Podcasting started out as a hobby, and as with any hobby you can spend a little or a lot of money, depending on how crazy you get. In this section, we are going to break down how much it will cost for you to get your recording setup based on four different types of recording needs and three different levels of investmentbasic, intermediate, and semi-pro. We are not going to get into the pro-level setups for two simple reasons: 1) pro-level equipment is crazy expensive, and 2) to at least 99.9% of the public you will sound just as good with a semi-pro setup as you would if you had a pro-level setup.
Here are the four different type of recording needs, as summarized in Table 17.1:
For more information on VoIP, see "Using Skype and Other VoIP Services" p. 137 (Chapter 7).
Our selection of equipment is based on our own experience, the experience of podcasters interviewed on podCast411, and other podcasters we have talked with. Costs are based on 1 year of hosting service. All prices were current as of March 2006.
We realize that in many cases you are going to need to present to a boss or a very demanding spouse or parent a detailed list of equipment you will need to get your podcast up and running. In Table 17.1, we broke down how much it will cost based on the type of recording you will be doing and the level investment you wanted to make. In the following sections, we break down in detail what equipment is needed for each type of recording.
This is the easiest setup in all of podcasting. This is when you are just going to be recording your own voice and possibly add in other sound clips.
If you are doing just an audioblog of a "sound-seeing" tour, or are going to be reading a prepared script, the "basic setup" will be fine. You can get started for a mere $25. For editing software, Audacity is the best and cheapest option; it is free. For your mic, a simple USB mic is best ($25). You can find generic USB mics at any retail electronics store. For free hosting services, you have a few options. Internet Archive is one option, but it requires some level of technical skill, and you will need to also create a free blogger account to handle the RSS end of things. The easiest free option is Gcast (www.gcast.com), where even most "flashing 12's" will be able to set up an account with very little mental angst. This is a great and easy way to get into podcasting. You can even call in your shows from a phone and add the recording to your RSS feed all while being out on the road. You also have the option of recording at home on your computer, editing the recording, and then uploading to Gcast.
This setup is not recommended for anyone who is looking at generating revenue from the podcast. However, if you are just looking to get some experience podcasting, this setup is fine.
Total cost: $25
If you have an older version of GarageBand you will still be able to create a podcast with it, however, some of the newer features in Garageband 3 make it easier to produce a podcast. Specifically, if you have a .Mac account or if you are looking to create an enhanced podcast Garageband 3 comes in especially handy.
For the intermediate setup, we are looking at podcasts that need multiple tracks to mix in many different sound clips or that are recorded live and need to mix in other sound files. Now your total cost for a setup has jumped to between $300 and $410 (this includes 1 year of hosting).
With the editing software, you may want to move away from Audacity and to something with a few more features (although you can still use Audacity at this point for many applications). On the Mac side, Garageband is clearly the number 1 piece of software when it comes to recording a podcast. If your Mac does not have Garageband 3, it will cost you $80 for iLife 06. On the PC side, two of the more popular podcast-specific programs are Castblaster and Propaganda; both cost $50. Garageband 3, Castblaster, and Propaganda all have features specifically designed for podcasters, such as auto-ducking and sound effects. Both Propaganda and Castblaster let you test-drive their programs before buying, so check both out before making a choice.
For the mic, the Samson USB mic is one of the cheapest ways to move to a condenser mic because no preamp is required to supply phantom power. Cost of the mic is $80. With any condenser mic, you will need a mic stand and a pop filter. Condenser mics are very sensitive to movement and also to the popping p's in your speech. Both a mic stand and a pop filter will help greatly improve the sound of your recording, and each cost about $25 (see Figure 17.1).
Figure 17.1. Rob's setup for his condenser mic with mic stand and pop filter.
Phantom power is typically a +48 DC voltage that is supplied from an external source to the microphone to electrify part of the audio-sensing element. This voltage typically is supplied from a preamp, mixer, or digital recorder, but can also come from converting the voltage on a USB line from a computer (as is the case with the Samson C01U USB mic).
On the hosting side, if you use Garageband 3 on a Mac, the easiest solution is to upload to a .Mac account. You will want to upgrade your account to the 250GB transfer limit per month (total cost is $200). However, if you think you will have more than 250GB's worth of transfers, this is not the best solution for you.
Also note that using Garageband 3 to transfer directly to .Mac means your files will be encoded as AAC format rather than MP3 format. This means your listeners will need iTunes or Quicktime to listen to your show on their computer, and only an iPod will allow them to listen to your podcast on a portable player. Additionally, there is no real stats package with .Mac for you to know the exact number of full and unique downloads.
For a podcast you want to make money with, you really want to look at a hosting solution that offers you a good stats package and unlimited downloads. For podcasters, that usually means Libsyn. Based on a package where you need 250MB (approx 500 minutes spoken word, 250 minutes of music, or 50 minutes of video) of uploads a month, your cost will be $120 a year with Libsyn. Again, there is no limit on the downloads. Some shows hosted with Libsyn have over 250,000 downloads a month, which equals well over 3TB (terabytes, or 1,000 gigabytes) bandwidth, and podcasters using this service pay just $10 a month for that.
For a 250GB transfer limit, if your show is spoken word and 20 minutes long, the file size will likely be about 10MB. If you release your show once a week, you would reach your monthly limit with 6,250 listeners. However, with an hour-long show five times a week, you would max out at 416 listeners. Both numbers are theoretical and do not account for multiple download attemptsin the real world, you should cut those subscriber numbers in half to be safe.
Total cost: Between $300 and $410
With a semi-pro setup, you are looking for the ability to finely edit your recordings. Plus, you want as good a sound for your voice as possible. You want to use audio-level compression to give your podcast a nice polished sound. As with the intermediate level, you will also likely have multiple tracks to mix together. On the editing software side for a Mac, Soundtrack Pro ($300) is highly regarded (See Figure 17.2). On the PC side, most everyone who uses Adobe Audition ($350) loves it. Both programs offer many different editing tools, including very good compressors and sound clean-up tools.
Figure 17.2. Soundtrack Pro in use with multiple tracks.
For mics, you will want a condenser mic to get a good clean sound. Condenser mics can run you anywhere from $50 (MXL-990) to $100 (Audio Technica AT2020) to $120 (Apex 415). Yes, you can spend much more, but for the extra money most of your listeners will not notice much if any difference.
Preamp: Also known as a preamplifier, a preamp is an amplifier that precedes another amplifier, which will further amplify the signal. Basically the job of the preamp is to amplify the low-level, high-impedance signal from the microphone to make it useable by the computer's audiorecording software, where the signal can again be amplified and processed.
In addition to the condenser mic, you will need a preamp to supply the phantom power needed to operate the mic. The M-Audio Mobile-Pre USB preamp ($130) is a very good investment and offers some nice features. It is completely USB powered, making it nice if you will be taking your studio on the road. It has two mic inputs with two on-board microphone preamps. And of course it supplies +48 VDC phantom power.
With a condenser mic, you will need a mic stand ($25) and pop filter ($25). In addition, you will need an XLR-to-XLR cable ($15) to connect the mic to the preamp. (No, these cables do not come with the mic or the preamp.) For hosting services, again we would recommend Libsyn ($120).
XLR: Most people say that XLR = eXternal Left Right or eXternal Live Return. But in reality the name came from ITT Cannon, the maker of the connector. It started out as the X series, and then L was added for "Latch" and then R was added for "Rubber Gasket" (hence, XLR). It is a three-wire connector found on basically all professional and semi-pro sound equipment. It is so widely used because of the relative noise-free pickup of the cables.
Total cost: Between $665 and $785
This is when you are recording yourself and one co-host and possibly adding in some sound clips. The recording can be done in your studio (office, bedroom, kitchen, wherever you can have privacy), and there will be relatively little background noise.
Essentially you can just duplicate the setup from the one-person basic setup we listed previously ($25). You and your guest just share the mic. This is what Dawn and Drew did for the first 9 months of their show. As we said before, we only recommend this as a way to start out, and not for a show with any intentions of generating revenue.
Total cost: $25
For the intermediate setup, we are looking at podcasts where you and your co-host would need multiple tracks to mix in many different sound clips, or you are recording live and need to mix in other sound files. Now your total cost for a setup has jumped to the $450 to $590 range.
The differences between this setup and the intermediate setup for one person is that you will have two condenser mics ($100 total), two pop filters ($50 total), two mic stands ($50 total), two sets of XLR-to-XLR cables ($30 total) and a mixer ($50). For the condenser mics, we recommend the MXL-990s ($50 each), and for the mixer the Behringer UB-802. This is one of the cheapest mixers that also supplies the +48V phantom power needed for the two condenser mics. You would then come out of the mixer and into the Line In jack of your computer. If your computer does not have a Line In jack or if your sound card is substandard, you can get an iMic from Griffin ($30) that will plug into your USB port.
Total cost: Between $450 and $590
Mixer: A mixer is a device that takes two or more audio signals and combines them into a single audio stream. Think of the mixer like the soft-serve ice-cream dispenser at your local frozen custard stand. On one side is vanilla, on the other chocolate, and in the middle is a place where you can get both mixed together. Essentially that is what a mixer is doing electronically with two audio signals.
With a semi-pro setup, the key differences between a one-person setup and a two-person setup are the use of the mixer and the additional mic, pop filter, mic stand, and XLR cable. We recommend stepping up to the Yamaha MG102 Mixer and an iMic ($100 + $30) or the Alesis Multimix 8 USB ($150). Both mixers can supply phantom power for up to four different condenser mics at one timecompared to only two for the UB-802. This gives you some added flexibility if you ever want to have a third person drop in as a guest. The iMic is recommended so that you can feed the mixer output into your USB port via the iMic. The Yamaha is not set up for USB, whereas the Alesis has a USB port.
For the mics, you can choose between the MXL-990 ($50 each), the Audio Technica AT2020 ($100 each), or the Apex 415 ($120 each). It is important when buying two mics to try and get the same make and model. This will make matching up levels between you and your co-host much easier.
Total cost: Between $780 and $990
In Studio with VoIP
This is when you are recording yourself and a guest or co-host who will be talking to you via Skype, Gizmo Project, or some other VoIP software. The recording will be done in your studio and there will be relatively little background noise on your end, but the guest's side may have less of a controlled environment.
As with the previous basic setups, we are going to stick with Audacity for the editing software. However, you will also need another piece of free software, Gizmo Project, for your VoIP calls. This allows you to talk to another person, computer to computer, for free. Plus, Gizmo Project has a built-in recorder that records both sides of the conversation pretty well.
For a mic, you will need a basic USB mic, but you will also need a headset because you need to make sure the person you are talking to does not hear his or her voice from your speakers back on your mic. This will cause stammering and stuttering when that person is talking.
For situations where you need to interview someone over the phone, you can use the Gizmo Call-Out feature to call and record phone conversations. If the person you will be interviewing needs to call you, you can set up a Gizmo Call-In number, or better yet you can use FreeConferenceCall.com to set up a free conference call number. For hosting services, we will stick with either Internet Archive and Blogger or Gcast.
Total cost: $40 (plus $0.02 per minute for Gizmo Call-Out calls)
The main difference between this setup and a setup for just a single person is the addition of software to record VoIP callsAudio Hijack Pro ($32) for the Mac; Hot Recorder ($15) for the PC. Both programs allow you to record VoIP calls from Skype, Gizmo Project, Google Talk, and iChat. We also recommend a program called Sound Soap 2 from Bias ($100) for cleaning up the audio of your recordings. This will be especially helpful if you record Skype Out or Gizmo Call-Out calls. Other than that, all the other recommendations from a one-person intermediate setup would apply.
Anytime you are recording and you think you may need to clean up the background noise, it is best to record about 5 seconds of "silence" at the beginning and end of the recording. This allows your audio-cleanup software to identify the background noise and remove it from the track in post-production.
Total cost: Between $430 and $557
As with the semi-pro setups we previously covered, we continue to recommend Sound Track Pro or Adobe Audition. We also recommend Sound Soap 2 ($100) to help clean up background noise and any Skype Out or Gizmo Call-Out calls. Back in Chapter 7, "The Art of the Interview," we talked about the different ways to record a VoIP call. For the semi-pro setup, we recommend the method where the audio is taken out of the computer and recorded on a digital recorder. To do this, you need a mixer ($100 to $150), a preamp ($130), a condenser mic, and a digital recorder. For the digital recorder, you can use the iRiver IFP-899 ($130). If you want something with 24-bit recording capability, you can go with the Edirol R1 with a 2GB CF card ($500). It's unlikely, though, you'll notice much difference between the iRiver at its best setting and the Edirol R1. You also need a mic stand, pop filter, cables, and a headset ($90 total). Libsyn remains the ideal choice for hosting this setup.
Total cost: Between $1,020 and $1,560
In Studio with VoIP and Remote Recording
This is where you are recording yourself and a guest whom you will be talking to via Skype, Gizmo Project, or some other VoIP software. It also includes guests you will be doing telephone interviews with. You may also be doing man-on-the-street-type recordings or other type recordings outside of your studio. Background noise outside of the studio will be a question mark.
The key difference between this setup and that of the VoIP basic setup is the addition of the iRiver IFP-890 digital recorder ($70). This is what you will use to record interviews with the proverbial "man on the street." The IFP-890 has a built-in mic so you will not need an additional mic at this level. With this model, you will get about 3 1/2 hours of record time at the highest mono level setting.
Total cost: $110
The key difference between this setup and that of the VoIP intermediate setup is the addition of the iRiver IFP-899 digital recorder ($130), the RadioShack unidirectional mic ($40), and the XLR-to-1/8" cable for the mic ($10). With the IFP-899 vs. the IFP-890, you will get about 14 hours total recording time at the max setting for mono. Additionally, with the RadioShack mic you will cut down on a lot of the background noise compared to the internal mic of the IFP-899.
Total cost: Between $610 and $737
The key difference between this setup and that of the VoIP semi-pro setup is the addition of the PMD-660 digital recorder ($560), two Shure SM-58 mics ($100 each), and cables ($30). We recommend you get the PMD-660 from www.oade.com with the basic MOD. The reason for this is the standard PMD-660 has a widely reported issue with its preamp, and Oade makes changes to the unit that greatly lower the noise floor of the preamps. The Shure SM-58 mics will give you good audio quality and greatly cut down on the amount of background noise. The SM-58 was designed for intoxicated musicians and can take a tremendous amount of abuse.
Total cost: Between $1,760 and $1,930
The following is a complete list of equipment, software, and services mentioned in this chapter:
Mac Recording and Editing Software:
PC Recording and Editing Software:
We realize many other solutions are available that will give results equal to those we recommend in this chapter. So before you send us an email telling us we should have recommend XYZ mic instead of the MXL-990, please realize for space issues we needed to narrow down our recommendations to those pieces of equipment most used and recommended by those we talked to and the equipment we use ourselves. We made all recommendations without any quid pro quo from any of the companies mentioned. (Although now that the book is completed, we would be more than happy to receive free stuff to review for the next edition....)
Podcast Hosting Services: