Podcasting is easier, and more popular, today than it ever has been. It can be a great way for student’s to have their voices hear and to communicate with a wider audience. It hits lots of speaking and listening goals and is a cross curricular activity that can be a lot less time consuming than creating a video. Best of all, you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. Here’s what you need to know.
Choosing the Right Microphone
Let’s get right to it. You’re going to need a microphone. You might think the one on your computer is enough, (and it might be for some purposes), but an external microphone will give you a much better sound. If you don’t buy anything else, buy a decent microphone. It absolutely makes a difference, and your listeners will thank you for it.
Basically there are two types of microphones you will come across in your search. Dynamic microphones and condenser microphones. To save complexity and the need for a mixer, I am just going to talk about USB microphones in this guide.
Dynamic microphones are commonly used by TWIT, 5by5 and other big name podcast networks. They pick up less background audio than a condenser microphone, so this can make them a good choice for noisy classrooms. However, they require a good microphone technique. You need to sit close to the microphone and speak directly into it. If you sit back, talk to the side, or have multiple students talking around one microphone, you may not get the results you hoped for with a dynamic mic. This is not to say that dynamic microphones are bad, you just have to know how to use them.
Condenser microphones are a little more forgiving. They can have multiple settings that will allow you to record audio all around the microphone, on two sides of the microphone, or just the from the front. Wider recording patterns will lessen the overall quality of the recording, and lead to more background noise, but your microphone technique does not need to be quite as good and that makes them ideal for younger students. In addition, some people prefer the sound of condenser microphones. They can sound richer due to the wider frequencies that are recorded, but they do work best in quieter environments. More on that later.
Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB – a great dynamic microphone for podcasting
- Samson Q2U – a good alternative to the ATR2100, includes headphones
- Blue Ice Snowball – a basic, good quality USB mic
- Blue Snowball – includes omni-directional recording mode
- Blue Yeti – adds gain control, a headphone jack and a mute button
Microphones for iPhones & iPads
- iRig Mic Lav (1 pack) – a clip on lavalier mic that connects to a mobile device
- iRig Mic Lav (2 pack) – a pair of clip on lavalier mics that records audio from two sources
- iRig Mic – entry level microphone for video and podcasting needs with multiple settings
- iRig Mic HD – records higher quality audio and has a lightning cable interface
Note, if you are using a USB microphone with an iPad, you will need a lightning to USB adapter to give you the USB interface you need to plug in the microphone.
The Recording Environment
At the end of the day, no matter what microphone you pick, the biggest challenge for a classroom teacher is finding a quiet spot to record the audio. You absolutely can do it in your classroom, but background noise will often be audible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in order to focus the listener’s attention on the speaker, you will want to minimize that as much as you can.
Ideally you want to avoid large rooms with lots of hard surfaces. This has an adverse effect on the audio because the sound bounces around and echos off walls and surfaces before returning to the microphone. Smaller spaces with carpeted floors and/or soft furnishings are ideal because they absorb reverb and background noise, as well as reduce the echo effect you may get in larger rooms.
If you have to record in the classroom, you might consider a portable sound booth. You can buy one, or make your own with some acoustic foam and a cardboard box, plastic tote, or a folding fabric cube that you might find at Walmart or Target. See an example here.
A pop filter cuts down on the plosive sounds you might hear during an audio recording. These noises are caused when you pronounce words with sounds like b, p, t, or k because they require your mouth to exhale additional air in order to pronounce them properly. This can cause a popping sound on your audio recording.
To avoid this, podcasters use a pop filter. It acts like a shield in front of the microphone to block the air that would otherwise go straight towards the microphone. It is a subtle effect, but a noticeable one, especially when you compare the audio you get with and without a pop filter. They are low tech, and generally cheap, so they are always a good investment. They also come in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few good ones:
- Dragonpad USA Pop Filter
- Auphonic 6-inch Microphone Pop Filter
- Mudder Recording Studio Windscreen Pop Filter
- Foam Windscreen for Blue Yeti
Not everyone likes to edit audio files but if you want to add music or sound effects to your podcast, or correct any mistakes you or your students make along the way, then you are going to need some kind of audio editor. Thankfully, there are a lot of perfectly good free options to complement the fuller featured paid versions. Audacity is a popular, free audio editor that is available for Mac and PC. It takes a little but of getting used to, but there are hundreds of YouTube tutorials to get you started, and you probably won’t need even half of what it can do to edit or enhance your audio. Other options are below:
- Garageband (Mac or iPad)
- Logic Pro X (Mac)
- Adobe Audition (Mac or PC)
- Soundtrap (Mac, PC, Chromebook, iPad)
- Twisted Wave (Mac, PC, Chromebook, iPad)
- Ferrite Recording Studio (iPad)
- Voice Record Pro 7 (iPad)
- Audacity (Mac or PC)
Headphones are useful for editing audio, but several microphones let you plug in headphones to monitor the volume of your audio as you record it. If you already have headphones in your school/classroom, then I would be tempted to just use those providing they were in decent shape. If you were looking to buy headphones for podcasting, I would recommend you look at studio or monitor headphones. These headphones typically give a purer audio experience that is not artificially enhanced with bass or other effects. In short, they give a more neutral, balanced sound. Here are some good headphones that are worth a look.
Sony MDRV6 – Many people’s lists begin and end here. These are a popular podcast headset.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50 – Another great choice, but not a cheap choice. I have these ones.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M20x – A more affordable version of the headphones above.
- LyxPro HAS-10 – Popular studio headphones that won’t break the bank.
By definition, a podcast is generally distributed via some kind of online service. This allows people to listen to your podcast in an online player, download it to listen offline, or subscribe to it in a mobile app via an RSS feed. The online services that allow this are called hosting sites. There are many to choose from. Many have free components but you can expect restrictions so be sure to compare and contrast carefully. They include services like:
If you want to list your podcast in iTunes or Google Play Music so others can discover, subscribe and listen to your show, you are going to need a hosting service that provides you with an RSS feed. All the options above include that at no extra cost. Once you have that, you follow a simple process to submit your RSS feed to Apple’s Podcasts Connect service or Google’s Play Music Portal. You can absolutely submit to both directories in order to attract the widest audience, but for better or worse, iTunes is where the majority of people get their podcasts.