3 Things To Make Your Podcast Sound Better

Maybe you’re thinking of starting a podcast. Or maybe you already have one. Either way, you’ve probably asked yourself: how can I make my podcast sound better?

When it comes to recording quality audio for podcasts, the answers can be confusing while the options are just as overwhelming.

To help you get some simple and straightforward answers, our writer, Cassidy Butler, spoke with Ish Balderas Wong, Voxtopica’s chief sound engineer.

Ish is a highly experienced audio engineer who has worked in studios around the world producing music and podcasts. He earned his degree in Electronic Production and Sound Design from Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Ish is going to tell you what steps you can take to get professional-sounding audio. Whether you’re recording in a studio, your office, or your living room (while you monitor your kid’s virtual learning), you can record a great sounding podcast.

So grab some coffee and a notepad, and settle in to learn how to make a great sounding show.

CB: What are the most important factors to recording quality, usable audio?
IBW: There are three things to consider. We call them “the 3 E’s”: Environment, Equipment, and Engineering. If you do the right things in each of these your podcast can sound really good.

CB: Let’s start with environment. What does that mean for podcasting?
IBW: The space where you record is really important to how you’ll sound. In an ideal world, everyone would record in a studio specifically designed to produce amazing sound.

But studios aren’t possible for everyone, especially during the pandemic. An alternative, especially for home recordings, would be recording in a closet — and really, a closet full of clothes.

CB: A closet full of clothes? Explain.
IBW: It’s the way sound works. Have you ever been in a completely empty room where everything you say sounds like it echos? That’s because sound travels in straight lines. If you record a podcast in an empty room, the sound of your voice bounces off the walls over and over, creating that echo. Well, your mic will pick up that echo, too. That’s called “reverb”.

That effect doesn’t happen if the walls are covered in something that absorbs sound so that most of it doesn’t bounce off.

You can buy foam panels to put on your walls, or just hang tapestries, put curtains over windows, and lay rugs on the floor. Or, as I said before, record in a closet full of clothes. All that hanging fabric does a great job of absorbing sound.

CB: What else do podcasters need to know about their environment?
IBW: Even when you have good sound absorption, some sound will still bounce off of every surface. So your voice also needs to be dispersed. As sound travels through air, it loses energy — basically, it gets quieter. You want any sound that does bounce to lose as much energy, meaning get as quiet as possible, before it gets to your mic. The best way to do that is to have lots of surfaces for the sound to bounce off.

That’s why studios have walls covered with egg carton-like foam, to absorb and disperse sound in lots of directions.

You can get that effect by having something behind your mic like a bookshelf. When sound hits the shelves, the books of different sizes will send the sound in different directions.

CB: So now we have our ideal environment set up. The next “E” is equipment. What can you tell us about that?
IBW: You will only ever sound as good as your worst piece of equipment. If you have a perfect environment but a bad microphone, your audio can’t sound better than the microphone allows. That’s why it’s worth investing in quality equipment.

But environment and equipment go hand-in-hand. The best microphone in the world can’t eliminate reverb, so a microphone can only make you sound as good as your environment.

 

CB: What kinds of microphones are best for podcasters?
IBW: The first thing is that there are two basic kinds of podcast mics. There are condenser microphones and dynamic microphones.

Condenser mics are very sensitive. They pick up a lot of sound and capture everything, including any background noise. A condenser mic gives a rich, full sound, but they aren’t the best options if you’re recording at home. Even if your home or office seems quiet, there’s always some kind of humming or creaking in the building. Because of this, condenser mics must be used in the right kind of setting, usually an acoustically-treated studio.

The other kinds are dynamic microphones. These mics pick up less sound and mostly from whatever is right in front of it. They are the mics singers in bands use because they don’t pick up the rest of the band. This is the best option for home or office recording but, like singers in bands, you need to keep the mic close to your mouth to get the best sound. A dynamic mic more than six inches from your mouth is not going to give you very good sound quality.

CB: Why is it important to place the microphone here?
IBW: This is where “gain” comes in. Gain is how sensitive your microphone is to sound. The higher the gain, the more sensitive it is. If the gain is too high, the mic picks up sounds you don’t want recorded and can make your voice sound distorted. If the gain is too low, it won’t pick up your voice. If the microphone is six inches from your face and you appropriately adjust the gain, you won’t have to whisper or yell for the mic to pick you up with good quality.

CB: A lot of people are concerned about USB vs. XLR when it comes to purchasing a microphone. What’s your breakdown?
IBW: USB microphones record digitally. They connect directly to your computer and send audio right in. XLR mics record in analog and require more audio equipment, but they record incredibly detailed audio. That being said, even though USB records less detail, you can still get great audio for podcasts with a USB microphone without having to purchase extra equipment.

CB: This brings us to the final “E” which is engineering. What’s the first thing podcasters need to know about it?
IBW: You can have the right equipment and perfect environment, but if you use a bad recording service or record on the wrong file format, your audio will lose a lot of quality. The good thing is that these are all preventable mistakes.

CB: Especially with more people recording their podcasts remotely, what services should people use to record conversations?
IBW: First, don’t record on Zoom or Google Meet. These programs can suppress or distort your audio while recording. I recommend using a local recording service like Squadcast or Zencastr. The benefit to using local recording services is that your audio doesn’t have to travel through the internet. Every guest is recorded on a separate track and that track’s file is recorded locally on your computer. So even if you or your guest has spotty internet or the recording gets glitched, the audio files will still be clean.

I’ll add that it’s absolutely critical for all hosts and guests to wear headphones while recording to monitor the detail of sound. If you don’t wear headphones, all you hear is the sound in the room, not the sound being recorded. When you wear headphones, you hear what’s being recorded, so you’ll know if your squeaky chair is being recorded or, worse, if someone’s mic isn’t working.

CB: How about files?
IBW: You want to work on WAV files during the whole production process. WAV is a bigger, high resolution file. MP3 is a smaller file. If you’re giving files to an engineer, always give them WAV files. MP3 files can compress the more they’re edited, resulting in a smaller file with lower quality detail.

CB: Final parting wisdom for our subject matter expert podcasters?
IBW: Take the time to get your audio right before recording. Raw recording is the biggest factor of how good your podcast will sound. You can’t expect miracles from your sound engineer if the raw files are low quality recordings. The better quality the raw audio is, the better your podcast will sound. That’s it for subject matter experts!

If you want to learn more step-by-step approaches to recording high quality audio, stay in touch to learn about our future webinar on How To Make Your Podcast Sound Better.

You can stay updated by signing up for our email newsletter.

Why Spotify Actually Isn’t the Best Platform for Your Podcast

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Spotify as a podcast platform recently, and how it’s gaining or even surpassing Apple Podcasts as the go-to platform. We wanted to find out if that applied to public affairs and similar podcasts, so we reviewed performance data from some of the shows we produce to get the truth. Spoiler: Spotify isn’t that special.

We all know people are listening to podcasts more than ever before. Podcast consumption was up by 5% in 2020, according to Edison Research. People love them because access to podcasts is quick and easy, sometimes just a simple voice command away.

Great news, right? More people are tuning into your podcasts. But it leaves us with two big questions.

What platforms are people using to listen to your podcast?

And specifically, what platforms are best for public affairs podcasts?

The podcast industry progresses each month. But we’ve found consistencies. Here’s what we know about the top platforms listeners are using:

Apple, as usual, starts off in the lead.

The majority of podcast listeners use Apple Podcasts. Apple held 61.1% of all podcast downloads as of August 2020 – so much that some critics have even accused Apple of having a monopoly over podcasting.

Every podcast wants to be featured on Apple’s “Top Chart” and “New and Noteworthy” lists because it can significantly boost listenership for new and less-established podcasts.

So, the general consensus in podcasting is that Apple Podcasts is always worth your investment if you want people to find your show. And while Apple may have set the bar high, its competitors refuse to be left in the dust.

Spotify fights for the top.

Spotify is gaining on Apple in its fight for control over listenership. Spotify actually passed Apple in podcast listening by 4% in 2020. However, Spotify does not lead in downloads, however, because it delivers podcasts by streaming. The differences are a bit technical, let’s just say that Spotify uses its own metrics while the rest of the industry uses “downloads”.

Spotify is also raising eyebrows in the industry by buying podcast-making companies like Gimlet, going into the Netflix-like world of producing original content and offering Spotify-exclusive podcasts. The exclusivity is designed to entice listeners to access all their favorite podcasts through Spotify.

Spotify has a lot of issues, though. For example, Spotify secretly shares user information with advertisers. And their podcast platform is being used to release pirated and unlicensed music.

While these issues may not affect most users, it’s difficult to know what else they do that could turn people off in the future.

Apple, Spotify…anyone else?

Another leader is racing to beat these top two competitors: YouTube.

In 2020, YouTube was the most frequently used podcast platform, especially among podcast newcomers and heavy podcast users (people who listen 6+ hours/week).

So…which is best?

That depends on your audience. Millennials tend to rely on Spotify and YouTube, while Generation X and Baby Boomers tend to listen through Apple Podcasts.

But hear us out, it is not worth it to put all resources into just one. The data shows that these three platforms among others can be equally crucial to your podcast.

What’s best for Public Affairs Podcasts?

Even though Apple typically leads in listenership with Spotify in a close second, are these the best platforms for your organization? Do these trends and statistics apply to your podcast?

Great question. The answer is yes…and no.

Voxtopica has found that Apple still dominates public affairs podcasting. Roughly 30-50% of association podcast listenership comes from Apple Podcasts.

But there’s one more platform specific to pubic affairs that you might not have thought about.

Your website.

That’s right. Voxtopica found the second-most dominant platform for association podcasts is desktop browsers. That’s right, association audiences like members and industry specialists are just as likely to listen on an organization’s website as on Spotify – usually from 5-15% of all downloads.

This means it’s critical for associations to invest in their podcast’s web presence. User-friendly design and experience will make it easier for your listeners to find and access your podcast.

What does it all mean?

Apple leads in podcasting listenership overall, with Spotify in a close second.

In public affairs podcasting, while Apple still leads, your association’s website is second in listenership, with Spotify in a close or distant third depending on the audience.

You may be rubbing your eyes, overwhelmed with a whirlwind of thoughts on podcast platforms. Apple, Spotify, my association’s website, YouTube! How do I know what’s best for my audience?

The answer is simple: Focus on your audience. As long as you never forget that you are making the podcast for them you won’t go wrong.

if you’re a subject matter expert, association, or public affairs pro and want to understand how to reach your audience, we’re here to help. Voxtopica‘s experts can help you plan a podcast to reach the right people or guide your current podcast to better results.

5 Reasons to Start an Association Podcast Right Now

We’re living through an unprecedented experience. People are staying home and businesses have shifted to remote working as we all do our part to stop the Covid-19 pandemic.

While it might seem like an unusual time to launch a new communication tactic, it’s actually the perfect time to start an association podcast. Podcasting is an amazingly intimate media that is very well-suited for the remote work situation most of us find ourselves in today. From members to influencers and other stakeholders, podcasting can help you reach audiences in a more personal way that people appreciate at times like these. Here’s why:

1. People need to hear human voices

Now more than ever, connecting with people on a personal level is important to our well-being. Your podcast can help. Whether your audience is your members, elected officials, influencers, or any other group your association regularly connects with, communicating with them on a directly personal level is more important than ever.

Social distancing is important, but people still need human contact. A podcast can help.

Your podcast doesn’t need to have a million listeners to be successful. It doesn’t even need to have 10,000 listeners. It just needs to deliver your message effectively to the audiences you care about most. Maybe that’s a few hundred members. Maybe it’s a few dozen influencers. The number doesn’t matter as much as the authenticity and personal touch that only a podcast can provide.

2. A Podcast can involve your whole team

It’s usually best for a conversational podcast to have a host whose voice and personality drive the conversations, but the host needs a guest of course. That’s where your entire team — even members, vendors, and third-party experts — can play a role. 

Your business podcast can include members of your team, members, vendors, and more.

If you want influencers to know about a new legislative issue, for example, you can have a member of your government relations team as a guest. If your organization wants to highlight a new campaign, have your advocacy director on the show. If you’re making changes to the services you offer, invite your membership director to tell members about it.

These are all ways you can keep your interactions with your association’s key contacts personal and direct. The possibilities are limitless.

3. Podcasts can be (relatively) easy

Recording a podcast is actually rather simple. Most podcasts are simply conversations between two or more people (particularly podcasts by associations), and most of us are adept at carrying on a conversation.

Technically, all that’s required is a microphone and some easy-to-use software. It’s true that editing requires skill, but there are services that can assist you with that.

Podcast equipment and software are simple and easy-to-use for most technically savvy individuals.

Even with co-hosts or guests working from home, the technology exists to record conversations remotely with very good sound quality. Of course, the more complex you make your show the more difficult it can be to produce. Right now, however, simple is probably best.

With some basic know-how, you can usually get a new podcast published in a day and distributed within 24 hours. After that, publishing new episodes is as easy as publishing a blog post.

4. Podcasts are affordable

Compared to most other forms of media, a podcast is surprisingly affordable.

The economy is in flux and spending on a new project may be a challenge. Podcasts startup costs are actually very low, however, and episodes can cost as little as a few hundred dollars to record, edit, and distribute.

Compared to the time and energy required to launch a new newsletter, blog, or video series, podcasting is a remarkably affordable way to reach audiences. A professional-looking video can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per minute to produce, with hours of review and editing to get it right. A professional-sounding podcast, by comparison, will usually costs tens of dollars per minute and, assuming you outsource engineering, can usually take you less than two hours to record and review (for a 30-minute episode).

Podcasting is a great way to keep your community together, in a highly personal way, while we all practice social distancing.

5. Podcasts don’t interfere with productivity

Audio is one of the few “multitasking” mediums. Both text and video ask the consumer to focus exclusively on the content while they consume it, but not podcasts. You can’t really drive, cook dinner, or plan the agenda for an online meeting while also watching a video or reading a blog post, or at least you probably shouldn’t — but you can do all of those and more while listening to a podcast. 

Unlike video or text, people can multitask while listening to a podcast.

Creating a podcast for members and other stakeholders is a great way to communicate with them without asking them to make extra room in their lives for your content. They can listen while they go for a walk after being cooped up working from home all day, or while they are doing the laundry, or working in the yard, or any other activity.

This is one of the greatest values podcasting for associations provides, and audiences appreciate publishers who respect their limited time.

Get started!

We can help you get your podcast going today. Contact us now for a consultation.

 

Association Podcasts: 5 Awesome Ways to Create Value

In my last post, I wrote about how important it is for association podcasts to define their audience and why you need to create value for that audience. It’s the value you provide that will help your podcast grow.

In this post, I want to focus on that value. There are five things you should think about when creating a podcast for your association or business to ensure you are creating something that audiences will return to episode after episode.

Association podcasts should provide VALUE

Here’s the list in a nutshell: Make your podcast for your listener, not for yourself. Let them know what to expect, and give it to them consistently. Give them something to do in each episode, and give them ways to talk to you — then make sure you talk back. Finally, enjoy making your podcast. Listeners know when your heart’s not in it.

Make podcasts for the Audience

The first thing you need to know about creating value for your audience is that the podcast has to be for them. It doesn’t matter if you’re entertaining, educating, or challenging them. It has to be for them. It can’t be for you.

You association podcast is speaking to an audience.
It’s the people on the other side of the mic who matter most to your public affairs podcast.

Enterprises often make the mistake of focusing their podcasts on what they really want listeners to know. That’s an important business goal but it often leads to podcasts that talk at listeners instead of to them. Take the time to consider what the listeners want to know, learn, and understand.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, let me remind you that defining your audience is an important first step. If a business podcast’s audience is potential customers, for example, a podcast that talks about how to use their products will just confuse listeners. They don’t even have the product yet, so the creator risks making the product sound complicated: “Wow, I have to listen to a podcast to be able to use this stuff? Sounds hard.”

Potential customers will likely be much more receptive to a show that talks about a product’s features, perhaps including interviews with current customers who offer testimonials about how easy the products are to use and how they’ve benefitted.

Of course, the opposite is true for a podcast audience of current customers. They’ll appreciate tips and tricks for using your products and information about new features as add-ons.

This all sounds intuitive, I know, but you’d be surprised by how often I hear podcasters go on about the cool guests they have, the great ideas they’re sharing, and the really important information they’re offering up for free, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone listening. A major factor is usually that only they think the guests are cool, the ideas are great, or the information is important.

Fulfill the audience’s expectations

The second thing you need to know about creating value in your podcast is that you have to set expectations for your listeners and then fulfill them in every episode. 

If you open a box from a retailer, but the contents aren't what you expect, you'll be disappointed.
No one likes to be disappointed. Set your audience’s expectations, and meet them.

The hardest thing about starting a podcast is getting new listeners. The second hardest thing is keeping those listeners, and I’d argue that keeping them is much more important. Why? Think of it this way: If you get 25 new listeners each week but only 10 of them listen to the next episode, it’ll take you 10 weeks to have 100 listeners. If 20 of them come back, however, you’ll have 100 listeners in just five weeks. (This is a simplistic scenario, but you get the point.)

Meeting expectations plays a huge role in keeping listeners. If, for example, your podcast is lighthearted and fun one episode, but serious and intense the next, you’re placing a burden on your listeners to be in the right state of mind for your changing tone. Over time, listeners who prefer lighthearted content will choose to listen to something they know is fun rather than taking a chance that the latest episode of your show is what they want.

Listeners’ expectations aren’t just about tone. They have expectations for audio quality, topics, and length. If your episodes range in length from 20 minutes to 90 minutes and are released on an inconsistent schedule, you’re making listeners find time for your show. If they know your episodes are always 20-30 minutes and come out every other Thursday, then they can plan for your show, say, during their morning commute.

When listeners know what to expect from every episode, and those expectations are met, they’ll press “Play” again when your next episode appears, and your listenership will grow.

Get your audience active

The third thing you need to know about creating value for your podcast audience is to include action items. These shouldn’t really be “assignments” necessarily, just something they can do after the episode has ended.

Giving your audience a way to get more, learn more, engage more, participate, or anything else they can do creates the sense that you’re offering more than just the podcast. It doesn’t need to be a lot; simply inviting listeners to read a related blog post (and including the link in your show notes!) is enough to give them the feeling that there’s more value available.

You needn’t worry too much about whether listeners actually do the action you’ve offered. Just by letting them know there’s more, you’ve added value. Of course, it’s a good idea to track what you can. (For example, use a trackable link in your show notes.) If you can measure the response, you’ll be gathering valuable data that can inform your choices for future podcast episodes.

When listeners know that your business podcasts are a piece of a larger value package you offer, they’ll look forward to each new episode and the “extras” that go along with it. 

Engage your audience

The fourth thing you need to do to provide value in your podcast is to be responsive. Let your listeners know you’re there for them, and make it easy for them to provide feedback, ask questions, or make topic recommendations.

Talk to your listeners outside of your podcast.
Be there for your podcast listeners.

Engaging your listeners goes hand-in-hand with activating them. In fact, your activation can be something as simple as, “If you have questions about this episode visit our website and ask us in the comment section.” That doesn’t work, though, if you don’t fully engage the people who do.

That’s why engagement is a separate item in this list. Listeners don’t have to take the actions you offer but if they communicate with you, it’s imperative that you respond — even if they don’t expect it. For example, if someone leaves a great review on Apple Podcasts, give them a shout-out in your next episode. Not only will it make that listener feel appreciated, but it may also inspire others to leave great reviews, too.

As with actions, track engagements as best you can. If you can verify that your audience wants certain information or is interested and/or entertained by some things that you’re doing in the podcast, you can tie that to improving the association podcasts you’re producing. 

Enjoy yourself!

The fifth thing you can do to create value for your podcast listeners is to have fun making it. Listening to podcasts is an intimate communication experience, and you’d be surprised how easy it is for listeners to hear your state of mind in your voice.

If you’re making a podcast for a business or organization, there is the potential for the content to get a little dry. You (or whoever is hosting) should add some personality to the delivery to help overcome conversation or topics that might become dull.

This is not to say that your podcast has to be funny or silly or even entertaining. It’s quite possible your show will cover serious topics, technical details, or difficult issues. The objective isn’t to make the podcast “fun” necessarily (although if it can be fun, go for it). The objective is to ensure listeners know you are there because you want to be there, to provide them this important information.

If you sound like you’re having a great time, listeners will hear it in your voice. If you sound like you wish you were somewhere else, they’ll hear that, too. Make sure your tone and demeanor make listeners feel welcome and appreciated.

A podcast that provides value will always have listeners

Whether your goal is an audience of 100 listeners or 100,000, those people are playing your business podcasts because of what they gain from it. If you make sure to provide value to them by making a show for them, meeting their expectations, creating opportunities to act, engaging listeners, and having a good time doing it, listeners will stay with you episode after episode.

Learn more about starting a podcast for business. 

If you focus on the things I’ve explained here, starting business podcasts can be a very effective addition to a content marketing strategy. Find out more about all of this and get a free consultation about podcasting for your business or organization by clicking the button below.