out to the public, and do it well. In this first installment, we review podcasting gear: the hardware and software you’ll need. The next installment will go over the production work-flow for taking a podcast from an idea to a finished product.

FOAMcast Logo

Founders Jeremy Faust (@jeremyfaust) & Lauren Westafer (@LWestafer)
Hardware Blue Yeti + Pop Filter, MacBook Air
Software Skype, Call Recorder, Garage Band
Publishing Libsyn
FOAMCast Gear Details --------- Complexity: +

Blue Yeti microphone with pop filter ($110 + $15). We record the show via a Skype call (using Call Recorder, which you can buy for $30 online). We edit the show in Garageband on a MacBook Air. We do a video call but when reception is suboptimal (which happens) we go to voice only and that fixes 90% of the problems.

rebelcast_logo2 sml

Founder  Salim Rezaie (@srrezaie)
Hardware  Macbook Pro, Rode Podcaster Microphone
Software  Garage Band, Skype, & Skype Recorder
Publishing  Libsyn

The Skeptics' Guide to EM

Founder  Ken Milne (@TheSGEM)
Hardware  Yeti Blue Mic + Pop Filter, Macbook Air
Software  Skype, & Skype Recorder, Quicktime, GarageBand, Audacity 
Publishing  Unspecified
The Skeptic Guide to Emergency Medicine Gear Details --------- Complexity: +

I record the SGEM on a Macbook Air and use a Yeti blue microphone with a pop filter. Guest skeptics are recorded using Skype Call Recorder. They also record their local audio using Quicktime. The SGEM is edited using GarageBand. Sometimes I use Audacity to normalize audio levels.

ERCast EMRAP logos

Founder  Rob Orman (ERCast) (@emergencypdx)
Hardware  Heil PR-40 + Pop Filer x2, iMac
Software  Audacity, WordPress
Publishing  Libsyn
ERCast / EM:RAP Gear Details --------- Complexity: +
Orman Podcast Setup 1

Current Mic is Heil PR-40 with two pop filters

Orman Podcast Setup 2

I use a standing desk from GeekDesk. Surface is carbonized bamboo

Orman Podcast Setup 4

When recording, I surround the speaking area with acoustic foam

Stemlyns logo

Founders  Simon Carley (@EMManchester ) & Iain Beardsell (@docib)
Hardware  Blue Yeti, ZOOM h2, Rode Podcaster
Software  Audio Hijack, Audacity, Garage Band, Auphonic
Publishing  Podbean
St. Emlyn's Podcast Gear Details --------- Complexity: +

The essence for everything at St Emlyn’s is to “keep it simple” and our podcast technique is no different. The key to any podcast is in the content and the edit and doesn’t need fancy microphones or software. We use a range of different microphones and have not really found a massive difference between the expensive (Rode Podcaster) and the moderate (Blue Yeti, ZOOM h2). However, we don’t do dirt cheap, it is worth spending some money (>£50) on a microphone as the basic headset/mic combo you get with your phone won’t cut it. The software we use is pretty cheap or free (Audio Hijack, Audacity or Garage Band).

We always podcast as if the listener is overhearing a conversation in the pub, although in our case we are usually in different “pubs” when we record. We chat over Skype and each participant records their own voice only. This requires a bit of setting up so that you hear the whole conversation through headphones but the recording is only of your own voice. This is important as if you try and record both voices at the same time through Skype the quality is dreadful. We then take the two tracks, clean them up by removing any background noise (we use Auphonic to do this), before they are then combined into a single program (Audacity or Garage band) for the final edit. We add in an intro and outro, convert to MP3 and finally run the whole thing through “Auphonic” again to balance out the audio.

Obviously, on those rare occasions when we are all in the same place at the same time we record using a 360 microphone (Yeti/ZOOM) which makes the processing so much easier.

At that point it gets tough. We only publish if the team agrees that the quality is good enough to go out to the public. That means that both the content and the technical quality are internally reviewed by the wider St.Emlyn’s team. Despite all the work up to this point we not infrequently reject a proportion of our own content. Simply put: If it’s not good enough we don’t publish it. This step requires a real honesty amongst the group and some tricky conversations but this is arguably our most important step and we are lucky that the trust amongst the team means that we can do this.

After all that we publish online using the podbean platform.

This sounds like a lot of ‘faff’ to record two people talking but there is no doubt it makes a difference. We must also pay homage to the many people who have helped us get to this point, notably Chris Nickson, Ken Milne, Minh le Cong, Rob Rogers and Scott Weingart (with apologies to the many others who have also helped).

EM Basic logo

Founder  Steve Carroll (@embasic)
Hardware  Blue Yeti USB Mic, Macbook Pro 13 inch
Software  Audacity
Publishing  Libsyn, WordPress, Hostgator
EM BASIC Gear Details --------- Complexity: +

Microphone

I use the Blue Yeti USB microphone. I have been using the Blue Yeti for over 4 years and it has really served me well. At about 100 USD, I think its the best value for someone starting out a podcast and it has great “plug and play” capability. It also has microphone options that allow you to record a room or an interview with just a turn of a switch so that is nice to have in case you want to record more than one voice. One thing it does not have is an integrated pop filter. This prevents you from having a “plosive” which mostly happens when you say words that start with the letter “P”. I bought a cheap pop filter a while back to help with this but I found it too cumbersome. I am probably in the minority on this but if I have trained myself not to land hard on those words and if I do, I just go back and record it again. However, most people I know who podcast use some sort of pop filter and you can get them for around 20 USD.

Computer

Macbook Pro 13 inch. While Macs are very popular with the podcasting crowd, you don’t need a top of the line system to podcast- any modern laptop or desktop should do just fine. However, you may want to make sure you have adequate hard drive space because your raw recordings (before they are converted to MP3 or another format) can be very large.

Software

Audacity. Many Mac users like Garage Band but I started with Audacity when I started the podcast using a PC. When I tried to switch to Garage band I could not figure it out for the life of me. Audacity is nice because it is available online for free and has a very intuitive interface. I like to tell people that if you can use a word processor then you can use Audacity. It’s very easy to cut and paste, drag and drop, and edit your audio without much of a learning curve.

Podcast hosting

I use libsyn.com to host the podcast files. For 20 USD a month, you can get 400 megabytes of hosting (which resets each month) and advanced stats that will tell you all the details about your podcast’s popularity such as download counts and where it is being downloaded from. The other important function is that libsyn gets your podcast onto iTunes. I like to tell people that if you aren’t on iTunes, you aren’t really podcasting. iTunes is by far the most popular way that people download podcasts so you will want that exposure. However, iTunes has a very specific format (an RSS feed) that your podcast must conform to. With some computer knowhow, you could make your own RSS feed that meets their standards but it would take a lot of time and libsyn makes that completely unnecessary. Libsyn has cheaper options as well but you won’t get as much storage space or detail on your stats.

Website hosting

I started on wordpress.com with a very basic website. You will want a “landing page” for your podcast where people can find show notes, show summaries, and direct download links. WordPress.com made it very easy to set up a basic blog and it provided the web address hosting for embasic.org as well. About a year ago, I hired a programmer to make the website nicer and switch it over to wordpress.ORG which is different format that requires a different company to host the website. For hosting the new website, I have used hostgator.com which has worked very well for me.

 

Founder  Anand Swaminathan (@EMSwami)
Hardware  Hail PR40 Mic + Pop Filter, Shure X2U Signal Adapter
Software  Skype + Skype Recorder, Sound Studio, Audacity, Levelator, Auphonic, Blubrry
Publishing  Blubrry.com
CORE EM Gear Details --------- Complexity: ++

I’m going to be as specific and detailed as possible. There are numerous options to do this but this is what I use. I have no financial interest in any of the companies listed.

Hardware

Microphone

I have a custom build microphone (image included) that was sent to me by Mel Herbert and the EM:RAP guys. I’ve recreated this set up (with their help):

  • Microphone: Heil Sound PR40 Dynamic Microphone
  • Mic Stand: On Stage DS7200B
  • Shock Mount: Heil Sound PRSM-B Shockmount
  • Signal Adapter: Shure X2U XLR-to-USB
  • XLR Cord: Seismic Audio – SAXLX-6

EMRAP Mic - Swaminathan

Headphones

Any headphones will do but are a must if you are recording with another person. Without them, you’ll get an echo from sound coming out of your internal speakers.

Software

Skype + Skype Recorder

Skype recorder (there are multiple options) captures both voices on the call. It’s great for recording interviews especially if the interviewee isn’t as savvy with recording (i.e. they’re not recording on their end).

Downside

If there’s any interruptions of signal, the recording can get garbled reducing quality.

Sound Studio and Audacity

Both are great for recording your “end” of the conversation. If you’re doing a single voice podcast, these are amazing tools. If you are recording with someone else (via skype, google hangout etc) both of you will need to run the program/recording on your end and then merge the two audio pieces later. A nice way to time this is for both (or all) voices to record a clap in unison so the recordings can be synced up. I find Audacity is easier for editing audio. Audacity is a free program while Sound Studio is not.

Levelator and Auphonic

These programs take the audio and “level” out the volumes of individual voices if you’re recording with multiple voices. Auphonic is the superior program.

Blubrry

Links up with WordPress to make publishing easy and works well with iTunes.

teaching course - wildcast EM logo

Founder  Rob Rogers (@EM_Educator)
Hardware  Neumann Condenser and Heil PR40 Mics + Pop Filter, 552 Sound Mixer, Zoom F8 Field Recorder, Macbook Pro, Acoustic Foam
Software  Sound Studio
Publishing  SoundCloud
Teaching Course Podcast-Wildcast EM Podcast Gear Details --------- Complexity: ++

First of all, I want to thank Mel Herbert for all of the help he has given me over the years. He got me started in podcasting, and he has been extremely helpful in my development and career advancement. Another genius educator I turned to a lot when I was getting started was Scott Weingart. That’s the beauty of podcasting in the FOAMed world: lots of fantastic, friendly educators out there who are more than willing to help you.

Secondly, I am no pro at this. I still screw up a lot, and I like to experiment with podcasting ideas that might not work. The only way to get good at something is to try new things and screw them up. Thomas Edison has some great quotes on failure.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
― Thomas A. Edison

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
― Thomas A. Edison

I still ask lots of questions, and I am still learning. Getting really good at podcasting takes patience, practice, and a willingness to work hard to produce an audio product that in some small way will change the world. At least that’s my philosophy.

Getting started in podcasting is pretty easy. All you need is a microphone, a computer (or a field recorder/mixer—more on that later), and a program to capture the audio. Once you record your audio and edit it, you simply need a place to store the audio. I personally like SoundCloud the best because it automatically links to iTunes and has a pretty slick interface with Twitter. Remember, you want to get your podcast out to the world. I have also used Libsyn for audio storage. SoundCloud, Podbean, Podhoster, and a whole host of other programs will automatically post your episodes to iTunes.

I use a Neumann condenser broadcast microphone (runs about $1,000) for recording myself. I also have 4 Heil PR40 microphones (~$300 a piece) that I use in my home studio for recording group podcasts. Both of these microphones are what are known as XLR microphones (the do not directly connect to a computer via USB). The sound quality is simply amazing. To be honest, you do get better sound the more you pay. Having said that, if you are starting out, you do not need to go nuts with microphones.

As far as recording the audio, I use a Sound Devices mixer called a 552 (~$ 3,500). Quite expensive, I know, but the audio quality is spectacular. Turns out this device was purchased for me…not sure I could have purchased this bad boy on my own. I also recently purchased a field recorder from Zoom-the Zoom F8. This device is portable and perfect for traveling if you need to take to a conference and snag some audio for a podcast. It is a relatively new product and costs around $ 1,000. Don’t panic! You don’t need all of this stuff if you are just starting out. I can tell you that the more you get into podcasting the more you will want. It’s an expensive habit!

Roges Recording Studio

Rogers Recording Studio 2

My recommendation to someone just getting started in podcasting is to use a USB microphone. I personally think the best one is the Rode Podcaster USB microphone (costs about $229 on Amazon.com). I have some friends who use the Blue Yeti microphone (~$ 110 on Amazon.com), but I just don’t like the sound quality it produces. My humble opinion.

The next thing you need is a computer to run the audio program. I use Sound Studio because it’s easy to use, produces great sound, and is inexpensive. It can be purchased in the App store. I know a lot of people like to use Audacity. It’s free and is also a good choice if you are trying to keep costs down.

Peds Emerg Playbook Logo

Founder  Tim Horeczko (@EMtogether)
Hardware  Shure SM7B Mic, DBX 285s Pre-Amp, Zoom H4N Recorder, IKEA Bookcase + blankets
Software  Audacity
Publishing  Libsyn
Pediatric Emergency Playbook Gear Details --------- Complexity: ++

Equipment

The beauty of podcasting is in its flexibility and scalability. You can podcast (theoretically) with the internal microphone in your computer. Should you do this? Please don’t. This doesn’t mean that you need to plunk a lot of money down. You can get great quality with a combination USB/XLR microphone, the Audio Technica ATR-2100, usually available for less than $50 (do an Amazon “price watch” for it). It connects directly to your computer through the USB or through a pre-amp or mixer using the XLR output.

If what I am saying seems completely foreign (I was right there with you until recently!), then check out these free tutorials on podcasting equipment, what an RSS feed is, what a media host is, and how to get started from scratch, without breaking the bank:

Ok, finally to answer the question: I decided to invest in a good mic. I have the Shure SM7B, a directional microphone that is a staple in radio stations and professional recording sessions. In the scheme of things, it is considered a mid-priced microphone.

For voice or broadcasting, you need a directional microphone, which rejects noise from behind it, and preferentially picks up sound waves from the front of the mic. Contrast this with a condenser microphone (used in live performances, giving a “room feel”) that picks up the organic mingling of instruments (but not what you want in voice recording).

The Shure SM7B is “gain hungry” (again, see above tutorials – I was clueless too) and needs a boost from a pre-amp. I use the economical DBX 285s. It allows me to make sure enough volume is getting to the mixer. Also, it allows me to fine-tune the audio gates, which help me to reject any sounds in the next room, a car passing by, the dog barking, etc.

Get yourself a good microphone. A “good” microphone will depend on your voice. Go to a large music store like Guitar Center and try a few out before you invest. I tried out the Heil PR-40 (of Mel Herbert fame), the Electro-Voice RE-20 (of talk radio fame), and the Shure SM7B. The Heil was great, but a little too “tinny” for my liking (but very forgiving as far as mic technique goes); the Electro-Voice was a bit dull in the mid-range tones. The Shure SM7B – at least for me – was warm and clear. Try them out, or just go for the ATR-2100 for $50 and get going. You can always upgrade. Get the best one you can afford – just bear in mind that listeners nowadays expect some threshold of quality.

After getting a good mic, the second best piece of advice I can offer is: get yourself a digital audio recording device, such as the Zoom H4N. Don’t just record directly on to your computer – it may freeze, crash, or do a number of weird things. The advantages of a digital audio recorder: 1) it won’t crash and 2) it doubles as a portable recording studio for infield interviews.

Headphones are important to monitor the sound quality as you record. You need to know how your voice sounds to the recorder, and thus to the listener. The discrepancy in ambient sound can be large. Don’t settle for your ear buds; get professional monitoring headphones, such as the Sony MDR headphones.

If you are planning on an interview show or there will be multiple speakers, you must get a mixer, and you’ll need quality microphones that reject all off-axis sound; otherwise, sounds will bleed across tracks.

Recording Space

If you have a dynamic mic, room acoustics are not as crucial (The list of things to look up is growing, right? Don’t worry, you’ll get there). You want to discourage reverberation and echo. I went to IKEA, bought a cheap bookcase, wrapped three sides of it with a blanket, and fastened the blanket with ubiquitous office binder clips. Simple, inexpensive, works great to absorb sound. I stand up when I record so that I can totally get into it:

Podcast Station Horeczko

Podcast Station Horeczko Close Up

Keep the dust off your equipment! Cover your mic with a nylon drawstring bag (generic nylon camping bag). I use an old curtain to cover the whole bookshelf as well.

Production Software

I am a congenital cheapskate, and proud of it (the mic purchase stretched my comfort zone, but it was worth it). I use free software called Audacity. The great thing about Audacity is that it is relatively straightforward, has many users worldwide, is well supported, and there are tutorials everywhere. YouTube will hook you up. If you want to use what the pros use, most people will tell you to use Adobe Audition, which is a bit pricey. Mac users will be happy to know that GarageBand does the same thing and (I believe – I am not a Mac user – don’t shoot!) it comes standard and loaded when you purchase.

I don’t do any post-production processing (mostly because my mic rejects most off-axis noise). Natural is the best sound. Audacity allows you to do as much or as little as you like. Just let people hear you as you. Less is more

Media Host

I use Libsyn, which is a great service with reasonable rates, and excellent stats. I can check how many listeners I have per episode, and what country they’re in, all over the globe. Libsyn also has an active user community and its own support podcast – I highly recommend them. Say hi to Rob and Elsie for me on The Feed, the official Libsyn podcast, full of pearls and wisdom.

In summary

You connect your microphone to your pre-amp, your pre-amp to your mixer, your mixer to your digital audio recorder. You take the file created on your digital audio recorder and you edit it on your computer with software. Once you have edited it, converted it to MP3 format, tagged it, added album art work, added show notes (if you like), you upload it to a media host. Your media host adds the file to your RSS feed, and subscribers to your RSS feed automatically download your file.

EM Cases Logo

Founder  Anton Helman (@EMCases)
Hardware  Heil PR40 + Heil PR22 + Audio Technica AT2020 Mics + Pop Filter, Triton FetHead Pre-Amp, Focusrite Audio Interface, Zoom H6 & F8 recorders, MacBook Pro, Persian Rugs
Software Audacity, Cast, Skype + Skype Recorder, GarageBand, Auphonic Leveler, Blubrry
Publishing  SoundCloud
EM Cases Gear Details --------- Complexity: +++

My gear represents a substantial investment of a few thousand dollars. All one really needs to make a good quality podcast is an inexpensive USB microphone such as a Yeti with a pop filter, a laptop or tablet with free audio editing software such as Audacity, a simple website template from WordPress and an inexpensive podcasting host such as SoundCloud or Podbean. This should keep your total costs well below $500 USD.

EMC Studio microphone for my voice

The Heil PR40 dynamic broadcasting microphone (with a Heil PRSM shock mount, PL2T overhead studio and broadcast boom mount, and dual screen nylon pop filter) is the same mic that Mel Herbert, Rob Rogers and many other podcasters use, which has fantastic off axis rejection (it’s good at blocking out extraneous noise), nice proximity effect (my voice sounds a bit deeper and more radio-like than it actually is), but is expensive and usually requires a pre-amplifier device like a Triton audio FetHead which boosts the audio signal by +27 db to get the best quality out of it, and so I recommend it for podcasting lifers who are willing to make the investment.

Microphones for guests

I prefer to record the EM Cases podcasts as a live round-table discussion in the radio broadcast studio tradition rather than remotely as it allows for a more intimate conversation and has the added bonus of being able to hangout and network with the guests face to face.

  1. For noisy environments when I’m in the field, at a conference for example, I use Heil PR22 UT dynamic microphones with metal pop filters that won’t break in my suitcase, which, like the PR40, have great off axis rejection. However the guests must be willing and able to speak directly into these mics at a consistent distance (4 finger breadths is a good rule of thumb) because any sound that is off-axis will sound lame.
  2. For quiet environments like the EMC studios or a small hotel room with plush curtains facing a courtyard (rather than the street), I use Audio Technica AT2020 microphones which are condenser I find that condenser microphones such as these give a nice clarity and ‘sparkle’ to the guests voices, but at the cost of picking up more room noise than a dynamic microphone.

The EMC Studio

My podcast studio resembles a Persian rug store, as I use rugs on the floor and walls to help dampen the sound along with some 12”x12” foam sound baffles.

EMCase Studio

Walter Himmel, Jeannie Callum & Yulia Lin at EMC Studios in Toronto during the recording of ‘IV Iron for Anemia in EM’ podcast

EMCases Portable Studio

Mobile Podcasting Setup in hotel room at ACEP conference for ‘The Weingart-Himmel Sessions’ podcasts with Zoom H6 recorder and AudioTechnica 2020 microphones

I cover the windows with blankets as well. When interviewing other guests its important to be far enough away from them so that their voice doesn’t ‘leak’ so much into your microphone, and visa versa. However, you don’t want to be so far away from them as to make it impersonal.

A bit about Software

At the EMC studios for round-table discussions, I record directly from the Focusrite audio interface into my MacBook Pro using the free software, Audacity. Audacity has more than you need for podcasting. It is not very intuitive to use but has the advantage of being able to export audio files in almost any format. For remote recording I use Cast (thanks to Reuben Strayer for kindly introducing me to Cast) which has better audio quality and is more reliable than Skype. I use Skype for backup and for the video to cue the interviews along with Call Recorder to record the guests. In the field, I record directly onto the Zoom H6 (which is very portable, excellent quality and accepts up to 5 microphones) or the Zoom F8 (which is much more expensive, a bit less portable, professional quality that is not necessary for educational podcasts and accepts up to 8 microphones) and then dump the files onto my MacBook Pro.

I do all my audio editing in GarageBand ’09 v5.1, which I have been using since 2010. It has the advantage of intuitive easy audio editing, many free built in stingers, jingles and sound effects and podcast markers (only for M4a files). It is a bit slow and clunky and occasionally crashes when exporting big files. The newer versions of GarageBand were designed with musicians in mind rather than podcasters. The new version of GarageBand hates podcasters.

I publish the EM Cases podcasts to the EM Cases website, iTunes and SoundCloud. I have been thinking lately about converting to a new podcast player called PocastPlayr, which integrates automatically with pretty much every podcasting tool and service.

EM Cases Full Gear List

EMC Studios Hardware 2016 Gear List

  • Heil PR40 dynamic microphone x1
  • Triton audio FetHead in-line microphone pre-amplifier x1
  • Audio Technica AT2020 condenser microphones x2
  • Apex 5-inch all metal pop filters x3
  • Apex 6-inch dual screen nylon pop filter x1
  • AKG K702 Reference Headphones x1
  • Mackie CR3 Multimedia Monitors x1
  • Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 audio interface x1
  • Zoom H6 Handy Recorder x1
  • Zoom F8 Multitrack Field Recorder x1
  • Yorkville Sound Tripod Boom Stands x3

Field Recording Hardware Gear List

  • Heil PR22 UT dynamic microphones x2
  • Apex 5-inch all metal pop filters x3
  • Zoom H6 Handy Recorder x1
  • or Zoom F8 Multitrack Field Recorder x1
  • Yorkville Sound Desktop microphone stand

Software List

  • Audacity for recording audio in studio
  • Cast for recording audio remotely
  • Call Recorder for Skype recording audio remotely and viewing the guests
  • GarageBand ’09 v5.1 for editing audio
  • Auphonic Leveler for audio processing (balanced loudness and noise reduction)
  • ID3 Editor to tag Mp3s
  • Blubrry Powerpress Podcasting Plug-in for WordPress for dissemination of podcast on rss feed and iTunes
  • MailChimp to design and send email blasts
Benjamin Azan, MD

Benjamin Azan, MD

Emergency Physician
Lincoln Medical Center
Founder/Editor of foambase.org
Benjamin Azan, MD

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