People sometimes ask me about what I listen for when I’m choosing guests to talk with on Unfinished Business.
I have conversations with a rotating set of regular guests, who appear on the show every 4–6 six weeks. Others come and go and occasionally some of these—like Ashley Baxter and Brendan Dawes—turn into regular guests. I look for interesting people who also ‘get’ the show and are willing to play along with me.
Guests need to have interesting things to say but they also need to sound good when they’re saying them. As Marco Arment wrote about this week, good audio quality helps to make a professional sounding podcast (although mine’s obviously not as good as something on the BBC) and on the rare occasions when my guests don’t sound great, I feel that reflects badly on the show overall.
When I invite someone new to Unfinished Business, I now give them a few week’s notice to arrange for the recording equipment they’ll need for the show:
A quality external condenser microphone
Sadly, the mic that’s built into your PC or Mac doesn’t produce good enough quality audio, so you’ll need an external condenser microphone and a few things to go with it.
- When I was first asked to appear on other people’s podcasts, I started with a Blue Microphones’ Snowball mic. The sound quality is ‘good enough’ and it comes with a stand and a USB cable to connect directly to a PC or Mac so set-up is incredibly easy.
- Sticking with Blue Microphones, some of my guests swear by their Yeti USB microphone.
- If you’re really pushing the boat out or are doing regular podcasting or voice recording, I use a Rode Podcaster dynamic USB microphone with a PSA 1 Swivel Mount Studio Microphone Boom Arm and a Rode PSM 1 Shockmount and have no complaints. You can buy all that in a kit, or you might choose to mount the mic on a desk stand. Either way, a pop filter is also an essential.
(Of course everyone has their preferred set-up and some people take their studio equipment much more seriously than I do. Casey Liss wrote about the equipment that he uses this week too.)
There’s two popular methods for recording a podcast:
- Some people record both sides of a Skype call which, of course, relies on Skype’s call quality when you record, which, well, you know. For that, the Call Recorder plugin for Skype is a popular choice.
- Each person records their our own audio track into either GarageBand, Quicktime or something similar on a Mac. (I don’t use Windows so I can’t recommend software for that.) I then mix all tracks together and I prefer this second method as it results in demonstrably better audio quality which far out-weighs the extra editing work required. It’s also a little riskier as every podcaster can tell you a story about the time that they, or a guest, forgot to press ‘record.’ That’s why I now do both, just in case.
Hardware and software are only part of the story. Even with the best audio sources, I often spend several hours per episode cleaning up a guest’s audio track, so now I ask guests to:
Set up in a quiet room, preferably one with carpet, curtains and soft furnishings to soak up the sound of the voice as it bounced around the room. Echo is practically impossible to remove and when the sound of one person’s voice is dramatically different from the other, the illusion that they’re in the same room is shattered. So avoid using an empty office or a minimal designer dining room when you can.
Stay still while you’re talking. It’s easy to remove the sound of a chair moving when it’s the only thing on your audio track, but nigh-on impossible to remove it, your keyboard strokes or your pen clicking when you’re talking. If your mic is mounted on a desk stand and you don’t have a boom or shock mount, try to keep your arms off the desk as the slightest movement can be picked up by the mic.
Practice good microphone technique. Keep your mouth a consistent distance from the mic and your voice at an even volume. Of course a loud belly laugh or a quiet whisper are great for effect, but keeping your voice consistent really helps to match up the volume of everyone’s voices. Dan Benjamin has a great video all about good microphone technique.
If someone else’s voice leaks from your headphones and is picked up by your mic, it can make editing a nightmare as it produces a strange ‘reverb’ sound that can be very time consuming to remove. So turn your headphones down as low as you can (and avoid wearing Beats if possible.
Be my guest
Recently I’ve heard a few people voicing a concern that the same people regularly appear on industry podcasts. I put this down to podcast hosts knowing what they’re getting when they’ve heard a guest before, both in terms of being knowledgable and confident about a subject but also sounding great, using good mic hardware and showing great mic technique.
I love speaking to new people on Unfinished Business, so if you sound great and you’ve something interesting that you’d like to talk with me about in 2015, let me know. I’d love to have you as a guest.