Earlier this year I took a new day job. Instead of working from home, I now commute about 23 miles one way. Recently I decided to listen to writing podcasts during the commute and started with some recommended by writerly friends. As I expected, the quality varied.
There are two things that make a podcast successful. Great content and great sound. While every podcast I sampled had the content, the sound quality wasn’t there on many of them. Typically, one of the hosts sounded fine while another didn’t. While I recognize the sound can’t be great every single time, I sampled more than one episode of the suspect podcasts and found each of them consistently had bad sound quality. Despite the good content, I have dropped all of the bad sound ones from my feed.
I spent my high school and college years working at several different radio stations and learned much about sound. For a podcast, there are three primary causes of bad sound.
First up is low quality microphones. If you’re going to have a good quality podcast, get good quality mics. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars. Quality mics are available on Amazon for around $50. Read reviews. Talk to other podcasters. Do your research. Note that most headsets have very poor quality mics, so skip these all together unless you want to pony up the cost for broadcast quality hardware like TV sports announcers use.
Second, make sure you are close enough to the mic. My guess is the poor quality on most of the podcasts I checked out was due to having one mic and the second host was too far away. TV and movies are notorious for doing this in scenes, even where the actor was supposed to be a professional. Get one mic for every person. You don’t need to put your lips on the mic, but it should quite close to you.
Third, make sure you use the mic correctly. Have you ever been to a meeting where the speaker holds the mic in front of their mouth and you still can’t hear them? Some mics are designed to speak directly into the top end, others the side of the mic. Still others are designed to pick up lots of sound. These are called omni-directional. Not good for podcasts as they are more likely pick up your barking dog or the garbage truck outside. Know what kind you have and how to use it.
One final tip to keep that mic in top usable condition. Don’t tap it to check if it’s on. That can damage the sensitive filament that picks up sound. You should speak into it.
There were other reasons why I dropped some podcasts. On one the host would giggle for no reason. It was annoying. But for most, it was due to poor sound.