In the last 5 years, podcasting has become more and more popular. Actors have them, musicians have them, sports personalities have them, your friends have them. Although this can be intimidating, it doesn’t mean your great idea isn’t deserving of one too.
Just because there are lots of podcasts, it doesn’t mean there are lots of good podcasts. So, let’s make yours one of the good ones. The main thing here is to stand out. If you’ve got a good idea, concept or insight into a certain world, you want your podcast to be head and shoulders above the rest, and there are of course a few things you can do to make sure that you are heading in the right direction.
The best thing about podcasts is that it’s a great way to speak directly to your audience and those interested in what you are doing or talking about. Because it’s not like radio, in such that anybody can do it and you can listen on your time, it makes it feel a lot more personal, and having that personal connection with your audience is key to a successful podcast. They’re listening because they like what you do.
Most podcasts are discovered by word of mouth; when I go away and know I’ll have a long time travelling, I ask my friends for recommendations of their favourite podcasts and every time I get bombarded with podcasts that they like or they think I should listen to. These range from a whole host of different subjects, production sizes and styles, but the common thing with all of them is that they sound professional, well put together and thought out.
There is nothing worse than a great podcast that has terrible sound quality, or a big-name guest that you really want to hear from, and the host just doesn’t connect with them and leaves you feeling unfulfilled.
Sometimes though, everything goes against you and you end up with technical gremlins or a less than perfect location to record an interview. It’s happened to me, and it’ll most likely happen to you. But there are ways you can reduce this, and if you are a good, interesting host (or hosts) with quality audio and a good connection with your guests most of the time, those occasional issues will be forgiven and forgotten.
People often think that sounding professional means lots of bells and whistles, but in reality, the first thing you want to make sure of is that it’s fun and easy to listen to. So, in this article, I’m going to give you my top tips on how to make your podcast sound as natural as possible.
Table of Contents
1. Start recording straight away
Whether it’s you and your podcast host, or you and a guest, I recommend as soon as your gear is set up, hit record. You don’t have to start the interview or podcast right then, and in fact, I recommend that you don’t. Those few minutes are super valuable. Those moments when you’re just catching up or greeting your guest help you warm up and potentially gain a rapport with your guest right away instead of diving straight in and awkwardly asking questions.
This way, you can start when you want; that might be mid-conversation when something naturally comes up that leads you in, or it could be your guest or host that initiates it, the thing that this is great at is putting your guest (and you!) at ease. You’ll quickly forget that it’s recording and slide into a more natural conversation or discussion. The sooner you ignore that red flashing light, the better.
It’s true that you’ll potentially have a few minutes to cut at the beginning of your podcast when editing, but that’s a fair price to pay for a really great conversation, isn’t it?
If you’re talking about sensitive subjects it might be worth mentioning at some point to your guest that you’re going to cut the pre-amble and perhaps also ask if there are any parts of the conversation that they would like omitting. Having a guest’s trust is very important!
2. Create a Comfortable Environment
It might sound obvious but finding the right place to do your podcast is vital for making it feel natural. Having a conversation while there are lots of distractions about just isn’t ideal. If your interviewee is particularly well known, the last thing you want is for them to be being interrupted by fans or for them to feel self-conscious, so finding a nice quiet space away from crowded areas is definitely preferable and your guest will thank you for it.
The same can be said for you and your co-host. The fewer technical hurdles, the better. You can focus entirely on having an interesting discussion rather than being distracted by everything around you. If your podcast is an hour or more in length you probably want to be also thinking about where you are sat as well because the more comfortable you are, the more the conversation will flow.
As we spoke about in this article, remote podcasting is becoming more and more popular, and one of the biggest advantages of this is that you and your guest/co-host can do it not only wherever is most comfortable for them, but also whenever. You can choose a time that’s convenient for you both and so hopefully that means it’ll also be a more relaxing environment for the guests.
3. Don’t be afraid to go off topic – but remember your structure!
Having a structure to your podcast can be great for when there are natural lulls in conversation, but natural conversations aren’t rigid question/answer affairs. Sometimes you can get the best discussions and conversations by wandering off-topic, talking about different funny stories that relate in some loose but relatable way to what you are discussing.
As long as you remember your overall aim for the podcast and make sure to come back to it, don’t worry about veering off-topic for a while. If you’re interviewing somebody this can be a really good way to find something they’re passionate about, or really want to talk about, allowing them to elaborate and have a fun back and forth between you and them. A guest is always at their best when they’re stoked to talk about something, so don’t let your strict structure stop that (unless of course you have limited time).
If your podcast is just you as a host, this can still be applicable, but planning is obviously key. Remember though your listeners are interested in what you have to say – sometimes off-topic can be relevant and interesting!
4. Open-ended questions
When interviewing somebody you might have a list of questions that you want to ask. Being prepared is important, but what you don’t want is having questions that can just be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’, especially right at the beginning when you might have only just met them.
Hopefully, you’ll have a guest that takes the questions and runs with them, but the best way to help ensure this happens is to ask open-ended questions, you want to know what they think and why they think that. Ask follow up questions that might inspire other topics of conversations and don’t be too wedded to your list of questions. When you catch up with your friends, do you have a set list of questions you rigidly stick to? I didn’t think so.
5. Reverb, EQ and Compression
Not only the environment and conversation techniques you have an effect on making your podcast sound natural, but the mixing can also have a huge impact too.
If you’re not a Logic/ProTools/Audacity/etc whizz that’s fine, luckily most of these have incredible pre-sets when it comes to EQ, Compression and Reverb, and using these will make your podcast sound 100% better almost immediately. For example, Logic has ‘natural vocals’ and ‘warm vocals’ EQ settings that can make your recordings sound easier on the ears straight away. Same for compression, I find ‘Natural Vocal’ and ‘Studio Vocals’ both sound great, but there are many settings to play around with so find what you think sounds best.
Reverb is a bit of a different beast. Depending on your recording scenario you may feel you want to add it or not. If you’re recording on the fly with a portable recorder in a location that has a natural ambience, adding reverb might just sound too much and take what was a natural-sounding conversation into a big wash of noise. If, however, you are mic’d up directly, with headphones in a controlled space, chances are your voice will come in ‘dry’ and adding a bit of reverb to the voices will help bring the mix together.
What you want to concentrate on with Reverb is the ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ controls. The higher the percentage the ‘wet’ control is, the more reverb effect you add to the recording. Higher the ‘dry’ control, the more of the original signal. By adjusting these controls you are affecting the balance between the original ‘dry’ signal and the ‘wet’ of the reverb effect you are putting on your recording.
Again, with reverb, there are a whole host of different pre-set reverb ‘spaces’ and ‘rooms’ for you to experiment with. Have a play and find out what works best for you.
6. Edit out gaps or big silences
Something that is relevant to whether it is just you recording your podcast alone, or whether you have guests, is that occasionally there’ll be natural silences. These might be because you or your guest is thinking over their answer, or there’s a distraction, it’s normal and will happen. Because with podcasts your listeners can’t see your faces and your reactions however, these moments to them are just dead space. That’s not to say that you need to edit out each and every silence but knowing when it’s just a bit too long that it gets in the way of the flow of the of discussion is key.
If you like to keep your podcast to a certain time limit, this will also help you do that, without cutting out too much of the good stuff.
7. Avoid computer or phone microphones where possible
This may sound obvious, especially if you have been podcasting for a while, but if you can avoid using in-built phone or computer mics when recording, then your podcast will sound much better. Sometimes it might unavoidable if you have a remote guest where that is the only thing that they have available to them, but they are mostly low quality and tinny, and there is only so much mixing can do to make them sound better.
Just think about when you hear a radio show and somebody phones in. It rarely sounds good and it can be a strain to listen to. That is absolutely not what you want for your podcast. There are a range of different portable mics (I’d personally recommend the ZOOM range, they’re affordable, durable and easy to use) you can use for recording podcasts on the fly if you need something that’s not going to take up space, invest in something like this. It’ll make a world of difference.
Well there you go, that’s my top 7 tips for a natural sounding podcast. It is by no means exhaustive, and inevitably you’ll also discover your own ways to make your podcast the best it can be, but these tips will set you in the right direction and go some way to making sure that your podcast doesn’t get lost among the overgrowing sea of podcasts out there.