Delmarva’s Own Podcast Beginner’s Kit

This, my friends, is a microphone. It is a tool used for recording a podcast. Most of the time…

 

(You can listen to this episode of Delmarva’s Own podcast by clicking this link.)

From time to time, I’ll have a conversation with someone about the podcast, and they’ll tell me they’re thinking about starting their own. This is usually followed with a question along the lines of, “how did you start yours?” This post and episode aims to answer that question for anyone anywhere. First, there’s something you should keep in mind as you read…

I’m going to keep this as simple as I can which shouldn’t be hard. I still consider myself a beginner at this. I also consider myself technologically challenged. That’s putting it politely. But I’m writing this post for people like me. My language here is intentionally uninformed so people like me can understand.

We’re now into “Season 3” of the podcast, and the reason I used quotations around “Season 3” is because I still don’t have a strong definition for what makes a season a season with my podcast. I started Delmarva’s Own in 2020. I released 3 episodes, one of which was an introduction to the podcast.

So, “Season 1” had 3 episodes.

I upped my game in 2021. It was a new year, so I called it, “Season 2.” I created my own website and planned more content. I released 9 episodes in season 2. It might not look like a lot to some, but to others, it looks like I tripled my content output in 2021.

I did. So, I’d like to tell all those voices of self-doubt in my mind to BACK OFF! I made progress!

Then, sometime in the middle of the year I got a call from an old friend, Doug, who has a wealth of experience in marketing, including website design. He gave me some tips on my website which he said was a good start, but needed some work. While he may have been trying to be kind, he was also correct, because in podcasting, any start is a good start.

He was so thorough and convincing that I decided to revamp the whole website. The site you’re seeing today is the result. I’m grateful for everything Doug and his partners at Ad Amplifier offered. (Note: There was no financial consideration of any kind paid to me for that last sentence. I am truly grateful.)

It’s now 2022, and we’ve released 1 episode of Season 3 at this point. Well, 2, if you count this one, which you should. I’m still learning to do this podcast thing, but the overall point of the above 309 words is to show that while I still consider myself a beginner, there has been progress for me, and I want to share some of what I’ve learned to this point including how you can get started on your own.

There is a plethora of information about what you need for a podcast. Most of that information is provided by people with more expertise than I can offer. I’m only going to tell you what I have experience with. I’ll tell you what equipment you might want to get, and if I provide a link to it, it will be an affiliate link which means if you use that link to make a purchase, I’ll get a little commission. I have no idea how much. I’ve never made money that way before.

In fact, as of this date, the next dollar I make on the podcast will be my first. I haven’t made any money podcasting. Hopefully that will happen some day, but right now, it hasn’t. I love talking to people, meeting new people and learning new things. That’s why I started Delmarva’s Own, and it hasn’t disappointed me yet!

Is it Hard to Start a Podcast?

No. I can confidently say it is not hard to start a podcast. I can say this because I managed to start one, and I’m what people in the tech industry often refer to as an “ID-10-T,” also known as, an idiot.

When technology works well, I’m golden. But the moment something doesn’t work properly – like when your PC gives you the blue screen of death, or your Mac has that rainbow-circle thingy – then I will either punch a hole in the nearest wall or simply crawl up into the fetal position and suck my thumb. It all depends on how much caffeine I consume that day. Eventually, I’ll find someone with tech know-how to come rescue me from impending tech doom. Usually this is someone under 20 years old. Usually the solution takes less than 15 seconds.

It’s maddening.

So if I can do it, anyone can. And I feel relatively sure most of you are better at tech stuff than I am.

This isn’t to say I haven’t had my challenges, because I have. But I found a solution for my biggest problem, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but start with talking about how a podcast works.

How Does a Podcast Work?

I might be oversimplifying here, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway. Here’s my description of how a podcast works.

A podcast begins when a person records something onto a recording device. This recording is then uploaded into a server of some sort which saves the episode and distributes it to various podcast platforms. Listeners use these platforms to listen to the podcast.

That’s it. There’s a whole lot of technical mumbo jumbo that I don’t understand at this point. Stuff like an RSS feed…blah, blah, blah… I couldn’t begin to tell you about all that. And, at the beginning, it doesn’t matter. There are companies that make that stuff work for you.

Thank goodness.

What you read below is how I manage to produce a podcast. I’ll tell you about the equipment I’ve used in the past, some of my challenges and how I overcame them. There is no perfect set-up. The correct set-up is the one that works for the person producing the content. This is what has worked for me. It might not work for everyone.

But I’m not that bright, so it should work for you.

How Much Does it Cost to Start a Podcast?

The fact is, you can start a podcast for almost zero dollars.

Literally.

Zero dollars. Well, as long as you have a smart phone. If you don’t have a smart phone, you will need to spend some money on equipment. But if you do have a smartphone (and who doesn’t at this point), then you’re ready to go!

You don’t need a website or anything else. Just an idea, your smart phone, and a voice box. (That’s the thing in your throat that you use to talk with. It’s freer than a smartphone.)

I have an iPhone, and in the past I’ve used the memo app to record. I did this with the first podcast I ever recorded for Delmarva’s Own. I also used the memo app for the second episode, which to this day remains my most listened to episode. This is the most simple – and cheapest – way to record.

Where is the Best Place to Record a Podcast?

Simply put, anywhere you need to record is the best place to record a podcast. I prefer guests come to me but often I need to record at a different location, so I do. The reason I prefer guests come to me is that I have a comfortable room which is particularly conducive for recording without me having to add any sound-dampening materials. The room is carpeted, there are curtains on the wall, a coat rack, several pieces of plush furniture, and a suspended ceiling which softens or negates any echo in the room. I don’t have to do a lot of sound editing for conversations in this room because there aren’t a lot of background noises.

If I’m recording an introduction or outro…duction(?) I’ll go into my closet which is full of clothes. The clothes on the hangers work great to cancel out any unwanted sound.

What Kind of Microphone Equipment Do I Need to Start a Podcast?

Microphones can be incredibly confusing if you aren’t familiar with them. For instance, check out this article with an explanation I’m sure the author thought was easy to understand. It gives me a popsicle headache.

Now, listen up, and listen closely. Ready?

You don’t need fancy microphones.

You. Don’t. Need. Fancy. Microphones.

Got it?

Now, for a second time, I am going to oversimplify something. This time, it’s microphones. And by oversimplify, I mean some people who understand mics well will cringe at reading this (including those who could read the Popular Science article I linked above). But here is my understanding:

In general, there are two types of microphones you’ll come across: dynamic and condenser. Dynamic microphones pick up the sound directly in front of them. Condenser microphones pick up the sound directly next to them as well as every sound between the microphone and the house three blocks away.

I prefer to use dynamic microphones which, contrary to how it might seem, are simple.

I finally learned this lesson, for good, on the episode just preceding this one. If you go back and listen, you’ll be able to notice some pretty bad sound issues for the first 7 minutes or so (well, at least after Randy’s golden tones were done introducing the episode.) The reason is because I used three different kinds of microphones in the same setting, and one of them was the wrong kind. There were two dynamic mics, but they operated a bit differently from each other and made it difficult for me to control the gain (or volume) when I was recording. The third mic was a condenser mic it picked up everything, even the echoes off the walls in the room which made for a difficult editing process. From a sound perspective, I wasn’t thrilled with the recording and I had to work for hours to produce what we finally uploaded for all of you to hear.

When we left the interview that day, I told Randy my condenser mic was going to be put away forever. I went to a local store and bought one more dynamic mic. I now have 4, and each person participating in an episode has their own. And, until I get better at sound editing, they’re all I’m going to use. And they’re all I’m going to link for you here.

Here is the dynamic mic I use.

I use a Stagg SDM50 Dynamic Microphone. This microphone comes in a hard case with a microphone cord and costs $30. It has an on/off switch and fits in a regular microphone stand. It’s very, very simple.

(I also used lapel mics in an interview. They picked up every movement of my shirt. I also used one of those that you wear around your face with the mic in front of your mouth. It picked up a lot of exhaling. Mine were cheap, but I still don’t recommend them. Particularly not if they’re wireless.)

Do I Need Microphone Stands for a Podcast?

No. You don’t need mic stands for a podcast. But people speak with their hands, and I find people who are unused to holding a microphone when they talk will often move their hands – including the hand holding the microphone – and when this happens, their voice will fade in and out. Further, the more a person is in contact with the microphone, the greater chance there is of unwanted bumps, scratches, or other distracting noises. I have a couple of microphone stands to help prevent this. At $15 each, they’re quite affordable, and they have worked out well.

Here are the microphone stands I use.

What Kind of Recording Hardware do I need to Start a Podcast?

Delmarva’s Own isn’t the first time I produced a podcast. I had one a few years back about something completely different. When I was recording that podcast I used to record straight from my microphone into my laptop. But to make this happen I had to use what’s called an audio interface to be able to use my microphone with my computer. That wasn’t too difficult. I used a computer program called “Audacity” to record and edit the podcast. This worked well until it didn’t. I don’t remember what exactly happened, but I simply couldn’t record anymore. My teenage son couldn’t get the mic to sync up with the program. It glitched, and it glitched big time.

As I pointed out above, I’m a tech idiot, so I needed something that wasn’t so reliant on the computer to record. The savior for me was the Zoom Podtrak P4. And I’m about to wax poetic about the Zoom Podtrak P4.

I’m not sure Delmarva’s Own podcast would be a thing without this little device here. Click the link for a picture you can zoom in on. It’s just under $200.

When I had my computer issues that not even my tech-geek son could fix, I was ready to pull my hair out. It was incredibly frustrating. I am just not great with computers. If rebooting the computer doesn’t work, I’m out of luck until I get it to the repair shop or whatever. My podcast is mainly interviews, and when I’m recording a podcast it’s not like I can just stop and reboot the computer and the entire interview. I do want to reserve some modicum of professionalism. I wanted, no, I needed a piece of equipment that could record on it’s own and wasn’t dependent on the computer. This is exactly what the Podtrak P4 is.

This device, which fits in your hand, will control up to 4 microphones and four sets of head sets. It also has the capability to record from your mobile device (aka, your phone) or your computer. For instance, when I recorded the episode with Randy Scott (when he was a guest, not a co-host) I surprised him with a call from an old colleague. The colleague was on my phone which I’d plugged into the Podtrak. Couldn’t have been easier. When I recorded the episode with Salisbury Mayor, Major Jake Day, he was deployed in Djibouti on the East Coast of Africa. We did a Facetime call on my Mac which I routed into the Podtrak. Once I figured out how to turn up his volume, everything went great.

Oh, yeah, let me talk about volume for a second. In the world of sound recording, “volume” is referred to as gain. Ok, it’s different…but not really. Here’s what I mean: When you want a person’s microphone to be louder, you have to turn down the gain.

I’m sorry, what? When I want sound to go up I have to turn something down, as in the gain number goes down but the sound level goes up?

Again, what? 

Listen, I have no idea what that means. The Podtrak P4 solved this conundrum for me too. For each input, (mic, mobile device, or computer) it has this little knob which acts like a volume dial. When I turn it one way, the person in my headphones gets louder. When I turn it the opposite direction, they get softer. It’s so intuitive for a non-techy like me.

The Podtrak P4 also has 4 sound pads you can pre-load with sounds you might want to use for any reason. When I had Stephanie Fowler on, I began by playing a clip from an old newsreel that was pertinent to the interview. It worked really well.

The Podtrak P4 records directly to a SD memory card which can be removed and plugged into your computer if you have the proper adapter. But if you don’t, the Podtrak P4 acts as an external hard drive, and you can do a data transfer directly from the unit to your computer. The card pictured to the left (and linked) is $12.99 as of the publication of this post.

Lastly, the Podtrak P4 plugs directly into the wall, but has a backup battery option and will run up to 3.5 hours on 2 double-A batteries. So if you’re remote somewhere without power, no problem.

Amazon has some bundle packages, but as I look at them, I don’t see any that are perfect for me. For instance, your guests might not want to use headphones. Heck, my co-host doesn’t want to use headphones, so I don’t need a bunch of those. One of the packages also offers what I believe is an unnecessary audio interface, no need to waste money.

Do I Need Headphones to Start a Podcast?

Whether or not you need headphones is up to you. I always use them so I can be sure everything is working and the sound levels are appropriate. There’s no Bluetooth function, so you’ll need some with a wire. So dust off that nice pair of beats you bought 7 years ago, or get some of these less expensive kind.

What Kind of Editing Software Do I Need to Start a Podcast?

To be clear, you don’t have to do any sound editing. You can simply record and upload. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m learning to do some sound editing. You’d be amazed how many coughs and deep breaths I’ve removed from our podcast episodes.

Sound editing, or “sound engineering,” if you want to get fancy about it, can be tedious depending on how particular you are. But it’s also free. I still use a free program called Audacity. It’s not intuitive for people like me, but it’s also not too hard to learn and use. Like anything else in life, it gets easier the more you use it. I relied (and still do rely, from time to time) on the University of YouTube for free tutorials about how to use the program. However, you don’t have to use audacity, or even any specialized editing software. You can sometimes use the podcast host of your choice.

What is a Podcast Host?

To distribute your podcast to various podcast sites, you’ll need to upload it to a podcast hosting site. (Unless you’re pretty good at coding and know how to maintain your own RSS feed, in which case…why are you still reading this?) The site will take your upload and distribute it to any number of Podcast programs (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc…) at the time you decide, either immediately or at a future time. I used Buzzsprout for that old podcast I used to do. I can’t remember why I stopped using them. Now I use Anchor.fm. Anchor is owned by Spotify, which can have some benefits, depending on how much you want to commit to only using Spotify to distribute your podcast. It honestly couldn’t be any easier. You can edit your podcast right on your mobile device (including your phone), add sounds, musical transitions, and even music right off Spotify to spice up your podcast. The catch is, if you use music from Spotify, you can only use Spotify to distribute your podcast. Hey, it works for Joe Rogan and many others.

What Else Do I Need for a Podcast?

The only area I splurged and paid more money than I probably should have was for an equipment bag, and I only bought it just before Season 3 began. I wanted a bag that would A) protect the equipment well, and B) separate different equipment items so it would all be organized when I needed it. I ended up purchasing a D’Addarios Backpack for about $200. It’s advertised as a bag for musicians, but was just what I needed. I mess around with YouTube too, and I have all my recording equipment for the podcast as well as my camera equipment for YouTube all in one place. I love it.

Ok, so that’s my “tight budget” podcast kit. You can find more expensive gear, for sure, but I just don’t need it right now, and I don’t think beginners like me do. That’s the best I’ve got for you right now. And, as I said, I’m sure there are some people out there who cringed at my description of the technical parts. If it was really bad, feel free to correct me in the comments.

How do I Fight off the Fear of Podcasting?

I used to use a lack of equipment as an excuse to put off podcasting. I was scared people would be turned off by my lack of expertise. But I was forgetting one thing.

When you start podcasting, not many people are listening anyways. And the people who are listening are doing so because they’re interested in you or your topic! The only people who criticized me did so in a loving gentle way, with my best interest at heart. So don’t worry about it. Do your thing. You’ll get it!

Happy Podcasting!

 

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