How to record high-quality audio for podcasts

Teal and white microphone on a coral background

If you want to start a podcast but don’t have anything to say, don’t. If you think you’ve got ideas that somebody, somewhere might find somehow valuable, but you’re holding back because you don’t know anything about recording software or equipment, you’ve come to the right place. With a little prep work and some trial-and-error, you can absolutely learn how to record audio for podcasts.

The ingredients for a compelling podcast boil down to a tasty reduction of great content and high-quality audio. Great content requires an engaging podcast host, a compelling, sustainable premise, and a steady outpouring of unique information, insights, or entertainment. High-quality audio requires the right podcast equipment, solid recording techniques, and basic audio editing chops. Let’s explore the audio component, focusing on the gear and approach you need to record and edit your podcast.

Record or import audio, make edits, add fades, music, and sound effects, then publish online, export the audio in the format of your choice or send it directly to your hosting service.
Create your podcast from start to finish with Descript.

4 tips for recording podcast audio

Before you record your podcast, keep these four key things in mind.

  1. Record in a soundproofed space. The best way to ensure great sound quality is to record in the quietest possible space. If you have access to a professional recording studio, seize the opportunity to record there. If you plan to podcast from home, record in the quietest room in your house. For some people, that might be a clothes closet, since hanging clothing acts as a natural sound absorber. If you’re recording in a regular room, choose one with carpet on the floor or lots of soft furniture — both are also great at absorbing sound. Close all windows and doors to keep out background noise. If some noise does sneak in, all is not lost, you’ll just need to spend a bit of time trying to remove those noises during post-production.
  2. Make sure you have ample volume. You need to get a good, strong audio signal when you record your podcast; otherwise, it might be hard to hear you (and your guests). If your recording is too quiet, you can boost the sound in post-production, but there’s a catch. Not only will you boost your intended vocals, but you will also boost the faint sounds of background noise or audio hiss. Avoid this problem by getting a sufficiently loud audio signal when you start recording. The best way to do this is to position your guests fairly close to their microphones (tell them to get their mouth about a palm’s length away from the mic).
  3. Consider the microphone. If have a podcasting budget, you’ll probably want to buy a podcast microphone. But don’t feel like you need to break the bank. You can find some very respectable microphones for around $100 (both XLR mics and USB mics), or you can scale up for more sensitive mics that capture a greater range of the audio frequency spectrum. However, we don’t think you need to overspend here. Remember that today’s editing technology has lots of tools for helping you upgrade your recorded audio — like our Studio Sound feature, which will help you get studio-quality sound, even if you start off using the mic in your laptop.
  4. Plan ahead for remote recording. If your podcasts involves guests or anyone other than yourself, you will almost certainly wind up recording remotely. Even in a post-quarantine world, everyone has grown so accustomed to remote recording that asking guests to come to your recording space every time suddenly feels like an onerous request. So as you plan to record multiple episodes of your podcast, think about how you’ll capture guest audio, knowing they may need guidance or assistance. Some podcasters go so far as to send their guests mics; at the very least, talk with them about finding a nice quiet space, with good wifi (or better yet, an ethernet connection). And choose your video conferencing software carefully; if you use Riverside, SquadCast, or Restream, you’ll be able to export the recording to Descript through the cloud, in a single click.

What do you need to record audio for a podcast?

As you assemble your podcast gear, make sure you have these four essential items.

  1. Computer. If you’re not planning to go analog and splice bits of tape together, like a lunatic, you’re going to need a computer to record and edit. If you’re reading this on your computer, skip ahead — you’re all set. Laptops work particularly well for podcasters since they can be transported to remote recording locations. Look for a computer with at least 8GB of RAM, and get the most powerful processor you can afford.
  2. Software. There are tons of podcasting software tools to choose from, including Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Adobe Audition, and our favorite, Descript. Pro Tools and Logic Pro are beloved in the music industry and really powerful — perhaps a bit too powerful, and too expensive, for a budding podcaster. Audition is better known in the podcasting and sound effects communities because Adobe built it for voice recordings. We think Descript is a better option for podcasters, and while it’s true that this is the Descript blog so what else would we say, consider that Descript allows you to edit audio files the same way you’d edit text in a doc, and that it comes with all the editing and mixing capabilities you need to make a great-sounding podcast. Plus, you can quickly make social clips to promote your show when it’s ready. And if you make a video podcast, you can edit that in Descript too — no other tool lets you do both.
  3. Microphones. You can read our advice on microphones here. Here’s the thing: if you have a good recording setup and the right editing software, the mic you use doesn’t matter that much, so don’t get too hung up on this when you’re getting started. That said, a seasoned podcaster probably has multiple microphones at the ready so they can quickly accommodate group discussions or special guests. XLR microphones are the industry standard because balanced XLR cables minimize line noise and electrical interference. USB mics have surged in popularity, and can plug right into your computer without an audio interface (although if you’re recording multiple people at once, you’ll definitely want an audio interface). You can also use handheld voice recorders, which save digital audio files locally; you can then transfer these files to your editing computer.
  4. Headphones. Podcast editors need high-quality headphones to properly hear the audio tracks they’ve captured. Sony’s MDR-7506 headphones are an industry standard. They’re comfortable, they provide a neutral sound, and they only cost $100. For something even more affordable, check out the Superlux HD 681. They don’t quite match Sony’s sound quality, but they cost less than half the price of the MDR-7506.

How to record audio using Descript

Recording with Descript is easy. Here is a typical workflow for recording podcast audio using Descript software.

  1. Create a new project. Launch Descript and click the blue “New” button in the top right corner and select “Project” from the drop-down menu. Pick a name for your project and click “Create Project.”
  2. Choose a recording source. Click on the microphone-shaped “Record Audio” button at the top of Descript’s sound capture window. Then choose your sound source by clicking on the gear icon. You’ll see a list of available input sources, such as your computer’s built-in microphone, a USB microphone, or an audio interface you’ve plugged in via USB.
  3. Choose whether or not you want live transcription. Descript’s transcription service gets turned on by default in the recording window. If you don’t want Descript to automatically transcribe your audio, uncheck the box "Automatically transcribe recording."
  4. Name your audio track. You’ll want to create track names, or speaker labels, for each of your input channels. You can add these speaker labels by clicking the Plus (+) icon on your screen.
  5. Start recording. Now you can begin recording. To do so, click the red “Record” button to start capturing audio. Remember, Descript will automatically transcribe any speech it records, unless you’ve unchecked the live translation option. Whenever you want to stop recording, click the “Stop” button.

FAQs about recording audio for podcasts

Here are three of the most common questions podcasters have about the recording process.

  1. How do you record people in two different locations? When podcasters collaborate remotely, they have two main methods of recording their parts. The first is to interact live — that is, have a conversation over the phone or on a video chat service and record that conversation using a mixer and editing software. You can also do what's called a double-ender, where the podcasters each record on their own, rather than chatting over phone lines or the internet. This second method can produce better-sounding audio, but it won’t work for back-and-forth conversations.
  2. How do you make a podcast sound great? When it comes to creating high-quality audio, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, but a few rules typically apply. Record your participants in quiet rooms using the best microphones that fit your budget. Add subtle amounts of compression using computer plugins. Compression will level the overall sound of your recording so that nothing is overly loud or overly quiet. You may also want to add a subtle amount of reverb to add a sense of space around the speaker. Be warned, however, that a little reverb goes a long way. Finally, add a bit of equalization (EQ) to bring out certain frequencies. Boosting lower frequencies can create a bit of resonance. Boosting upper frequencies can bring out certain consonants and improve articulation. Middle frequencies are the ones we hear most clearly, so boosting those might sound like a standard-issue volume boost.
  3. Can I create podcasts on my phone? You can certainly start your podcast recordings on a phone. The market is full of high-quality microphones for iPhone and other smartphones. However, when it comes time to edit, you’ll want to migrate your audio files to a computer, where you can make full use of editing software like Descript, Pro Tools, and Adobe Audition. You’ll also use your computer to upload your podcasts to a hosting service and to monitor user engagement on various podcast platforms.

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