You want to have clips that are clear, easy to understand, and drive the emotional resonance of the insight you’re trying to share.
YouTube videos and reading a ton of product reviews and “how to” blogs.
I would hardly call myself an expert, but if you are considering dipping your foot into the podcast pool, and you’re willing to invest the time into editing and producing, you too can become a modcaster (i.e., a moderator podcaster).
Before we dive into the details of how to modcast, let’s start with why. Our agency is obsessed with taking the fundamentals of what we do as researchers and finding ways to pull them apart and put them back together in new and interesting ways. Podcasting as a deliverable is one component of an overall strategy that examines how our clients consume, understand, and execute insights. In challenging ourselves to think beyond PowerPoint, we examined the different ways people receive and understand information—visually, spatially, kinesthetically, etc. Auditory learning felt like a natural extension for the kind of work we were already doing. Don’t get me wrong, we still create visually engaging written reports, but the podcast brings our learnings to life in a whole new way. We are quite literally putting the voice of the consumer directly into the client’s ear when they are ready to hear it.
Think in general about why we are drawn to podcasts. While avoidance, as I mentioned earlier, is part of it, there is also an intimacy and directness about the experience. Even if just playing in the background, a good podcast has enough hooks to keep you listening. The act of hearing something means that knowledge gets stored in your memory differently. A quote from a consumer can have more impact when you hear the emotion in her voice rather than just reading it on the page. One can even argue hearing only the voice and not seeing what the person looks like can minimize bias. There’s a reason NBC’s The Voice is as popular as it is…and one could argue it has nothing to do with Adam Levine.
Getting Started: Equipment
If you determine that modcasting is something you’d like to try, prepare to get sucked into a rabbit hole of online information and advice. There is no shortage of podcast experts willing to share their knowledge with you. As with everything web related, the quality and depth of knowledge varies. Hopefully, this article will help you cut through the noise.
The good news is, getting started doesn’t require a home equity loan to build a sound studio in your garage or office, although I fully admit to sporadic visions of a Quincy Jones-like sound stage off my living room. The equipment has come a long way in quality and affordability. Really, to get started, your base tools will consist of a decent microphone, editing software, and a lot of time.
So, let’s talk about your setup. Like I said, I’m not an expert in production, nor am I a reviewer of equipment. And, I assure you I’m not a receiver of any form of sponsorships—but my dance card is open. As such, I’m going to refrain from making recommendations on brands. You will easily find plenty of websites and podcasters who will provide endless opinions and recommendations. On a side note, I highly recommend the site Wirecutter for those moments when you just want to be told “Here, buy this.” Now back to our regularly scheduled article…
Let’s start with the microphone. What you are looking for is a quality affordable USB, digital, or “plug and play” mic. These are the most popular recording choices for podcasters because you can have most USB mics unboxed, set up, plugged in, and ready to go in about a minute. One of the bigger lessons I’ve learned about podcasting is that simpler solutions are typically the best solutions, at least while you’re starting out. It bears repeating—simpler is better for podcasting.
While some podcasters don’t like them, I’ve quickly become a fan of using headphones while recording. Many mics have an output that allows you to plug in directly. If not, use the jack on your laptop. Having the ability to listen while you’re recording lets you hear what you sound like in real time. This way, you can immediately identify your screw ups or any mic distortions and correct them then and there. The experience of recording an hour’s worth of dialogue only to realize the sound is unusable because your levels were off can result in a grown man collapsing into a messy fetal position. At least that’s what I’ve been told can happen…
In addition to a good mic, you’ll also need to download editing software. Think of editing software as the canvas for your auditory paint. Your amazing brilliance spits out of your mouth, into the microphone, and lands right into the software where it can be edited, manipulated, scrubbed, recorded, and packaged for the world to hear. I know I told you I wasn’t going to provide recommendations, but there seems to be consensus among the experts for those getting started to use either GarageBand for Apple or Audacity for PC. Both provide the tools you’ll need to edit, mix, and self-produce.
A word of warning: as soon as you download and open these programs, your head might start to swoon. There are a ton of features that at first will seem daunting. But because our motto is that simplicity is our friend, to get started you only need to familiarize yourself with a few key functions. A YouTube search will provide great soup-to-nuts tutorials as well as links to more advanced features once you master the fundamentals.
Because you don’t want to hold the mic while recording, I also recommend investing in an extendable microphone boom arm. These are those extendable mic holders that clamp down to your desk and place the mic right in front of your face, much like you would imagine a professional disc jockey using. There are three reasons for this. The first two are practical—you don’t want a mic stand that sits on your desk as it will pick up any vibrations or sounds when you bump your chair into the desk. In addition, a boom arm frees up your hands. The third reason is purely emotional—there is no greater confidence builder than sitting down to record a podcast looking like you’re about to announce the morning drive time or take a call from the long-time listener, first-time caller on line three.
And finally, if you’re an excited talker like I am, you might also purchase a pop filter—the round small black piece of fabric that sits in front of the mic. It essentially controls the P and B sounds that sound like pops in your podcast. These are called “plosives” (great word, right?) and are difficult to remove. Having the screen there keeps them out and makes you sound smarter. We can use all the help we can get when starting out.
Now, let’s talk briefly about format, or how you will structure your podcast. Most of the podcasts we create for Wonderlust Collective are what we call documentary style. They feature one host who delivers the learnings interspersed with appropriate music and clips from the research. We do this primarily because it’s most efficient, but it can be intimidating for the beginner podcaster. Hearing your own voice and keeping the conversation natural takes some getting used to. Figuring out how to stop sounding like you’re reading or talking to yourself and actually talking to your listener takes practice.
If we have more than one moderator on a project, we might co-host a podcast. Even with a scripted cast, having another person next to you makes your podcast feel much more like a dialogue than a weather report. A good chemistry between two hosts can create a great listening experience. If you have the right client, you could also bring them into the mix to provide broader context.
I wish I could tell you producing a podcast is as easy as sitting down in front of the mic and starting to talk.
But the reality is that podcasting is as easy as sitting down in front of the mic, realizing you don’t know what to say, saying something that sounds ridiculous, wondering when you started speaking with a Canadian accent, discovering you can’t really say the word February, and then looking at the clock to realize thirty minutes have gone by and you don’t have anything you can use.
When we first started, we scripted everything and stayed to the script religiously. But we quickly realized the way we write isn’t the way we speak, and so over time, we would use the script more as a guide and find our own voice. We now strive for what we call an invisible script. Even though we know what we’re going to say and have everything mapped out, our best podcasts sound like real conversations you would want to have in real life. We developed tips that help us sound more authentic such as:
- Shorter sentences are better than longer sentences.
- Contractions are our friend.
- If it doesn’t sound like something we’d say, don’t say it.
We also have our clients sign off on the scripts prior to recording so we have buy-in. It’s much easier to edit a Word document than to re-record sections.
Recording, Producing, Editing
Essentially, if you can copy and paste a Word document, you can edit sound. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail around the process of recording and editing because you will be better off using a YouTube tutorial to help navigate yourself through these waters. But I will provide a broad overview of how it all works. Think about a podcast as a series of different auditory components that work in tandem to produce a final piece. These components are called tracks. So, we might begin with a music track that fades out as our narrative track begins. At some point, we might bring in a sound clip from our research—this would be its own separate track.
As you edit, you are like a conductor orchestrating when one track begins and the other ends. The concept is simple, the execution can become complex. But with time and practice, it becomes easier to marry these different sounds to create something quite lovely. You will feel like a rock star the first time you cross fade (or seamlessly interweave) two tracks successfully. Give yourself space and time to fail, fail better, and fail better again, and you will get it.
The best gift you can give yourself when producing a podcast is excellent sound. Whether that’s recorded in a consumer’s home or out of a facility, you really want to have clips that are clear, easy to understand, and help drive the emotional resonance of the insight you’re trying to share. Whenever possible, if you know you’re going to be using clips in a podcast, try to individually mic respondents.
While we’ve come a long way from that first podcast, there is so much farther we can push new avenues of communication. I’m already cringing at what I imagine our first podcasts will sound like through the lens of a couple years from now. Who is to say if we’ll even be doing them in a few years? What’s important is that we continue to explore the technology and resources we have on hand today so that we can break them and rebuild something new for tomorrow.